Tag Archives: Ideas

On Traveling with Children

Author’s note: Both of my children left home to travel on the day this was written. They are visiting different parts of the world (one went to Brussels, the other to Boston). They are both now old enough to plan their own trips and do their own packing. However, it was not too long ago when I was both family packer and entertainment provider. This post is for those of us still in that position. Enjoy this season of family travel: another season will be headed your way before you know it!

Traveling with children is a joy. Children help us to take our travels at a more relaxed pace, to rest more often (especially in their younger, “still napping” years), and they help us to not overbook our vacation adventures. Their wonder at the discoveries made along the way is an added bonus. The love for life and adventure that our children bring to our lives is even more noticeable on trips, probably because we are not “working” and thus have more time to notice and savor it (and them)!

That said, traveling with children offers us a different kind of work. It requires us to be on our a-game even more than usual. We need to be well prepared even before we begin the trip, thinking of all that the family will need to wear/eat/do, so that we can better enjoy all the joys mentioned above.. While traveling, we often need to think fast and/or be able to improvise if there are events or needs we did not prepare for before leaving on the trip.

In the event that you are preparing to travel with children, we have compiled a collection of links of ideas that can help you to be prepared as you travel. We hope that some of these will be useful to you, whether now or in years to come. When you travel again, may you have safe travels! May God bless your family’s time together and fill your travels with happy memories!

This travel prayer is a great place to start:
Lord Jesus,

You who are the Way, the Truth, and the Life;

You who travelled with Your servant Joseph;

You who accompanied Your two disciples on the road to Emmaus and set their hearts aflame with the warmth of your love;

Travel with (us) also and bless (our) journey.

Warm and gladden (our) hearts with the nearness of Your Presence.
Surround (us) with Your holy angels to keep (us) safe.

Deliver and protect (us) from all danger, misfortune and temptation.

Keep (us) in the center of Your love and obedient to Your will.

Journey always with (us) in (our) greater journey as pilgrims on earth on (our) way home to You.

Help (us) return home again in peace, health, and good will that (we) may praise and glorify Your exalted Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all the days of (our) life.

Amen

Here are some travel ideas that we found. What ideas do you have? Please comment and share them with the community!

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Taking a road trip? Orthodox Mom has you covered, with printable activity page links, good behavior ideas, even links to snack recipes that travel well! Check it out for one sweet road trip: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2012/06/27/road-trip-activities/

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Are you anticipating any long travel days? This mom offers suggestions for an activity binder that uses plastic sleeves and dry-erase markers so the activities can be done over and over. We especially liked the photocopied face pictures that can be “doodled on,” then erased and redrawn! Check out the suggestions for a long car (or plane, or boat) trip here:

http://www.itsalwaysautumn.com/2012/5/14/disneyland-week-what-to-do-in-the-car.html

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The 20 ideas and links found in this blog post are geared for airplane travel, but most of them would work in the car/train/boat/bus as well. We especially liked the velcro craft stick idea and the rainbow rice “I Spy” bottle: https://www.merakilane.com/20-easy-travel-activities-to-keep-kids-happy-on-an-airplane/?utm_content=buffere4517&utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest.com&utm_campaign=buffer#_a5y_p=1853702

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Traveling with a toddler? Here are a bunch of ideas you may want to consider. Perhaps some of them would work for you and your toddler(s):

http://wtftheblog.com/2015/08/how-to-keep-your-toddler-busy-on.html

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One mom’s ideas have been turned into (free!) printable pages that you can find at the bottom of this blog:

https://mothersniche.com/the-ultimate-travel-activity-kit-free-printables-and-super-fun/

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Find ideas for puzzles and games to make ahead of time, craft-type learning activity kits to assemble, a pizza box “town” suggestion, and fun (free!) printables for games for your family to play as you take a car trip together here:

http://www.123homeschool4me.com/2013/05/50-ideas-for-car-trip-fun.html

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Find suggestions for things to put in each of your children’s parent-assembled travel kits here:

http://naturalfamilytoday.com/parenting/diy-kids-travel-activity-kits/

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Find printable scavenger hunt lists (for varied ages) for road trips here:

http://www.momsminivan.com/scavenger.html

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Need more ideas for travel binders? Check these out:

http://www.kcedventures.com/blog/40-free-printable-road-trip-activities

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Want some help organizing your road trip? This is amazingly well thought through:

http://www.suitcasesandsippycups.com/2015/08/the-ultimate-road-trip-packing-list.html

On Finding a Way to Help (Even on a Limited Budget)

Author’s note: We have written in the past about having a family goal for the summer. If your family’s summer goal is to grow in the faith, read on! We’ve also shared some ideas of activities in your back pocket for when your children need some guidance/something to do. Here is yet another idea  – something that your family can do together that will offer common purpose while also allowing you to actively live your Faith this summer.

