Tag Archives: Life

On Living Icons

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Pursuing Virtue: Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Pursuing Virtue: Temperance

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

Temperance is the next virtue on our list, so this post will focus on temperance. What exactly is temperance? Those of us familiar with American history might immediately think of the Temperance Movement in the 1800s, which urged people to (initially) reduce their alcohol consumption to a moderate level, and then (later) aimed to prohibit alcohol use altogether. True temperance is more closely defined by the initial urging than the latter. Merriam Webster defines temperance as “moderation in action, thought, or feeling; habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions; or moderation in or abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages.” Note the recurrence of one word in all three of those definitions: the term “moderation.” So temperance, regardless what it is governing, implies moderation.

Temperance is the positive counterpart to the grievous sin of gluttony (“the habit of eating or drinking too much,” according to the “Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians”). So by not eating or drinking too much, we begin on the road to temperance. Fasting is a great help in that pursuit! And it is not just a help, it is necessary, according to St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. He said, “Temperance in eating is necessary: According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needed and sufficient for normal nourishment. Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied. Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least, do not become a glutton, remembering the words of the Lord: ‘Woe unto you that are full now, for you shall hunger’ (Lk. 6:25).” (1) So fasting and/or limiting the amount of food we take in is an important step in pursuit of temperance.

We often think of temperance in terms of moderation of food and/or drink, as mentioned in the second and third dictionary definitions. But what about that first definition of temperance that was given by Merriam Webster? Does “moderation in action, thought, or feeling” apply in our Christian faith, as well? Of course it does! Temperance is not just related to our food and beverage intake, but to anything that will keep us away from overindulging! “[Temperance] is to do nothing in excess, neither speaking, nor eating, nor drinking, nor playing, nor working. It requires watchfulness of how we carry ourselves, how we spend our time, how we meet the needs of our body—in short, how we live in this world. We should be temperate in all things except our faith, our hope, and our love.” (2)

Once we begin to pursue (and, by the grace of God, attain) temperance, how can we protect and keep it in our life? In the same way that we protect any other virtue we begin to acquire: by prayer. St. Ephrem of Syria said, “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance… Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven.”

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us “…watch and pray, lest [we] enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41) Let us pursue temperance in all things. In food, yes; in drink, of course; but also in every area of our life. May the Lord have mercy on us as we pursue temperance in all things.

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

 

Footnotes:

  1. “On Three Degrees of Eating, by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain: http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/eating.html
  2. “The Cardinal Virtue of Temperance,” by Thomas S. Buchanan : http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=14-08-056-c

Here are some other ways that we can learn about temperance:
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Temperance via fasting doesn’t just help our waistline: it helps to protect us from demonic attack. “Fasting is universal temperance, prayer is universal communication with God; the former defends from the outside, whereas the latter from within directs a fiery weapon against the enemies. The demons can sense a faster and man of prayer from a distance, and they run far away from him so as avoid a painful blow.” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse

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“We often think of temperance in respect to what it denies. It avoids sin, it sacrifices, it does without; it is simple, ascetic, poor. And all of these can certainly be true marks of temperance. But temperance affirms as much as it denies and thus the saints of God are meant practice temperance in both their fasting and feasting. Temperance is practicing right proportion. In this it stands in stark contrast to gluttony, which is taking sinful pleasure in excessiveness.” Although it is not Othodox, this blog post offers much to think about when it comes to temperance. http://allsaintschurchdallas.org/all-saints-dallas-blog/post/practicing-temperance-by-fasting-and-feasting

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“..let the desire of possession take hold of no one, for what gain is it to acquire these things which we cannot take with us? Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us–to wit, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from wrath, hospitality? If we possess these, we shall find them of themselves preparing for us a welcome there in the land of the meek-hearted.” ~ St. Athanasius

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Temperance is included among the virtues that positive psychology has identified as “contribut[ing] to emotional wellbeing and an engaged, meaningful life.” This is just one of that many things that modern psychology has recently scientifically uncovered as important to raising children. Interestingly enough, these things happen to also be things that the Church has taught and practiced since the beginning! Read the article here: http://blogs.goarch.org/de/blog/-/blogs/on-raising-children

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St. Basil once said, “Nothing subdues and controls the body as does the practice of temperance. It is this temperance that serves as a control to those youthful passions and desires.”

