Tag Archives: Life

On the Gift of Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Author’s note: Long ago I committed to reading fiction that strengthens my faith instead of dismissing it. I am fine with reading stories of people who struggle with life or with what they believe, as long as they are struggling towards God, not ignoring or shying away from Him. Because of these self-imposed limitations when it comes to reading adult-targeted fiction, I have limited my reading mostly to Christian fiction and classics. Suffice it to say that I have read a fair amount of both over the course of my five decades.

In all of my reading, I have yet to read a book like this one. “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle is Christian fiction at its best. The characters are so believable that you expect them to step right out of the book so you can marvel at the sunrise together, or share a cup of tea. Their struggles are real, as is their growth: painfully real, as is our human experience. Their story is carefully and beautifully told. This book is written as though it were already a classic.

Tuggle offers her readers a glimpse into mid-20th-century rural Pennsylvanian life, with its clash of cultures and challenges. Characters include a host of rural-minded Americans, a handful of hippies, a pair of Hungarians, a few Romanian “gypsies”, some Orthodox Christians, and more. (One character has Amish roots, but this is anything but another “Amish Christian Fiction” book: his cultural heritage is far from the focus of the book.) The characters interact with believable honesty, by turns disagreeing and misunderstanding; then accepting and helping each other as would be expected in a rural community such as theirs. (I live in Pennsylvania and married into a rural Pennsylvanian family, so I am familiar with such a community.)

Tuggle’s writing is lyrical and poetic. She refuses to spoon-feed her readers, instead inviting them to mull over the story, perhaps re-read sections, and ponder the reading. Her expertly-crafted sentences are clad in words befitting their message, saying just enough to allow the reader to find the pieces of the many puzzles in the story. Tuggle’s words spin ordinary farm life into gold, without sugar-coating the dirt.

“Lights on the Mountain” is filled with purposeful pain, glazed with moments of joy. How else could the story of a boy-becoming-a-man be genuinely told? The readers follow pensive Jess Hazel from his late boyhood through the moment when he fully embraces his adult responsibilities. Constant to his tale is the everyday glory of life on the farm. A host of colorful characters appear in different parts of his life, and not until the end of the book does the reader fully understand each one’s significance. True to life, some parts of this account leave the reader hanging until the parts come full circle, and there is beautiful completion.

This book is an interesting blend of thoughtful words, difficult subject matter, complex characters, deep faith, and simple glories. Readers will come away from reading “Lights on the Mountain” knowing that their time was well spent. I’ll warrant that many of them will read the book again, to revisit the characters and gain further insight into the puzzle pieces that they missed the first time around. I am particular with my fiction selection, and I will be among those re-readers.

By the way, according to my research, Tsura is a Romanian name. It means “light of dawn.” You’ll find that interesting when you read the book.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Lights on the Mountain” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/lights-on-the-mountain

Watch the trailer for the book here: https://youtu.be/VfCLI998hh4

 

While this book is a work of fiction, the insights that it offers will encourage you as a Christian, a spouse, and/or a parent. Here are a few gleanings from the book, to offer you a tiny taste:

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“No doubt his father was right. Clyde always was. The beam of light probably was an extraordinary reflection of the everyday sun, but did that mean it couldn’t also be more? It might also be a kind of ladder, the means for God to get down to this patch of soil Hazels had been working since old Penn first claimed these woods and set things back to the way they used to be.” (pp. 19-20, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“Now that he knew how it was a man should live, it was clear that it was no more than his lot to do so. He still grieved, still felt acutely the pain of his aloneness. But there was a great deal of solace, he found, in taking Clyde’s approach to existence. Acceptance had its own plain reward. To be sure, living in such a way, a man’s sense of wonder was muted. But so was his sense of tragedy. Jess did not pine now for the old joy or wish for knowledge beyond his ken. And except for that which he now put in himself, and that which ought to be placed (with caution) in his fellow man, he did not long for faith. He did not long at all. Or he did but did not know it. And then, while he was longing without being aware that he longed, Gracie came to him. In the cool
of an evening. Almost as if she’d been sent. As if someone knew it was not good for man to be alone.” (pp. 42-43, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“For if there was anything he knew about Gracie Morozov after three months of loving her, it was that she was serious about God. It wasn’t a thing she talked about endlessly like some religious girls Jess had known—she seemed to take her faith as a natural gift, much as she did the shine and gloss of her hair or the unusual hue of her eyes, and rarely spoke of it directly, but he would have to be a fool not to see how it affected everything she said and did.” (pp. 65-66, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“She was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then she said, ‘I haven’t met Mr. Zook. But he’s human, right? And don’t we all suffer? We all have weaknesses. Injuries. Battle scars. Sins. Even the Amish. Straw hats and horse-drawn buggies don’t buy paradise. Or else none of us would need a savior.’”(p. 102, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“It seemed to Jess that he was being humbled on purpose, as if having stood for a few brief moments before the icon of Christ, he was now somehow standing within it, viewing himself through those all-seeing eyes. And from this view it was pretty clear that he had acquired more than just his father’s so-called natural way of taking his place the world. He had also acquired his stiff-neckedness. ‘There’s a way seems right to man,’ he remembered Orville Hays saying, ‘and oft times it isn’t.’ Jess wondered then if this was to be the response to his prayer. (If indeed such silent groaning was prayer.) God, after all these years, speaking to him in voices he could recognize. Or (and this was a sorrowful thought, weighted with regret) it could be that God had been speaking all along, and Jess only could not hear because he was not with any real amount of honesty listening.” (p. 184, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“Silence is a good teacher, but most of us make poor students.” (p. 210, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“‘There is a prayer we make to Christ,’ Father Daniel said, his voice growing tenderer, as if he’d heard Jess’s thoughts, knew the reason for his sigh. ‘“Wound my heart with love for you.” Is that not a strange request? It’s madness! And yet, don’t we understand it, you and me? At least a little. From the moment I saw you, I said to myself, now here’s a pilgrim I recognize. A fellow wounded. He has heard tales of a singular healing salve and has been limping about the earth to find out if one truly exists. Tonight, you’ve made a discovery. Yes, this miraculous ointment does exist. And what is it? More madness! More sweet pain to be endured. More sorrow mingled with joy. It’s love.’”(p. 214, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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A Handful of Resources to Help Us Better Care for Children with Invisible Disabilities

About a month ago, I came across an offer for a small book about children living with mood disorders. Since we at the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education are always looking for resources for families and teachers that we can then share with you, I requested a copy. My intent was to read the book and offer here a few gleanings from it, highlighting it as a resource. As I inquired about the availability of the book (it was published in 2003), I learned that there are not many hard copies left. However, Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski, who sent the book to me, has so many other resources up her sleeve that this journey has ended up being not so much about the book itself as about helping us to become more aware of invisible disabilities (including those that the book addresses) and offering resources that can help us to best care for (and about) those living with such disabilities.

The little book that started all of this is called “The Storm In My Brain: Kids and Mood Disorders (Bipolar Disorder and Depression)”. It was written by Martha Hellendar, one of the founders of the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation. It was published by CABF and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. It introduces mood disorders in child-friendly terminology, explains how it may feel to experience the disorder, recommends ideas of what to do when you’re feeling that way, and offers reassurance that the disorder does not make the person experiencing it a bad person. In addition to this helpful information for children, the book contains a page of tips for parents, and another for teachers. Anyone living or working with children with mood disorders will benefit from reading this little book. You will find a link to the pdf of the book below.  But there are many invisible disabilities besides mood disorders. We will share a few resources related to those, below, as well.

Perhaps you do not know a child with a mood disorder or any other invisible disability, and this is not part of your personal experience. Believe it or not, these resources still apply to you! Why? Well, chances are that you DO know a child (or adult) struggling with an invisible disability; they are just working very hard to keep it invisible, and succeeding – at least keeping it invisible to you. This means they are carrying this cross and struggling this struggle, alone. In order to better understand and help, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with these disabilities and the resources available to help those living with them. And why should you do that? St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, wrote, “the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12: 25-27 NKJV) The statistics are such that we can safely say that all of us have fellow parishioners who are part of our Body (the Church), living with an invisible disability as part of their cross, their struggle. If we take the time to learn a little about what they are experiencing, we can more easily pray for them; more effectively care for them; and more joyfully welcome these brothers and sisters. In that sort of atmosphere, these precious ones will be better able to contribute their valuable gifts to the Body, and, together, we will all be blessed!