 

There are so many different needs that come to our attention. A local fire or flood, a foreign orphanage, a friend-of-a-friend’s illness with lofty medical costs, hungry homeless in a nearby city, etc. The list goes on, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Because we are Christians, we need to live a life of giving and helping. We become aware of needs, sometimes on a daily basis, and we know that we should be part of the cure for those needs. But where do we start? What can we do to help? How can we make a difference?

There may be times and seasons in our life when we can actually go to where the need is and physically help. There may be other times when going is just not possible, but we are able to help financially. But what about those times when we cannot go, but we also do not have the kind of money that we want to donate to help?

Even as far back as the 6th century, this must have been an issue as well, because Abba Dorotheos spoke to it. His words still hold for us today. He said, “No one can say, ‘I am poor and hence I have no means of giving alms.’ For even if you cannot give as the rich gave their gifts into the temple treasury, give two farthings as the poor widow did, and from you God will consider it greater gift than the gifts of the rich. And if you do not have as much as two farthings? You can take pity on the sick and give alms by ministering to them. And if you cannot do even this? You can comfort your brother by your words. ‘A good word is better than the best of gifts.’” In other words, we need to look at what we can give, and give that; whether it’s lots of money, a little money, our time, or our kindness.

If we want our family to live the life of the righteous people mentioned in Matthew 25: 35-36 (“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” etc.), we can give of what we have, as Abba Dorotheos mentioned. But maybe we can get a little creative with what we have, and multiply it so that we have more to give! If we just back up a little in that same chapter of Matthew, we will find one of Christ’s parables: “The Parable of the Talents.” In this story, we read about people who were given talents (money) according to their ability. The focus in this parable is not so much on how much they were given as it is in how they USED what they were given. The person with only one talent who did absolutely nothing with it ended up losing what he was given; whereas the ones who used what they were given, multiplied it and were able to enter into the joy of their lord.

But how do we multiply what we have? First, we need to sit together as a family and identify which need(s) we want to help to meet at this time. Our priest can be very helpful in this part of the process: he knows what is needed and can help us decide where to give! Then we need to decide how much we can give (we’ll call that our “deposit”). After we’ve committed to give a portion of our money – the deposit – to help meet the need(s) we’ve selected, we can begin to brainstorm creative ways to multiply that deposit. We can either set a specific goal of how much we hope to raise and work to that end, or just try to make it grow as much as possible: that’s up to our family. Once we’ve brainstormed ways to multiply our deposit to help us reach our goal, we need to select one of those creative ways to multiply it, then work together to carry it out.

This process can be a great blessing not only to those in need who receive the final gift we give, but also to our family! They will gain some items or finances that they need. We gain the joy of giving from what we have. We also gain the positive experience of working together to choose a need and then finding a way to help to meet the need. Perhaps best of all, we gain the peace of knowing that, at least in this part of our life, we are living as true Christians.

“Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40

Need some ideas of ways to multiply your giving? Here are a few. What ideas do you have? Share them with the community, and let’s all get to work, making a difference in our world! We are not limited to one creative means of multiplying our deposit: once we complete one project’s gift, we can move on to another!

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Spend your family’s deposit money on supplies to create something else that you can offer for sale. Does your family like to bake? Spend it on ingredients and get baking! Do you prefer to create things? Spend it on craft supplies and make the crafts together. Do you enjoy building things? Purchase the needed wood and get sawing! (Here are some ideas for starters: http://www.parents.com/recipes/familyrecipes/quickandeasy/simple-bake-sale-treats/; http://diyjoy.com/crafts-to-make-and-sell; http://www.diyncrafts.com/4478/home/40-genius-rustic-home-decor-ideas-can-build)

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Perhaps your family’s “deposit money” isn’t money at all: maybe you are able to donate items that you no longer need or use or just want to give. Together as a family, go through your things and find these items. If you are trying to meet a need that requires the items themselves, you can give them as your gift. If not, you can sell them at a yard sale, consignment shop, classified ad, or online. Then you will have money to give if that is what is needed! (You may want to check out the ideas here, or find more elsewhere online: http://clark.com/personal-finance-credit/where-to-sell-your-old-stuff-for-top-dollar/)