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“We must not let the temptations of the world overpower us. We take our strength from God Himself Who is more powerful than anything we may encounter. Exercising self-control means having control over our bodies, our minds, and our tongues. Guard what goes into our bodies so we can guard what comes out of our bodies.” Read more on temperance in its portion of the meditation written by Fr. Christopher Salamy, found at the bottom of this page: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2012/2/21/daily-message-faith-truth-and-temperance.html

On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

For a few weeks of every year, our culture is inundated with love. Everywhere we go we see hearts, roses, chocolates, Cupid and his arrows, and Valentine’s Day cards. The world is a swirl of pink and red. Then Valentine’s Day comes, and we can definitely feel the love! But what about February 15th? Or the 22nd? Or March 19? Do we still feel the love then? Even more importantly, are we still sharing our love then?

It is easy to focus on making sure our family feels loved on that one special day, Valentine’s Day. It is appropriate for us to celebrate our loved ones and declare our love for them! But why stop at just Valentine’s Day? Our family members should be at the top of our “I want you to know that I love you” list: not just on February 14, but all year long!

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage each of us to continue to let our family members know that we love them, even on “ordinary” days. We searched and found many ideas of ways to do just that. We are sharing a few of the ideas in hopes that some will strike a chord with each of us and ignite in us a new determination to warm our family members with our love. If we do so, even when all the roses have wilted, the chocolates have been eaten, and the Valentine’s Day cards have been read, our family members will get the message: “I love you, and I always will.”

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

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Print some little love cards to tuck in lunches or sock drawers: http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/funny-pun-quotes-for-your-valentines-day-card/

or here: https://a.dilcdn.com/bl/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2016/01/lunchbox-notes.jpg

or here: http://www.faithfilledfoodformoms.com/encouraging-lunch-box-notes-for-kids/

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Love your children by better loving your spouse. Perhaps some of these ideas will inspire you:  http://www.shelivesfree.com/2015/02/26-simple-ways-connect-spouse.html

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Occasionally cut your family’s food in heart shapes to remind them of your love. (see http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-day-gift-ideas/?slideId=18fe1b39-34ce-4f90-9dc4-cf752bcaaa0c)

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Leave loving messages on steamy mirrors or family message boards: http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-day-gift-ideas/?slideId=8ea73eec-1d32-4f1b-9425-1f036d6da0ba

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“I don’t believe you can over-love people. Sometimes it’s quiet and subtle, and other times it’s loud and, in my case, obnoxious.” Read more, and get ideas of ways to “spring a love attack on your family” in this blog: http://www.thehouseofhendrix.com/2015/02/11/50-ways-love-attack-on-family/

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Sticky notes can surprise family members with loving notes almost anywhere! http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-day-gift-ideas/?slideId=ebbb219e-8c3d-49d5-89c8-4914d92cff8d

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Make up a secret “I love you!” handshake or motion with each member of the family. You can send them the message anytime, anywhere with this method! http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-day-gift-ideas/?slideId=e685ce72-4121-43db-97e3-a069d003a538

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Write a secret message on white paper with white crayon (to be revealed with watercolor paint) or on white paper with a lemon-juice-moistened cotton swab (to be revealed with the heat of a light bulb or an iron). http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-ideas/?slideId=4e2cc7e2-f14a-4cf3-af21-1a5271f23024

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Consider creating a stash of “love monsters” that your family can use to surprise each other with a little hide-and-find game. A very small version of these little monsters would work: http://eighteen25.com/2013/01/lil-love-monsters/. Or, if you’re not the crafty type, purchase small toy dinosaurs or plastic animals or some other small-but-sturdy toy, draw a heart on each with a gold permanent marker, and use them instead. Once you have your “love monsters” ready, hide them in your family members’ space: a pocket, a briefcase, a backpack, a drawer. When the “love monster” is found, the next part of the game begins: the finder tries to figure out who put the monster there! He/she is awarded with a hug/lovingwords/high five when they solve the mystery, and then secretly prepares to hide the “love monster” in another family member’s things when they least expect it, and the game begins again. Having several “love monsters” hiding out in your home at the same time makes the guessing more fun.

