Tag Archives: Faith

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 10 and 11

This is the sixth in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

 

Lesson 10: Repentance and Confession

The tenth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour takes a close look at repentance and the sacrament of Confession. It begins by reminding us that baptism bestows the Light of Christ on us, but we need to keep the faith in order to grow that Light in our hearts. It talks briefly about what we can do to grow that Light: prayer, fasting, love, kindness, Communion, etc., are all ways that we can grow the fire of Christ that has been lit in our souls.

The lesson continues by taking a look at what happens when we sin: the fire in our souls begins to reduce. It compares sinning to shooting an arrow in the wrong direction instead of aiming at the target. The lesson goes on to teach its readers that repentance restores us when we sin.

The lesson talks about the parable of the Prodigal Son, comparing us to him, and reminding us that God is that loving Father, and that the Church is our home. Repentance, or the Sacrament of Confession, is how we come back to the Father and tell Him how sorry we are for what we’ve done. The lesson also returns to the medical reference that is a theme in the book, this time showing how confession is like coming to the doctor to show our illness (sin) and thus allow Jesus to begin to heal us.

The lesson finishes with encouragement to repent daily, and not to despair. Christ, our Doctor, wants to heal us. Confession is one way that we work together with Him, cooperating toward our own healing.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“The newly baptized person is just a little baby Othodox Christian (even if they are eighty years old!). We have to grow and become stronger in our faith, just like a baby has to grow and learn to walk and talk… The Bible tells us after we’re baptized, after we receive the light, we need to continue to ‘walk in the light’ (1 Jn. 1:7). And if we do, the light of Christ in us grows and burns brighter and brighter.” (p. 82, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“What do we do when we’re playing and we fall down? Do we just stay there? No! We get back up, right? That’s what we need to do when we sin, too. And what do we call getting back up after we sin? It’s called repentance.” (p. 86, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“When we were baptized we received our white baptismal robe. The robe meant that our soul had been washed clean. When we sin we get our baptismal robe dingy and dirty. But a heartfelt confession makes it white and bright again.  Also, when we sin we hurt our soul, and we need medicine to be healed. We come to Confession to show Jesus our sin. And Jesus, our Physician, our loving Doctor, heals us.” (p. 87, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

In this 15-minute video, Fr. Ted talks more about Confession. Older children and adults will benefit from hearing his talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdfPrbjo2oc&feature=youtu.be

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CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 11: Prayer

 

The eleventh lesson of the book begins with a look at why we sin and need repentance in the first place: we forget God. When Adam and Eve walked in the garden with God, they could easily pray always: they didn’t forget God – no! They were right there, walking with Him! But after they chose to sin, they couldn’t feel His love as they once had, and love for Him began to be replaced with putting their attention and love on other things.

The lesson goes on to remind its readers that prayer is not just words: it’s a state of being with God. It tells a story from St. Herman of Alaska, when he wished aloud that he would love God with all of his heart, never forgetting Him and always being so happy to have moments with Him. He was expressing his longing to experience prayer as it was meant to be experienced.

The lesson goes on to discuss how to learn true prayer. First, we listen to the prayers of the Church. We pray as Christ taught us to pray. The lesson talks about other ways that we’ve been given words to pray: through the Bible, the Liturgy, and the Saints. Even the angels have taught us to pray! (The lesson tells the story of how we learned the Trisagion Hymn when a boy learned it from the angels.) The lesson finishes by encouraging us to pray regularly, and to pray the “Jesus Prayer.”

All of these prayers help us to reach our goal, which is to always be with God.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“Now, do you have a best friend, or at least a very good friend? Do you love being with them? Do you think about them when you’re not with them? …This is how we ought to be with God; like best friends. Do you forget your best friend? No! And we should try not to forget God either. Do you know what it is called when we remember God? It is called prayer. Prayer is when our hearts are joined together with God.” (p. 91, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“How we pray to God, how we address Him, the words we use, are important. Our words have to be holy and humble and true. What if you said to your best friend: …‘You have three noses!’? It might be funny at first, but after a while it would make your friend feel like you don’t really know them or appreciate them for who they are. Our words to God should be truthful.” (p. 94, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Saying the Jesus Prayer is like walking through a field in the same place every day. What happens if you walk over weeds and brush over and over? You clear a path, a road, right? If we use the Jesus Prayer a lot, we make a path in our heart that keeps us always with God.” (p. 96, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

Listen to (or read the transcript of) Mother Magdalena (of Holy Transfiguration Monastery)’s talk about how prayer helps us to make Christ the center of our life here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/st._ignatius_womens_retreat/prayer_as_a_means_to_make_christ_the_center_of_our_life_at_all_times

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A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 8 and 9

This is the fifth in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

Lesson 8: “The Medicine of Immortality”

The eighth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” is called “The Medicine of Immortality”. It takes a closer look at Holy Communion, beginning by helping the reader to think through why it is that we call this sacrament “communion” in the first place. That is, because it joins us together in a common union. Communion joins us together as one with each other and with God.

