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Gleanings from a Book: “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in the plains of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s? “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” offers a glimpse of the life of this immigrant who lived a faithful Orthodox Christian life in the American plains before there were churches available in the region. It follows Fr. Nicola through his immigration, his adjustment to life on the plains, his ordination, his intense years of service as a missionary priest, all the way to his departing from this life. American Orthodox Christians – especially those in the Antiochian Archdiocese – will do well to read this book, to expand their knowledge of the history of Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Readers who have marveled at the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books will see some parallels in “Apostle to the Plains.” The Yanneys also lived in a sod house for a period of time while they were homesteading. Although the Ingalls family’s experiences preceded the Yanneys’ by some 20 years, and happened largely in different states, both families suffered illnesses and loss. There were times when each family struggled to attend school or church (because there was none, or it was far away). And despite their hard times, both families endeavored to do what was right and persevered with dogged determination.

A large portion of “Apostle to the Plains” is dedicated to recounting the missionary journeys and busy life of Fr. Nicola’s years as a traveling priest, and at points these chapters feel a bit overwhelming. Even with today’s technology and travel infrastructure, his months of travel and the few weeks at home in between trips would exhaust anyone. But when the reader remembers that his travels happened more than a century ago, with much slower communication and more tedious means of transportation, what he accomplished is truly astounding. Fr. Nicola and his family clearly loved God and took their calling to be a priest (and the priest’s family) very seriously, and they embraced the reality of what that entailed.

Fr. Nicola’s life was far from easy: he left his home in Lebanon at age 19, with his brand-new bride (whom he barely knew) shortly after their wedding and moved to far away Nebraska, where they had to adjust to new language and culture, different weather, and near isolation from family; and where there was no Orthodox Church. The book goes on to share their trials in homesteading, the joys of births and occasional clergy visits, the sorrows of losses and deaths in the family. When Fr. Nicola was ordained to the priesthood, he not only was in charge of the parish in their hometown of Kearney Nebraska, but he was also charged with being the missionary priest who visited Orthodox Christians all over the American plains.

A large section of the book follows Fr. Nicola’s travels. When he traveled, Fr. would hear people’s confessions, commune them, baptize those in need of baptism, marry young couples, and do all the priestly things for the Orthodox Christians who were scattered about the many parts of the plains of the United States. He always tried to be home again with his boys for Christmas and for Pascha (and often for all of Great Lent), but his travels kept him away from them and his home parish for months at a time every year. It was not an easy life for him or for his family, nor did it provide enough financial income.

Fr. Nicola was generous to a fault. Throughout his life, he raised money to share with others back home in Lebanon, and to fund local causes. He and the family generously hosted guests for Sunday luncheons. He traveled extensively, at great cost to himself and his family – and his being away from home made him unable to work and thus make additional income. So he and the family had very little financially. In fact, they had so little that even with re-mortgaging their home multiple times, he was unable to pay $140 in damages from a lawsuit that had been brought against him and his parish! Fr. Nicola gave and gave and gave of both his money and his time, and had very little on earth to show for his generosity.

Readers may be surprised to find that this book offers a glimpse into the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn as well. The saintly bishop ordained Fr. Nicola, and Fr. Nicola was under his jurisdiction for the rest of Bishop Raphael’s life. Fr. Nicola supported, honored, and admired Bishop Raphael and was justifiably sad when he departed this life. The saint’s passing not only removed him from his position overseeing the Syrian Orthodox churches in America, it also brought great division to those churches. “Apostle to the Plains” explains this division in a way that helps modern American Orthodox Christians to learn more about some of the struggles in the history of our Church.

Fr. Nicola continued to care for his flock right up to the very end of his life. He visited and cared for his Spanish-flu-suffering parishioners in his hometown of Kearney just hours before his collapse and death from that same illness. His sudden passing was a shock to his parishioners, the entire Kearney community, and the Orthodox Christians across the plains whom he had served so diligently.

The Afterword of the book, titled “The Legacy of Father Nicola” is a powerful ending, as it helps the reader to ponder how well the servant of God Nicola Yanney ran his race. It encourages the reader to look beyond Fr. Nicola (and the entire Yanney family)’s struggles, to see the victories, and especially to note his faithfulness. Reading this after having read the book’s account of his life, the reader cannot help but be encouraged in their own life to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… [that they] may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (from Phil. 3:10-11)

May Fr. Nicola Yanney’s memory be eternal!

