Tag Archives: Learning

A Gathering of Ideas for Preparing for a New School Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lenten Sundays Series: Forgiveness Sunday

This is the second in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

The Sunday immediately before Great Lent begins is usually referred to in the Orthodox Church as “Forgiveness Sunday.” Forgiveness Sunday has two major themes: the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, and Forgiveness. We will take a short look at each of these themes, here.

It is important that this day features the expulsion of Adam and Eve, who in the beginning walked and talked with God in Paradise. This sort of relationship with God is what we wish to restore in our own life, and Lent is a time when the Church encourages us to do so with vigor. So it makes sense that She provides us with a reminder of what has been lost, and how it was lost, just before we begin Great Lent. This reminder also causes us to ponder the reality of Hades – where everyone went after their death, after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. Because we are blessed to live in a time when we are able to know Christ, we also think of Him, who by His death trampled the doors of Hades, and rescued Adam and Eve, and all of us from Hades’ grasp, forever. So, even right here, just before Great Lent begins, we already have a spoiler alert. We know where this is going, and we want to be part of it!

Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading is found in Matthew 6: 14-21 (NKJV)

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This Gospel reading is, in a sense, a good map for our Lenten journey. It begins with forgiveness. In order to restore our relationship to God, we need to be forgiven the multitude of our sins. This Gospel reading reminds us that if we want forgiveness from God, we need to also forgive others. The reading continues by telling us how to fast: not by showing off, but simply and quietly, genuinely. And it finishes with an admonishment for our focus: it should not be on earthly things, but on the heavenly. Great Lent is the perfect time to re-orient our focus to heavenly things. The Gospel reading’s last sentence summarizes the whole passage: where our treasure is is also where our heart is found.

Let’s take another look at the Gospel reading, this time through the lens of that last sentence. If we treasure forgiveness from God, our heart will be full of forgiveness for our fellow humans. During Great Lent, we are offered the opportunity to serve others willingly. We can more effectively serve if we are forgiving, not holding grudges. Forgiving others and serving them restores our relationship with them, and opens our hearts to receive forgiveness from God.

If we treasure relationship with God, our heart will be full of joyful, non-pretentious fasting. During Lent we are invited to eat less and pray more, giving Him our attention instead of seeking the attention of others or looking to food for satisfaction. Working to control our physical body’s desires and spending more time and energy in prayer restores our relationship to God.

And if we truly treasure God’s Heavenly Kingdom, the stuff of earth will matter not to us. During Great Lent, we are encouraged to do a better job of giving alms. Almsgiving lays up for us treasures in Heaven, while also blessing us with the opportunity to extend love to our fellow humans, and in doing so, to Christ Himself. Letting go of earthly things and earthly cares restores our ability to care for what is important to God: His creatures, His creation, and His Kingdom.

The Church steps right into the beginning of this Gospel passage with Her practice of offering Forgiveness Vespers to begin Great Lent. We’re not sure exactly when this beautiful service began to be offered. We do know that Forgiveness Vespers has been practiced since at least 520 AD, for it is mentioned in the story of the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. So Orthodox Christians have been beginning Great Lent by forgiving each other for a very long time.

According to Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading, forgiving each other is a natural way to begin Great Lent.

Please forgive me, a sinner. And may God forgive us all and restore us to right relationship with Him.

Here are some quotes from the Church Fathers and a few links that you may find helpful as you continue to ponder Forgiveness Sunday.

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“Do we forgive our neighbours their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or non-forgiveness, then, of your sins—and hence also your salvation or destruction—depend on you yourself, man. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how terrible it is.” ~ St Philotheos of Sinai

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“No one is as good and kind as the Lord is; but He does not forgive one who does not repent.” ~ St Mark the Ascetic

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“Forgiveness is better than revenge.” ~ St Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“No human being gets off the hook. No human being can blame anyone else… we are born into a world already… rebellious… We have to be taken back… to Paradise, and we believe that that’s what Jesus has done for us. And that’s what we are celebrating during Lent and Holy week and especially the Holy Pascha. We are celebrating the fact that God sends His Son to be the real, final, last Adam Who does not sin… and He forgives us…” Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory shares about Adam and Eve’s expulsion here:

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/forgiveness_sunday_the_expulsion_of_adam_from_paradise.