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What can you turn your “deposit” into? Find something that you’re willing to part with, and trade it for something better. Then trade that item for something even better, and so on, until you end up meeting your goal for the gift you want to give. Need inspiration? This young man traded a red paperclip for a pen shaped like a fish… and traded that for a doorknob with a crazy face on it… and on and on, until he had a house. Adults (one of the trade offers which he turned down is not appropriate for children to hear) can watch his Ted talk about the experience here, for inspiration, if you haven’t heard about this idea before: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s3bdVxuFBs

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Perhaps you’d rather have a family work day to turn your “deposit” into more money. Brainstorm the kind of work you can do together as a family – perhaps yard cleanup, a painting job, cooking or cleaning for someone. “Advertise” to your parish and/or neighbors, to see if any of them would need your help and be willing to hire your family. You may need to spend some of your “deposit” on flyers advertising your family’s services, on gas to get to wherever you’re working, on lunch or drinks needed to fortify you, etc…, but your earnings should still multiply it!

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What talents do your family members have? Consider hosting a “(your family’s name) Shares Their Talents” night in your backyard. Charge a small admission fee, have snacks for sale, have some guessing games or raffle items, and then share your talents with attendees in a performance! In this case, your “deposit” will need to cover advertising flyers, food, and prizes. Your talents and the donations of your generous guests will multiply the deposit to grow your gift! (Here’s how one family hosted a neighborhood talent show, if you need ideas: http://lessthanperfectlifeofbliss.com/2013/08/talent-show-party-night-with-stars.html)

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What if you have no “deposit” money available to give? No problem! Approach business owners that your family knows, to see if they would be willing to sponsor your family as you serve in the community. This idea gives twice: once to the organization which you are serving in the service project, and once to the need which your sponsor money will help to meet! Ask your priest for ideas of where to serve. If he doesn’t have any suggestions, consider one of these ideas: https://hybridrastamama.com/50-family-friendly-community-service-project-ideas/

 

Back Pocket Ideas for Summer Fun Activities

Over the course of summer break, it is quite possible that our children will come to us parents and proclaim their boredom. In my opinion, boredom is a good thing, for much creativity results when children are offered the opportunity to concoct their own adventures rather than having activities and expectations continually thrust at them. When my own children were younger, if they came to me and said, “I’m bored!” I would often reply, “Oh, okay! That is your choice! There are plenty of options of things that you can choose to do instead. Take your pick of them – or be bored! It’s up to you!” They would usually go find something to do. (Now that they’re young adults, we sometimes talk about the glories of boredom: how wonderful it is to have a moment where you do not have so many responsibilities pressing on you that you can actually be bored for a bit! How times and perspectives change!) So, boredom is a choice, and it is not a bad thing for our children to have it as an option.
That said, it is always a good idea for adults to have a backup plan in place when they are responsible for children. While it is okay for our kids to feel bored, and it is vital that they learn how to come up with their own ideas of things to do, occasionally there may be a time when our kids really do need ideas and guidance! This blog post will offer you, the parent, some backup plans to “keep in your back pocket” for such a time as that. (Unless you have a fantastic memory, we recommend that you may want to read through each of the ideas we offer and jot notes about a few favorites on a 3×5 card. You can literally keep it in your back pocket for when you need ideas!)

Here are a few “back pocket” ideas that we found (in the order in which we found them). What ideas do you have to share with the community?

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For children who love (or need to learn more about) science, here are links to 30 different experiments best performed in the summer heat: http://www.growingajeweledrose.com/2013/05/science-fun-for-kids.html

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Find a list of 40 ideas of things children can do with water (and an ad for a toy makes the 41st idea) here: http://raisingwhasians.com/water-summer-activities-kids-printable-checklist/

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Create some sand play dough to manipulate and to decorate with those shells, stones, and sea glass pieces you have collected. Find the recipe here: http://mamapapabubba.com/2014/05/26/sand-play-dough-with-loose-parts/

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Find the rules for outdoor play games, for when you need inspiration for family game nights, here: https://www.wired.com/2009/08/simpleoutdoorplay/

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Find 18 super-cool experiments to perform together, here: http://spaceshipsandlaserbeams.com/blog/boyish-charm/18-fun-science-experiments-for-kids

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This list of 50 fun things to do in summertime may already be in your family’s plans! Check it out if you need an idea of something fun to do together: http://www.bonbonbreak.com/50-fun-summer-activities/#.WT7Dl1TyvIU