While “The Storm in my Brain” is not readily available as a hard copy, you can find it online here: http://www.dbsalliance.org/pdfs/storm.pdf

Note: Since the book was published, The Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation has joined forces with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, whose mission statement reads, “DBSA provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.” Find them on the web at www.DBSAlliance.org.
Here are some of Matushka Wendy’s writings and other links that can be helpful as we meet, love, and care for others with invisible disabilities. What resources are you aware of, which the community would benefit from knowing about? Please share them!

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Matushka Wendy started a Facebook group called “Koinonia for Exceptional Orthodox Families”, which is described as “a place for Orthodox parents of Exceptional Children to find support from other parents – sharing ways to help keep our children(and us) on the Spiritual Journey of Orthodox Christianity.” It is a private group, so if you would like to join, you’ll need to find it on Facebook, request to join, and then await approval. This group is an excellent resource for parents and teachers. It is also a place where families with exceptional children can safely ask fellow Orthodox Christians for help, ideas, and prayers.

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This document by Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski encourages us to embrace all of God’s children (including those with special needs). It offers simple definitions for a number of “invisible” disabilities which, just like any other illness (although these are not contagious), are very real challenges for children and their families alike. It is a useful place for parents and teachers to begin to understand the challenges that some children face. Especially useful to anyone not living with an invisible disability are the “How Can I Help?” and “Other Suggestions for Inclusion” sections.  https://www.academia.edu/9255990/Children_of_God

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How can we be family, the Body, to a child (and his/her family) who is living with an invisible disability? “These families need to have spiritual support to face the sometimes overwhelming challenges that these disorders bring to their households… Offer to help in some way, even if you are turned down. Just the act of offering shows that you are supportive…” Read more of what Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski has to say on the subject in her article at the top of this page:

https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

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“Children with special needs come to church with two strikes against them: (1) they are a child and (2) their particular challenge may not have visible signs like crutches or a wheelchair would, leading those around them to make judgments and even ask the family to leave because they are ‘disturbing the worship of others.’” Read what our Orthodox theology has to say about children with special needs in Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski’s graduate school research paper (which is very informational, but not so academic as to be unreadable), found here: http://www.academia.edu/7399622/Embracing_All_God_s_Children_Orthodox_Theology_Concerning_Disability_and_Its_Implications_for_Ministry_with_Special_Needs_Youth_in_the_Orthodox_Church
(Incidentally, she completed all of her coursework 30 years before she wrote this paper: and in the meantime, God granted her and her husband children with some invisible disabilities which greatly enhanced her research!)

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“In my experience, many people are not clear on exactly what ‘hidden disability’ means. The following is a list of what the term may encompass:
Autism
Developmental delay
Emotional disability
Deaf and hard of hearing
Mild mental developmental disability
Other health impairments e.g. osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as fragile bone disease, carpal tunnel syndrome
Speech/language impairment
Brain injury
Visual impairment
Reading this list, which is not exhaustive, the reader can see that it covers a wide range of individuals who require special assistance from community resources.” Read about how people with hidden disabilities can benefit from community support and assistance in the article “Additional Observations and Resources for Parents of Children with Hidden Disabilities”,
by Michele Karabin, found at the bottom of this page: https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

(Also, just before that article, in the middle of the page there is a list and links to a variety of websites that can be helpful to someone wishing to learn more about invisible disabilities.)

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Find a variety of links to helpful sites related to people with exceptional needs here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/specialneedsresources.pdf/77f65280-5a12-4e7a-b854-7bbf25ea71a0

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Children living with bipolar disorder, as well as their families and teachers, will find help, support, and information here http://www.bpchildren.com/. The presentation on the home page offers a plethora of information to anyone living with or working with a child experiencing BP, and includes anecdotes from a child living with the disorder. It is well worth the 22-minute investment.
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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Confession

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Confession.