The lesson goes on to explain how St. Ignatius of Antioch called Holy Communion “the Medicine of Immortality” because it unites us to Christ and allows us to live forever with God. The book takes a look at the institution of Holy Communion: when Our Lord served His disciples just before His death. We call this the “Mystical Supper” because of the Mystery of how Christ revealed Himself to them (and now, reveals Himself to us) through eating and drinking.

The lesson tells how in the Liturgy, we experience the Mystical Supper, Christ’s death, and His resurrection. It reminds us of Christ’s words “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53). It compares someone giving a healthy kidney or donating their blood to help sick people with Christ offering us His Perfect Blood to heal our sick souls.

In order to be ready to receive that healing “transfusion”, though, we must prepare our hearts. The lesson reminds us to constantly prepare our hearts for Communion by the way that we live, including being kind, fasting, praying, and participating in the services at Church. When we prepare our hearts, they are ready for the healing that Holy Communion offers.

The lesson finishes by talking about gifts: we bring gifts (bread and wine to represent the good things in life, and to represent our own selves) to God. He transforms these gifts into His own Self: His flesh and His blood, Holy Communion. It is the greatest gift of all, and the very best medicine for us.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“When we receive Holy Communion together from the one loaf of bread and from the one chalice, we become one: one family, one community, one communion, one Church. We even become one with the perfect Community, the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!” (p. 65, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Have you heard about the notion of time-travel? …The Divine Liturgy is a kind of spiritual time travel. God does not live within time and His kingdom is beyond time… So, whenever we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we return spiritually to be with Christ at the Mystical Supper, at the Cross and at the Resurrection.” (p. 67, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“We also refer to the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion as ‘The Eucharist.’ Do you know what this word means? Eucharist means gratitude or thankfulness, so every Divine Liturgy is a ‘Thanksgiving,’ a giving thanks to God for our lives and for all His gifts.” (p. 68, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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Parents and older children may enhance their learning about Holy Communion and its gifts to us by reading this article: https://www.goarch.org/-/holy-communion-the-gift-of-eternal-life

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CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 9: “Holy Baptism”

The ninth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” helps its readers learn more about the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Just like we have to be born before we can eat anything, we must be born into God’s Kingdom through baptism before we can receive the healing gift of Holy Communion. Only when we are joined to the Church, Jesus’ Body, through Holy Baptism can we commune.

Fr. Michael uses the object lesson of walking around in a dark room and not knowing where the light switch is, to help his readers better understand their soul before being illumined by Baptism. Without turning on the light, we may get used to the darkness and maybe even forget what light is like, but with the light it is so very much easier to see where we should go and what we should do. Fr. Michael encourages his readers to pray for those who do not have the light of the Church and Holy Baptism.

The lesson goes on to take the reader, step by step, through the baptismal process, carefully explaining each part of the service and its importance. From “telling the devil to ‘get out of town!’” to the prayers preparing both the individual and the water to the anointing to the actual baptism to the new white robe and chrismation, all the way to the first taste of Holy Communion, each step is gently explained in this lesson. It is a thorough and child-friendly introduction to the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“And how are we born in the Church? What is the Mystery that makes us into a new person, as if we are born again? (Here’s a hint: When it happens, you should probably hold your breath. Another hint: We begin our new life with a splash!) Did you get it? Yes, it is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism!” (p. 73, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“The Saints teach us that when we are baptized in the Church we are illumined or enlightened. Do you know what that means? It means we are lit up; the light goes on inside us, because Jesus the True Light has come into us.” (p. 74, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Now that they have been born into life with God in the Church, the priest leads them, with the Gospel Book in his hands, in a little walk or ‘dance;’ a dance of joy around the baptismal font. This shows that their lives will be led by Christ and revolve around the life of Jesus and His Church.” (p. 79, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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In episode #71 of “Be the Bee”, host Steve helps older children and parents think about what it means to become an Orthodox Christian through constantly making the choice to follow Christ. He suggests that we are not just Orthodox through Baptism and Holy Communion (although both are certainly integral to our Christian Faith!), but that we also need to make daily choices to continue to follow Christ. Watch the episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EysL5aldWhg

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A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 6 and 7

This is the fourth in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

 

Lesson 6: Holy Tradition

 

The sixth lesson in “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” reminds its readers that God wants to embrace us with His love through Christ, who is our Healer. Our priest works as Christ’s “mouth” and “hands”. He helps to give us the “medicine” of God’s divine grace.

Fr. Michael compares God’s grace to a river, which runs through the Church in the form of Holy Tradition. The saints have lived holy lives in this Tradition, and passed it down to all of us. They have shown us through their lives what it looks like to live in the flow of God’s grace.

He also compares the Tradition of the Church to a few other things. For example, a treasure map. Just as a treasure map helps us find treasure, the Tradition of the Church helps us to become holy, to be closer to God, the greatest treasure that exists! Holy Tradition is also like the instructions for a Christmas gift: it helps us to know how to put the pieces of our life together in the proper way.