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“…Forgiveness is life itself. Because when we do not forgive, we murder. We kill the person that we do not forgive, and we kill ourself in the process of not forgiving. So forgiveness is the heart of the matter. And that’s why the Great Lenten season in the Orthodox Church begins with the Sunday of Forgiveness.” Hear the rest of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s words on Forgiveness Sunday here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/forgiveness_sunday_2_asking_for_forgiveness

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Consider having a family forgiveness time, whether or not you attend Forgiveness Vespers. Read one mom’s blog about their family’s experience with this here: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/22/our-family-forgiveness-night-tradition/

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The first four questions at this page could be part of a great family discussion about Forgiveness Sunday. (And don’t worry, there are answers there, too, so your family can compare yours to the ones listed and see if there’s anything more you can learn about this last Sunday before Great Lent!) http://www.orthodox.net/questions/forgiveness_sunday_1.html

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas

“Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas is so much more than just a book! It is a journal that walks an Orthodox girl through many of the challenges she will meet in her teen years. It is also the centerpiece of an experience that a group of young Orthodox girls can share, to help them grow both individually and together. The heart of the book is to help Orthodox teen girls to embrace the reality that they are created by God and have been woven together on purpose, so that they can accept and share the love of God.

“Woven” is a beautiful book in so many ways. It is physically attractive, with page-by-page colorful accents which tie the chapters together. The illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are contemporary and tasteful. Even the text is eye catching: some phrases or quotes are in different fonts or colors, engaging the reader and encouraging thought. There is also a delightful balance between information, scripture, story, and creative response opportunities throughout the book. Readers of varying learning styles will resonate with different parts of this book.

Each chapter has a different focus. The chapters are set up to be experienced in order, in 6 chapter-sessions. The first focuses on helping each young woman find her identity in the truth that she is created to become like God, and that she is living her identity when she participates in His grace through the spiritual gifts He has given to her. The second looks at emotions and how to better understand what her emotions are telling her, so she can react in healthy, non-destructive ways. The third focuses on helping young women work towards being authentic in their self-understanding. Instead of trying to present a “perfect” self (conveyed by how she dresses or what she posts on social media), she is encouraged to know that God created her to be a joy, and that embracing this knowledge can help her to truly be a delight. The fourth encourages developing healthy friendships with other girls. It looks at behaviors that can harm those friendships, and suggests ways she can change her habits and break harmful cycles so those friendships can grow. The fifth looks at love and romance, encouraging the young women to step back and look at the world’s views on each, and to embrace the healthier ways to look at these topics which the Church has offered for centuries. The sixth chapter is a review of the book, offering once more the truth of God’s love and acceptance of each reader. It also offers space and time for reviewing each chapter to see what she has gleaned from the book as a whole.

While it is intended to be completed in a small group context (like an extended Sunday School class or a girls-only SOYO/GOYA small group), with a few adjustments a mom could guide her daughter(s) or a godmother could work through the book with her goddaughter(s). The free, downloadable discussion guide adds value to the book. There are a few parts of the book which will not make sense without it. The guide contains additional links, as well as a suggested movie to watch after each chapter/session. This book would make a wonderful series of monthly retreats for young girls in a parish!

We highly recommend “Woven.” It is an invaluable learning tool for the young women of the Church. The insights the girls will gain as individuals, the bonding they’ll experience with fellow Orthodox Christians, and the wisdom they’ll glean from their leader(s) are all of a value far beyond the small expenses of time and money required to provide this opportunity. We hope that many parishes will invest in their young women, weaving love into their hearts through this book and the experiences it affords.

Purchase “Woven” here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/book/

Discussion leaders (Sunday Church School teachers, SOYO/GOYA leaders, small group leaders, and/or moms) can download a free (and indispensable) facilitators’ guide here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/facilitators-corner/

 

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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woven in his image

“We are a mystery, even to ourselves, but in the next few weeks, we will hope to unravel part of that mystery by discovering more about how God has lovingly woven us so beautifully in His image.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 18)

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“We are each created with a purpose, not just in the broad sense of all people are created in God’s image, but in a deeply personal sense of: ‘God created me because he wants someone like me in the world.’” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 28)

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“No matter how bad you feel, no matter how bad things seem, please remember two important things:

  1. There is always something you can do to make things better. It may be really small or it may be really hard, but there is always something that can be done.
  2. God never bails on you! He never leaves you in the dust. You can turn anything over to Him.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 53)

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“Sometimes we feel like we have to change too much of ourselves in order to fit in and have friends. It’s one thing to modify some outward behaviors or change your appearance to fit it; it’s another to adapt so much to the crowd that you lose yourself… The problem comes when we try to be somebody else because we think people won’t like us.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 97)

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“Can you imagine the relief Mary found in her friend, Elizabeth? In Elizabeth, Mary found love, assurance, support, encouragement, and a sisterly confirmation of their faith in the Lord. How amazing of a friend is that? …We are called to be a friend like Elizabeth—a blessing to others, a friend who brings peace and love to her friends’ minds, and helps them see blessings and hope as they face their fears, insecurities, secrets, and burdens.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 119)

