Tag Archives: Family Time

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 5

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 5: Developing Your Rhythm

All Christians must find time to pray, and the “Little Church” benefits greatly from praying together. The fifth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” focuses on encouraging families to be intentional in planning time for prayer in their family schedule. Authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker advocate that their readers to look closely at their most precious commodity: at their time. They urge parents to consider how to budget their family’s schedule in such a way that prayer is not a “tacked on” extra, but is actually a significant part of the daily routine.

The chapter doesn’t just encourage its readers to find time for prayer: it also reminds the reader how important prayer is, and how valuable it is for parents to teach their children to pray by praying with them. The authors suggest a few basic prayer times, and offer several sample schedules. But they recognize that even the best-laid schedule cannot be adhered to at all times. They recommend that for such times, families be prepared to do what they can to stick to the rhythm of prayer they’ve set up for their household, but when they can’t do that, well, then they need to give themselves some grace. (And pick up and continue the rhythm as soon as possible.)

The main thrust of this chapter is that “Little Churches” must pray together. Family prayer times will not happen unless they are intentionally planned and carried out. This chapter offers its readers a push in the direction of making that planning happen.

 

Do you have a 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 5:

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“Making time for prayer can be one of the greatest struggles for families. There are so many other activities pulling and fighting for our attention that adding one more thing can be overwhelming. Between sports practice, weekly church service, full-time jobs, driver’s ed, and ballet class, it can be hard enough for a family to eat a meal together, let alone say a full prayer rule.” (p. 92, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The Church in her wisdom offers us a healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love.” (p. 93, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Just as we work out our financial budgets, we must budget our most precious commodity, time. Take some time… to go over your weekly time budget… Identify those gaps of time each day when everyone is usually present (barring unforeseen events) and establish those few minutes for family prayer.” (pp. 94-95, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Find the rhythm that works for you. Your house is an extension of the parish and a microcosm of Christ’s Church. Learn to celebrate this and make your home a place where prayer, silence, work, and sacred fellowship are the norm rather than the occasional treat.” (p. 96, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Family prayer is essential, and it should be prioritized— but the timing will vary for each family. It is best if families work out their own rhythm, so long as the critical elements of family prayer and study are always included.” (p. 101, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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What about those times when you just can’t do it? Naturally, there is no need to be legalistic about these rhythms, and when extraordinary circumstances arise, the rhythm should be flexible… The important thing is to make room for prayers in your routine.” (p. 102, “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 1

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 1: Why the Little Church?

In chapter 1 of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”, authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker help their readers better understand the concept of the “little Church”. The chapter begins by reminding each reader that “The Church” is not a building or place: rather, it is the Body of Christ, including all of His people throughout time. The smallest unit of the Church is the family unit, or the “little Church”.

The chapter goes on to suggest that family life is a type of asceticism. Just as monks are interrupted from their daily tasks for prayer, so family members are interrupted from their daily tasks by each other. But rather than distracting us from it, family life can actually bring each member of a family deeper into the spiritual life, when it is properly approached. The authors encourage their readers to look for ways to make their own home a “natural monastery”, where the family works together and grows spiritually at the same time.

The chapter continues with a closer look at marriage and baptism: two foundational events in the construction of the little Church. The authors offer their readers the opportunity to revisit many prayers from each of those events, to see how, even from marriage and from baptism, the Church of their home is being established among its members. The authors encourage parents to remember that it is their job to raise saints, and that, as they work toward that end, the family can practice asceticism together. The chapter closes with several “holy habits” that families can develop to work toward this end.

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 from chapter 1:

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“The little church has its own hierarchy and its lay versions of the sacraments—we break bread together, we bless one another, anoint one another, pray for one another, and love one another in this little community, striving together to grow ever closer to Christ.” (p. 22, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Family life, however, can also lead one to deep spirituality. A family can be immersed in prayer, both at table and after, and their hospitality and generosity will speak of an earnest application of Christ’s exhortation to love their neighbor as themselves.” (p. 23, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“God sends everything to us for our salvation, and we can receive it that way, accepting each of our daily tasks and experiences as a call to prayer. When confronted with mountains of laundry, we can thank God for clothing us as He clothes the lilies of the field; when approaching a sink full of dirty dishes, we can thank Him for providing food and ask that He nourish our souls as well. Every mundane task that makes family life so busy can be received as a call to prayer.” (p. 25, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The truth is that your home is a school, a hospital, and a church. Your children will learn their spirituality from you, and it is a sacred calling for parents to shepherd—literally, to pastor—their children in the ways of righteousness.” (p. 27, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“It is in these moments—these holy spaces—that man and woman are no longer individuals but are bound to one another, and a new one icon is created. It is in this holy event that a young child is crucified with Christ, resurrected with Him in glory, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and tonsured—set apart—for the work of the priesthood in which all believers participate.” (pp. 29-30, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“…Our little churches should be communities always centered on Christ, where love and forgiveness reign, where we pray together ad struggle toward salvation together. This includes directing our children in loving submission and repentance to their Heavenly Father, who has promised to complete a good work in them. It is not about manners—it’s about holiness. It’s not about “good behavior” — it’s about a life given completely to God in loving humility and peace.” (p. 32, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Sunday school, religious schools, and summer camps are not enough; they may enrich what you are doing in the home, but they cannot replace it. We cannot outsource the raising of saints.” (p. 34, “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

Introducing a Resource: SaintsBox.com

(note: the emailed materials in the subscription arrive in full color, but are depicted here in black and white)

 

“You’ve got mail!” Oh, how I loved to hear these words when I was a child! It was the same for my children as they grew up, as well. Each piece of mail “just for them” was met with great enthusiasm and eagerness. At least in our family’s experience, it is a joy for children to receive mail of their very own!

Did you know that there is an Orthodox resource that will send your child(ren) mail of their own? And this is not just any old mail: this mail builds the faith of its recipients, preparing them for each Sunday’s Divine Liturgy! The resource is called SaintsBox.com, and while most SaintsBox mail is delivered electronically, some of it arrives via the postal service. SaintsBox.com offers two different weekly email subscriptions, as well as optional accoutrements such as a “Saint of the Month” vinyl icon cards subscription (complete with a small tin for housing the collection), and other related products which are sent through the postal service. The weekly email subscriptions at SaintsBox.com are geared towards two different age levels of children. Each aims to “reinforce what the Church has already established so our children will embrace the True Faith for life!” (home page, https://www.saintsbox.com/)

“St. John’s Clubhouse” (named after St. John Maximovich of San Francisco) is the SaintsBox email subscription that is full of ways to help children ages 4-8 prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy. A cast of characters called “the Clubhouse Kids” help the “clubhouse members” learn something about Sunday’s Gospel by sharing a related “story from their life” that bring the Gospel reading to life. They include the passage, so that parents and children can read the Gospel reading together before the Liturgy. They also challenge clubhouse members to anticipate or look for a particular thing during the upcoming Sunday Liturgy. This may include explaining an unfamiliar vocabulary word or upcoming event in the life of the Church. A printable sheet including a beautiful line-art icon (by Kiah Boyd) and a brief explanation will give the member an opportunity to learn more about the saint or featured feast/event for that particular Sunday. Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here: https://www.saintsbox.com/st-johns-clubhouse/.

“TQ6:21” is the SaintsBox email subscription which is actually a treasure quest for 8-12 year olds. Named for Matthew 6:21 (“for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”), this subscription club helps its readers seek treasures of the Faith in the context of the Scriptures. In order to complete the puzzles in each week’s quest, “questers” need to read the Epistle and Gospel readings for the forthcoming Sunday Liturgy. In the context of clues and riddles, questers will learn about the Faith, the Scriptures, the saints, and more. Find more information about TQ6:21 here: https://www.saintsbox.com/tq621/.

Both subscriptions offer activities that parents and children can experience together, or parents can participate with part of the adventure, and the children can do the rest. (SaintsBox suggests that parents of the 4-8 year olds will likely spend 15 minutes per week and parents of 8-12 year olds, only 5-10 minutes each week, most of which is reading the Scripture passages together.) In other words, this subscription will also help the parents prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy as well, but it is not a huge time commitment!