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Here is a great list of 100 more ways to show your kids that you love them: http://totallythebomb.com/100-ways-show-kids-love

On Overcoming the Winter Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gleanings from a Book: “Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God’s Creation” By Marie Eliades

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting – Cultivating God’s Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Themes include:

“The Bigger Picture” (addresses why the book’s content is important)

“Marriage and New Beginnings” (sets the foundation for a new Orthodox family, and offers Orthodox perspectives on infertility/pregnancy/childbirth/adoption/loss of a child)

“Raising our Children” (speaks to childrearing from early childhood through youth)

“In the House of the Lord” (offers the basics of Orthodox family life at Church and at home)

“Adolescence and Growing Up” (talks about the issues and challenges that older children and their related adults face)

“So, They’re Leaving Home” (suggestions for launching a young adult)

We found many encouraging and challenging quotes throughout the book, and will share a few of them with you. This book will be of great benefit to any Orthodox Christians who marry, raise children, and/or teach children about the Faith. We recommend that people in those categories consider reading the book because of its insights into what the Church has taught about raising and teaching children of all ages.

Find the book here: http://www.shop.zoepress.us/Orthodox-Christian-Parenting-Cultivating-Gods-Creation-978-0-9851915-0-4.htm

Here are a few quotes from the book:

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“Marriage… is a journey through sorrows and joys. When the sorrows seem overwhelming, then you should remember that God is with you. He will take up your cross. It was He who placed the crown of marriage on your head. But when we ask God about something, He doesn’t always supply the solution right away. He leads us forward very slowly. Sometimes He takes years. We have to experience pain; otherwise life would have no meaning. But be of good cheer, for Christ is suffering with you, and the Holy Spirit through your groanings, is pleading on your behalf. (cf. Romans 8:26)” (p. 58)

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“When a woman is pregnant she must be calm, read the Gospel, pray, say the Jesus Prayer. Thus the child is also sanctified. The child’s upbringing begins in the womb. One should be very careful not to upset a pregnant woman for any reason. When my wife was expecting a child the Elder [St. Paisios] told me: ‘Be careful not to upset her now in any way! Be very carefull!! Tell her to say the Jesus Prayer and to chant. That will help the child a lot! She should do this later on as well.’” (p. 70)

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“I once understood Orthodoxy as a beautiful expression of faith on Sundays and holidays, but I have learned that we must bring every moment of our days and every inch of our homes into the Church. I learned first how to surrender myself to Him, and now I am learning how to surrender my children and everything else as well. The only path to healing is to offer up our entire world to Christ. We must lift up these broken pieces of our fallen world and have faith that He will restore them. He will.” (p. 83)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:

“The sanctity of the parents is the best way of bringing up children in the Lord. When the parents are saintly and transmit this to the child and give the child an upbringing ‘in the Lord,’ then the child, whatever the bad influences around it, will not be affected because by the door of its heart will be Wisdom—Christ Himself.” (p. 86)

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From a section from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk:

“A gardener binds a newly planted sapling to a stake driven and fixed into the ground lest it be uprooted by winds and storms; later, he prunes unneeded branches from the tree lest they harm the tree and dry it up. You should act likewise with your small and young children. Bind their hearts to the feet of God lest they be shaken by the machinations of Satan and depart from piety. Prune away the passions that grow in them lest they mature and overpower them and so put the new, inward man that was born in holy Baptism to death. For we see that as children grow up, sinful passions also appear and grow with them as unneeded branches of a tree.” (p. 112)

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From St. John Chrysostom:
“If artists who make statues and paint portraits of kings are held in high esteem, will not God bless ten thousand times more those who reveal and beautify His royal image? For man is in the image of God. When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, and to be forgiving—all attributes of God; to be generous, to love their neighbor, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” (p. 137)

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“Tired of laundry? Parenting and homemaking are indeed a holy calling. Daily chores are a blessing to us and to our family. Even laundry is blessed—no children, no laundry. What would our life be like without them? So as we wash, fold or iron each item we can say, ‘Lord have mercy on (name of clothing wearer).’ This works for your husband’s clothing, your children’s and your own clothing. ‘Lord have mercy on me.’ This sanctifies our time and work. It also helps us acquire peace and unceasing prayer.” (p. 171)

