Tag Archives: Inspiration

On Pursuing Virtue: Obedience

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on obedience helps us understand how important the virtue of obedience is to an Orthodox Christian:

In the Orthodox spiritual tradition, obedience is a basic virtue: obedience to the Lord, to the Gospel, to the Church (Mt 18.17), to the leaders of the Church (Heb 13.7), to one’s parents and elders, to “every ordinance of man” (1 Pet 2.13, Rom 13.1), “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 6.21). There is no spiritual life without obedience, no freedom or liberation from sinful passions and lusts. To submit to God’s discipline in all of its human forms, is the only way to obtain “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8.21). God disciplines us as His children out of His great love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness” (cf. Heb 12.3–11). Our obedience to God’s commandments and discipline is the exclusive sign of our love for Him and His Son.

Our Lord was the ultimate example for us of what obedience looks like. His obedience was a marker of His humility, according to Fr. Thomas, who points to St. Paul’s discussion of Christ’s humility in Phil. 2:8. St. Paul explains that, in His humility, Jesus was obedient to His Father to death, “even death on a cross.” Our Lord obeyed God in everything that He did.

Fr. Thomas goes on to talk about the fact that there is no shame or demeaning in obeying God. Rather, doing God’s will is actually glory and life for whoever does it! Obedience is our greatest joy, and the way that we achieve the highest dignity. It is the way of perfection for everyone, even for Jesus Himself.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect He became the source of salvation to all who obey Him (Heb 5.8–9).

Disobeying God is the source of all sin, according to Fr. Thomas. When we refuse to submit to God, sorrow and death are the result.

St. John’s gospel records for us the words of Christ, who here tells us how important it is for us to obey God:

He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.… If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. (Jn 14.21–24).

May we all grow in the virtue of obedience, and thereby love God as we should!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussions of the virtues here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues 

Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of obedience in our own life:
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“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 28:1)
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“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)
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“…casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
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“Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Philemon 1:21)
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“…Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
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“The grace of the Holy Spirit which is given mystically to every Christian when he is baptized acts and is manifested in proportion to our obedience to the commandments of the Lord. That is, if a Christian obeys the commandments of the Lord more, grace acts with him more, while if he obeys them less, grace acts within him less. Just as a spark, when covered in the ashes of fire becomes increasingly manifest as one removes the ashes, and the more firewood you put the more the fire burns, so the grace that has been given to every Christian through Holy Baptism is hidden in the heart and covered up by the passions and sins, and the more a man acts in accordance with the commandments of Christ, the more he is cleansed of the passions and the more the fire of Divine grace lights in his heart, illumines and deifies him.” ~ St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain
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“One should not oppose authorities who act for good, so as not to sin before God and be subjected to His just chastisement: ‘Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves’ (Romans 13:2).” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov
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“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things.
For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.” ~ St. Anthony the Great
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“I can’t give you an example of what real obedience is. It’s not that we have a discussion about the virtue of obedience and then I say “go and do a somersault,” and you obey. That’s not obedience. You need to be entirely carefree and not thinking at all about the matter of obedience, and then suddenly you are asked to do something and you are ready to do it joyfully.” ~ St. Porphyrios
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“…obedience is the medicine compounded of virtues, giving life to those who drink it, and the knife which, with one cut, cleans festering wounds. A man who, in faith and simplicity, has chosen to wield this knife, at once cuts off all passions, more completely than anyone…” ~ St. Gregory of Sinai
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“He who wishes to tear up the account of his sins and to be inscribed in the Divine book of the saved, can find for this purpose no better means than obedience.” ~ Sts. Callistus & Ignatius
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“At its heart, obedience is not the destruction of the will, or simply “doing what you are told.” Obedience requires a union of trust with God in which we recognize that the direction of our life is a gift rather than a choice of our own devising. It is a movement of the heart towards God rather than an assertion of the self. This, however, cannot be coerced. There is no obedience with coercion.” ~ Fr. Stephen Freeman, https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/01/15/obedience-and-the-modern-world/
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“Being obedient means learning to make choices that foster freedom, love and joy not simply in my life but yours as well. It isn’t so much a matter of my being obedient to you (or the other way around) but our being obedient together to God Who is the source of all good things. Obedience, in other words, is mutual; what we do together and not what I do alone.” ~ from http://orthochristian.com/91304.html