Besides the two email subscriptions, SaintsBox.com also offers materials such as their SaintsBox, which is a pocket-sized tin filled with a baker’s dozen vinyl icon cards, each written by Elina Pelikan and featuring a different saint or event. (The SaintsBox is also available as a larger set which includes information sheets about each saint and an olive wood cross from the Holy Land.) SaintsBox.com’s tin “Trisagion Pocket Prayer Corner” includes the trisagion prayer; a vinyl icon of Christ, the Theotokos, and St. John the Forerunner; and an olive wood cross. Each of the vinyl icon cards are also available for individual purchase. So if you have a child who particularly loves one of the featured saints, you may wish to have just that saint’s card mailed to them. (Vinyl icons include: Christ/Theotokos/St. John the Forerunner; St. Patapios; St. Katherine of Alexandria; St. Jonah Bishop of Manchuria; the Nativity of the Theotokos; the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus; Sts. Aquila and Priscilla; St. Columba of Iona; St. Irene the Great Martyr; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Patrick; St. Haralambos; St. Mugo; and St. John of San Francisco.)

We have seen samples of SaintsBox.com’s materials and would highly recommend this resource to Orthodox parents and teachers with children aged 4-12. The subscription materials are appealing and fun but also quite helpful. The icon cards/tin sets are sturdy, useful and interesting. The artwork is beautifully tasteful and engaging. SaintsBox.com’s materials will help Orthodox children (and the adults in their life) grow closer to Christ and His Church, one Sunday’s Gospel reading at a time.

If your child (or grandchild, Sunday Church school student, or godchild) enjoys getting mail of their own, we encourage you to check out SaintsBox.com. Whether you decide to mail a vinyl saint card to them, or to send a full subscription to the program, your child(ren) will enjoy receiving the mail that comes their way. And this extraordinary mail will help them (and you!) to grow closer to Christ and His Church!

 

Here is a little more information about SaintsBox.com and its offerings which may be of help to you:

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“Our goal is to help children engage with more of the service and make deeper connections with Christ and His Saints.” ~ Annalisa Boyd, creator/writer of SaintsBox.com
Read more from her, and meet the creative team behind this wonderful subscription service here:  https://www.saintsbox.com/about-2/

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“Welcome to St. John’s Clubhouse, a subscription box club for your 4-8 year old. As parents, we understand the importance of instilling a love for Christ and His Church in the hearts of our children. We want them to embrace the True Faith as taught through Holy Tradition and the Living Church, but it’s hard to know where to start. St. John’s clubhouse offers the tools you need to help prepare your child to participate more fully in the Divine Liturgy each week. They will become friends with the Clubhouse Kids as they share from the Holy Scriptures, meet a Sunday saint and… do activities that inspire them to live the faith in every life situation. As you know, kids this age are CONSTANTLY learning. Providing teaching materials that feel like play, opens the door for your child to make long lasting positive connections between Church and home.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here: https://www.saintsbox.com/st-johns-clubhouse/

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“TQ6:21 (Treasure Quest – Matthew 6:21 “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also”)

We have all been called to the challenging and amazing life-long quest of storing up treasure for heaven by being transformed into the image of Christ. This quest, as you well know, is a matter of life and death, and our kids need all of the tools that the Church has to offer if they are to endure to the end. In order to help our children on that journey into Life, we have created the TQ6:21 program, which provides practical and engaging ways for kids to learn to own their faith and live it daily. We have aimed, in our theming of the activities, to tap into the natural love for adventure of 8-12 year-olds, helping them to develop their unique talents, godly character, a deeper understanding of their faith, and a lasting love for Holy Tradition as expressed in the living Church — all while just plain having fun! We’ve prepared this guide for you as the adult assisting them, to help explain the basic format of the program, and how it is designed to function.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about TQ6:21 here: https://www.saintsbox.com/tq621/

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Watch SaintsBox creator Annalisa Boyd’s video podcast “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers”, in which she introduces SaintsBox, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7Xnl-UNAFo&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR09Efb4p7lgNkfcsken3bSSCL3jP7c5CO3HhCNK2vc9JosCKl9e8lAqfFs (Note: at the time of this podcast, the subscriptions were not all electronic. The podcast does a good job of describing the program and how children have interacted with it. However, several times in the podcast Annalisa mentions receiving the subscription items in the mail. Listeners will need to keep in mind that the subscriptions are now emailed, not snail-mailed to the child.)