Five smaller “streams” feed into the “River” of Tradition. This lesson takes a quick look at them as well. They include the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments of the Church; the Scriptures; the Seven Ecumenical Councils; the Lives of the Saints (and what they wrote); and the physical aspects of the Church (Holy Icons, the Church building itself, Church music). All of these things work together to flow the grace of God into our lives, just as many small rivers flow together into one.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“…what is this medicine that God offers to heal us and lead us back to Himself? What is it called? It is called His divine grace. Grace is God’s own life. We also call it His power, His energies, and His love for us.” (p. 46, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Holy Tradition is not just a set of ideas that really smart people made up one day, or even over many centuries. It is the way of living that brings the healing grace of God into our souls.” (p. 47, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Holy Tradition is like the instructions for your Christmas present. Our Church Tradition provides us with instructions on how to live as a Christian and how the Church should function, so that we know God’s truth and grace is flowing into us.” (p. 50, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“What will you do with the Holy Tradition of the Church? Live it! Love it! And Lend it! Pass it down to others! When we do this, we become part of the River of Grace of Holy Tradition: when we practice it, protect it, and pass it down.” (p. 52, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 7: The Priesthood

 

The seventh lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” begins by reminding the reader of the River of Grace (Holy Tradition) that flows through the Church to the entire world. Certain men have been given a special responsibility to protect the River of Grace: these men are our priests.

In his typical child-friendly writing style, Fr. Michael reminds us that there are things we should not do when we go swimming, because they’re dangerous. To help protect us and keep us safe, there are lifeguards. In a similar way, in the Church, our bishops are like lifeguards. They help to preserve the Faith of the apostles. They appoint priests to be other lifeguards, since the bishops can’t be everywhere at once.

The priesthood is a gift of grace given to men who have been called by God to do this work. Jesus is our High Priest, and He gives the gift of the Priesthood to the bishops and priests of the Church. These men are not perfect, and they can’t become priests by their own power. Christ lets them borrow His perfect Priesthood, and gives them His power to do the work that they must do. This happens through the sacrament of Ordination.

Because of the gift that God gives to us by giving us priests, we can be baptized. We can be chrismated. We can receive Holy Communion. There are so many things that Christ does through our priest that lead us to God. This is why we pray for our priest and treat him with love and respect.

The lesson closes with a brief look at each of the ranks of ordination. It describes the work of the bishop, priests/presbyters, and deacons. The reader is reminded that the River of Grace flows through all of these men. It is through the work of their hands that Christ grows His Church.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“God has given to the Church special protectors to guard the River of Grace and keep it from being polluted. They guard the holy teachings of the Church. They also guard the holy things of the Church. Do you know who these guards are? …the bishops and priests of the Church!” (p. 55, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Do you remember in the Divine Liturgy—the priest calls down the Holy Spirit on the bread and the wine, and they become something much more than bread, and wine?… something similar happens to make a man a priest. The church calls the Holy Spirit down to make a man something more than he was before. The Holy Spirit makes a change in him, and God’s grace makes him a priest, an icon of Christ, the High Priest.” (p. 57, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“…because the priest reflects Christ and His Priesthood—we should treat him with great love and respect, even though he is a human being and a sinner. Since he is an icon of Christ, we receive a blessing and kiss his hand when we see him. Because he brings God’s grace to us, we honor him, we pray for him and are thankful for him. We do this because of Christ, who is with the priest in a special way since the time of his ordination. When we respect the priest, we show respect for Christ, for  His Holy Church, and for the Holy Spirit who ordained him.” (pp. 58-59, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Through the bishop, priests and deacons, the River of Grace flows abundantly to all those in the Church, bringing refreshment to the hearts of Christians.” (p. 60, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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A Handful of New Resources

We have recently come across a handful of new resources that can help Orthodox parents and educators as they instruct the children in their lives. We thank the authors for sharing electronic copies of these resources with us. We are sharing the resources with you in the order in which they came to our attention. We hope that you find them helpful as you instruct our young brothers and sisters in the Faith.

 

Philo and the SuperHolies VBS

https://www.mireillemishriky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Philo-Commercial.mp4?_=1  

Fans of Mireille Mishriky’s “Philo” books will be delighted to know that she has collaborated with Shereen Marcus (of Bridges to Orthodoxy) and they have created a SuperHolies-themed Vacation Church School program. This five-day program provides its purchasers with videos, crafts and activities, lesson plans including Bible stories, saint stories, and memory verses, and even “parent recap cards” that can further the children’s learning as parents ask additional questions about each day’s experience.

Each VCS session focuses one one or two SuperHolies each day. (If you are not familiar with them, the “SuperHolies” are the fruits of the Spirit). The session begins with a video featuring Philo and his “Super Challenge” of the day. The children are invited to help Philo to use a Fruit (or two) of the Spirit to help him overcome his challenge, and that Fruit, that SuperHoly, is the focus for the entire day’s session. Every session also contains a saint’s story and a passage or story from the Scriptures.

The program is designed to include two small group sessions for the children. In one, they’ll learn about an Orthodox saint who is struggling with a challenge similar to Philo’s. In the other, they’ll focus on a passage from the Scriptures that is also related to that struggle. There are planned activities, discussion suggestions, and even crafts that will support this learning. The goal of the day is to help Philo figure out what to do about his Super Challenge.