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On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”
St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.
Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!
Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)
Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.
Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”

Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues
Here are some scriptures and quotes from saints about gratitude, as well as a few related links that can encourage us as we become more grateful:
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Scriptures related to gratitude that can be helpful to meditate upon or memorize:
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for ­everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
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“Thank God every day with your whole heart for having given to your life according to His image and likeness – an intelligently free and immortal life…Thank Him also for again daily bestowing life upon you, who have fallen an innumerable multitude of times, by your own free will, through sins, from life unto death, and that He does so as soon as you only say from your whole heart: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee!’” (Luke 15:18). – St. John of Kronstadt
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“Grumbling is caused by misery and it can be put aside by doxology (giving praise). Grumbling begets grumbling and doxology begets doxology. when someone doesn’t grumble over a problem troubling him, but rather praises God, then the devil gets frustrated and goes off to someone else who grumbles, in order to cause everything to go even worse for him. You see, the more one grumbles, the more one falls into ruin.” ~ St. Paisios the Athonite
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“Let us give thanks to God continually. For, it is outrageous that when we enjoy His benefaction to us in deed every single day, we do not acknowledge the favor with so much as a word; and this, when the acknowledgment confers great benefit on us. He does not need anything of ours, but we stand in need of all things from Him.
In point of fact, thanksgiving adds nothing to Him, but it brings us closer to Him. For if, when we recall the benefactions of men, we are the more warmed by affection for them; much more, when we continually bring to mind the benefits of the Master towards us, shall we be more earnest with regard to His commandments.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
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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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“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” ~St. Paul, Philippians 4:6
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“When you are subjected to the malicious and furious violence of the passions, and to the harassments of the Devil, during the fulfillment of various works for God, accept these sufferings as sufferings for the name of Christ, and rejoice in your sufferings, thanking God; for the Devil is preparing you, without knowing it himself, the most shining crowns from the Lord.”~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“For if God does not for a moment tire of giving us good things, how can we tire of thanking Him for these good things?” ~ St. Nikolaj Velimirovic
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“We must begin with thanksgiving for everything. The beginning of joy is to be content with your situation.” ~ St. Ambrose of Optina
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“Maintaining a spirit of gratitude, and seeing all of life – even with its surprises, struggles, disappointments, and crises – learning to see all of life through this prism of thankfulness is an extremely important spiritual discipline. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to many, but it’s a discipline we cultivate over time.” Read more of this inspiring sermon on “Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude” here: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/cultivating-an-attitude-of-gratitude
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“We may tell our kids to take their worries to God, but have we told them that they should be presenting those anxieties and struggles with thanksgiving?” Read more in this blog which will help us to get our own gratitude in shape, thereby allowing us to better model it for our children: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/gratitude/
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“When God showers us with blessings, we seldom look up to Him and say, ‘Why me, Lord?’ But when a stone falls on our life, we always look up and complain, ‘Why me, Lord?’” – from a sermon on gratitude by Fr. Rick Andrews. Read or listen to the sermon at http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/attitude-of-gratitude
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Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #2: Respond, Don’t React

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

Principle #2: Respond, Don’t React

In the chapters that address Orthodox Christian parenting principle #2, “Respond, don’t react,” Dr. Philip Mamalakis encourages parents to think about “Responding to Our Children” and “Why Children Misbehave.” He begins in chapter 3 by talking about how easy it is to react to our children’s misbehaviors: and how little good results when parents react instead of responding. He compares our children’s misbehaviors to weeds: reacting to them is mowing them off – a temporary fix. Responding to the misbehaviors, however, is akin to pulling weeds with their roots and then fertilizing where the weeds had been to encourage proper growth. Responding requires intentional thought from parents and helps children towards the long-term goal of godliness by addressing the reasons that they were misbehaving. The chapter continues with a discussion of these parenting truths: discipline is more effective long-term than punishment; reacting while angry does not teach our children what we want them to learn, so we must always exercise patience; leniency/permissiveness are not in our children’s best interest; micromanaging/criticizing our children strains the parent-child relationship; and commending positive behaviors should happen with words that reinforce effort or virtues rather than statements that reflect back on us parents (ie: “I noticed your patience with your sister” vs. “I am so proud of you”). He goes on to acknowledge that reacting is much easier than responding, but suggests that responding is actually our vocation as parents, for it raises our children in godliness, while also shaping us. He suggests that if we consider the reasons behind our children’s misbehavior, we will better be able to figure out how to respond.