The Orthodox Study Bible defines confession in a way that acknowledges both aspects of the word as it is used in the Orthodox Church. Confession is “The sacrament of the forgiveness of sins, whereby the repentant sinner confesses his sins to Christ in the presence of the priest, who pronounces God’s absolution of those sins.” It is also “The avowal or verbal witness of faith in Christ, leading to salvation (Rom. 10:9).” (1, p. 1777) In this blog post, we will not be focusing on the second definition (“confession of faith”), but rather on the first; the sacramental aspect of the word, the sacrament which allows us sinners to be restored to right relationship with God.

The mystery or sacrament of confession, also called penance by the Church, is the means by which we are reconciled to God when we have sinned and thereby cut ourselves off from Him and His Church. We are created for communion with God and each other, that is, communion in the sense of life in harmonious community. When we sin, we sever that communion. But we have also been created to partake in the sacrament of communion (or eucharist). Sin severs us from the eucharist, as well. God has kindly made confession/penance available to us, so that we are able to be restored to both communions.

In Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article on penance, he writes that receiving the eucharist fulfills our act of penance, and restores us to communion with our fellow humans. He also offers steps for right living beyond that reconciliation.  “The fulfillment of penance consists in the reception of Holy Communion and the genuine reconciliation of the repentant sinner with God and all men according to the commandments of Christ. From this there obviously follows the necessity of a sincere attempt by the penitent to refrain from sin and to remain in faithful obedience to God and in uprightness of life before Him and all people.” (2)

“In His mercy, God provides the sacrament of confession (more properly called the sacrament of repentance) to give us deliverance from sin… Thus, we come before the holy icon of Christ, to whom we confess, and are guided by our spiritual father in a cleansing inventory of our lives. When we tell God all, naming our sins and failures, we hear those glorious words of freedom that announce Christ’s promise of forgiveness of all our sins. We resolve to ‘go and sin no more’ (Jn 8:11).” (1, p. 1698)

Fr. Hopko’s article details the three main elements of penance. “The first is a sincere sorrow for sins and for the breaking of communion with God. The second is an open and heartfelt confession of sins… The third element of penance is the formal prayer of absolution through which the forgiveness of God through Christ is sacramentally bestowed upon the repentant sinner.” (2) So, we must begin with genuine sorrow for what we have done, followed by a thorough examination of our hearts, then an equally complete confession. At this point, it is the priest who steps in to complete the act by praying the prayer of absolution. As he does, he extends Christ’s forgiveness to us while covering our head with his epitrachelion as Christ covers our sins with His forgiveness.

“According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide.” (3) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article reaffirms that it is only God who forgives sins, and that He does it through Christ in the Church. God requires that our repentance be genuine and that we promise to change. Confession is the chance for us to acknowledge before God and other humans that we are a sinner.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of confession!

 

Sources:

  1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
  2. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Penance. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/penance
  3. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on confession, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you prepare to participate in this important sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evils from your souls before My eyes. Cease from your evils. Learn to do good… ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘although your sins are like crimson, I shall make them white like snow, and although they are as scarlet, I shall make them white like wool.’” Isaiah 1:16-18 OSB

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“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9 OSB

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confession

“Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God.” ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

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“Only if sinners cease to commit evil and learn to do good and turn to God with humility and repentance they will become ‘white as snow.’ The Lord is mighty and willing. No one, except Him, is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin and, by cleansing, to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap, no matter how often it is washed and re-washed, it cannot receive whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor even with the help of all legal means of the law until we, at last, bring it beneath the feet of God, spread out and opened wide so that the light of God illumines it and whitens it.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

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“‘If you fall, rise and you shall be saved.’ You are a sinner, you continually fall, learn also how to rise; be careful to acquire this wisdom. This is what the wisdom consists in: learning by heart the psalm, ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness,’ inspired by the Holy Spirit to the king and prophet David, and say it with sincere faith and trust, with a contrite and humble heart. After your sincere repentance, expressed in the words of King David, the forgiveness of your sins shall immediately shine upon you from the Lord, and your spiritual powers will be at peace.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“Notice the way in which Zacchaeus confessed his sin. He did not say: ‘Lord, I am a sinful man!’, or ‘Avarice is my sickness!’ No; but, showing the fruits of repentance, he thus confessed his sin and his sickness: ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.’ is not this a clear confession that riches are his passion? ‘And if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.’ Is not this a clear confession that his riches were acquired in a sinful manner? He did not, before this, say to the Lord: ‘I am a sinner, and I repent.’ He confessed this silently to the Lord in his heart, and the Lord silently received his confession and repentance. It is of more importance to the Lord that a man acknowledge and confess his sickness and cry for help in his heart than with this tongue, for the tongue is capable of deception, but the heart is not.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