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Woven illustration“Something that is very hard to understand is that people love you, but the unconditional, filling love we are looking for can only be given to us by the Lord. Only God can fill that lonely void that hurts so badly sometimes. God always accepts you. He always loves you; there is no rejection from the Lord.
He chooses YOU every day.
He thinks you are so worthy of love He sent His only child to die for you. He doesn’t wish you were prettier, smarter, or more athletic… He loves you exactly as you are; He created you because He wanted someone like you in the world.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 141)

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“We all want happiness here on earth, and sometimes we have that, but the heart of life is not what we get here, it’s who we are becoming in the light of eternity along the way. We are woven in His love and He understands us—God understands our complex emotions, our hearts and minds, the innermost needs that confuse even us. He loves us even when we’re a hot mess.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 158)

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Ps 139 Woven

Gleanings From a Book: “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis

Reading through the Psalter is a beautiful discipline at any time, but especially during a lenten period. Sharing this experience with friends is even more lovely. Over the years, I’ve been part of several lenten Psalter groups. Alongside my sisters (and some brothers) in Christ in these groups, I have both struggled and enjoyed the process of reading twice through the Psalms during a particular lenten period. When I heard about Sylvia Leontaritis’ new book “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women,” I was excited to have this pretty-covered version of the Psalter to be my companion book as I pray.

What I did not expect was the chance to pray the Psalter while feeling that I was sharing the experience with a wise best friend. Both Sylvia’s heart for God and her desire to live a truly Orthodox life pour out through her words, simultaneously challenging and encouraging her readers in a way that is usually reserved for dear friends. The tone in which she writes welcomes the reader to embrace her observations, ponder them, and then consider how to implement the ideas for their own growth.

The book begins with a few introductory pages which offer some background and suggested ways to use it; an explanation of what a Psalter group is; and many quotes from Holy Fathers about the importance of reading/praying the Psalms. Prayers to pray before and after the reading are included next. After that, the book settles into a routine. Each kathisma (grouping of chapters from the book of Psalms)’s text is printed right in the book, in numerical order. Every kathisma is printed with a very wide margin, so that readers can make notes right there in the book, by particular verses, as desired. Following each kathisma, Sylvia has written a short meditation (2-3 pages) in which she focuses on a theme from that kathisma or on a particular verse found therein. These meditations are concise, but beautifully insightful and stimulating. Each meditation also includes a related quote from a saint or Church Father which enhances the meditation.

Following each meditation are a number of lined pages for journaling. These pages offer the reader space to make this book their own, as they “chew” on a particular portion of the kathisma or interact with Sylvia’s meditation. These pages are a place to record thoughts and learnings. Each journaling section is large enough that even if the reader is one who regularly joins Psalter groups, there’s plenty of space to write, even multiple times. Readers who jot notes and learnings every time they pray the kathismas will find the book to become a record of their own growth, as they read back over what (and how) they were learning at points along their journey.

The Psalms address a variety of problems/difficult circumstances common to humankind. Sylvia mentions in her introduction that St. Arsenios of Cappadocia considered the Psalms to be a Book of Needs. “Songs of Praise” closes with a topical index of Psalms, as gleaned from St. Arsenios. The index makes appropriate Psalms easy to find and read in an hour of need.

Orthodox Christian women who desire to grow in their journey with God will be grateful for this beautiful tool. “Songs of Praise” has the potential to greatly help any woman who will put some thought, time, and prayer into her study of the Psalter. All who set aside time to read it carefully, meditating on the words with pen in hand, will be blessed.

Sylvia writes in the introduction that her hope “is that this book will inspire women everywhere to make the art of praying the Psalter part of their daily routine. I pray it will encourage each of us to put down our devices, let go of the trivial and temporary connections they entice us with, and reach for something better that will connect us eternally. Make the following pages feel like home to you—highlight, scribble, circle, dog-ear, tape photos, and refer back to them whenever your heart needs a hug…. I’m so grateful to be walking hand in hand with you as we strive to learn God’s ways and offer up these songs of praise.” (pp. 6-7)

I am of the opinion that Sylvia’s book has accomplished her mission. It has, at least, for me. I have already been blessed through this first reading, and I look forward to reading it more carefully again (and again!) and gleaning even more wisdom and encouragement.

Find “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/songs-of-praise-a-psalter-devotional-for-orthodox-women/

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“Even if I’m having a rough day—perhaps especially if I’m having a rough day—focusing my thoughts on all the good things in life always chases away the negative. It’s hard to be discontented when you’re counting your blessings.
Prayer journaling is a great way to remind yourself of all the ways God works in your life. It’s a creative way to express your thoughts and feelings to God. After all, isn’t that what the psalms were to David as he wrote them?”