Chapter 4 focuses on why children misbehave. There are many reasons why a child may behave wrongly. We parents need to respond to our children’s behavior based on the reasons behind that behavior. He addresses a few reasons for misbehaviors in this chapter. When it seems that children are seeking attention, most likely they are just wishing to connect with us, as is their innate desire. Connecting with our children and teaching them how to connect with others is essential to parenting because we humans are wired for connection. Dr. Mamalakis addresses negative interpretations of our children’s behavior, showing that such interpretations are really judgments and criticisms which will result in negative parenting behavior. We need to be careful not to overreact or under-respond. He states that although we should expect poor behavior, we should not accept it. And, although it is very difficult, regardless of how long it takes our children to learn, we must be consistent, firm, and patient. We also must live in the way we expect our children to live: modeling with our own interactions and responses how we want them to interact and respond. Responding instead of reacting focuses on our long-term goals for our children, and gives us the opportunity to focus on each child and their personhood, not just react to their behavior.

May God help us all to learn to respond, not to react.

 

Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #2:

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“Reacting is usually about stopping behavior we don’t want to see in the short term rather than teaching skills, behaviors, or virtues we do want to see in the long term. Reacting to our children’s misbehaviors short-circuits or co-opts their good learning process. They will still learn; they just won’t learn anything good.” (p. 45; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The most damaging thing about reacting to misbehaviors is that it communicates to a child that he is bad and that we do not love him because of a choice he made. That teaches a child that there is something wrong with him and our love is conditional, that he needs to earn our love by behaving well. Children learn to comply so they can receive our ‘love,’ but they can grow up confused about their real worth and identity and become really good at pretending to act a certain way so they will be loved by others.” (pp. 45-46; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Only by responding to misbehaviors can we communicate to our children that we are interested more in loving them as persons than in controlling their behaviors… Reacting to children ignores the reasons for the misbehaviors and, as a result, communicates a lack of respect for the person of the child.” (pp. 46-47; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting is about guiding the souls of our children rather than just correcting behavior. To teach proper behavior, we must respond to our children rather than reacting to their behavior.” (pp. 47-48; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Responding gives children the freedom to learn free of criticism, shame, judgment, anger, and blame. Responding does not mean being lenient. It means being calm when we are strict. Responding communicates to our children the truth about the gospel that they are deeply loved in the midst of their failures and struggles. It communicates our respect for our children as persons in the midst of their learning and mistakes. In this way, we model God’s love, which becomes embedded in their hearts.” (p. 51; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Learning how to parent is not about learning how to get our children to behave; it’s about learning how to get ourselves to behave. Remember, modeling is the most effective way to teach our children.” (p. 51; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Responding requires us to be intentional, patient, kind, gentle, self-controlled, long-suffering, meek, faithful, wise, and loving when our children misbehave. Responding is the way we model all the virtues we want our children to learn. Responding to our children is the way we venerate them as icons of Christ and requires a certain amount of trust that Gdd is working in our children through the struggles over time… Reacting reflects a lack of faith that God is working in our child’s soul.” (p. 60; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“We can’t respond effectively until we understand what exactly our child is struggling with.” (p. 64; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“While some children act up because they want everyone to look at them, I’d like to suggest that most often our kids are looking for a connection with their parents, not for mere attention. Children desire to connect with us all the time by being physically close, spending time with us, getting to know us, and letting us know them. Connection is central to our human nature, and children are wired to seek it. Connection is food for our children’s souls. We are created as relational beings in the image and likeness of a relational God who is three Persons in one communion of love. Its through our relationships with each other and with God that we experience intimacy and develop as human beings.” (p. 66; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children will model our behaviors and mannerisms and adopt our values more thoroughly the more connected they feel to us… Learning how to parent is about learning how to connect with our children all the time, as we get our tasks done throughout the day.” (p. 68; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“No matter why they are misbehaving, connecting with our children needs to be central to how we respond to any misbehavior… Nurturing connection with our children strengthens our relationship with them and empowers them to make good decisions.” (p. 72; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Your child is not supposed to be hardworking, selfless, kind, and patient. He is supposed to be learning how to be hardworking, selfless, kind, and patient. If our children are learning, we should expect struggles and mistakes, and we should interpret our kids misbehaviors in a way that reflects these long-term goals. (p. 72; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Instead of an attitude of ‘I don’t care what you’re feeling; you can’t behave like that,’ we can take the attitude of ‘I care about how you’re feeling, and you can’t behave like that.’” (p. 78; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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Gleanings From a Book: “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre