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“Sin is an illness. Healing this illness is the work of the whole life. There is no case when it is impossible to repent. A soul can be tough, but there is a disciplinary system of fasts, home prayers and other church prescriptions, which help to awake the soul.” Read more in this article full of recommendations of how to prepare yourself for confession: https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2017/07/05/twelve-recommendations-on-how-to-prepare-yourself-for-confession/

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“To understand confession in its sacramental sense, one first has to grapple with a few basic questions: Why is the Church involved in forgiving sins? Is priest-witnessed confession really needed? Why confess at all to any human being? In fact, why bother confessing to God, even without a human witness? If God is really all-knowing, then He knows everything about me already. My sins are known before it even crosses my mind to confess them. Why bother telling God what God already knows?” Find answers to these questions in this exceptional article on confession: http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/confession-healing-sacrament (This article is available as a booklet here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/confession-the-healing-sacrament/)

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Want to read more about the holy mystery of confession? Here are a few books available on the topic, as well as a handful of articles:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/if-we-confess-our-sins-preparation-and-prayers/

http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-forgotten-medicine/
http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/23/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-holy-eucharist-part-iii

http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/28/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-repentanceconfession-part-ii

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Here are some activities you can do together as a family, in conjunction with a discussion on Confession: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/book/export/html/930

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Find ideas of ways to prepare for confession, using the 10 commandments as well as the beatitudes to help you evaluate the condition of your heart, here: https://www.goarch.org/-/preparation-for-holy-confession

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If you want a list of many questions, here are almost 100 questions that can help you prepare for confession: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/guide-to-confession.aspx

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Help your child(ren) prepare for confession. Here’s a helpful suggestion of how to do so: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/helping-your-child-prepare-for-confession/

 

On Resolve for the New (Church and School) Year

As we draw nearer to the start of another Church (and for many of us, another school) year, we should prepare accordingly. This new year offers us the opportunity to begin afresh and look for ways to improve ourselves. With this in mind, let us approach this new year(s) with resolve.

Resolve is an appropriate word for the beginning of a year. Two of its definitions are especially appropriate. One way that Google defines resolve as a verb is, to “decide firmly on a course of action”. The start of a new Church/school year is a great time to do that! What action should we firmly decide to take?

We do well to consider that question, perhaps in the context of a few others! Let us take this chance to sit quietly alone, or with a spouse/family member/friend, and ponder the following:

  1. Evaluate. Think back over this season we’ve just come through. How did we do in that season? How have we changed for the good?
  2. Prioritize. Sort our habits, identifying the good “keepers” and bad “time to change this” habits. Also, make a list of what lies ahead in our schedule. Of everything on that list, what is most important?

Once we’ve looked at where we’ve been, how we’ve grown, and where we’re headed, we are ready for the noun form of resolve. One of Google’s definitions of resolve as a noun defines it as the “firm determination to do something”. There are many things we should firmly resolve to do. We will look specifically at these two:

  1. Slow down. Choose NOT to do everything. Some of our busyness is necessary, but if we are honest with ourselves, some of it is fluff. We need to grant ourselves permission to cut the fluff and not feel bad about it. So, what makes the cut in our schedule this year?
  2. Focus and talk. We need to decide who takes priority in our life. Once we’ve established that, we must plan ways to show them that they have priority over the other people and things (for example, technology) which demand our attention. When we genuinely talk with those around us – truly giving them focused attention – they know that they are really a priority in our life. How will we build face-to-face talk this year? And how will we minimize the distractions such as technology?

Let us resolve to grow together this year. It will be messy. That’s okay. Messy growth is still growth. In the process, let us embrace our imperfections and the imperfections of those growing with us. We need each other. How can we help each other to grow this year?

Here are some related links. Check them out to be further challenged in each of the ways mentioned above! May God bless our resolve in this new Church (and school) year!

