Tag Archives: Ideas

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/

On Overcoming the Winter Blues

The beginning of February marks the middle of winter for the northern hemisphere. For many people, winter can a dreary and depressing time. Why is this the case? Are children also thus affected by winter, or is the sense of gloom limited to adults? Can anything be done to help those of us who feel discouraged during the winter months?

We did a little research into the above questions, and learned a few things which we will share with you. We learned that there are multiple reasons why winter can drag down our emotions, especially because of the reduced light and/or sunshine that people living in wintery climates experience. The combination of less daylight and colder outdoor temperatures also discourages people from getting fresh air and exercise (two other possible remedies for combating gloom). We learned that children are affected by these struggles in a similar way as adults are affected. We found many suggestions of things to do to combat the so-called “winter blues” including the idea of getting out of the house within 2 hours of waking up, and exercising (outside, if possible). (Author’s note: my teen son invited me to try this out, so this morning we got up a few minutes earlier than usual, threw on our coats, and briskly walked around the block before beginning our regular morning routine. It was an invigorating and sweet way to begin this dreary, gloomy winter day! We will do it again.)

Below you will find links to a few favorite articles we encountered in our research which address  the above questions. We hope that the next time you experience mid-winter (whether right now or in a few months, depending on where in the world you live), you will find some of this information and these ideas helpful. Together, let us take steps to combat the gloomy feeling that winter can so easily invite in our own life and in the lives of our children!

“If there were no tribulation, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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Here is a resource that offers a quick overview of the difference between the Winter Blues and  Seasonal Affective Disorder. Included in the graphic illustrations: who is susceptible to these seasonal changes in their well-being, where these struggles are the strongest, and ideas for how to help overcome them.  http://visual.ly/how-beat-seasonal-affective-disorder-and-winter-blues

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Here are 8 great scientifically-backed ways to beat the Winter Blues: http://time.com/3692785/beat-winter-blues/

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Find 30 simple ways to beat the Winter Blues in this collection of tweets: http://www.citizenwatch.com/en-us/blog/30-ways-to-beat-the-winter-blues/

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This article helps its readers to identify whether or not their child is suffering from Winter Blues and then offers a variety of really fun outdoor and indoor activities to help your child to combat them: http://blog.connectionsacademy.com/fight-winter-blues-and-sad-with-fun-activities-for-the-family/

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This blog post offers 10 practical things to do to make your winter less “meh”: http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/life/10-ways-beat-winter-blues/
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This blog post was written to be used during the month of January. Although January is already over, this post is still useful because it contains so many fun and outside-the-box/outside-the-self ideas: http://momlifetoday.com/2011/01/ideas-to-beat-cabin-fever-and-the-winter-blues/ (And we can tuck away the day-specific celebrations for NEXT January!)

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Here’s a list of 16 indoor and outdoor activities for having fun with kids in the winter: http://bcparent.ca/2016/12/28/16-activities-to-beat-the-winter-blues/

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This article offers more ideas of ways to help kids beat the Winter Blues: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-usky-/beat-the-winter-blues-with-these-8-family-friendly-activities_b_6764100.html

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We need light! “The amount of daylight we get each day has a dramatic effect on our mood too. Without this daylight our body produces substances that make us feel lethargic and lacking in energy.” ~ http://woodlandclassroom.com/got-the-winter-blues-nature-has-the-answer/

Read about how to handle the lack of light in a winter atmosphere here: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/20090211_healthtip_winterblues/

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This article offers creative ideas for indoor activities to do with children during the winter: https://www.momooze.com/indoor-activities-winter/

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Sharing Stories of the Saints

In past blog posts, we have offered ideas of picture books to share, chapter books to read together, and Bible stories to ponder as our children prepare to go to sleep. Bedtime is also a time when we can share stories from the lives of the saints. By sharing the stories of people who have fought the good fight to the end, we introduce our children to real-life “superheroes” whose life they can ponder as they fall asleep, then emulate when they awake. The saints’ life on earth was amazing, sometimes even miraculous, because of their love for God. We must share their stories with our children! Our children will not hear these stories or know what God can do in/through someone unless we teach them about the saints.

Of course, many saints endured terrible trials and tortures. We do not want to frighten our children at bedtime, so we must be mindful of each child and what they can handle, and thereby carefully choose the saints whose life stories we share. Stories of the saints’ martyrdom may not be appropriate for us to share with our very young children at bedtime. But our children need to know that sometimes people choose to follow God even if it threatens their life. So, stories of martyred saints should be shared (with careful wording), with older children, keeping in mind what our children can handle. It is our job as parents to introduce our children to the saints in a way that conveys their devotion to God and His work in their lives. Let us do diligently, but with sensitivity to each child in our family.