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Find a sample of the beautiful icon line art which Kiah Boyd creates for St. John’s Clubhouse here. (This one was for Pentecost.) https://www.facebook.com/2088291571190702/photos/a.2169450139741511/2497858676900654/?type=3&theater

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“I just love Saint John of San Francisco! Our family had the amazing opportunity to visit his relics when we lived in California. We got to go to the home that had been the location of the orphanage he began in San Francisco. We got to sit in his chair in his cell and say the Our Father. We even visited the original wooden church he had established and were blessed to have his Philonion (the cape part of his vestments) draped over us as the priest prayed for our family. From then on, each time we have seen an icon of Saint John, it has been like seeing a dear friend. That is our goal with presenting these icon cards…” ~ Annalisa Boyd, offering a bit of the back-story of the St. John of San Fransisco icon card available from SaintsBox.com at https://www.saintsbox.com/product/saint-john-of-san-francisco-saint-card/

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A Gathering of Ideas for Preparing for a New School Year

It is nearly the beginning of a new school year for many of our community who live in the northern hemisphere. We have come across some interesting ideas that we thought could be a help to some in our community, and have compiled them to share here. We hope that you will find something useful and helpful to your family.

If your family is among those beginning a new school year, may the Lord bless your transition! May He provide for, guide, and strengthen each child as they learn. May He grant you parents wisdom to know how to support and encourage each child and his/her teacher(s) (even if the teacher is you or your spouse!). May this school year be a year of growth and great learning.

Here are some of the links that we found. Are you able to add any additional ideas? What have you found helpful at the beginning of a school year? Please share it with the community!

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Years ago, we share some ideas of ways to prepare ourselves and our children for the back to school transition. Here is that blog post, in case you missed it and would find some of its ideas/encouragement helpful: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/on-the-transition-back-to-school/

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If you and/or your family would like some inspiration for ways to be better organized at home for the school year, check out the huge variety of ideas found here: https://www.thesimplycraftedlife.com/40-back-to-school-organization-ideas/

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Find free printable checklists and labels for back-to-school organizing here: https://www.classyclutter.net/back-to-school-printables/

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While it’s labeled as an “end of year” activity, this free printable “Who am I?” page would be a fun way to measure your children’s growth over the upcoming school year. Allow them to draw themselves and fill in the blanks at the beginning of the year on one copy, and again on a second copy at the end. Then you can look together at the two copies to see how they’ve changed and grown, and how even their handwriting is different! ://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/End-of-the-Year-Activity-Who-Am-I-281581

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Whether your children are going to school, or you are schooling at home, there are lots of ideas here for crafts, snacks, and lunches that will be useful throughout the school year! http://astorybookday.com/30-ideas-for-back-to-school/

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Homeschooling families will find here a delightful collection of ideas of ways to celebrate the start of a new school year. (We especially liked the school supplies treasure hunt idea!) https://rockyourhomeschool.net/back-to-homeschool-first-day/

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These printables, party ideas, and creative plans will help you celebrate the beginning of a school year with your children! https://aslrochelle.com/rochelle-barlow/120-ideas-for-back-to-homeschool

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Any one of these would be a fun way to spend a last-summer-vacation-day or first-weekend-after-school-starts-day!

http://www.sunshineandspoons.com/2016/11/30-random-acts-of-kindness-to-do-with.html

 

On the Gift of Story

When I was a child, I remember sitting with my family (and any guests we were hosting) around the table after dinner, and listening as the adults told stories and jokes. I have always loved stories, and this daily experience fed my hunger for them. Throughout my growing-up years, I remember begging my parents to tell me tales from their childhood. Sometimes they’d remember one, and tell it to me, and other times they couldn’t think of any story to tell. I remember adamantly thinking to myself that I was going to remember every single thing from my childhood, so that I would always be able to tell my own children stories when they asked for one. In my childhood mind, that was the best gift I could give to my future kids. (Unfortunately, my memory did not serve me as well as I intended, and therefore many times when my own children would ask for stories, I could not call any to mind! Now that my children are grown and no longer begging for stories, often something will jog a childhood memory, and at last I can think of stories to tell!)

It wasn’t until I was teaching first grade in a private Christian school that I began to appreciate the gift (and power!) of story. My favorite class to teach in those years was Bible class. One day, I realized why I loved teaching Bible class so much (besides the obvious fact that it was a lesson from the Scriptures). You see, it was in Bible class that I could teach in a way that engrossed my students: through story. Years later, after we had children of our own and I was no longer teaching in a classroom, our family began sharing other cultures with children and their families through educational gatherings which always included folktales. I am confident that the children (and adults) who attended may not remember any of the facts or activities from those gatherings. But if I were to ask them something about the folktale that we told, even years after the event, a light would go on in their mind, and a smile would cross their lips, as they remembered it. Stories are a gift, because they are memorable, and even children can understand them.