Author’s note: The use of the word “practical” in the title of this book is no accident. This is the most doable guide to prayer that I have ever read. Every chapter has easily-applicable suggestions that any Orthodox Christian can take to step in the direction of effective prayer. I am so grateful to have read the wisdom in this book. It is the perfect fusion of theology and scripture, incorporating examples and stories that make its contents so accessible that even I can understand them. The book is concise enough for me to re-read it anytime I feel that my prayer life needs another boost. I know that at some point, it will. So I will.

We all know that we should pray. Just before Christ taught His disciples to pray what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” He said, “When you pray…” and went on to instruct them to not to be like the hypocrites, to go into their room and pray in secret, and to not use vain repetitions. With each instruction, He began by saying “When you pray..,” indicating that prayer is expected. And rightly so, for his disciples (and we Christians today) love Him a tiny bit as much as He loves us; and in any loving relationship there must be communication. We communicate with our Lord through prayer.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy for us to fulfill this expectation to pray. Even though we know we should pray, there are times when prayer seems daunting or difficult, and we fall short. Author L. Joseph Letendre’s new book “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” is a helpful companion for such a time as this. It also serves as a preventative measure against future shortcomings in prayer! The book itself is not long, only 72 pages, but every page is useful to Orthodox Christians desiring to grow in prayer.

“When You Pray…” offers easily-understandable insights and encouragement for prayer. Each chapter covers a different way in which we should pray. Chapters include: “To Pray”; “Pray as You Can”; “Pray Attentively”; “Pray the Lord’s Prayer”; “Pray the Psalms”; “Pray the Gospel”; “Pray for Others”; ”Pray Frequently”; and “Pray Faithfully.”

This book is a must-read for Orthodox Christians who desire to strengthen their prayer life. We would encourage you to consider reading together as a family, in order to fortify the prayers of your entire “little church.” The book is written simply enough that upper-elementary or older children will be able to hear, understand, and begin to apply its wisdom. If you read the book together as a family, we recommend that you read one chapter at a time (even though each chapter consists of only a few pages, you may want to break some of them into even smaller parts, for maximum understanding), and discuss it together.

Regardless of how you read it, please read this book. It will help your prayers not to merely be “vain repetitions.” “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” will take you by the hand and help you learn how to pray effectively, from the heart.

Order your copy of “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/when-you-pray 

Here are a few gleanings from “When You Pray”:

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from Ch. 1: To Pray

“Prayer, like any relationship, involves sacrifice, which elevates prayer to a sacramental act… Underlying every sacramental deed is the certainty that only what is freely offered in and through Christ to the Father may be filled and transformed by the Spirit. Prayer is the way we place our day, our work, our relationships, our life, and our being on the altar, making them available to God to bless, sanctify, and, like the bread and wine of the Eucharist, transform into a means of communion with Him and with each other. Anyone who prays, or has tried to pray and given up in discouragement, knows praying—really praying—is not easy… The purpose of this book, then, is not to add to the burden but to ease it by distilling the advice and experience of those who pray.” (pp. 10-11, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 2: Pray as You Can

“The decision to do what one can, however seemingly small or inadequate, recurs throughout the Bible: a young shepherd hurls stones at a giant warrior; out of a crowd of famished thousands, a boy graciously offers what few loaves he has; Peter tells a lame beggar, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you” (Acts 3:6). The giant falls, the thousands are fed, and the beggar leaps to his feet. In prayer, all we need do is what we can.” (p. 15, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 3: Pray Attentively