The program includes suggestions for each day’s opening and closing large group sessions (including the video of Philo’s Super Challenge of the day); two small group session lesson plans for K-1st, 2nd-3rd, and 4th-5th for each day; extra ideas (including game suggestions, songs, and videos) and the printable Parent Recap card for each of the 5 days.

Find more information here: https://bridgestoorthodoxy.com/collections/pathways

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Divine Liturgy Guide

Gina Govender has developed a Divine Liturgy book that can help children to follow along with key portions of the Liturgy. “The Divine Liturgy: A Guide for Orthodox Children” was illustrated by Althea Botha, and has been endorsed by Archbishop Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The intent of this book is to provide children with instructions so that they can easily follow along in the Divine Liturgy. At the beginning of the book, a section called “The Meaning of the Divine Liturgy”, talks children through the liturgy and encourages them to look for ways that each part of the liturgy points to the life of Christ. The pages that follow walk the children through the liturgy by including actual portions of the liturgical text illustrated by a colorful watercolor-and-ink picture. These portions of the liturgy are shared in the book: Commencement, Prayers for Peace, the Little Entrance, the Readings, the Great Entrance, Spiritual Prayers, the Creed, the Mystical Supper, the Invocation & Sanctification, Supplication, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Communion, Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Dismissal.

The acknowledgements page of the book encourages parents of the readers to bring their children to church, even if they are wiggly and noisy. After all, “The presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our community is growing. As Christ said, ‘Let the children come to me.’” This book can help to welcome the children and involve them in the liturgy.

Inquire about purchasing the book here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/SAHETI-Pre-Primary-and-Playschool-PTA-154113824686210/shop/ (Notes: the price noted is listed in South African Rands, and at the time of this post, equals slightly less than $15, not including shipping/handling. The book is a fundraiser for upgrades at a Hellenic playschool/pre-primary school in Senderwood, South Africa.)

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Super Secret TreeHouse Bible Club and the Prophet Micaiah

Author Mireille Mishriky has introduced a brand new series of children’s picture books! “The Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club” will take children on an adventure with a group of children who are struggling with the virtues. Along the way, the children in the Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club will get to know some of the lesser-known saints from the Bible. The first book, “The Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club and the Prophet Micaiah” walks alongside Marina, Theodore, and Marcorios as they learn why it takes courage to be honest, and how God blesses people who tell the truth.

Marina isn’t sure what to do because her friend encouraged her to lie, or she would no longer be her friend. Theo doesn’t know how to LIVE the Bible, as their priest said in his homily. Marco also doesn’t know how they can possibly “…not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”, but he suggests that they begin by praying. And so, they do.

A bird appears as they pray, and it helps them find a story in the scriptures about the prophet Michaiah, who told the truth when hundreds of others were lying. It landed him in jail. But in the end, he was right, and if the kings had listened to him and obeyed his words instead of the ones they wanted to hear, they would have been spared much heartache. Marina makes a secret wish, and the bird helps it to come true: the children get to meet the prophet Michaiah, who appears in their treehouse, and they ask him a few questions.

His wisdom helps Marina know what to do, and the book ends on a positive note as Marina and her friend Sarah come clean on what happened.

This book is available as an ebook, and you will find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Super-Secret-Treehouse-Prophet-Micaiah-ebook/dp/B085TBL5XH/

 

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 8

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Chapter 8: Raising Good Stewards

The eighth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” focuses on stewardship. The Church teaches us that fasting, prayers, and giving alms are key elements in our growth in holiness. So often we focus more on the fasting and the prayers, and almsgiving is almost an aside. In this materialistic day and age, it is imperative that we intentionally give alms, not just throwing a few quarters in the offering basket, but truly giving alms in a way that is selfless.

The chapter encourages its readers to focus on where (from Whom) all of our gifts and resources have come. It goes on to challenge each reader to re-order their values by choosing to value their Faith and other people around them over their possessions (perhaps better called “the worldy goods that will otherwise possess them”). It encourages readers to give of themselves and their gifts as well as giving their money and possessions. The authors offer practical suggestions of how to do each, sharing other families’ experiences with stewardship along the way.

Both this chapter and its message fly in the face of the prevailing culture around us. But giving generously is a key building block of the little church which we must not omit. May we learn to give more generously, and with great joy. For, “through the cheap price of doing good to men, we can acquire the priceless Kingdom of God.” ~ Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow.