We know that we should be sharing the lives of the saints with our children and that we need to carefully choose/word the stories that we share. So, how do we find saints’ stories to read or tell to our children? Our survey about bedtime rituals asked the participants if and how they select saint stories to share with their children at bedtime. Here are their answers:

  • We follow a daily calendar of the saints that includes a short reading about one. (29%)
  • We listen to a podcast about the saint of the day. (4%)
  • We do not read about the lives of the saints. (42%)

The survey respondents who do share stories from the lives of the saints with their children offered the following resources/ways that they select which stories to share:

  • “My kids pull a book out of the shelf where we keep the children’s books about the faith.”
  • “We read about saints from time to time but not consistently.”
  • “books of saints for children”
  • “I have a lot of children’s books on the Saints and I read from those.”
  • “We choose any from our collection of lives of the saints.”
  • “child chosen or daily recommendation”
  • “Our kids have their favourites and we introduce new saints once in awhile with a new book about them.”
  • “We read that day’s entry from Prologue of Ohrid, including all the saints of the day, homily, reflection, contemplation, and hymn of praise.”
  • “I have a few books for children about saints, which I read to them from a few times a week.”
  • “Sometimes I research and read about a particular saint relevant to our family life. I find the troparian and repeat it three times.”
  • “We read from a book called “Prologue of Ohrid,”
  • “We talk about lives of the saints, but we have a baby.”
  • “We read the prologue.”
  • “saints we have picture books or icons of”
  • “some daily, some random”
  • “whatever book is closest to hand”
  • “We read the prologue or child books about the saints.”
  • “When we do, it is the Saint of the day, looked up online.”
  • “Randomly [selected saint stories] from our children’s library”

What other resources have you found helpful when you share the stories of the saints with your children? Please comment below and share them with the community!

Holy saints, please intercede for our salvation and for the salvation of our children!

Here are some resources that we have found helpful:

Ancient Faith Ministries’ podcast “Saint of the Day” (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday ) offers a short reading each day featuring the life of one of the saints commemorated on that day, as well as an extensive archive of stories of others saints commemorated each day.

Our AODCE Pinterest page offers the following ever-growing board that includes links to saint stories and/or ideas of ways to help children: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/saints/

These (free!) printable activity books will help your family learn about saints (and the animals that served them; those commemorated in the Litiya prayers; those that can help in times of trouble; and those from North America) through stories and related activities: http://dce.oca.org/page/activity-books

Paterikon For Kids offers beautifully illustrated, child-sized tiny books by various authors, including saint stories and stories from the Bible.  Available individually or the entire set (at a significant discount). Also available in 12 other languages. http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-Set-1-20/English-Paterikon-for-Kids-1-20-Set/flypage-ask.tpl.html  

Little Falcons is an Orthodox Christian children’s magazine published quarterly. Each issue has a theme and includes articles, activities, and stories based on that theme. It also includes at least one story from the life of a saint, often written as a play so that several readers can share the story together. http://www.littlefalcons.net

New Martyr Magazine is a new quarterly Orthodox Christian children’s magazine. Each issue includes illustrations by children, stories, puzzles, photographs that help children learn more about the faith, and a story about a saint.  http://newmartyrpublishing.com  

2017 Daily Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints Calendar: This spiral-bound calendar offers the references for daily scripture readings, a brief story of one of the saints of the day, a list of all the day’s saints, and a quote from a church father. http://www.livesofthesaintscalendar.com  

This blog post offers many links to online resources for stories from the lives of the saints: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/02/lives-of-saints.html

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading from the Scriptures Part 2: Old Testament Stories

As we prepare our children for bed, what a blessing it can be to share with them stories from the Holy Scriptures. Including reading from the Scriptures in our family’s bedtime routine offers each member of the family the gift of learning more about God and His work among us while also opening our minds to Truth. Scripture reading at any time of the day, but especially in the evening when we have time to reflect and think about what we’ve just heard or read as we fall asleep, offers great things for Christians of any age to ponder. So, if we read Scripture passages together at bedtime, our children can lie in bed and truly think about “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

There are so many stories, teachings, and truths in the Scriptures that it may be difficult to know where to begin. Families with very young children will benefit from investing in some Bible storybooks that offer illustrated stories from the scriptures, written in a way that is appropriate for children to understand, and read those together. Families with older children can read the stories straight from the Bible. This offers multiple opportunities: beyond the stories themselves, reading straight from the scriptures helps the children to see where these stories come from, and can also be used as an occasion to help the children to learn how to look things up in the Bible for themselves. Some families commit to reading the whole Bible together by reading a small section at a time. This takes a long time, but it gives them the chance to experience the Scriptures together and discuss each section after the reading.