“…from St. John of Kronstadt: ‘When praying, keep to the rule that it is better to say five words from the depth of your heart than ten thousand words with your tongue only.’ It sounds fair. If I don’t pay attention to my prayers, why should God? Paying attention during prayer proved more difficult than I anticipated…

“Three highly recommended practices can help:

  1. Preparing for prayer
  2. Saying the words of our prayer slowly
  3. Praying aloud” (pp. 17-18, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 4: Pray the Lord’s Prayer

“Without the right script, prayer can degenerate into telling God what He already knows, and then telling Him what we think He should do about it. [quoting Fr. Alexander Schmemann, quoting his teacher Archimandrite Cyprian Kern.] When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’ He responded by giving them a script: ‘When you pray, say: “Our Father . . .”’ (Luke 11:1, 2).” (p. 24, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***
from Ch. 5: Pray the Psalms

“How many psalms should we pray? Monks and nuns are the Church’s experts in psalmic prayer. In monasteries and sketes that are able to follow the monastic rule fully, the entire Psalter—all 150 psalms—is read every week… To facilitate this, centuries ago, the Psalms were divided into twenty sections (called kathismas) and further divided into three subsections (called stases): thus, sixty sections of roughly equal length. So, one possibility is to pray one or more of these stases each day… If praying a stasis attentively is not possible, do less. Do one psalm. Do a few verses from one psalm. We should pray as many—or as few—psalms as we realistically can in the time we have. But we should never do none.” (p. 30, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***
from Ch. 6: Pray the Gospel

“First, choose a short passage from the Gospels. It can be one event in the life of Christ, a section from the teachings of Jesus, even a single verse… In St. Athanasius’s Life of St. Anthony, we read how hearing just one verse from the Gospel in Church led Anthony into the desert to pursue the monastic life. Second, read the passage or verse out loud… Read it slowly. Then read it again. For writers across the centuries, the governing image here is “ruminating.” A ruminant (cows are the handiest example) is an animal that chews its cud. After it has eaten, it regurgitates its food and spends its time in a leisurely rechewing of its meal. When the saints advise ruminating on a passage of Scripture, they mean slowly ‘chewing over’ what we’ve read in our minds and our imagination.” (pp. 33-34, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***
from Ch. 7: Pray for Others

“When we have completed our list, we move on—in trust and confidence—to the rest of our prayer, the rest of our day, or simply to our rest. It is not our prayer or the intensity of feeling we bring to it that matters; what matters is God’s grace. Through our prayers we have joined in the work God is already doing; we have united God’s will for them to our own.” (p. 37)

“Praying for others can be risky. The risk is that we will become part of God’s answer to our prayer. We should be ready for that.” (p. 39, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

(note: Prayer for our children is a top priority for us as parents. If you missed it, you may want to read our blog about one prayer that we can pray for their children: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/prayerful-sighing/)

***
from Ch. 8: Pray Frequently

“Few of us living ‘in the world’—meaning outside of monasteries—can pray without ceasing. Workday distractions and obligations, many of them part of our vocations, eat away at our time and attention. But even if we cannot pray ceaselessly, we can pray frequently. We can seize every opportunity the day affords us to pray briefly; we can pray on the run. Indeed, frequent prayer is essential if we are to grow in the Christian life and fulfill the commandments of Christ. Without frequent prayer, living the Christian life is all but impossible. As Jesus warned us, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Therefore, besides praying at the set times of our rule, we should make every event, activity, and transition in our day an opportunity for a brief prayer.” (p. 42, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

(Sounds a little like this recent blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/)