Do you have a family stewardship question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 8:

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“Everywhere we turn, we see proclamations that our lives would be in a sorry state indeed without expensive clothes, gadgets, and skin care projects. No matter where we go to escape the siren song of stuff, we are met with greater and greater temptation to embrace discontent; we don’t gratefully embrace the blessings we have, but instead we yearn for more, more, more.” (p. 146, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“With greed apparently hardwired into our psyche, how can the little church hope to stand against the rising tide? …Just a quick glance over the Fathers and Holy Scripture will make it clear to even a casual reader that the way we use our resources is essential to a healthy spiritual life.” (pp. 146-147, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Throughout Sacred Tradition, the faithful have always turned from themselves to God when they struggle with the temptation to greed and avarice. The first step toward building a strong little church is placing Christ as the cornerstone.” (p. 149, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“We cannot be free of our possessions so long as they continue to hold preeminence in our minds. As St. Thalassios said, ‘It is not difficult to get rid of material things if you so desire; but only with great effort will you be able to get rid of thoughts about them.’”(p. 151, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The question to ask yourself and your family is not how much you can afford, but in what ways you can give to God’s work of your time, treasure, and talents.” (p. 154, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The act of almsgiving is as important as how you fast or how long you say your prayers. These three are interconnected in a mystical way that vivifies the rest of the building project.” (p. 158, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The only limit to almsgiving is your imagination. The important part is realizing that we are giving back to God out of our love what He has so graciously given to us out of His own love for us.” (p. 158, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 2

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 2: Getting Started

The authors of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” encourage their readers to begin changing their lifestyle to better reflect the life of the Church, but they implore the reader to do so gently. This second chapter of the book offers suggestions of ways to bring the Faith to life in our own homes in a very basic and focused manner. Too much too soon can easily burn a family out, which is not at all the goal. The goal is to grow, and to continue growing, not to flash into a flame that quickly extinguishes.

The reader is encouraged to consider the maxim that Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory was given when he was a young, enthusiastic college student: “Go to church; say your prayers; remember God.” (p. 37) The authors encourage their readers to consider that statement important, because it’s short but full of wisdom when it comes to living the Orthodox Christian life. These three actions will greatly strengthen our little Church. They can be carried out in different ways, none “better” than the others. But our priority should always be that we attend the Divine Services, pray, and keep God foremost in our minds.

The chapter offers suggestions from parents and grandparents of ways to begin doing these things. It shares wise suggestions from Fr. Seraphim Rose as well. Again and again, the reader hears that they should go to church, pray, and remember God. Each suggestion recommends applying gentleness when starting new Orthodox practices, and that families be gracious with themselves and each other along the way. The chapter closes with the admonishment that when we fall, we need to get back up again every time.

 

If you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors, you can connect with Elissa here https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 2:

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“The two things all Orthodox families should begin doing immediately are very simple: Pray and go to church.” (p. 36, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Begin by committing to attendance at every Sunday liturgy, rain or shine, and begin to schedule your extracurricular activities around church. If your family expects you at Mother’s Day brunch, tell them you’ll hurry over after church. If the soccer team always plays on Sunday morning, let them know that you’ll be in church. Make the firm commitment to attend church every Sunday.” (p. 38, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Many saints’ lives teach us that simple humility and fervent prayer bring us closer to God. Trust in this, and don’t get lost in an effort to do everything all at once. Begin to build your little church by laying a foundation of prayer and church attendance, and then build it up layer by layer, a little at a time.” (p. 41, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Learn first of all to be at peace with the spiritual situation which has been given you, and to make the most of it. If your situation is spiritually barren, do not let this discourage you, but work all the harder at what you yourself can do for your spiritual life. It is already something very important to have access to the Sacraments and regular church services. Beyond this you should have regular morning and evening prayers with your family, and spiritual reading—all according to your strength and the possibilities afforded by your circumstances.” (a quote from Fr. Seraphim Rose, as shared on p. 42, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Ask God and His saints to help you as you shepherd your family along this path. Pray that all of you will grow in your love for Christ, that each of you will come to yearn for Him and for a life in the Church. This is the most important thing you can do to help your little church grow.” (p. 43, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘Don’t force children to pray, because that might make them become bitter towards it. Instead, just pray in front of them and ask them to participate. If they refuse to join in, then just pray by yourself and try again the next day. Lead by example.’ —Sophia, mother of two” (p. 44, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Introduction

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Week 1: Introduction

Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker begin their collaborative work, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” with important introductory pieces. Before they mention anything about building the family’s little church, they quite frankly (and repeatedly) urge their readers to each ask their priest which practices will be the best for their particular family. Each reader’s priest knows them and their family situation and thus can best speak to what will or will not be helpful to building the little church in that particular home.

The introductory chapter offers a bit of background for the book, including reasons the authors wrote it. They found that they needed a book like this when their children were younger, but there was none to be had. So they undertook the task to write this one. This introductory chapter offers suggestions of where to begin the process of creating an Orthodox home. It takes a moment to explain the concept of “the little church”. It also touches on what it means to live an Orthodox life. This first chapter is foundational to the book, and prepares the reader well for the subsequent chapters.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings that can offer you a closer look at the beginning of the book:

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“As you attempt to implement the concepts you find here, you may run into trouble. Whenever you’re in doubt, please ask your priest.” (p. 5, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘Even at their age they are exposed to all sorts of folly and bad examples from popular entertainments. Our children need remedies for all these things! We are so concerned with our children’s schooling; if only we were equally zealous in bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord!’” ~St. John Chrysostom (p. 7, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“This book is for parents… We offer this book from sincere hearts to you who desire to present the rich heritage of the Orthodox Church’s teachings for families — what our great saints and elders have often called ‘the little church’.” (p. 9, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“For many families, it is hard enough to get the family up and out of bed for the Divine Liturgy each week — let alone to take on daily prayer, frequent Scripture reading, weekly fasting, Lenten seasons, Vespers, vigils, Matins, and feast days! How can we do everything we’re ‘supposed to do’ when it’s hard enough to find time to do the bare minimum? How are we to raise saints when our toddler doesn’t want to keep his diaper on?” (pp. 10-11, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘My wise priest advised me to stop comparing, to know that we are all running this race together but we must run it with our heads down. When I stopped worrying about what others were doing, I was better able to focus and to lead my own family.’ ~ Elissa Bjeletich (p. 12, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a parent was ask for help… Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll never know what your family can accomplish when you seek counsel and guidance along the path.’” ~ Caleb Shoemaker (pp. 13-14, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“In our modern culture, we compartmentalize our lives… Yet Jesus clearly calls us to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. There is no compartmentalization in this, but true unity… Christ is calling us to a unified understanding of ourselves and our lives. Love for God must become the foundation of everything, and all aspects of our lives — our jobs and our families and our recreation, our meals and our entertainment — must all be connected to and part of a unified whole…” (p. 15, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“…the reality is that young people are fleeing the faith of their families, but not those whose families have instilled a deep faith within their hearts; and the little church is one of the defining reasons children stay in the Church as they grow up.” (p. 17, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The Orthodox life is not complicated. It is beautiful in its simplicity, wondrous in its depth, vivifying in its ritual and sacraments. The complications are typically self-imposed when, instead of following the Church’s teachings or the admonitions of our priests and confessors, we try to cobble together a hodge-podge religion based mostly on external trappings and false deadlines.” (p. 19, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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If you’re interested in learning more about the ideas found in “Blueprints for the Little Church”, check out this webinar https://www.goarch.org/-/blueprints-for-the-little-church; this keynote address https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHPZ57H5zPo; Elissa’s author website https://elissabjeletich.com/; and/or Caleb’s YouTube channel, “May I Have a Word?”: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDmih9jUJ5QKGXfU8iKI-aA/videos

A Closer Look at John 3:17

The Antiochian Archdiocese’s 2020 Creative Arts Festival has as its theme John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Learning and understanding the meaning of this verse is pivotal to our Christian life, for it encourages us to examine condemnation, salvation, and judgement. In context, this verse also affords us the opportunity to choose for ourselves how to respond to God’s offer of salvation through Christ. As we study John 3:17, we can help our children to do the same. Thinking about this verse will help our children to grow in their Faith, while also preparing them to respond to it artistically, if they’re participating in the Festival. 

Rosemary Shumski, Creative Arts Festival coordinator for the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, reflects on the theme in this guest blog:

Let’s examine this quote in context. Most of us are more familiar with the quote from John 3:16, which precedes it, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.” We then have our Creative Festivals Theme, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) This is followed by the quote, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Here are some comments from the Orthodox Study Bible: “While Christ comes to save and not to condemn, man has free will. Thus he can reject this gift, and he becomes condemned by his own rejection.”

Jesus came into the world so that we could be rescued from condemnation. The name “Jesus” literally means “God saves.” He came to show us how we could be reunited with God. In his book, The Great I Came’s of Jesus, Fr. Anthony Coniaris states, “Before Jesus came, we were a fallen race. We needed not a judge to condemn us but a Savior to raise us from our fall…Jesus said, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ We needed someone to lift us, to heal us, not someone to judge and condemn us.”

Because Jesus became incarnate, He is like us in all ways except sin, so He understands His people. Jesus is compassionate, because He knows what it’s like to be tempted. But we have to make the choice as to whether we want to turn away from Him or repent and turn to Him. God didn’t create us to be robots. Because He gave us free will, we have to make that decision for ourselves.

 

Find more information about the Creative Arts Festival theme for 2020 here: http://www.antiochian.org/dashboard?name=Creative%20Festivals%202020

Here are some ways that you can continue to ponder John 3:17:

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An easy way to learn the message of John 3:17 is with the catchy theme song for the Creative Festivals. Here you will find the lyrics and a link to the audio so that you can listen and learn it for yourself! http://www.antiochian.org/regulararticle/448

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“By the Cross, the Son of God having become man, accomplished our salvation…The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell so as to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him.” ~ St. John Maximovitch

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Fr. Joseph Purpura explains the logo for the 2020 Creative Arts Festival theme: “The logo… depicts Christ healing a blind man — Christ is the Healer. Unlike others, Christ did not condemn the blind man for his affliction. Likewise, He did not condemn those who had fallen and sinned. Instead, He healed and restored them to a new life and a new opportunity. Once they were healed, Jesus then told them to change their lives and sin no more.”

creative festivals logo 2020

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“Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are; by Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, ‘God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.’” ~ From St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 28

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“’For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’

It is so simple a message that it is difficult to grasp.  In our weakness of mind it is hard to understand how God can love everyone; his enemies, unrepentant sinners and the righteous all the same.  We cannot bear to admit that God loves even those whom we cannot dream of loving. Even our enemies! The God we imagine into existence fits our notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, good and bad so much that he turns into a projection of our own minds, in other words, an idol.