(p. 26, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The world needs more women who are courageous enough to do what makes them holy—not happy. Women should be confident in their natural beauty… True beauty moves in stages, and we should trust God to continue transforming us into what He created us to be… Beside my bed, I have icons of some of my favorite Orthodox women… They are the women I look up to, the ones I want to be like ‘when I grow up.’ And I’ll tell you, I can’t imagine a single one of them fretting over gray hairs or crow’s feet.”

(pp 77-78. , “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“It hurts to be broken, but how we react to that pain is what determines whether it turns us into diamonds or destroys us. Pain can make us bitter and afraid, or it can make us strong and courageous so that we have nothing to fear when the hour of trial arrives yet again.”

(p. 96, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“I remember hearing that when a holy person enters a place, he or she can immediately sense its spiritual atmosphere. I have often wondered what our home feels like to a spiritual person.
As keepers of a home, we are largely responsible for that atmosphere. Not only should our homes be clean and welcoming, they should be spiritual.”

(p. 134, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Many times we read about saints, such as St. John the Baptist and St. Seraphim of Sarov, who left the world and went into the wilderness for a certain amount of time to reconnect with God. This wasn’t a concept for them alone; it is a call to every one of us. It is a call to remind us that every so often we need to take a time-out, leave our worldly cares behind, and seek Him in the wilderness.”

(p. 170, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Take control of the things you grant entrance into your heart. Be watchful of the things you pacify yourself with. Give thanks for the mundane and savor the simple. Most often, the most extraordinary things in our lives aren’t really things at all and are hidden away in the most ordinary of days.”

(p. 189, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As Orthodox Christians, we don’t go door to door preaching our faith; we live it in our own lives and trust God to do the rest. There’s a common misconception out there that Christians are supposed to be perfect. But you know what? There’s no such thing. A good Christian is not perfect. A good Christian is struggling. We do our best to follow the path of Christ, but we will fall a million times along the way. What makes us different is that we have the Church to help us up each and every time we fall, through the Mystery of Confession.”

(p. 226, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“For us as busy women, it’s impossible not to multitask to some extent, but as Orthodox women, we have to remember the healing power of being still. It’s in those moments of stillness that the fog is wiped from our glasses and we see life for what it truly is—a beautiful mess. The days are long sometimes, but the years are much too short. I, for one, want to stop and breathe in every crazy-beautiful-messy moment I’m blessed to see.”

(p. 259, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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46523739_10215763335788148_6425190565654036480_n-001“Life is so much fuller when we set limitations on the virtual world. There’s more time to read or knit or take a walk or snuggle with our littles without distraction. Decide which life is really worth investing in—your spiritual life or your virtual one—and then fill it with the things that truly make your heart happy. If we struggle to fill our lives with good and spiritual things and constantly have prayer on our lips, there will be no room left for the unholy.”

(p. 314, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As parents, our number one priority is to teach our children to live as true Orthodox Christians. Otherwise, the world will teach them not to.”

(p. 332, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The lives of the saints are living examples of how to live a life dedicated to God in a fallen and sinful world. They teach us how to overcome our passions and grow spiritually. The saints are arrows in our spiritual quiver. Everything about their lives points the way to Him. Let us never doubt or underestimate the power of their speedy intercessions.

‘What does the daily invocation of the saints signify? It signifies that God’s saints live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. we live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We can converse with them, and they with us. God’s saints are near to the believing heart, and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love.’ ~ St. John of Kronstadt”

(pp. 350-351, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Even in our day and age, there are so many people in need of the most basic of life’s necessities. While we may not be able to make a difference for everyone, if we just make a difference for someone, that is enough.”

(p. 365, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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If “Songs of Praise: a Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis inspires you to do more journaling related to the scriptures, you may find some of the ideas in this blog post helpful:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

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Gleanings from a Book: “The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson

Fans of “Shepherding Sam” will be delighted to find both Sam (the boy) and Saucer (the corgi) are back! They each play an important role in “The Barn and the Book,” a brand new book by Melinda Johnson. (Don’t worry, if you did not read “Shepherding Sam,” you can still jump right into “The Barn and the Book” seamlessly!)

“The Barn and the Book” takes place on the grounds of the monastery of St. Gerasim and features Sam’s 3rd and 4th grade Sunday Church School class; their teacher, Sister Anna, and a few of the other nuns; a handful of parents; and of course Saucer the corgi and his friends – the other animals on the monastery farm.