You can purchase “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” as a paperback or an ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/apostle-to-the-plains-the-life-of-father-nicola-yanney/

Find additional information about Fr. Nicola Yanney, including interviews, videos, and slide shows related to his life and his gifts to the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America; a map of the states that he served; and more at St. George Orthodox Christian Church (the parish that he helped to found in Kearney, Nebraska)’s website: https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney

Here are some gleanings from the book:

***

“He would soon be married, and he wanted Martha and their children to live in safety and peace… In America, he could make a new home not only for himself and Martha but also for his brothers. If they all worked together, Nicola could send enough money to make sure that their father would live the rest of his days in comfort, cared for by loved ones who would remain in their village. To do this, however, Nicola himself would have to leave home.” (p. 23,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

“While Martha continued to refurbish the [sod] house, Nicola turned his attention to the rest of the homestead. He only had a few months to prepare. Both he and Martha had experienced light snowfalls in the foothills of Koura, but nothing had prepared them for winter on the open plains… In the worst weather, the family would be beyond the reach of help for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Stables and pens had to be built for their animals and more supplies had to be brought from town and stored for the winter in case the roads became impassable.” (p. 51,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

“Even without a church of their own, the Syrians celebrated Saint Simeon’s feast day together as they had back in Fi’eh, as well as Christmas, Pascha, and other holy days. Nicola especially desired to help the newcomers, knowing how difficult it was to keep his Orthodox faith in the foreign land, especially without a church or a priest. Though their gatherings were filled with folk songs, dancing, and food, Nicola always remembered to offer prayers and lead his friends in singing hymns, knowing that it was their faith that bound the small community together more than anything else.” (pp. 58-59,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

“The kindly priest was… interested to hear of Nicola’s education at the monastery school. One of the reasons for his cross-country tour was to find pious men who might be ordained to serve the scattered Orthodox Syrians. Hearing this, the Syrians suggested that Father Raphael meet the Yanneys… At nine o’clock in the evening, fifteen of the Yanneys’ friends piled into four wagons to accompany Father Raphael on the eighteen-mile trip to the homestead… As they drew near the farm, their singing and shouting grew louder. Several of the men drew out their pistols and fired shots into the air to wake their unsuspecting friends. The Yanneys came running out of their small home, astonished by what was happening, and fell at Father Raphael’s feet. The priest greeted them warmly.” (pp. 72-73,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

“With no other Syrian Orthodox priest living within a thousand miles of Kearney, Father Nicola had to serve his daughter’s funeral… At the conclusion of the funeral, Father Nicola placed his priestly stole on Anna’s head and said the prayer of absolution. He had arrived too late to hear her confession or to give her Holy communion.” (p. 146,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

“‘My dear Elias, may you be pleasing to God. Be the best version of yourself. Avoid crude and offensive talk. Do not joke coarsely or easily give your heart to others. Be conscientious of your health before anything else… I ask God’s special blessings on you, that you take care of your brothers and your fellow countrymen. Make me proud. Keep me posted about yourself and write me often so that I always know you are fine. I kiss your cheeks thousands and millions of times…’” ~ from a letter Fr. Nicola wrote to his son Elias (pp. 183,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

“Though he had been tending to his parishioners only hours earlier, Father Nicola was confined to bed—unable to rise, his strength gone. By late that night, he knew that he was dying and had little time left. Motioning weakly, he beckoned his sons to his side. He had left them on their own so many times, and now he was leaving them once more. Calling Elias, John, and Moses close, Father Nicola said goodbye as he struggled for breath. As they leaned over their father, he gave them a final word by which he himself had tried to live, whispering, ‘Keep your hands and your heart clean.’”(p. 247,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

“The legacy of Father Nicola Yanney continues to this day… In him we see a worthy model of the Christian life—one who was faithful in adversity, steadfast in suffering, zealous in evangelism, and selfless in serving others. Through the daily sacrifice of his priesthood, Father Nicola laid down his life for his friends in imitation of his Master.” (pp. 266-267, “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

 

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 6

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Chapter 6: Finding a Prayer Rule

The sixth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” focuses on the family prayer rule. Bjeletich and Shoemaker offer their readers an insight which may be a new one: the word that has been translated “rule” from the Greek is related to the word “canon”, which means “guideline”. They suggest that readers consider their family’s prayer rule as a guideline.