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Help these two young ladies in their mission to make the world a more positive place, one cleverly hidden decorated rock at a time! This summer, Zoey and Carrington’s goal is to have rocks placed in as many of the 50 states as possible, in the name of Rock Our World Studio. Can you help them with their 50 State Summer Challenge 2017? To learn more, visit: https://www.facebook.com/RoCkOuRWoRLdStudio/

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And last but not least, a list of projects for parents who need something to do! (Yes, the children will benefit from the results of these, but adults will need to do most of the DIYing.): https://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/diy-projects-that-will-blow-your-kids-minds?utm_term=.bl72MMk4J1#.fdnZddG15D

 

On Virtuous Year-End Awards

For many of us in North America, the school year is coming to an end. The end of school offers the opportunity to note growth and accomplishment in all of us, most notably in the lives of our children. This a good time to review our children’s growth and celebrate with them the positive ways we have seen them change.

Schools often present awards at the end of the year, offering students certificates celebrating perfect attendance, most improved in certain curriculum areas, best at ____, etc. Those achievements are important, and should be noted, especially in a school context. But there are even more important ways for a child to improve than curriculum and attendance. As Orthodox Christian parents, we should be evaluating and celebrating our children’s spiritual growth. The end of a school year is a great time to do so! Let us take a little time to think about each child and note their growth in the virtues, which is one way to measure their growth in The Faith. In what ways have our children become more virtuous?

Not sure where to start? Check out our recent blog posts on the virtues (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/, the beginning of the series), which were focused on our own personal growth in each virtue. Each of these blog posts can offer us helpful information about the virtue on which it focuses, which we can then apply as we think about each child. How have they grown in humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence? Which of these virtues do they best exemplify in their life? In which virtue have they grown the most?

Once we parents have answered some of the above questions together, it would behoove us to find a way to acknowledge our observation of our children’s growth. It could be as simple as setting aside time with each child to privately encourage them and congratulate them on their growth in this area. Or perhaps we could gather as a family for a “virtues awards” ceremony, wherein we note and celebrate each child’s growth in a family context.

If we choose to do an official “ceremony” with our family, we can begin the discussion by showing our child(ren) a picture of them from the beginning of the school year and compare it to how they look now. We can talk a bit about how they’ve grown physically this year. We should mention other things they’ve learned over the course of the year (for example, how to ride a bike or play lacrosse or cook dinner). We should discuss academic growth as well, including the awards they’ve gotten at school. At this point, we can segue into a discussion of the children’s growth in the virtues. We can take time with each virtue as it applies to each child or we can talk about each child in turn and celebrate all the virtues in which we have noted growth for that child. Perhaps we will want to present the children with a tangible award celebrating their growth in the virtues, such as a certificate, a playful token representing the virtue in which they’ve grown, or a donation to a charity of the child’s choice in honor of their spiritual growth. How we choose to acknowledge the growth will vary by family and the parents’ creativity! The important thing is that we are noticing the growth and encouraging our children to continue to grow in virtue!

Annually evaluating our children’s spiritual growth throughout their childhood will help them to understand how important it is to improve in holiness. Perhaps this annual celebration of growth will instil in our children the need to regularly evaluate their own growth, even as they get older. (It could also be that, at some point along the way, our children will begin to offer us, their parents, awards in areas of virtuous growth, as well!) At any rate, celebrating the good things that are happening in the spiritual lives of each family member will have a positive effect on all involved. When others see the good that is happening in us and acknowledge it, it makes us want to press on – and become even more godly!

 

Here are ideas of tangible awards for each of the virtues, in case you want something to give to your children and need ideas. (Of course, you can choose to do just a verbal award, or perhaps you’d rather give a donation to the charity of your child’s choice in lieu of one. You know – and can do – what is best for your family!)

 

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Humility:

This printable certificate: Humility Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a slinky, some silly putty, or a container of slime. All three seek to return to the lowest point, just as we should continually try to be completely humble.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Liberality:

This printable certificate: Liberality Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a pack of stickers or a large container of bubble solution – something that can be freely and easily shared, to continue practicing the virtue of liberality!

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Chastity:

This printable certificate: Chastity Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a playful bar of glycerin soap (perhaps with a toy embedded in it) or a kid-friendly liquid soap pump. Either offers a way to continue to keep (your hands, at least!) pure.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Mildness:

This printable certificate: Mildness Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a stress ball or a liquid motion bubbler. Both are calming and can offer a way to remain mild in the face of an opportunity to be angry or anxious.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Temperance:

This printable certificate: Temperance Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a box of cookies, fruit snacks, or other beloved treats that can offer the child the opportunity to continue to practice temperance.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Happiness: 

This printable certificate: Happiness Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a smiley face pin – actually, anything with a smile emoji on it! Wearing a smile will make others smile as well, and will remind you to continue to choose to be happy.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Diligence:

This printable certificate: Diligence Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a hoola hoop, jump rope, or puzzle. Whichever your child would enjoy the most, while working at it and being reminded to keep trying and not to quit!