The story happens during a Church year. The students and their families attend the church on the monastery grounds, because it is the only Orthodox church in the area. Throughout the course of the year, everyone works together to prepare to celebrate the monastery’s special anniversary in March. At the beginning of the book, Sister Anna invites her class members to write a story that will be shared at the anniversary celebration. This book is the story of how they find and write their stories in the context of life together. It features humor, realistic characters, and many lessons for its readers.

The story contains many humorous parts. For example, the mere idea and corresponding mental image of a corgi going to Sunday school brings a chuckle to the reader’s smiling lips. Well, he sort of goes to Sunday school… Actually, the corgi (named Saucer) just looks longingly in the window during class because his best buddy Sam is there. Lucky for Saucer, class meets in the basement of the church, so the window is right at corgi level! That is how he is able to keep a good eye (and smashed-to-the-window-pane nose) on things. Saucer is so accurately described that the reader feels they must be able to reach into the book and give him a good scritch.

But Saucer is not the only realistic character! Throughout the book, the reader feels bound to the characters as they experience everything from moments of frustration to those of genuine joy. Readers come to realize how a Sunday Church School teacher feels when no one listens. They want to peacefully wander in the prayer garden with Sister Anna. They also make a mad dash for the door of the Sunday Church School room when the sheep get out of the farm enclosure. They inwardly cheer on the children who challenge themselves to write a story for the celebration, first wondering if the children will be able to pull it off, then rejoicing alongside the others in the book when everyone is pleased (albeit surprised) by the results! Because of its genuine characters, by the end of this book, the reader feels that they have been a part of preparing the monastery for the big celebration.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the characters in this book. Take for example, the nun, Sister Anna. She learns a lot over the course of this story, and the reader will do well to learn along with her. First of all, she finally learns to stop comparing herself to others. She comes to understand that she must completely trust her gerontissa, and not to test God, demonstrating with both of these learnings the humility that comes with truly trusting those in authority over us. With her choice of how she handles frustration, Sister Anna teaches us the value of having (and using!) a prayer garden, and demonstrates how the act of stepping out of our routine to pray helps us to calm ourselves as we entrust our frustrations to God. Other characters’ experiences in the story remind us of things like the fact that miracles can happen, while also leaving us wondering whether animals really can talk at midnight on Christmas. Perhaps most importantly of all, an ordinary boy named Sam learns that being present in the moment and choosing to be thankful while in that moment is the most magical thing one can experience. This lesson is an important one for readers of any age.

The story begins in the fall and continues into the spring. Though it covers much of a year, a fairly significant part of the story happens right at Christmastime. Because of the book’s humor, genuine characters, and important lessons, this book will surely be loved by any family adding it to their pile of treasured holiday books!

Purchase your own copy of “The Barn and the Book,” available as a book or an ebook, here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-barn-and-the-book/

To listen to the book, purchase the audio copy of “The Barn and the Book.” Author Melinda Johnson reads the book, and listeners can enjoy both her unbridled enthusiasm and her special voices for each character! https://www.audible.com/author/Melinda-Johnson/B004RXKWF4

 

Here are a few gleanings from the book and suggested related activities that your family can do together as you read the book, to extend the learning.

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“Sister Anna was too short and pudgy to move quickly, but she did her best. She wanted to reach the prayer garden without being seen. It was too cold to sit there for long, but Sister Anna needed some quiet time.” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 19-20)

 

Where do you go when you are frustrated, embarrassed, or angry? In “The Barn and the Book,” Sister Anna headed to the prayer garden. Sam went to the barn with the animals. Do you have a place that is quiet and peace giving? Maybe it is your family prayer corner, or somewhere else. Talk together as a family about good places to go when you need a minute to regroup and talk with God about what is happening in your life. It will not always be the same place for everyone in the family. What sort of atmosphere do the members of your family need? Consider creating a place that will meet those needs, if you haven’t already. Grow a prayer garden; or set aside part of your property for an animal or two; or create a quiet room or corner. Whatever that space needs to look like for your family, be intentional about making it happen, and encourage its use.

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“‘Do the nuns like me?’ wondered Grace.

‘Sure they do,’ said Elias, grinning. ‘Nuns like everybody.’

‘Everybody?’

Elias nodded. ‘The nuns even like Macrina,’ he said impressively. (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, p. 47)

Have you ever visited a monastery? Monasteries are such holy places for us to visit, where we can pray and rest. When we spend time in one, it is good for our souls and we come away refreshed and grateful for the experience.  Make a family plan to visit one and see for yourself how the nuns (or monks) like everybody! Ask your priest to recommend one for your family to visit. (Look here for additional ones:http://www.orthodox-christianity.org/orthodoxy/countries/usa/usmonasteries/)
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“‘I set the stick up yesterday, and then I came to see if it fell down.’ Sister Anna clasped her hands and reclasped them, squeeze squeeze. ‘If it fell down, or if it didn’t.’
…The abbess smiled, but Sister Anna did not see her smile. ‘You have made a test with your stick.’