What is it about stories that entices children? And is it just a childhood thing, this longing for stories? I have noticed in my adult life that I am much better able to digest concepts if they are embedded in a story than if I am just presented with the idea. I retain much more from walking through a living history exhibit and speaking with its re-enactors than I do from visiting a glass-encased-artifact museum. As our family journeyed toward Orthodoxy, it was Frederica Mathewes-Green’s story of a year in their mission parish, her book Facing East, which made the Faith real to me, not a straightforward theological discourse. Story speaks to the adult me, just as much as it did to the child. I suspect that I am not alone. Given our whole culture’s renewed interest in storytelling (even businesses are utilizing storytelling for increased success!), it seems that stories are for everyone, not just children.

Perhaps this is why, throughout the history of mankind, storytelling was utilized as a means for communicating culture, history, and morals. That’s a tall order! But it was effective. Unfortunately, in the last centuries, we have begun to step away from the gift of story. As we rely more on technology for learning and less on sitting together around the dinner table (or campfire) and talking to each other, the experienced people in our midst are not as readily able to share their wisdom through their stories. This has reduced the organic transfer of culture, history, and morals. The recent “rebirth” of interest in storytelling in our culture is a step (back) in the right direction. Now it is up to us to move beyond interest in storytelling, and begin to actually practice it.

Stories are a gift, because they are a memorable (and fun!) way for life lessons to be beautifully conveyed. Our Lord Himself offered us this gift when He told stories. Remember all the parables that He shared? Many of them were great stories but they also incited discussion because they housed deeper meaning. Christ modeled for us the use of story for teaching.

We should be taking advantage of this gift! As we do, perhaps the stories that we share will come from our personal experience. As a child, I craved stories from my parents’ growing-up years. But even now, as an adult, I continue to savor the stories that they tell me from years gone by. We should not underestimate the value of personal stories. Retelling our personal history allows our listeners to hear what life was like when we were younger. The stories are engaging because they’re real, they’re about someone the hearer actually knows, and they bring the past to life. They can also teach a lesson, especially if we are humble enough to even tell the stories of our mistakes. As we share our stories, let us be careful not to gloss over those mistakes. Rather, let us allow our listeners to learn from them. God gives us opportunities to suffer and stumble and get back up again, not just for our own salvation, but also for the salvation of those around us who can learn from our choices (and even from our mistakes!).

Another way to share the gift of story is through reading books together. They may be Orthodox books and/or books that directly teach an important concept or lesson. At other times, we may share a story from a book that is not Orthodox, and maybe does not even directly teach a concept or virtue, but it opens up a way to speak together about one. Perhaps the main characters in the story actually make the wrong choice. Rather than throwing out the story altogether because of that wrong choice, we can allow such a story to become a launching point, a way to safely talk together about the Faith and our choices and to learn through the characters’ mistakes. This can save us from having to make the mistake ourselves. (Of course, each family is different, and is thus differently able to process the stories that they hear. Because of this, we adults need to decide which stories are appropriate to share with our listeners. This requires preparation through careful thought and pre-reading before sharing, but in the long run, it is very worthwhile.)

Modern schedules may no longer allow for the daily extended mealtimes that I experienced when I was a child. This makes it more difficult for storytelling to happen naturally. However, this gift is so valuable that it is worth investing the time and energy required to make it happen. Let us find a way to give the gift of story, and value it when we receive it in return!

Note: We are not all professional storytellers. That’s okay. The personal touch, the time that is offered in order to tell a story, and the beloved voice of the teller is what makes each story valuable and approachable to the listeners, whether or not the storyteller is a pro.

 

Here are some ideas and additional information that may be helpful as you begin to share the gift of story:

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Years ago we shared a series of posts about bedtime stories. In case you missed it: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/05/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-1-why-read-at-bedtime/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-2-books-to-read-with-younger-children/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-3-books-to-read-with-older-children/

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We wrote before about the value of sharing stories from the scriptures. If you missed that, check it out here:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-1-introduction-and-a-few-resources/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-2-old-testament-stories/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-3-new-testament-stories/

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Did you see our blog post about telling the stories of the saints? If not, here it is: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/bedtime-and-other-rituals-sharing-stories-of-the-saints/

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Would you like to read more about the value of telling your children stories from your family’s history and/or your own personal life? Check this out: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/what-kids-learn-from-hearing-family-stories/282075/?utm_source=atlfb