As one Orthodox writer puts it (and I paraphrase), it is better to say that God does not exist than to project onto him our needs, desires and fantasies.”

So begins Fr. Antony Hughes’ sermon on John 3:17, preached at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA, on Sept. 13, 2009. Read the sermon in its entirety here: http://stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2009/for-god-so-loved-the-world

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“Our whole understanding of what heaven and hell is, has been so distorted and abused by the teachings of the Western churches that it has even entered our Church and made us blind to the teachings of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church Fathers. Heaven is not up there, and hell is not down there. You want to know what hell is? Hell is an absence of God (whether it’s here on this earth or in the afterlife), and it is a turning away from God. You want to know who condemns us to hell? We condemn ourselves. To find yourself in hell is to turn your back on God, to reject God, to reject His mercy. There are people out there who are living in hell on this earth right now, and the sad thing is that they often don’t realise it. They love to blame society, those around them, even the Church, but the answers to their problems are inside of them! All they need to do is to discover God and His kingdom within them, and then will they realise what they’ve been missing all this time. God can’t condemn us to an eternity of misery. It’s just not in His nature. He can only love, but He can’t force you to love Him. If you choose to turn your back on God, turn your back on His unconditional love, then you will create your own hell.” ~ Nick Brown, “Sermon for the Sunday before the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross”, Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, Brisbane, QLD, Sept. 1999

Read the rest of the sermon here: http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/beforecros.htm

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Gleanings from a Book: “The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson

Author’s note: Because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, I was privileged to see a few spreads of this book more than a year before its publication. Although they were but sketches when I saw them, I was struck by their quality and the images gripped me. And my first reading of the (now full-color) book has confirmed what I suspected even then: this book is a treasure. 

“The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson tells the true story of Placidas the soldier, who, amidst his worldly successes and earthly means, was lovingly faithful to his wife and sons, while also being very generous to those in need outside of his home. Perhaps you have never heard of Placidas the Soldier? He was given the name Eustathius at baptism. If you are not familiar with St. Eustathius, either, his story is one that you will do well to learn. There is much that each of us can learn from this saint: through his responses to both misfortunes and pleasant experiences, and through his faithfulness to God. Eustathius already had a good life when he first met Christ, and he served Our Lord fervently after his conversion.

Just like many saints who had gone on before him, Eustathius’ life did not continue to be “good” – well, at least by worldly standards. However, also like those saints, he remained faithful to Christ for his entire life. Like St. Paul, Eustathius had a powerful visitation from Christ which became a conversion experience for him and his household (although his wife had been mysteriously forewarned in a dream, so she was ready!). Like Righteous Job the Longsuffering, bit by bit Eustathius’ status, wealth, and finally even his family were taken from him. Like Righteous Joseph the Patriarch, his faithfulness in his work eventually brought Eustathius honor (and miraculously his loved ones were restored to him once again, as well). And finally, like the Three Holy Youths, the family faced a fiery entrapment with faith and grace.

Throughout the book, Gabriel Wilson has thoughtfully paired his images and text in a way which seamlessly tells the story while also allowing the reader to read between the lines when necessary. The illustrations are masterfully created, simultaneously communicating actions and emotions in a way that is both tasteful and effective. What a gift it is to have an artist of this caliber offer his work to the Orthodox Christian world in a way that makes a saint’s story so appealingly accessible to people of all ages!

Following St. Eustathius’ story in the book, readers will find the troparion and kontakion for St. Eustathius. There is also a spread featuring a variety of icons of him which have been written. The book concludes with a few historical notes from the author.

St. Eustathius’ story is gripping! I sat down to just begin the book but ended up reading the whole thing in one great gulp. Mystery, suspense, loss, love: all are found on the pages of this beautiful work of art. I know that I’ll read it again, and I suspect that I will not be the only one. There’s something here for everyone. St. Eustathius’ story and the lessons that his life teaches us will be treasured by each individual who reads this book.

To purchase a copy of this book, visit https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cross-and-the-stag-the-incredible-adventures-of-st-eustathius/

Here are a few gleanings from the book (this time, we are sharing the  quotes in the context of their images), as well as additional information about St. Eustathius:

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On Sept. 20, we commemorate St. Eustathius and his family. Here is a short podcast about them: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday/sep_20_-_great_martyr_eustathius_placidas_and_his_family

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Find the story of St. Eustathius’ life, along with many icons which have been written to help us remember him, here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-eustathius-eustace-placidas-great.html

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There’s even more of the story of St. Eustathius (including backstory of his family’s experiences) in this detailed description of his life: https://pravoslavie.ru/74099.html

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In the historical notes at the end of “The Cross and the Stag,” we read that “St. Eustathius is the patron saint of hunters, firefighters, and those who face adversity.” Author Gabriel Wilson also notes that people request St. Eustathius’ prayers when they’re traveling over rivers and seas. Readers facing adverse times (or traveling, hunting, or firefighting) may be glad to learn this, and ask for his prayers.