‘Yes, Gerontissa.’

‘You set a trap for God. In the garden. With a stick… You want Him to tell you something now, and He has not told you something for you to hear, so you set a trap for Him, to make Him tell.’” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 96-97)
Sister Anna is not the first person who loved God and made a test (or, in the words of “The Barn and the Book,” “set a trap for God”) to try to get Him to answer a question. Have you ever done something like this? If so, you’re not alone! Even in the Old Testament of the Bible, we read a story about this. Gideon used the fleece of a sheep to ask for God’s guidance. Find the story in Judges 6:36-40. What did Gideon want to know (what was the reason he set out the fleece)? Did he get his answer? If you have the Orthodox Study Bible, be sure to read the footnotes on this passage. What was Gideon’s fleece the type of?

Find a lesson plan suggestion, complete with activity suggestions, on the story of Gideon, here: https://missionbibleclass.org/old-testament/part2/judges-and-ruth/gideon-and-the-fleece/

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“‘Do you think he will go in the barn?’ asked Grace, lowering her voice.

‘Go in the barn? What for?’

‘For the animals. You remember, like you told him.’

“Ohhhh. You mean to hear the animals talk at midnight on Christmas Ever?’

Grace nodded vigorously.

‘I don’t know. Won’t he be asleep?’

‘Maybe he could stay awake. Maybe I could stay awake. I want to go, too.’

Elias shrugged. ‘I don’t think your parents are going to let you go in the barn in the middle of the night.’” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 120-121)

Have you heard before about the idea that perhaps animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve? What do you think about that idea? Here’s one legend that offers a possible reason: https://tarapollard.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/the-legend-of-the-talking-animals-2/

And here’s one family’s funny memory of a child who went to the barn on Christmas Eve to find out for herself if they really do: http://www.walkdownthelane.com/animals-talk-on-christmas-eve/

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“‘Hi, Macrina!’

Macrina turned sideways to see who was talking to her… ‘Hello, Grace… Thank you so much for the nice card. My mom gave it to me.’
Grace smiled happily. ‘You’re welcome!’

They walked a few steps more and had almost reached the refectory door when Macrina spoke again. ‘Do you want to sit with me at lunch?’

‘Sure!’ Grace gave a little skip. She was now even more certain that her card had brought Macrina back to health. Why else would Macrina want to sit with her?” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 106-107)

Have you, like Grace, ever done something small but kind for someone who was not so kind to you? Did it change your relationship in a positive way? Who in your life right now would benefit from a small kindness? What kind thing could you do for them? Of course, you can (and should!) pray for them, but what else? Write them a note? Secretly do a chore for them? Bake them cookies? If you need ideas of kind things to do for someone else, check out the ideas at the end of this blog (https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/) or this one (https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/30/on-being-a-bucket-filler/).

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“…Some people might want to know why the monastery is called the Monastery of Saint Gerasim and the Lion. Saint Gerasim was an abbot at a monastery in the Holy Land a long time ago… He helped a lion with a hurt paw, and the lion became his friend and lived at the monastery. The nuns chose this saint because they helped the animals who lived at the farm that used to be here, and the farm turned into a monastery, just like Saint Gerasim’s lion sort of turned into a monk.” (part of Macrina’s story, from “The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, p. 153)

 

To learn more about St. Gerasim (also called St. Gerasimos), check out this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/

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A Handful of Resources – Summer 2018

Several fantastic resources have recently come to our attention. Some of them have been around for a few years, while others are recently published, but all of them were new to us and we consider them well worth sharing! Here they are:

  1. The SuperHolies series of books by Mireille Mishriky includes three books from 2016 to date, with more to come: Philo and the SuperHolies, Philo and the Patience SuperHoly, and Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly. Each book explores the “SuperHolies” (the virtues mentioned in the Scriptures as the fruit of the Holy Spirit), which can be “activated” in our life when we ask for God’s help. Each book tells about a time when Philo (a Coptic Orthodox boy) finds himself in a tough spot, remembers the SuperHolies, and then prays by making the sign of the cross. This activates the “SuperHolies” in his life and helps him respond as he should!

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Philo and the SuperHolies introduces Philo to the SuperHolies and offers him the opportunity to activate the Kindness SuperHoly when he unexpectedly meets up (again!) with a neighborhood bully.

Philo and the Patience SuperHoly tells about one time when Philo was feeling impatient during liturgy at his Coptic parish, and how activating the Patience SuperHoly helps him not just during the service, but throughout the remainder of the day!

Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly follows Philo to the hospital early one summer when he falls and breaks his arm. He laments all the summer fun that he will have to miss because of his cast. His new friend Rose (who has a heart condition) encourages Philo to activate the Joy SuperHoly in his life; demonstrates her own Joy SuperHoly in the way that she lives; and gives Philo ideas of ways to rejoice in the midst of his suffering.

  1. Love & Joy Coloring Book by Draw Near Designs, copyrighted 2017, is a child-sized (or purse sized!) coloring book with 25 spreads featuring saints of the Orthodox Church and a quote from/about each.

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  1. Beautiful Things: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert, was just published in 2018 by Ancient Faith Publishing. It features 64 pages of illustrations to color or activities to complete that are based on beautiful things that we learn about in the Church.

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Purchasing information:
Find the Philo books here: https://www.mireillemishriky.com/books/

Find Love & Joy here:  https://amazon.com/Love-Joy-Coloring-Book-Gann/dp/1977981887

Find Beautiful Things here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-things-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

 

Read on to find more about each resource, as well as offer a few suggestions of how to use them with your family:

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The Philo/SuperHolies books offer a story-based way to help children think about the virtues of peace, love, joy, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – the fruit of the Spirit of God. Each book stands well on its own, but in our opinion, they work best as a series. In each book, Philo learns how to demonstrate a fruit of the Spirit, after asking for God’s help.

Philo and the SuperHolies offers families a chance to learn and talk about the “SuperHolies,” the personification of virtues which author Mireille Mishriky has created for the virtues which are the fruit of the Spirit. Each SuperHoly is briefly explained in this book, along with a very realistic example of how it can help us to live a truly Orthodox life. The SuperHolies are introduced in the context of a story about Philo and a neighborhood bully. Philo gets to test out the power of the Kindness SuperHoly when that bully shows up in a place where Philo least expected to meet him. Not at all “preachy,” this cleverly educational book will be very helpful to Orthodox parents who want a hands-on way to discuss the application of virtues with their children. The superhero qualities of the SuperHolies will help all of us want to have them “activated” in our life!

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After reading Philo and the SuperHolies, ask each family member to tell which SuperHoly they like the best, and explain why. Invite family members to tell of another family member who does a good job of activating a SuperHoly in their life, and which SuperHoly that is. Encourage each person to think of one SuperHoly that they often fail to activate, remember how Philo’s grandma introduced that one, and say a prayer to ask God’s help to “activate” that SuperHoly the next time you need it!

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Philo and the Patience SuperHoly tells the story of one Sunday when Philo is looking forward to a family barbecue after church. He finds himself feeling very impatient during liturgy at his Coptic parish. He tries so hard to be still and quiet, but does not succeed. Activating the Patience SuperHoly by praying with the sign of the Cross helps Philo during the remainder of the Divine Service and even throughout the rest of the day!

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Philo’s Patience SuperHoly offers him a variety of ideas of ways to be patient during liturgy. Some of them may be helpful to your family, as well! After reading this story, talk together about which of these ideas work well for your family, share additional ideas that you may have which are not included in this book, then pray that God will help each of you be patient and focus as you help to “do the work of the people” at each liturgy!

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Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly offers each reader the chance to measure how well we are activating the Joy SuperHoly in our own life. Are we more like Philo, lamenting all he’ll miss during summer vacation in the four weeks he has his cast after breaking his arm? Or are we more like Rose, born with a heart condition that requires her to spend much of her life in the hospital, but whose very disposition radiates gratitude and joy? In the story, Rose gently encourages Philo to activate the Joy SuperHoly in his own life, and then she gives him ideas of ways to rejoice in the midst of his suffering.

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After reading this book, talk with your family about it. Do you agree with Rose that “Thankful people are always joyful?” What examples can you give to backup your answer? Invite family members to share stories of times when they have (or have not!) activated the Joy SuperHoly in their life, and what happened as a result. Does your family know anyone who is like Rose? Challenge each other to think of the things you CAN do, and be thankful to God for them, instead of focusing on the things you CAN’T do, the next time a struggle comes your way! Pray and ask God to help each of you to do a better job of choosing to live a life of joy and gratitude.

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Love & Joy Coloring Book by Draw Near Designs is a beautiful little coloring book that is not just a coloring book! Each of the 25 spreads offers a simplified-icon-like drawing of a saint (or two), along with a quote related to them. We love the size of this book (it is a compact 5”x7”), the carefully drawn saints, and the wisdom of the quotes. Even long after the fun of coloring the book is finished, it will be useful because of the saints and quotes.