In the event that you need an idea of a place to start, here are suggestions of Old Testament stories, listed in categories that may be helpful to children at bedtime:

Stories full of the joy that comes from God:
God Calls His Creation Good (Gen. 1:1- 2:3)
Adam and Eve Live in Paradise With God (Gen. 2:7- 2:24)
God Makes a Promise to Noah (Gen. 8:1- 9:17)
God’s Promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1- 12:8; 15:1- 6; 17:1- 9; 17:15- 22; 18:1- 15; 21:1- 6)
Hannah’s Prayers are Answered (1 King. 1:1- 2:10)
A Servant Girl Saves Her Master (4 King. 5:1- 15)
A Young King Brings His People Back to God (2 Chron. 34:1- 35:21)

Stories that show that God is strong:
God Saves His People from Slavery (Ex. 6:28- 12:42; 13:17- 14:31)
The Walls of Jericho Fall (Josh. 1:6- 3:17; 6:1- 19)
David vs. Goliath (I King. 17:1- 29)
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (3 King. 18:1- 30)

Stories that demonstrate how God protects His people:
Young Prince Joash is Saved and Becomes King of Israel (4 King. 11:1- 14; 17; 19- 12: 9) Esther Saves Her People (Esther 2:5- 8:12)
Ruth Finds a New Family (Ruth 1:1- 4:17)
The Three Hebrew Youths are Saved from the Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3:1-97)
Daniel Obeys God and an Angel Protects Him from Lions (Daniel 6: 1-29)

Stories that show how God provides:
Joseph Rescues His Family (Gen. 37:1-36; 39:1- 45:8)
Baby Moses is Safe (Ex. 1:7- 2:10)
The Hungry Hebrew People Have Food and Water in the Desert (Ex. 15:22- 17:7)
Elijah and the Ravens (3 King. 17:1- 6)
Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath (3 King. 17:8- 24)
God Works Miracles Through Elisha (4 King. 4:1- 7; 8-37; 38-44)

There are so many scriptures that can be shared with our children at bedtime. These are only a few of them. We recommend that you select the stories you want your children to know, and start there!

Here are a few resources that may be helpful as you read from the Scriptures together at bedtime:
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The Orthodox Study Bible. This translation of the Scriptures offers footnotes filled with insights from Orthodox scholars. If you do not have a copy in your home yet, find it here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-study-bible/

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The Children’s Bible Reader. This Bible storybook was published by the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece. It has been translated to English, and offers many stories from the Bible that are illustrated in a style similar to iconography. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270

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Bible Stories for the Very Young. This Bible storybook offers vibrantly colored pictures that perfectly illustrate the simply-told stories. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Stories-Young-Sally-Grindley/dp/0747535523/

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Words to Dream On. This beautifully-illustrated Bible storybook offers many simply-told Bible stories. Each story has a short related thought and one-line prayer that reflects on the story. (Author’s note: This is the bedtime Bible story book for kids that I like best of all the ones I found while working on this project. It is lovely.) Find it here: http://www.thomasnelson.com/words-to-dream-on

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365 Read-Aloud Bedtime Bible Stories offers one Bible story each day for an entire year. The stories are very short, written simply, and printed in large type that is easy for young readers to read for themselves. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Bedtime-Bible-Story-Book-Read-aloud/dp/1557482640

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For upper-elementary-aged children:
Find 84 Bible stories from the Old Testament that can be read online or printed here: http://kids.christiansunite.com/biblestories_old_testament.shtml

Find 125 readings* (for upper elementary aged students) from the Old Testament in the online Bible “storybook” found here: http://biblehub.com/childrens/ *note: the wording in some of these stories can be a bit difficult to navigate, so you may want to read or retell them using language your children can best understand

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In addition to reading Bible stories/the Scriptures together, you may want to help your children work on memorizing verses or simply bless your children with Scripture verses as they fall asleep. Here are a few suggestions of ways to do so:
This family offers Psalms as prayers to ponder as their children go to sleep: http://www.intoxicatedonlife.com/2013/07/18/psalms-to-use-for-bedtime-prayers/

And here are some comforting Old Testament verses that you can offer to your children for them to think about as they fall asleep: http://christianity.about.com/od/prayersverses/a/Comforting-Bible-Verses.htm

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