***
from Ch. 9: Pray Faithfully

“Sometimes prayer is like going to the dentist. When serious work is required, the dentist injects Novocain into our gums so we feel nothing during the procedure. When we feel nothing during prayer, it could be that the deep healing has begun. This is the point where the act of prayer becomes a work of faith. We come to our chosen time, place, and rule of prayer. We are reluctant, procrastinating, distracted, and restless. We feel nothing, if not a little foolish. Nonetheless, we pray. The Latin word for ‘faith’ is credo, the source of our word ‘credit.’ At heart, it means ‘trust.’ To pray during the dry times is to trust that the emptiness within and the absence without constitute, in fact, a presence. To pray a few words while frantically running from task to task is to trust that God hears us even if we can’t hear Him. To have faith also means to act as if—as if God is real, as if God is there.” (pp. 59-60, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***

Appendix: What Monasticism Teaches Us
“The two sources Orthodox Christians rely on most for instruction in prayer are, first, the Bible, and then the writings of the monastic Fathers. Their teachings can be broadly summarized in… seven principles…” (p. 63, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre) The principles follow on pages 63-65.

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.

***

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!

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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 Living Icons

The Orthodox Christian Faith is enriched by icons. We surrounded ourselves with these prayerfully-written images of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. Our churches are full of icons, as are our homes. This is as it should be. In our modern self-focused culture, we need visual reminders of God’s work in and through the saints! These reminders in the form of icons challenge us to be strong and live a life accordingly faithful.

There are other icons that enrich our Faith as well. God has surrounded us with His hand-written images of Christ in the form of every person around us. Our churches are full of them, as are our homes. But He has not limited His handwritten icons to the Church. They are all around us. If you are like me, occasionally you may need a reminder that everyone – EVERYONE – is an icon of Christ, written by God Himself, in His image. May this short post remind us of that truth. So, that sweet lady at Church? Yes, she is an icon of Christ. The person who just cut me off when driving? An icon. The persistent child interrupting my phone conversation? An icon. That person who I struggle to love? An icon. The famous person everyone gossips about? An icon. Those people who live far away and very differently from me? They, too, are an icon. My spouse? Also an icon, written in the image of (and by the Hand of) God.


Whether or not we recognize His artistry, God has written (and is writing) each and every person. Therefore, we must remember that He is at work in and through them, then respond with the love and respect that we offer any other icon reflecting His image. When we choose to see His work in each person, we will be challenged by them to be strong and live our Christian life faithfully!  

We must be careful to note that this recognition of God’s work in writing the living icons around us must not be limited to noting it in other people. In truth, we ourselves are living icons, and should also be enriching the Church and our world. In order to be the most reflective image of Him that we can be, we need to cooperate with Him as he works in and through us. As we do so, He will strengthen us and give us what we need to live the faithful Christian life befitting an icon.

May God help us all to live and love His image in every person!

 

Here are some resources that can help us to be more aware of the icons of Christ around us; and challenge ourselves to be the best icons of Christ that we can:

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“We get the chance to venerate these living, breathing icons every day—in our homes, at work or school, as well as at church. We just have to get in the habit of seeing them. If we were to treat the living icons around us the way we treat the painted icons in our churches, what would that look like?” ~ from Donna Farley’s article, “Seeing Icons and Being Icons,” http://myocn.net/seeing-icons-icons/

***

“How we treat others is how we treat the Lord. Every person is a living icon, and how we treat them reveals the true nature of our relationship with Jesus Christ.” ~ from Fr. Philip LeMaster’s homily “How We Treat the Living Icons of Christ.” Read the entire homily here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/easternchristianinsights/2016/03/05/780/

***

“Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.” – Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

***

“Just as people who have no faith are yet drawn to the beauty of icons, so we must remember that unbelievers will be drawn to the beauty of our spiritual lives, should we embark on this process of restoring the image and likeness of God in each of us. Spiritual beauty is manifested in the virtues brought forth through us by the Holy Spirit. A peaceful heart and mind firmly established upon total Faith in God, is magnificent and glorious to behold. Through our spiritual path, we fulfill our iconic calling, manifesting the beauty of God in our persons. By bringing God’s beauty and light into the world, we offer hope to a world filled with ugliness and darkness.” ~ Read more of Bishop JOSEPH’s address “On the Holy Icons” here: http://www.antiochian.org/holy-icons

***

Need an overhaul on your perspective of yourself (and others), the icon(s) of Christ? Here’s a 7 minute sermon from Fr. Ted Paraskevopoulos that will do just that: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/orthodox_anthropology

***

What does it mean for a father to be the living icon of Christ? Read one dad’s take on the concept in this blog post: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2017/03/23/dad-a-living-icon-of-christ/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Icon” by Georgia Briggs

I did not want this book to end. That is the first time in a long time that I’ve read a book and felt that way. “Icon” by Georgia Briggs may be aimed at young adults, but it is no ordinary young-adult-aimed fiction book, and is a great read for adults as well.