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Consider purchasing multiple copies of this book. Then utilize each spread as a family devotional time. The family members who enjoy coloring can color the spread while others research the life of the saint depicted, and share what they learn. Finish the time by discussing the quote, how it was demonstrated by the saint, and how you can apply it to your own life. Pray and ask the saint to intercede on your family’s behalf, then ask God to help each of you emulate the saint’s life.

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Beautiful Things: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert, is a coloring book for all ages. There are a range of drawings from simple to complex, and all feature beautiful things about our Faith. The book is not just a coloring book: it also includes a variety of activity pages, as well as open-ended drawing pages.

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This book would be a good way for parents and children (especially younger children) to wind down together after a busy day, coloring a page or two together while talking about the day while also talking a bit about the beautiful thing(s) they are coloring/doing in the book and how they relate to the Faith. It would also be a great activity book for families with long car rides to church (if those using it can color without getting carsick!). Or perhaps a family may wish to have this book on hand for use during Holy Week, to keep their focus on Christ and His Church even in their “down” time.

On Pursuing Virtue: Honesty

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 about honesty opens with the statement that “the wise man who has knowledge lives according to the truth through a totally honest life.” But what does a “totally honest life” look like? Is honesty just about speaking truth and not telling lies? Or is there more to it? He goes on to explain.

There are several ways that we can live a truly honest life. One way is to always speak the truth and never lie or speak unfairly or demeaningly about others. Another way to live an honest life is to act sincerely, not putting on airs or trying to come across as someone we are not. In other words, we live an honest life if we are not a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy, lying, and deceit are things that Christ hated the most, according to Fr. Thomas. Our Lord accused the devil of these things, for the devil constantly pretends to be what he is not and tries to make others believe that what he says is the truth, although it is definitely not the truth.

We must be mindful of the devil’s trickery and of how cunningly he tries to deceive us, sometimes through other people. Even devoted religious leaders can be part of his deceit: just look at the scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ! Christ condemned their hypocrisy, as well He should, because of its lack of truth.

In order to live an honest life, we must first and foremost look at ourselves. Do we present ourselves to others honestly, or do we pretend to be someone we are not? An honest person comes across exactly as they are, not speaking or acting in a way that makes others think they are anyone but who they really are.

Fr. Thomas writes that a truly honest person does not just speak the truth and present themselves to others honestly. An honest person is also honest in thought and mind, forever remembering that God sees and knows our heart. In his words, a truly honest person is “utterly honest and pure in all that he things, says and does, knowing that God sees all and judges with righteousness all those who ‘walk in integrity’ (Ps. 26:1, 11).”

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

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s writing about honesty here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/honesty
Here are some scriptures and quotes from saints that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of honesty in our own life:
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“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Ps. 33:14 OSB)
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“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” (Prov 6.16–19)
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“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.” (Proverbs 12:22 NKJV)
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“Therefore keep yourself from useless murmuring and refrain your tongue from evil speech; for no secret word will go unpunished, and a lying mouth will destroy one’s soul.” (Wisdom of Solomon 1:11 OSB)
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“A lie is an evil disgrace in a man, it will continue on the lips of the ignorant.” (Wisdom of Sirach 20: 24 OSB)

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“ The character of a liar brings dishonor, and his shame is continually with him.” (Wisdom of Sirach 20: 26 OSB)
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“Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” (2 Cor 13.7–8 NKJV)
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“Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25 OSB)
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“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds.” (Colossians 3:9 NKJV)
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Christ taught us truth; the Devil teaches us falsehood, and strives in every way to contradict every truth; devising various calumnies against it.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“Adorn yourself with truth, try to speak truth in all things; and do not support a lie, no matter who asks you. If you speak the truth and someone gets mad at you, don’t be upset, but take comfort in the words of the Lord: Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of truth, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:10).” ~ St. Gennadius of Constantinople
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If you wish that God should speedily give you hearty faith in prayer, strive with all your heart to speak and to do everything in regard to other people sincerely, and never be deceitful in your dealings with them. If you are straightforward and truthful with others, then God will give you straightforwardness and sincere faith also in reference to Himself.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“When your brother sins against you in any way, for instance, if he speaks ill of you, or transmits with an evil intention your words in a perverted form to another, or calumniates you, do not be angered against him, but seek to find in him those good qualities which undoubtedly exist in every man, and dwell lovingly on them, despising his evil calumnies concerning you as dross, not worth attention, as an illusion of the Devil. The gold-diggers do not pay attention to the quality of sand and dirt in the gold-dust, but only look for the grains of gold; and though they are but few, they value this small quantity, and wash it out of heaps of useless sand. God acts in a like manner with us, cleansing us with great and long forbearance. How difficult this all is! But let us not become despondent, and let us recall the words of Christ: With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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