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Most folk tales offer the opportunity for character-building discussions. Check your public library’s 398.2 section of the non-fiction part of the children’s department to find a multitude of such books (but, as always, read the stories yourself before reading them with children, to verify that they will work for what you’re trying to learn together). There are other character-building stories available, as well. For example, these: http://www.momentsaday.com/storybooks-that-build-character-printable-activity-pages/

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Here is a list of picture books that may be helpful to your family, if you are looking for stories that can encourage discussions on character building. (Again, we encourage you to read these books yourself before sharing them with your children, to make sure that they’ll work for your particular situation.) https://thecharactercorner.com/15-books-to-teach-character-to-kids/

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Here are some suggested chapter books that may be helpful to your family, if you are looking for stories that can encourage discussions on character building. (Again, we encourage you to read these books yourself before sharing them with your children, to make sure that they’ll work for your particular situation.)

https://www.notconsumed.com/chapter-books-teach-moral-lessons/

https://thecharactercorner.com/character-building-books/

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If you want to read more about encouraging character-building through stories, you may find these books helpful: https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-childs-heart-fourth-edition/gladys-hunt/9780310242468/pd/42463?event=ESRCN|M and https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-a-teenagers-heart/gladys-hunt/9780310242604/pd/42606?event=ESRCN|M

 

 

On Creating (and Using) a “Godfulness Jar”

Mindfulness is a buzzword in current culture. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for mindfulness is this: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Many mindfulness practices encourage focusing your mind on positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts being promoted are not necessarily compatible with our Orthodox Christian faith.

The practice of focusing our minds should not be a foreign concept to us as Orthodox Christians. We hear often in the Divine Liturgy a reminder to focus: “Let us attend!” It depends upon what we focus that causes that focus to be for our growth or our downfall. If we are focusing our mind on God and on words that point our mind to Him, that focus is helpful – even essential – to our spiritual growth. But focusing on ourselves and/or what we can do cuts us off from growing closer to God. So, instead of the self-focused affirmations encouraged by many mindfulness practices, we need to choose to fill our minds with Godly thoughts including those found in the scriptures, in prayers, and words spoken by the Church fathers.

If you (or anyone in your family) struggles to focus on God or to keep your mind on Him in the face of discouraging or distracting thoughts, you need to find a way out of that downward spiral! Here is an idea of one easy-to-make tool which may be helpful to that end. Create a “Godfulness” jar. “What in the world is that?” you may ask? Well, it’s a jar that contains arrow prayers, scriptures, and quotes from Church fathers all aimed at calming and soothing your thoughts by pointing them to God.

Godfulness Jar Illustration

To make your own “Godfulness” jar, fill a clean, empty jar with quotes that can be drawn out and pondered, whenever one’s mind needs to be calmed, soothed, focused, or quieted. However, instead of loading the jar with slips of paper containing personal affirmations (as is encouraged in some mindfulness circles), include arrow prayers, verses, and quotes from saints. Label the jar “Our Godfulness Jar”, since each item inside points its reader’s mind to focus on God.

Godfulness Jar pictoral version

Families with young children may wish to create a slightly different “Godfulness Jar”. Instead of slips of paper with a quote, prayer, or verse to be read, collect small icon cards, photos of peaceful places you have visited together, and pictures from church – such as the candle table, smoke rising from the censor, photos of parts of the iconostasis, etc. These cards and pictures can be pulled out of the jar and “read” as needed by a young person needing to adjust their focus. Place these “pre-reading” items in a plastic “Godfulness Jar”.

After you create a “Godfulness Jar”, store it where everyone in your family can reach it. Encourage your family members to pull out one slip (or picture) whenever they feel that they’re anxious, afraid, overloaded, angry, etc. They can read and re-read it until their mind is focused on God instead of the disturbing thought(s). After they’ve read and focused on the quote, they can keep it with them as a reminder, or return it to the jar to be used again by someone else. (Remember to visit the jar yourself, when you need it!)

Keep your “Godfulness Jar” in mind as you pray, read scriptures, and read the Church Fathers. As time passes, you will collect more and more quotes to add to it, to replace any that have gone missing. With use, your jar will help to fill your mind with thoughts of God and with His peace.

Find a “starter set” of quotes that you can cut apart to put in your jar here.

Here are a few samples of the “Godfulness Jar” quotes in the starter set:

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