The story line in this book is believable, though fictional, and I found it hard to put the book down because of both the story line and the Orthodox insights throughout the book. “Icon” is the moving story of a young Orthodox Christian girl in a era similar to our own, except that in this dystopian tale (set in 0000 ET, “Era of Tolerance,” with flashbacks to the Pascha before ET began), it is suddenly no longer legal to be a Christian, most especially an Orthodox one. “Icon” is a story of loss, finding, miracles, death, light, and restoration, written so believably that the reader thinks “this could really happen!” It is a gripping story of Faith put to the test.

This book challenges its readers to think about their own Faith. What if all that we currently do and take for granted with regard to our Faith were suddenly illegal and we were being watched at every turn? What if our family members died/disappeared simply because of their Faith? What if we were left alone and had to move to new surroundings and change even our very name to one unassociated with our Faith? And what if all of this happened to us at the tender age of 12? My guess is that many of us would not react with the same endurance that Euphrosyne does. (But neither is this one of those books that glosses everything over. Euphrosyne definitely struggles with doubt and temptation all along the way, and the reader struggles along with her, knowing what she ought to do, but also understanding the reality of what will happen if she stands strong for her Faith!) The book is written so realistically that one almost feels the need to keep an eye out for “traps” in his/her own life after reading it.

After reading Euphrosyne’s struggles and then thinking through the questions that those struggles point to, the reader is left with the determination to take nothing about the Faith for granted. Readers will continue to realize the blessing that icons are in their life, whether the human-written ones or the icons that are still wearing the flesh that God Himself wrote. When a reader makes the sign of the cross, they will ponder the “streaks of light” that Euphrosyne could “see” traced over her Orthodox friends’ chests near the end of the book. The Divine Liturgy will not be the “same old” liturgy so easily taken for granted… I could go on and on (at the risk of divulging too much of the story) with ways that the reader will be challenged to ponder their faith. Suffice it to say that this book makes its readers really think about their Faith and then value it like never before.

I would encourage families of middle-grade-years or older children to get their hands on this book as soon as you can. Parents should read it first (it won’t take you too long: as I mentioned before, it is hard to put down!), in order to have a grasp on what is coming, and to best know which of your children would benefit most from reading it next. Or, if you can, after reading it yourself, read the book aloud together as a family (if everyone in your family could handle it – but only you will know that). Regardless of how you read this book, be sure to talk together about it after you read. This book can help to strengthen your family’s Faith when you read and discuss it!
Chances are, when you finish this read, you will hope along with me that author Georgia Briggs will write again, and soon!

Purchase your own copy of “Icon” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/icon-a-novel/

Learn more about author Georgia Briggs here: https://georgiabriggsauthor.wordpress.com/

Here are some quotes from different parts of “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, along with suggestions of what your family could discuss at that part of the book. (With apologies for spoilers, which are difficult to avoid with this book!) We hope that these selections can help to give you an idea of the types of discussions that your family can have while reading this book:
***

“My hands shake as I reach to pick the icon [of St. Nicholas] up. It’s small and light in my hands. I turn it sideways. It’s only about a quarter of an inch thick, but the bullet hasn’t gone all the way through… I was holding it in front of me when he fired the gun… It must’ve stopped the bullet, and the force blew it through my hands and knocked me over… I sit back down on the ground and gaze at the icon. St. Nicholas looks so calm. The bullet in his chest bothers me. I start to pick at it with my fingernails, trying to pry it loose… It’s wedged in tightly, but after a few minutes I manage to work it out. A thin trickle of blood runs from the hole in the saint’s chest.” ~ “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 30-31

This experience of Euphrosyne’s offers your family the opportunity to discuss miracles wrought by icons. What miracles do you know of? Take time to research and learn about more. God is at work through His saints, and sometimes even through their icons!
***

“All this is so fake, I think, looking around at the plastic plants and uncomfortable chairs. Everything about this world is fake and watered down—the holidays, the people, the ‘just accept everybody’ thing that Dr. Snead keeps telling me. How do they all live in this place and not go crazy? My grandparents, Miss Linda, the other kids in school. Do they really believe this is all there is?