 

On Pursuing Virtue: Happiness

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The next virtue listed in the “Pocket Prayer Book” is happiness. There are so many ideas of what constitutes happiness, and our society tries hard to convince us that things will make us happy, that we should feel happy all the time, and that we should be able to get happy quickly. But is that societal definition true happiness? Sometimes we say, “I feel so happy!” or “I am not happy right now,” as though happiness is simply a feeling. Is true happiness just a feeling that fluctuates as our emotions do? No, it is not. The virtue of happiness is much deeper than that. The virtue of “…happiness is rooted in contentment and being joyful.” (1)

St. Nectarius of Aegina said that happiness is what God wants for us – and not just fleeting earthly happiness, but eternal happiness! God has given us the Church to help us experience this virtue. “Brothers and Sisters! The all-merciful God desires happiness for us both in this life and in the life to come. To this end He established His Holy Church, so that she might cleanse us from sin, sanctify us, reconcile us with Him and give us a heavenly blessing. The embrace of the Church is always open to us. Let us all hasten there more quickly, we whose consciences are burdened. Let us hasten, and the Church will lift the weight of our burdens, give us boldness before God, and fill our hearts with happiness and blessedness.” So the Church helps us reach happiness. But we can’t just sit and wait for this virtue to be given to us: we must pursue it! Where and how should we begin that pursuit?

St. Silouan the Athonite tells us to begin with love: “There is no greater happiness than to love God with all the mind and heart, and our neighbor as ourself. And when this love is in the soul, then all things bring joy to the soul.” So, loving God is one way to pursue the virtue of happiness.

But there are many more ways to pursue happiness, and all of them grow out of that first way, out of loving God! We found Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s article, “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” (see link below) to be both instructive and practical, and we highly encourage you to read it. The article offers practical things that we can do to grow in our love for God as we actively pursue the virtue of happiness. “With a solid faith and proper way of life it is possible to find joy in everything you do or are faced with. The …seventeen points will bring God into your life each hour of your day allowing you will become more effective and true to your deepest values.  Implement them and you will find they also will lead to a life based on joy.” (2)

Pursuing true happiness, the kind that is rooted in contentment and being joyful, will help us to triumph over the vice of envy (which the “Pocket Prayer Book” defines as “jealousy of another person’s happiness”). Dear brothers and sisters, let us leave behind that unhealthy comparison and the discontent it offers. Instead, let us strive with all of our hearts to live in the ways that the Church teaches: filling our lives with love for God and others; praying; helping; sharing; repenting; forgiving; with our whole selves, pursuing true happiness. For only then will we be truly happy (in every sense of the word)!

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)

Footnotes:

  1. “The Pursuit of Happiness,” by Archpriest Thaddaeus Hardenbrook, http://www.pravmir.com/pursuit-happiness/
  2. “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” by Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner, http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2015/05/17-points-to-create-true-happiness-with.html

 

Here are additional resources that you may find helpful as you pursue the virtue of happiness:

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“[One] secret to life lies in the truth that all the things we are trying to avoid (difficulty, discomfort, hardship, conflict, self-sacrifice, enduring, hunger, weariness, loss, etc.) are actually the very opportunities allowed by God in order for us to grow.” Read more in this excellent article on pursuing true happiness: http://www.pravmir.com/pursuit-happiness/

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“There is no more expedient path to joy than sustained repentance. …Charmolypi is the character of the Christian. This word is found in the work of St. John of Sinai, the author of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and was probably coined by him. It means ‘joyful sorrow’ or ‘bitter joy,’ and it is the normative spirit of the Christian. Young children model this charmolypi when, in the midst of a crying spasm, with tears running down their faces, they catch a glimpse of their mother staring lovingly at them, and then they break into laughter. Tears, laughter, tears, and laughter are meshed together, and soon all comes to calm. So it is with the repenting Christian, who perceives the gaze of His loving heavenly Father. Our tears become infused with joy.
…The joy of the Resurrection follows the agony of the Crucifixion. The joy of the Christian life is the fruit of repentance. Repentance removes our isolation. Practice regular confession and your life will change for the better. For the next year read a prayer of repentance for your sins every evening before retiring. Then do a thorough examination of your conscience once a month and make confession. In so doing you can expect to be divinely stabbed with the joy inexpressible.” ~ from “Cultivating Inexpressible Joy,” by V. Rev. Josiah Trenham, Ph.D., http://www.antiochian.org/node/25366