The authors encourage families to begin establishing a family prayer rule by praying the Lord’s Prayer, adding the Trisagion prayers when they’re able, and then slowly building from there. They list typical prayers to consider adding along the way. They cite examples from their own families’ prayer rules.

The chapter urges its readers to add intercessions into to their family prayer times. The authors suggest ways to include children in intercessory prayer by inspiring children to add their friends to the prayer list and by suggesting ways that children of various ages can participate in intercessory prayer times.

The chapter closes with an admonishment to practice the family prayer rule together in such a way that builds longing for God in the heart of each family member.

 

Do you have a prayer rule question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 6:

***

“…a prayer rule, in its most simple definition, consists of those prayers we try to say each day when we say our prayers. For each Orthodox person, the guidelines will be a little different… The goal of prayer in the Orthodox life is the breath of the Spirit.” (p. 104, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Some families will begin with the Trisagion Prayers as the foundation of their prayer rule and allow it to grow from there. Regardless of what form your prayer rule takes, this is a good starting point.” (p. 106, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Before expecting your children to fall in line without hesitation, make sure personal prayer is a part of your daily discipline… it is vital to the success of your family’s prayer rule that the parents are making the effort to pray daily, no matter how briefly… Parents are the workmen who are building the little church, and the children will take their religious cues from them.” (pp. 106-107, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Making intercessions a regular part of your personal and family prayer rule is a powerful way to connect your family to those who are suffering, sick, alone, or departed.” (p. 111, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Once children are old enough to read, it is a good idea to get them their own copies of the prayer books you’re using. You could buy several copies, or you might consider printing up your family’s customized prayer rule.” (p. 112, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“‘Teaching them to say prayers is easy, teaching them to pray is harder. Look out for life situations that lend themselves to teaching about different types of prayer—thanksgiving, suppliation, asking forgiveness.’ —David, father of seven ”(p. 114, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Of Such is the Kingdom: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard

Summer Kinard offers a great gift to the Church in her book “Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability”. Kinard teaches from experience with disability: she herself has neurological differences, and she has children with disabilities. By virtue of her own personal struggles, the insights, wisdom, and encouragement which she shares in this book are true and tested, and heavily seasoned with the love of Christ. This book encourages its readers to extend much grace to those around them whose struggle includes a disability.

“Of Such is the Kingdom” is a beautiful blend of theology drawn from the Scriptures and the Church Fathers; descriptive explanation; and practical suggestions for the Church as a whole. Whether or not the reader’s immediate family is experiencing a disability, this book will be helpful. After all, the Church is our Family, and our Family is definitely experiencing disability. The most Christ-like way we can approach our Family is by doing all that we can to learn about, support, help, and love every member therein. Kinard offers insights that will help the Church to do so, one member at a time.

The book begins with an insightful introduction, and continues in four sections: God’s Time Reveals (Kairos), Becoming Like God in Weakness (Theosis), Self-Emptying Disables the Disability (Kenosis), and The Iconic Community (Koinonia). Readers will have the opportunity to look at the theology of disability with the perspective of God’s time; consider how disability helps to bring us closer to God; begin to learn ways in which parishes and parishioners can better embrace and include their brothers and sisters experiencing disabilities; explore ways in which people with disabilities can serve the Church; and be challenged to better care for those who are experiencing disabilities. Each chapter concludes with a bulleted summary that helps the reader to better solidify their learning, and thought-inducing questions. (These questions will also be helpful for group discussions of the book.) The conclusion is simultaneously challenging and encouraging.

In one of her thought-provoking questions on page 72, Kinard offers a beautiful glimpse at what this book is about: “We are all in this body of Christ together, and people with disabilities, along with those without disabilities, have a common goal of becoming like Christ. The focus shifts from what we are able to do alone to how we can help the whole body work together.” It is not always easy to know how to work together, given all of the differences in the body of Christ, but reading this book – and taking action on the insights it offers – is an excellent place to start.