Maybe I know better because of what I’ve been through. Or maybe I’m just crazy and trying to make it all mean something.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 74

Take some time to discuss Euphrosyne’s thoughts on her world. What do you think of what she thinks? Have you ever thought something similar about your own world? How does the world – even as it is right now – compare to the Heavenly Kingdom, God’s kingdom?

***

“No one’s watching me.

I dance around a little, twirling and leaping, the ice squeaking under my feet. Soon my socks are wet and I’m breathing hard, but I don’t care. I twirl again and slip and fall. I lie back and make a snow angel…

…I look up at the dark sky without meaning to, like I’m going to see God up there or something.

No God in sight, but a few stars blink back at me.

For some reason it’s easier to believe in God when you’re standing alone in the snow on a cold morning and looking at the stars.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 77

Ask your family why they think the author put a snow scene into this story (which is set in Alabama). What could it symbolize? How does the snow purify or refresh Euphrosyne? What do you think of the last statement? Have you ever had a similar experience? When?
***

“When I notice the other priest in the altar, I can’t remember whether he’s been there all along and I just wasn’t paying attention. He’s helping Father Innocent like a deacon or one of the altar boys, but he’s about a foot taller than Father Innocent and he seems… different. Brighter, or more colorful or something. I wish I could get a glimpse of his face. He’s robed in red, not gold like the others, and he has a white stole with blue crosses draped around his neck and over one shoulder.

…Now that I look around, though, there are strange people in the congregation too. More people than were here when liturgy started. …Am I going crazy? Does nobody else see this?

…Everything around me is getting greyer and greyer. Everything except the icons and the strangers. I can see them better now. They seem to fill every corner of the room. They’re all different ages, some young, some old, their faces shining. Some wear crowns, many hold crosses in their hands. Some are dressed in rags, but they’re so beautiful that the rags seem beautiful too.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 154-155

After reading this passage, talk together about who you think Euphrosyne is seeing in this part of the story. Discuss the reality of the saints’ and angels’ presence in the Divine Liturgy every time we celebrate it together. How does it make you feel? Does it make you want to change anything about the way in which you attend the Divine Liturgy? If so, what?

***

“‘I’m Shamar,’ he says, ‘I’m your guardian angel.’

Right away I remember the icon that used to hang between my bed and Kat’s, of the curly-haired angel in blue robes and a red cloak, the one carrying a sword.

‘So you’ve been here all along?’ I ask.

Shamar nods. ‘Ever since you were baptized.’

‘You were old enough to be a guardian angel then?’ He can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen years old.

‘I’m a lot older than I look,’ he says with a smile.

‘Oh.’ It’s weird to think he’s been watching me my whole life. I think of all the stupid things I’ve done, all the times I was mean to Kat or whined to Mom and Dad. It’s kind of embarrassing.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 189

Talk together as a family about guardian angels. How long has each member of your family’s guardian angel been guarding him/her? Encourage each other to think about the fact that your angel is with you always and sees what you do, while also protecting you. Take a moment to pray the prayer to your guardian angel, thanking them for their protection and love. Find the prayer here: http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/OtherPrayers.html

***

“When I get close, I realize I can see more than just the stuff on the outside. I can see her soul too. And it makes me sad. Its silver glow has dark scars across it. There’s a jagged rip over her heart and another on her right hand, the hand she’s holding over her face as she cries. The one across her heart looks old, but the one on her hand is fresh. I hover beside her, trying to touch her.

‘Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ she whispers over and over again. She makes the sign of the cross, and her fingers leave a trail of light that lingers for a moment before disappearing.”  ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 195

Talk together about this passage after reading it. Why do you think her soul glows? Where did the scars come from? Why do her fingers leave a trail of light when she crosses herself? How does this make you think differently about your own soul and your own prayers?