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“Rejoicing is a power we seldom use anymore; we are hardly even familiar with it. When we are distracted by longings for what we don’t have, joy escapes us… Desire for what we don’t have creates spiritual depression (despondency). Gratitude for what we do have creates contentment and joy. Let us practice this! Turn off the commercial-driven TV, close the advertisement-filled magazines, smart phones, and romantic novels. Contentment awaits you in the prayerful thanksgiving for what you actually have. In the context of your actual life there await you peace, satisfaction, salvation, and even perfection.” ~ http://www.pravmir.com/pursuit-happiness/

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“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.” ~St. John Chrysostom

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“How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! It is the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: ‘I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people.’ (II Cor. 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!” ~ St. Nektarios of Aegino

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“…think about the nature of the Orthodox Way of Life and how it truly brings one happiness.  Not in the sense of everything being good in life, for after all, life eventually ends with death no matter what we do to avoid it. But in the sense that it brings us to a relationship with God with the knowledge that there is eternal life where the cares of this world no longer exist.  The hope of this truth is true happiness.” Read Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s Orthodox response to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson’s article “How to Trick Your Brain for Happiness,” and learn how our relationship with God and our prayers bring us true happiness. http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2011/09/tricking-our-brain-for-happiness.html 

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“When the Spirit of God descends on a man, and envelops him in the fullness of his presence, the soul overflows with unspeakable joy, for the Holy Spirit fills everything he touches with joy…. This is that joy of which the Lord speaks in His Gospel: ‘A woman when she is in travail has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. In the world you will be sorrowful; but when I see you again, your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you’ (Jn. 16:21-22). If the first-fruits of future joy have already filled your soul with such sweetness, with such happiness, what shall we say of the joy in the Kingdom of Heaven, which awaits all those who weep here on earth?… Then this transitory and partial joy which we now feel will be revealed in all its fullness, overwhelming our being with ineffable delights which no one will be able to take from us.” ~St. Seraphim of Sarov

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“God is joy, and to draw near to God is to draw near to joy. “Thou shalt show me the path of life; In Thy presence is the fullness of joy; At Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11)…the primary cause of depression is being far from God. It is the absence of God that elicits within us the greatest grief. Joy is not the absence of sorrows; joy is the presence of God in all these things.” ~ from “Cultivating Inexpressible Joy,” by V. Rev. Josiah Trenham, Ph.D. Read more here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/25366

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“…salvation is the most authentic, fulfilling, and abiding form of human happiness.” ~ “Salvation and the ‘Pursuit of Happiness’,” by Paul L. Gavrilyuk, https://publicorthodoxy.org/2017/03/20/salvation-pursuit-of-happiness/

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This short meditation by Abbot Tryphon challenges its listeners to choose happiness: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/morningoffering/choosing_happiness

On Pursuing Virtue: Chastity

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The third virtue listed in “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” is chastity. Chastity is the virtue which we must pursue in contrast to the sin of lust, which is the impure and unworthy desire for something evil. But how exactly do we define chastity? So often we think of chastity only in terms of sexual purity. That is an important part of it, but chastity is much more than that! Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the quality or state of being chaste” (with sub-definitions which include abstention from sexual intercourse, purity in conduct, and even simplicity in design) as well as “personal integrity.”

St. Cyprian offered an even simpler definition: “For what is chastity but a virtuous mind added to watchfulness over the body?” In other words, to live a chaste lifestyle, we must have pure thoughts and carefully watch over what our body does. He understood that it is a constant process, offering the solution of how we can manage to live in that constant state of mindful purity: “chastity is ever to be cultivated by men and women; it is to be kept with all watchfulness within its bounds. The bodily nature is quickly endangered in the body, when the flesh, which is always falling, carries it away with itself… But in the midst of these things, nay, before these things, in opposition to disturbances and all vices, help must be sought for from the divine camp; for God alone, who has condescended to make men, is powerful also to afford sufficient help to men.” So we need to ask for help, and only God is able to help us to live in chastity!