It is my hope that clergy, parents, teachers, Sunday Church school teachers—in truth, all Orthodox Christians—will read this book, and extend the kindness and grace it inspires. Imagine what the Church will look like when we do this! It will look like heaven on earth, as it is meant to look, extending the love of Christ to every person. May God help us to do so, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Summer Kinard’s website features her blog and a myriad of resources for parents and church school or homeschool teachers. https://summerkinard.com/

Purchase your own copy  of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/new-book-releases/

 

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

***

“When we learn how to welcome everyone into the Orthodox Church, with the help of our Tradition, one another, and the practical exercises and resources in this book and the accompanying website, we will learn to live with the humility of children whom God welcomes—not as embarrassments, but as His own beloved creation.” (p. 14, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“When we make adaptations for Orthodox Christians to come to church, we are not only making room for them to get in the door—which is an important first step!—but we must adapt our welcome with the aim of sharing the full joy of the Lord. All of us will experience the full joy of God‘s presence when these very bodies are transformed in the resurrection. If we can make room and bend a little toward bearing one another’s burdens, we will adapt now for resurrection joy in the Lord. We will experience the joy of the Lord in foretaste as we welcome people with disabled bodies into the full life of the Body of Christ, the Church.” (pp. 31-32, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“This view of disability as a call to holiness in God’s time is the reason the question we Orthodox ask is not, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ but, ‘How is this disability for our salvation, and not only the salvation of each person, but also the whole Body of Christ?’” (p. 43, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“The healing work of God is to knit each member of the Body of Christ together in the Church. Whether or not healing occurs in our bodies, the healing of the one Body of Christ, the Church, comes when each person is welcomed fully into the Body as a member.”(pp. 82-83, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“Every person will pay attention to feelings first, sight second, and thinking third. Once all of these three preliminary types of attention are in place, the highest level of attention, joint attention, can take place. After we look more closely at these four levels of attention, we will see that they parallel the four levels of reading Scripture that Orthodox Christians have practiced in the Church since the beginning.” (p. 116, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“Church buildings are microcosms of salvation history, where space is arranged so that we can know ourselves as having a place in the mercy of God. Like our churches, our classrooms and teaching patterns can reflect the pattern of God as a place where God‘s mercy makes us at home. This sense of church as home is open to families with disabilities, too, because God in His mercy became human so that we all might know Him through all of our senses.” (p. 134, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“It is one thing to tell a child to make his cross because he is supposed to do so. It is quite another to tell him that when he makes his cross, demons run away like cowards and spiritual brightness like lightning shines forth from his face to frighten away evil. Yet this is the truth that our Holy Tradition has handed down to us. We make the sign of the cross to repel evil and to shine forth the light of God, who conquered death by death, reminding ourselves and every spiritual entity that Christ is risen and has conquered evil.

A child with disabilities might not be able to sing the Pascal hymn with everyone, but he might be able to make the sign of the cross by himself or with assistance. Teach him what it means, and it will become a prayer with great meaning for him. Even if he does not understand, the prayer is still powerful.” (pp. 161-162, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“The communication of needs and offers to serve might start small, with checkboxes to volunteer on a stewardship form, cards in an offering plate stating that a meal train would help a family in crisis this week, and an email address and phone number (that definitely will be answered) for pastoral or educational needs. The habit of communicating and connecting people with disabilities with the fullness of the community will grow from there.” (p. 191, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“Many persons with disabilities are what we might call “concrete thinkers.” That is, they tend to focus on the meaning of things that corresponds to real, lived experience. Though, as we saw in the earlier chapters on attention, everyone actually learns best with concrete anchors and ideas, teaching with concrete, tangible, or demonstrable examples is especially important to concrete thinkers.” (p. 201, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“It is my position that we need to show hospitality to everyone who comes through the doors of the Church and not only be Christ to them but also to receive Christ through them. A parish community is not fulfilling the mandate to serve others if it cannot welcome and find a place for those whose abilities may be different than our own. We rob ourselves of the blessing we receive from them.” (Fr. Christopher Foley, as quoted on p. 218, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“The Church is an iconic community because we look like God when we love one another and humbly make room for all members of the Body in our worship, learning, service, and fellowship. As we imitate Christ in love and humility, we are ‘being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Corinthians 3:18), and this likeness applies to every member. When every member is included, the Body of Christ starts to look like God.”(pp. 225-226, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“When Jesus describes the last judgment in Matthew 25, He says that feeding the hungry is like feeding Him. We should apply that lesson to the way we welcome families with food allergies, too.” (p. 256, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“The works of God are made manifest in us when we as a community imitate the Savior’s love and humility in making space, teaching so that everyone can learn, practicing prayers that all can pray, ministering to one another, and welcoming one another into fellowship as we welcome Christ.” (p. 262, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

 

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 2

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 2: Getting Started

The authors of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” encourage their readers to begin changing their lifestyle to better reflect the life of the Church, but they implore the reader to do so gently. This second chapter of the book offers suggestions of ways to bring the Faith to life in our own homes in a very basic and focused manner. Too much too soon can easily burn a family out, which is not at all the goal. The goal is to grow, and to continue growing, not to flash into a flame that quickly extinguishes.