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“Pray, pray, pray for your children and trust our most holy Lady with their guidance. Please do not think that just because you attend church with your children, receive Communion regularly, or because they belong to a youth group that this is some sort of fail-proof guarantee. No, that is not enough You mothers and fathers must pray as much as you can for your dearest possession, the children God has entrusted to you.” (p. 269)

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“When I first read a quote by Elder Porphyrios that parents should talk to their children less and pray more I did not understand it since my children were young and at home and they needed me to speak to them to teach them. But since they have all grown and left home I understand. This may be difficult for some parents to understand yet we all should know that even as our children are a gift from God, they are a temporary gift. From birth until they leave home they are our gift and it is our job to love and teach them; but once they leave we are to release them on their path with their Guardian Angel and God’s Grace. Then our job is to pray for them, not to control them…” (p. 275)

On the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov. 21 or Dec. 4)

On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:

Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.

When Mary was three years old, and finally weaned, Joachim and Anna did not forget their promise to God. They gathered young ladies with candles to walk with them, and all together walked to the Temple so that they could present Mary to God and give her back to Him. Many family and friends came along, as well, all carrying lit candles.

When they arrived at the Temple, Joachim and Anna lifted Mary up onto the first of the 15 steps that led up into the temple. As soon as she was on that step, she ran all the way up the rest of them. The High Priest at the time was Zachariah (who later became the father of St. John the Forerunner). Zachariah greeted Mary at the top of the steps, took her by the hand, and led her into the Temple. The Holy Spirit directed him as he led her not just into the Temple, but into the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred part of the Temple (which was so holy that only the High Priest could go in there; and he could only go in once a year after much preparation and prayer!)!

The Most-holy Virgin lived in the Temple for many years. The angels fed her in the Holy of Holies. As long as they lived, Joachim and Anna came regularly to the Temple to visit their daughter. When they departed this life, she stayed on in the Temple until she was betrothed to Joseph.

The holiness that she acquired while in the Temple, along with her own piety and desire to follow God, prepared the Most-holy Virgin to become the new Temple, in which God Himself dwelt. Her willingness to come to the Temple with such joy is a notable part of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

Most Holy Theotokos, intercede for our salvation!

Here are some resources and ideas for learning about the feast together as a family:
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Find the story of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, along with its related hymns and an explanation of the details in the icon here: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/vmpresentation/index_html
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Listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory’s explanation of the importance of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple in this podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oOpQ9N24Z0

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This 5-minute video encourages each person watching it to prepare their hearts for the coming of Christ just as the Theotokos was prepared to receive Him when she entered and lived in the temple.The video shows icon after icon, as the narrator explains the Entrance of the Theotokos to the temple and its implications for us. Older children will benefit from watching it with you: https://youtu.be/VhuF_9JSz6s

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This blog post suggests two books that can be used to teach young children about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. It also contains links to a printable lineart icon of the feast, as well as a craft idea that the family can do together.  http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2009/11/entrance-of-theotokos-into-temple.html
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The Theotokos entered into the temple to prepare herself to become the living temple of God. We, too, are to become the living temple of God. After sharing the story of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple, talk together about what she did and how we can do the same to prepare ourselves to receive Christ. (For example: 1. Her parents gave her to God. Has that happened in your family? How? 2. She went to the temple with her family. Do you do so as well? How often? 3. She ran into the temple because she was happy to be there. Are we happy when we go to church? etc.) (If you need inspiration before leading this family discussion, you may want to read this: http://www.saintspiridon.org/?p=658.)

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This blog post offers a glimpse into one family’s celebration of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple. We especially liked the idea of creating a timeline of icons of the Feast Days, and having the children create a brief description (or even a sketch, if they are not yet writing) to post on that timeline: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/16/feast-days-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple/

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Print this foldable centerpiece about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple on a piece of cardstock. As a family, work together to decorate and assemble it. Set it as the centerpiece of your dining room table, add it to your icon corner, or set it somewhere else where you will see it often and remember the feast. http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/cacb8660b29bdc97f8e8283ff567634e.pdf