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Evaluate this past season: How have we changed for the good?

“Be the Bee” episode #43 points out some of the beautiful things about Orthodox Christian Summer Camp. Perhaps a member of our family (or more) was blessed with this opportunity this summer. How did camp change them for the good? What aspect(s) of camp can/should we continue on in the upcoming year? “With Christ at the center, every aspect of our days is blessed, lifted up and transformed into an opportunity to draw closer to God and neighbor.” (Watch the episode here: https://youtu.be/9Tw4XQa4QrA)

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Parents, this is a great time to consider what we have learned from our children during this season of our life. If you missed it before, perhaps this blog post will inspire your thoughts! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/on-learning-from-our-children/

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Prioritize.  Sort our habits, identifying the good “keepers” and bad “time to change this” ones.

“Be the Bee” episode #79 encourages us to pluck out the bad habits and plant good ones, instead! http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-79-habits

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Slow down. Choose NOT to do everything.

In case you missed it before, this post encourages us to “save time.” Believe it or not, it is a post about slowing down. Check it out for yourself here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/on-saving-time/

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“People’s lives are sheer misery because they do not simplify things” ~ St. Paisios
Read more of what St. Paisios has to say on the subject, here: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/simplify-your-lives-with-elder-paisios-of-the-holy-mountain/

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“…Telos.  A Greek noun, it means ‘an end, purpose, or goal; an ultimate aim…’ Our telos affects everything, even if it’s not what we think it is.  What do we really aim at? What do we really love?” Read one mom’s take on the culture of busyness here: https://thelivescript.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/for-which-generation-on-telos-and-techne/

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What mental and physical impact does our culture’s desperate busyness have on our children? Is that really what we want for our kids? Read about it in this blog post: https://raisedgood.com/childrens-busyness-not-badge-honour-need-change/

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Focus and talk. We need to decide who takes priority in our life.

Electronic devices have become an addiction in our culture, even among those of us who want to focus on Christ and teach our children to do the same. We’ve shared a few of these challenging links before, but are sharing them again in case you missed them the first time. It will take some time, but we strongly recommend that you read/listen to each of these:

“It’s easy to think of weekends as simply another opportunity to get more things done. But downtime is crucial, and there’s more evidence than ever it’s essential to our productivity and wellbeing.” Deacon Michael Hyatt challenges his readers to take breaks and close their laptops for their own good and for the sake of their family, in this article: https://michaelhyatt.com/close-your-laptop.html

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This conference speech points out some rather frightening ways in which technology is affecting even Orthodox Christians: http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/2017_family_ministry_conference/technology_that_unites_and_divides

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This secular article divulges the psychology behind social media, and its intentionally addictive lure: https://medium.com/@richardnfreed/the-tech-industrys-psychological-war-on-kids-c452870464ce

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“…Focusing on the relationship with your child, rather than all of the tasks she must complete, will not only make your mornings easier, but it will also promote your child’s optimal brain development in the long run…” Read more of this fantastic article at: https://www.parent.co/one-thing-parents-can-make-mornings-smoother-according-science/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialWarfare

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Ideas of things to talk about:

As you eat together, consider playing one of these (age-leveled) games to encourage family interaction: https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/fun/dinner-games/

Here are 45 questions that will help you get to better know your children! https://www.nestedblissfully.com/funny-questions/

Find some sample questions here which will help to get children chatting. (If you want more, there is a link to where you can purchase the printable cards, too.) http://www.truelifeimateacher.com/2017/05/how-to-have-meaningful-classroom.html

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Let us resolve to grow together this year. It will be messy. That’s okay.
“The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.” This article reminds us that we’re not perfect, and that’s okay. We all have room to grow. Others will help us. We need to embrace the imperfections, acknowledge our need for growth, and accept the help. https://angelinasgarden.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/my-kids-arent-perfect-and-im-okay-with-that/comment-page-1/#comment-295

On Demonstrating Love to Our Children

As we approach Valentine’s Day and see reminders of love everywhere around us, the opportunity arises for us to evaluate how well we are loving others. It is one thing to say that we love someone, but often quite another thing to act in such a way as to show them that our words are true. However, even God Himself is demonstrative with His love: “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If God, who IS Love, chooses to demonstrate His love, how much more should we, who are not in essence love, do our best to do the same?