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Gleanings from a Book: “Anthony, the Great” by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka

Just because Anthony is only “four fingers old” doesn’t keep him from helping his family members to keep perspective on their challenges. However, being four has trials of its own, and being a four-year-old who is also an Orthodox Christian affords additional unique tests. But Anthony is ready to meet his challenges! He faces them well with the help of his sidekick Mikey (who happens to be a stuffed dinosaur) and of his patron saint, St. Anthony the Great.

In “Anthony, the Great”, Deacon John Sarantakis offers the tale of a young boy struggling to struggle. The book begins with Anthony reminding everyone that whatever they’re going through is not as big as a dinosaur. Readers of all ages can relate to some part of Anthony’s personality: whether to his love for dinosaurs, his desire for adventure, or his determination to be right. They will be challenged by Anthony’s longing to emulate his patron saint; even when everyone – right down to his favorite stuffed toy – does not do things exactly how he wishes they would be done. Throughout his challenges, Anthony faithfully struggles, as did his patron saint. Each time he does so, love and warmth well up in the heart of the person Anthony has blessed by his struggle. By the end of the book, Anthony discovers something BIGGER than a dinosaur, which is really something to realize!

Misha Pjawka’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil on hot pressed paper illustrations interact with the text in a beautiful dance of playfulness and color, charmingly collaborating to enhance the tale. There’s a degree of transparency to the illustrations that effectively communicates the storyline while also speaking to the state of Anthony’s soul: he clearly longs to do what is right. The book offers its readers an unclouded look at his struggle, both through the text and illustrations. (Side note: both young readers and the young at heart will especially enjoy watching Mikey throughout the book, as he wholeheartedly embraces Anthony’s experiences and adds a touch of humor with his take on them.)

The book ends with a brief overview of the life of St. Anthony. It tells some of his story, and includes his icon. There’s just enough of his story there to help the reader appreciate Anthony’s desire to emulate his patron saint, and perhaps to whet their appetite to learn more about this holy saint who is sometimes called the “father of monasticism.”

I can’t help wishing that Anthony were a real boy. I know that I would enjoy hanging out with him and Mikey, and learning how to emulate St. Anthony the Great by interacting with them. Although he is a fictional character, at least I can enter into Anthony’s life for a moment and be challenged by his struggle to struggle, every time I read “Anthony, the Great”.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Anthony, the Great” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/anthony-the-great/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as some suggestions of ways to engage your family and encourage learning through it:

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“No matter what the day may bring, Papa and Mama often take time to remind Anthony what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.” (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Each time you read this part of the book, allow this phrase to spark a question in your own mind: How are you doing with this? Are you  regularly reminding your child(ren) what it means to be an Orthodox Christian? Perhaps every morning you pray the prayer that includes this phrase, “Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfil Thy holy will…”, but are you teaching your children by example, and showing them how that plays out? Are you doing this especially on the days that things do not go the way that you wish or ”need” them to go? (Find the prayer in its entirety here: http://www.stgeorgeofboston.org/ourfaith/prayers/morningprayer)

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“‘We strive to love God more than anything else,’ says Mama. ‘Sometimes that means not getting or doing what we want. That can be hard. Even so, we struggle to put others before ourselves.’”  (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Talk together about how hard it is to love God more than anything else. What choices does your family make that demonstrate this great love for God? Is it ever hard, like Mama said? Are you struggling to put others before yourselves? How is that working out? If you find yourself lacking in this area, you may want to read this article for encouragement and practical help: http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/tenpointprogram/putting-others-first

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“His patron saint, St. Anthony the Great, had to struggle. A lot… Anthony quietly prayed that he might be more like this great saint of God.” (p. 13, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Do your children know a lot about their patron saint? The more they know about their saint, the better they will be able to emulate them and the more likely they will feel close enough to their patron saint to ask for their prayers. Find ways to help your child(ren) learn even more about their saint. Encourage them to pray that they will become more like their saint. Here is a blog post suggesting ways to teach your children about the saints: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/teaching-your-children-about-the-saints/

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“Papa says temptations are chances to show our love for God.” (p. 16, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Multiple times each day, we pray that God will lead us not into temptation, yet we constantly find ourselves being tempted. Anthony’s statement about what his papa says can help us to wrap our minds around why we are tempted. Find some resources that will help you think about temptations (in the context of the Lord’s Prayer) here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/on-the-lords-prayer-and-lead-us-not-into-temptation/

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“…He was struggling to struggle. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, and he wanted to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it! Even so, Anthony, remembering his prayer, decided to act like his saint…” (p. 25, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Struggle is an important – and necessary – part of our Orthodox Christian life. Read what the scriptures and the Church fathers have to say about it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/on-struggle/

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“‘My sweet boy, because you struggled against what you wanted, you helped your family. I’m proud of you. When we do these things, we imitate Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. A love that is bigger and greater than anything else in the world.’” ~ Anthony’s Papa (p. 27, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Invite family members to share times when they have seen another family member sacrifice themselves or their desire for someone else. How did it make them feel to see that happen? Can anyone tell about a time that they did not sacrifice themselves or their own desire, but they wish they had? How would the experience have been different, if they had done so? This article will encourage you to continue to love more and more selflessly: http://myocn.net/selfless-nature-love/

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