The reader is encouraged to consider the maxim that Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory was given when he was a young, enthusiastic college student: “Go to church; say your prayers; remember God.” (p. 37) The authors encourage their readers to consider that statement important, because it’s short but full of wisdom when it comes to living the Orthodox Christian life. These three actions will greatly strengthen our little Church. They can be carried out in different ways, none “better” than the others. But our priority should always be that we attend the Divine Services, pray, and keep God foremost in our minds.

The chapter offers suggestions from parents and grandparents of ways to begin doing these things. It shares wise suggestions from Fr. Seraphim Rose as well. Again and again, the reader hears that they should go to church, pray, and remember God. Each suggestion recommends applying gentleness when starting new Orthodox practices, and that families be gracious with themselves and each other along the way. The chapter closes with the admonishment that when we fall, we need to get back up again every time.

 

If you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors, you can connect with Elissa here https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 2:

***

“The two things all Orthodox families should begin doing immediately are very simple: Pray and go to church.” (p. 36, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Begin by committing to attendance at every Sunday liturgy, rain or shine, and begin to schedule your extracurricular activities around church. If your family expects you at Mother’s Day brunch, tell them you’ll hurry over after church. If the soccer team always plays on Sunday morning, let them know that you’ll be in church. Make the firm commitment to attend church every Sunday.” (p. 38, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Many saints’ lives teach us that simple humility and fervent prayer bring us closer to God. Trust in this, and don’t get lost in an effort to do everything all at once. Begin to build your little church by laying a foundation of prayer and church attendance, and then build it up layer by layer, a little at a time.” (p. 41, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Learn first of all to be at peace with the spiritual situation which has been given you, and to make the most of it. If your situation is spiritually barren, do not let this discourage you, but work all the harder at what you yourself can do for your spiritual life. It is already something very important to have access to the Sacraments and regular church services. Beyond this you should have regular morning and evening prayers with your family, and spiritual reading—all according to your strength and the possibilities afforded by your circumstances.” (a quote from Fr. Seraphim Rose, as shared on p. 42, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Ask God and His saints to help you as you shepherd your family along this path. Pray that all of you will grow in your love for Christ, that each of you will come to yearn for Him and for a life in the Church. This is the most important thing you can do to help your little church grow.” (p. 43, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“‘Don’t force children to pray, because that might make them become bitter towards it. Instead, just pray in front of them and ask them to participate. If they refuse to join in, then just pray by yourself and try again the next day. Lead by example.’ —Sophia, mother of two” (p. 44, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 1

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 1: Why the Little Church?

In chapter 1 of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”, authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker help their readers better understand the concept of the “little Church”. The chapter begins by reminding each reader that “The Church” is not a building or place: rather, it is the Body of Christ, including all of His people throughout time. The smallest unit of the Church is the family unit, or the “little Church”.

The chapter goes on to suggest that family life is a type of asceticism. Just as monks are interrupted from their daily tasks for prayer, so family members are interrupted from their daily tasks by each other. But rather than distracting us from it, family life can actually bring each member of a family deeper into the spiritual life, when it is properly approached. The authors encourage their readers to look for ways to make their own home a “natural monastery”, where the family works together and grows spiritually at the same time.

The chapter continues with a closer look at marriage and baptism: two foundational events in the construction of the little Church. The authors offer their readers the opportunity to revisit many prayers from each of those events, to see how, even from marriage and from baptism, the Church of their home is being established among its members. The authors encourage parents to remember that it is their job to raise saints, and that, as they work toward that end, the family can practice asceticism together. The chapter closes with several “holy habits” that families can develop to work toward this end.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 1:

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“The little church has its own hierarchy and its lay versions of the sacraments—we break bread together, we bless one another, anoint one another, pray for one another, and love one another in this little community, striving together to grow ever closer to Christ.” (p. 22, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Family life, however, can also lead one to deep spirituality. A family can be immersed in prayer, both at table and after, and their hospitality and generosity will speak of an earnest application of Christ’s exhortation to love their neighbor as themselves.” (p. 23, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“God sends everything to us for our salvation, and we can receive it that way, accepting each of our daily tasks and experiences as a call to prayer. When confronted with mountains of laundry, we can thank God for clothing us as He clothes the lilies of the field; when approaching a sink full of dirty dishes, we can thank Him for providing food and ask that He nourish our souls as well. Every mundane task that makes family life so busy can be received as a call to prayer.” (p. 25, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The truth is that your home is a school, a hospital, and a church. Your children will learn their spirituality from you, and it is a sacred calling for parents to shepherd—literally, to pastor—their children in the ways of righteousness.” (p. 27, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“It is in these moments—these holy spaces—that man and woman are no longer individuals but are bound to one another, and a new one icon is created. It is in this holy event that a young child is crucified with Christ, resurrected with Him in glory, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and tonsured—set apart—for the work of the priesthood in which all believers participate.” (pp. 29-30, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“…Our little churches should be communities always centered on Christ, where love and forgiveness reign, where we pray together ad struggle toward salvation together. This includes directing our children in loving submission and repentance to their Heavenly Father, who has promised to complete a good work in them. It is not about manners—it’s about holiness. It’s not about “good behavior” — it’s about a life given completely to God in loving humility and peace.” (p. 32, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Sunday school, religious schools, and summer camps are not enough; they may enrich what you are doing in the home, but they cannot replace it. We cannot outsource the raising of saints.” (p. 34, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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A Gathering of Ideas for Preparing for a New School Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Creating (and Using) a “Godfulness Jar”

Mindfulness is a buzzword in current culture. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for mindfulness is this: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Many mindfulness practices encourage focusing your mind on positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts being promoted are not necessarily compatible with our Orthodox Christian faith.

The practice of focusing our minds should not be a foreign concept to us as Orthodox Christians. We hear often in the Divine Liturgy a reminder to focus: “Let us attend!” It depends upon what we focus that causes that focus to be for our growth or our downfall. If we are focusing our mind on God and on words that point our mind to Him, that focus is helpful – even essential – to our spiritual growth. But focusing on ourselves and/or what we can do cuts us off from growing closer to God. So, instead of the self-focused affirmations encouraged by many mindfulness practices, we need to choose to fill our minds with Godly thoughts including those found in the scriptures, in prayers, and words spoken by the Church fathers.

If you (or anyone in your family) struggles to focus on God or to keep your mind on Him in the face of discouraging or distracting thoughts, you need to find a way out of that downward spiral! Here is an idea of one easy-to-make tool which may be helpful to that end. Create a “Godfulness” jar. “What in the world is that?” you may ask? Well, it’s a jar that contains arrow prayers, scriptures, and quotes from Church fathers all aimed at calming and soothing your thoughts by pointing them to God.

Godfulness Jar Illustration

To make your own “Godfulness” jar, fill a clean, empty jar with quotes that can be drawn out and pondered, whenever one’s mind needs to be calmed, soothed, focused, or quieted. However, instead of loading the jar with slips of paper containing personal affirmations (as is encouraged in some mindfulness circles), include arrow prayers, verses, and quotes from saints. Label the jar “Our Godfulness Jar”, since each item inside points its reader’s mind to focus on God.

Godfulness Jar pictoral version

Families with young children may wish to create a slightly different “Godfulness Jar”. Instead of slips of paper with a quote, prayer, or verse to be read, collect small icon cards, photos of peaceful places you have visited together, and pictures from church – such as the candle table, smoke rising from the censor, photos of parts of the iconostasis, etc. These cards and pictures can be pulled out of the jar and “read” as needed by a young person needing to adjust their focus. Place these “pre-reading” items in a plastic “Godfulness Jar”.

After you create a “Godfulness Jar”, store it where everyone in your family can reach it. Encourage your family members to pull out one slip (or picture) whenever they feel that they’re anxious, afraid, overloaded, angry, etc. They can read and re-read it until their mind is focused on God instead of the disturbing thought(s). After they’ve read and focused on the quote, they can keep it with them as a reminder, or return it to the jar to be used again by someone else. (Remember to visit the jar yourself, when you need it!)

Keep your “Godfulness Jar” in mind as you pray, read scriptures, and read the Church Fathers. As time passes, you will collect more and more quotes to add to it, to replace any that have gone missing. With use, your jar will help to fill your mind with thoughts of God and with His peace.

Find a “starter set” of quotes that you can cut apart to put in your jar here.

Here are a few samples of the “Godfulness Jar” quotes in the starter set:

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