St. John the Ascetic suggested that chastity, or purity of heart, should be the underlying goal for everything we do. “Everything we do, our every objective, must be undertaken for the sake of purity of heart…” He also offered practical advice for how we can go about living in that way: “…we must practice the reading of the Scripture, together with all the other virtuous activities… to hold our hearts free of the harm of every dangerous passion and in order to rise step by step to the high point of love.” Some of those practices are easier than others to carry out! But God will help us to do so, if we ask Him for help.

Fr. Justin Popovich suggested the following ways to measure whether or not we are attaining purity: “The sign of purity is: to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep; to be in pain with the sick and in anguish with the sinners; to rejoice with the repentant and to participate in the agony of those who suffer; to criticize no man and, in the purity of one’s own mind, to see all men as good and holy.” That’s a tall order, and helps to explain our earlier statement that God alone can help us live a chaste life. But it will be worth it: the person who lives a chaste life will be blessed. How blessed, you may ask? Well, St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote, “Every man who loves purity and chastity becomes the temple of God.” There is no greater blessing than to have God Himself dwelling within you!

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us pursue chastity with all of our hearts! It will not be an easy task. But with God’s help, we can grow in purity and slowly become a temple where He will dwell!

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)

Here are additional quotes and resources that can help us as we pursue chastity:

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“Chastity is the dignity of the body, the ornament of morality, the sacredness of the sexes, the bond of modesty, the source of purity, the peacefulness of home, the crown of concord. Chastity is not careful whom it pleases but itself. Chastity is always modest, being the mother of innocency; chastity is ever adorned with modesty alone, then rightly conscious of its own beauty if it is displeasing to the wicked. Chastity seeks nothing in the way of adornments: it is its own glory. It is this which commends us to the Lord, unites us with Christ; it is this which drives out from our members all the illicit conflicts of desire, instills peace into our bodies: blessed itself, and making those blessed, whoever they are, in whom it condescends to dwell.” ~ St. Cyprian, “Of the Discipline and Advantage of Chastity” This epistle by St. Cyprian on chastity is a challenging but necessary read: http://orthodoxchurchfathers.com/fathers/anf05/anf05129.htm#P9762_3046993


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“Let us begin with an explanation of the word chastity. In Russian, the word is ‘tselomudrie,’ which means literally, “integrity of thought,” and consists not only in physical preservation (one can remain a virgin in body, but commit terrible acts of depravity in the mind; and to the contrary—one can live in a pious marriage and preserve his or her soul from sin), but also in a proper, wholesome, undisturbed view of the opposite sex, with purity of soul.” Read more about the role of chastity in relationships between men and women in this article by Priest Pavel (Gumerov): http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/46284.htm

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“Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and corruptible body is rivaling the celestial spirits in a truly marvellous way.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“Indeed, who was ever able to grasp Christ or His Spirit perfectly without first purifying himself? Chastity is the exercise which from childhood prepares the soul for glory by making it attractive and lovable, and with ease brings this adornment for her to the next world untried. It holds up great expectations as the reward for small toil and renders our bodies immortal. It is only fitting then that all should gladly praise and esteem chastity above all other things; some, because by practicing virginity they have been espoused to the Word: others, because by chastity they have been emancipated from that condemnation, `Earth thou art, and unto earth thou shalt return.’” ~St. Methodius, “The Symposium: A treatise on Chastity”

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“Offer to the Lord the weakness of your nature, fully acknowledging your own powerlessness, and imperceptibly you will receive the gift of chastity.” ~ St. John Climacus

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A person can be raised up above the earth by two wings, one is simplicity and the other is purity of heart. You must be simple in your actions and pure in your thoughts and feelings. With a pure heart you’ll seek God and with simplicity you’ll find Him and be glad. A pure heart passes through Heaven’s gate with ease. Elder Amphilochios Makris – http://agrino.org/cyberdesert/makris.htm

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“In an age where sexual expression is seen as one’s right, and where the view that one can not be fulfilled if they are not sexually active, keeping oneself chaste can be a daunting task, indeed.” Read Abbot Tryphon’s blog post on the need to submit to a spiritual father when pursuing chastity, here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2016/12/lust-6/

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“Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Read this statement about chastity and purity from this SOYO document on Purity, Virginity, and Chastity: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf

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Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose success in this area we can emulate: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/

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Confession is an excellent beginning in our struggle toward chastity. Prayer is the reinforcement that we need to uphold that confession. Here are a collection of prayers that will help us: http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html

On Pursuing Virtue: Liberality

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also  desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The second virtue listed in the “Pocket Prayer Book” is the virtue of liberality. What exactly does that mean? The Free Dictionary.com offers a few definitions, including “The quality or state of being liberal or generous.” That is the meaning on which we will focus, for generosity is the virtuous antidote to the sin of greed. Indeed, the best way that we can struggle against greed, or “too great a desire for money or worldly goods,” is to respond instead with generosity, or “being liberal in giving”.

