Tag Archives: Preparation

A Handful of New Resources for Nativity Lent

Nativity Lent is almost upon us! Very soon we will enter this season designed by the Church to help us prepare our hearts and our homes for the birth of our Lord. The Nativity fast offers us the opportunity to attend services more frequently. We are encouraged to pray, to fast, and to give alms. Those of us with children in our care may find it helpful to have a few resources to help us prepare their hearts as well. A few such resources recently caught our attention, so we are sharing them in the event that you have not yet encountered them, and will find them helpful as you prepare your hearts for the Nativity of our Lord.

These blog posts of ideas from years gone by may also be helpful to you:
https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/preparing-for-the-nativity/, https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/on-preparing-our-hearts-anticipating-the-birth-of-christ-each-day-of-the-nativity-fast/, and https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/


Check out these resources for the Nativity Lent:


The folks at Orthodox Pebbles have pulled their Nativity resources (including resources related to the Nativity Fast, such as St. Nicholas Day) together in this collection: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/2018/12/18/the-nativity-of-christ-our-full-resource-collection/


Color Your Way Through The Nativity Fast

Fans of Sparks for Orthodox Kids, rejoice! Illustrator Casey Newman has created a coloring book for very young Orthodox Christians to utilize throughout the Nativity Fast. “Color Your Way Through the Nativity Fast” begins on November 15 and offers a variety of coloring pages, nearly one per day, all the way through Theophany. Its 60 pages are mostly illustrations, many of them featuring a saint of the day or something related to the Nativity. The saints pages also have a brief story about the saint being featured, and often include some information about how the saint’s clothing is colored in the icons, and why it is that color. There are a few pages of word art, featuring prayers or songs. Children can cut out the last few pages of this 60-page book, for they are intended to be made into Christmas cards! Purchase your copy of the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Color-Your-Through-Nativity-Fast/dp/1698389531/


If you would like a small coloring book to tuck into your purse or backpack, check out this 5”x8” 30-page mini Nativity Fast coloring book! Each page features an icon, a prayer, or a song for a young child to color. A few pages are even included at the end of the book, which could be removed for use as Christmas cards! Purchase your mini-book here: https://www.amazon.com/Color-Your-Through-Nativity-Mini/dp/1698864515/

(If you’re not familiar with Sparks for Orthodox Kids, check out their website here: https://sites.google.com/view/sparks-for-orthodox-kids/home.. Their homepage says, “Church can be so serious, we want to make sure there are fun things for the kids to help foster positive attitudes for God, Church, and prayer.” At their site you will find some craft ideas and a lot of coloring pages, grouped by month, in the form of reproducible line art icons. These coloring pages can be printed and will enhance young children’s learning about/participating in the life of the Church. Follow “Sparks” on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.)


Ancient Faith Publishing recently published a lovely coloring book for the Nativity season. “Beautiful Christmas: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children”, created for children ages 5-12, is illustrated by Meagan Elizabeth Gilbert. The book contains 59 beautiful coloring and activity pages with themes related to the Nativity fast (including St. Lucia and St. Nicholas) and many pages dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lord. If a child were to color one page a day, this book will last through the entire fast as well as all twelve days of Christmas, with a few pages to spare! Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-christmas-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/


Draw Near Designs has just released a beautifully decorated felt Nativity Lent calendar. The calendar has 40 numbered pockets, and comes with a felt star that can be moved from pocket to pocket each day of the Nativity fast. (They offer 7 other suggestions of things that could also be put into the pockets – ideas such as including a scripture verse for each day, or an act of kindness to perform that day.) Read more about the beautiful calendar here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/blog/2019/9/30/advent-calendar-ideas
Order your own pocket calendar, either small or large, here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/shop/advent-calendar-sew-it-yourself-kit


(Note: the large pocket calendars are large enough to hold the ornaments that go with Elissa Bjeletich’s beautiful Nativity Lent book, “Welcoming the Christ Child”, which we wrote about here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/gleanings-from-a-book-welcoming-the-christ-child-family-readings-for-the-nativity-lent-by-elissa-bjeletich/
Those ornaments and book are available together, here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/welcoming-the-christ-child-gift-set/)


Ancient Faith’s podcast “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” will be offering episodes related to the Nativity fast and stories of some of the saints commemorated during the fast. Give it a listen here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden


To keep your Nativity fast focused on Christ, adults and/or families with older children may find these weekly studies helpful. Each week’s study follows the Church’s liturgical readings and offers ideas of ways to live the Faith during the busy Nativity season. http://stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/advent


On Preparing Our Hearts, Anticipating the Birth of Christ Each Day of the Nativity Fast

Despite the fact that it is early November, some stores and public places have already begun decorating for Christmas and are playing Christmas music. To some, it may seem too early for that to be happening. But think about it: as Orthodox Christians, we will soon begin our own preparations for the birth of Christ. It is nearly time for the Nativity Fast. Like our secular world, we are anticipating the birth of Christ, although in a different way.