The reason that we know and love God is because of His demonstrative love for us. Because we love God, it follows that love for others should flow out of the love that we have for Him. St. Justin Popovich indicated such (and more!) results of loving God when he said, “Love for Christ overflows into love for one’s neighbor, love for truth, love for holiness, for the world, for purity, for everything divine, for everything deathless and eternal… All these forms of love are natural manifestations of love for Christ. Christ is the God-man, and love for Him always means love for God and for man.” And St. Basil the Great encourages us to demonstrate our love, not just for family and friends, but to everyone in his statement, “As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people.”

So, how are we doing? Is our love for God overflowing as it should into the lives of those around us? Are we telling others that we love them? Better yet, are we demonstrating our love to them by the way that we treat and interact with them? And how well are we demonstrating our love to all people, not just those we know?

Let us begin by better demonstrating our love to our children. Here are some ideas of ways to go beyond merely telling our children that we love them, showing them with our actions that our words are true:

This mom interviewed her daughters to find out their favorite ways that their parents show them love. We found the resulting list to be creative, fun, and inspiring! http://www.shelivesfree.com/2015/02/huge-list-fun-ideas-love-kids.html

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Loving our children does not have to be expensive or complex. Check out this list of 35 simple ways to love our children: https://amotherfarfromhome.com/love-your-child/

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If you are familiar with Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages,” you know that different people prefer to be loved in different ways. His book suggests these five ways in which people prefer to receive and show love: acts of service, physical touch and closeness, gift giving, words of affirmation, and quality time. This blog post encourages us to figure out which love language(s) are our children’s favorites, and to express our love to them in that way. It includes practical suggestions of ways to show love in each love language.

https://encouragingmomsathome.com/50-ways-to-love-your-child-every-day-using-love-languages/

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Creating memories together as a family is one of the best ways we can show our kids our love. This blog post features advice from a teen on what his parents did that created his best memories: https://www.familiesalive.org/2017/05/30/forcing-family-fun/

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This list of 25 questions to ask our kids will help each of us to learn more about our children. In the process, we will be demonstrating our love for them by expressing interest in their life! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/finance/family-matters/11334865/questions-for-kids.html

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What if, this weekend, we closed our laptops in order to better demonstrate our love for our kids? https://michaelhyatt.com/close-your-laptop.html offers 3 compelling reasons why we should do just that, and what will be gained both personally and in our family when we do it.

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Cuddling our children demonstrates our love for them in a way that they need. And we need it as much as they do! Read more here:

http://amotherfarfromhome.com/9-reasons-must-cuddle-kids-good-society/

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God demonstrates His love for His children in so many ways. One way is that He has filled our world with glimpses of His love. Parents and children who enjoy nature can go out together and look for evidence of God’s love in our world. Here is a slideshow of heart shapes – a small sampling of the love He has tucked into the world for us to find: https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/wacky-weekend/hearts-in-nature/ 

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What better way can we demonstrate love to children than to love our spouse? Building a marriage takes effort, and our children learn that by watching us. Here are some simple suggestions of dates to have at home. The date ideas listed here could happen when the children are away with friends/family or when they’ve already gone to bed. Let’s demonstrate love to our kids by setting aside time with our spouse! http://lifeofahomebody.com/10-fun-romantic-stay-home-date-nights/

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Demonstrating our love for our spouse spreads the love to our children. Date nights are one way to work at that process! Here is an idea for date night: at home, at an outdoor table in a park, in a food court, or at a train/bus station, play games together. Need ideas for two-person games? This blog suggests 20 different games that can be played with only two players:
https://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/2013/01/two-player-games-to-play-with-your-husband/

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In case you missed it: we wrote this blog about sharing love with others, not just at Valentine’s Day. The ideas in this blog can help our family to demonstrate God’s love to others as an outpouring of our own love for each other: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/on-sharing-our-love-beyond-valentines-day

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In case you missed it: we blogged about teaching our children how to love others by deliberately showing kindness to them, even to those we don’t know. It is one thing to demonstrate love to those closest to us, but the ideas in this blog help us to extend love to all around us, not just our family. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/

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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