Fr. George Morelli, in his article “Living as a Christian in a Post-Christian World” (Orthodoxy Today.com, see link below) suggests that liberality is how we demonstrate St. Paul’s admonishment in 1 Cor. 12 that we are all part of Christ’s body and therefore must care for one another. He continues, “It does not mean mindless helping, but caring for those unable to care for themselves and at the very least doing what one can to enable that all in the world have a means to help themselves physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Caring for all in the world is a tall order. However, if we truly look at others as God sees them, we will notice that we are, indeed, one human family and we are thus mutually responsible. It falls to each of us to be generous with the other, to ensure that everyone has what is needed. St. John Chrysostom stated that generosity is not just a nice thing to do, but rather that it is necessary for salvation: “The rich exist for the sake of the poor. The poor exist for the salvation of the rich.”

So it appears that for the sake of our very soul, it is imperative that we evaluate our own lifestyle. We must look at our home, our bank account, our expenditures, our attention, even how we spend our time. As we examine each, let us ask ourselves: are we living in a manner driven by greed? Or are we walking in the virtue of liberality and being generous (with our time, attention, and assets) to all? Our salvation depends upon it.

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)
Read Fr. George Morelli’s article here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/view/morelli-living-as-a-christian-in-a-post-christian-world-discernment

Here are additional links and resources that can help us to learn more about and better walk in liberality:

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“There is no more practical way to love someone than to be generous with them and we’re not simply talking about money… How often have we neglected to simply give someone attention?…This generosity is within the capacity of each of us to give to the other: …it is time, it is attention, it is compassion, and yes, for those who are in need, it is even things, it is financial resources…” Listen to this podcast of a sermon on generosity: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/sermonsatstnicholas/cultivating_a_generous_spirit_lk_1619_31

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“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity…” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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Children can teach us generosity. Read this short story and/or watch your own children’s generosity. Be prepared to learn from them: https://www.becomingminimalist.com/a-generous-appeal/

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“The amount we give is not judged by the largeness of the gifts but the largeness of our hearts. The poor woman who shares her meager pot of stew with another poor woman is far more to be praised than the rich man who throws a few gold coins into a collection at church.  But although most Christians acknowledge the truth of this, their words and actions convey a different message.  When a rich man makes a large gift to the church, he is heartily thanked; and although he will not feel the lack of that money himself, he is praised for his generosity.  When a poor man makes a small gift, nothing is said, even though that gift may cause him to go hungry, no one praises him or thanks him.  It would be better to praise no one than to confine our praise to the rich.  Better still, we should take trouble to observe every true act of generosity, whether by the rich or the poor, and then offer our praise.  Indeed let us be as generous with our praise as people are generous with their money.” ~ St. John Chrystostom

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“We know that God loves cheerful giving.  And why shouldn’t we be cheerful in giving?  In reality, we are not giving away what we have earned.  We are giving back what He has blessed us with.” Read more in this article on being generous with our time and attention as well as our  money: http://myocn.net/generosity-of-time/

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St. John Climacus’s “Ladder of Divine Ascent” includes this: Step 16, “On Love of Money:” “The lover of money sneers at the gospel and is a deliberate transgressor. The man of charity spreads his money about him. …the person who has conquered this vice has cut out care, but the person trapped by it can never pray freely to God.”
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“To have and to not share is greed.  To have and to share is gratitude.  Thanksgiving manifests itself in generosity, and generosity is giving without expecting anything in return.  It is a willingness not only to help a neighbor or a friend but even an enemy.” Read this encouraging meditation on the Good Samaritan here: http://myocn.net/thanksgiving-manifests-generosity/

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“We are God’s eyes, we are God’s feet, we are God’s ears, we are God’s arms… God is asking you and me to give, and … give… generously.” Challenge your perspective on generosity with Fr. Nicholas Louh’s homily on the topic here: http://myocn.net/generosity-having-a-giving-heart/

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“You are a sample engineer… every day you’re giving out a sample of God to people. Every day in our actions, what we do, in our generosity, we’re saying, ‘here, taste some of this.’ And the way in which I live will either draw people to God or draw people away from God.” Continue to learn about generosity in this homily by Fr. Nicholas Louh on the topic: http://myocn.net/be-a-giver/