Every day of the Nativity Fast offers us the opportunity to be still and prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ into our midst. One way that we can do so is by feasting our minds on the scriptures. This is an especially good time for us to study the scriptures that foretell Christ’s coming and/or describe the events and people surrounding His birth. This studying can easily be done together as a family, throughout the Nativity Fast, and all the way to Christ’s birth!

There are several ways to submerge ourselves in the scriptures during the Nativity Fast. Two of these include the use of a “Jesse Tree” and an (Orthodox) Advent calendar. Of course, there are many other ways to do so as well, but we will look at these two because they are great to do with children.

1. The Jesse Tree: Set up a tree (or a large wreath, or a swag down the bannister, or a ribbon strung across a wall) just before the fast begins, and then hang one ornament on it each day throughout the season. Each ornament will depict a person or an event that is the focus for that day’s meditation. While creating and/or hanging the ornament, read and discuss the scripture associated with it.

2. The Advent Calendar: Before the Nativity Fast begins, set up a collection of numbered containers (envelopes, painted jars. lidded boxes, etc.), one for each day. Inside each container, place an item (or a picture, or even just a reading for the day) that will guide a brief discussion on a topic related to the Nativity. During the Fast, together open the container of the day, read about its contents, and talk about how it relates to the coming of Christ.

For future years, consider gathering with a group of friends to do an exchange! Divide up the 40 days’ (52, if you include the 12 days of Christmas) worth of ornaments or items evenly between all of you in the group. Before the exchange, each group member will make an ornament for each of their allotted days for each member of the group (so, if you have 8 members in a Jesse Tree exchange group, each member of the group would make 8 copies of an ornament for each of the 5 days’ ornaments they’ve been assigned). At some point before the Nativity Fast begins, get together and have a festive exchange. If you can’t physically meet, you could mail the ornaments to each other for the exchange. If you cannot find enough others who are interested in participating in an exchange like this, keep your eye out online for groups you could join. (For example, in the summer/fall of 2015, there was a Facebook group called “Festal Celebrations” which collaborated on a Jesse Tree ornament exchange.)


Need a place to start? Here are several options to help you get going:

Find a set of reproducible pictures for your Jesse Tree here. These can be copied, and then children can color them and paste them onto a cardstock ornament shape while someone reads the related text (if you don’t have time to make the ornaments in advance). They could also be reproduced onto shrinking plastic to make longer-lasting ornaments. Download the pictures here: https://festalcelebrations.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/another-twist-to-our-jesse-tree-project/. The extensive readings to go with these ornaments can be found here: https://festalcelebrations.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/festaljessetreeadditonaldays1-52pdf.pdf.

This version of the Jesse Tree text/ornament ideas extends the celebration to the 12 days of Christmas!


This Jesse Tree version (from http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2010/11/tree-of-jesse-for-little-ones.html) offers the scripture passages, reproducible pictures, and the “Children’s Bible Reader” pages related to each day’s theme. http://www.scribd.com/doc/42707446/The-Tree-of-Jesse

Want to make an Orthodox Advent Calendar? Find a daily theme for each of the 40 days of the Nativity Fast, complete with a simple text, here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/xmas/advcal.htm.

Here is another Orthodox “Advent calendar” link: “The idea behind this calendar is to give us a different topic each day to discuss to keep us focused on Christ throughout the craze of the holiday season.” Besides a description of how to make the calendar, there is also a printable coloring book to go with each day’s discussion!

Should you wish to have the children “open” each Jesse Tree ornament before hanging it, or if you are making an Advent calendar, find inspiration from these ideas. They are not Orthodox, but can easily be adapted for an Orthodox Jesse Tree or Advent Calendar. http://www.doublethebatch.com/diy-christmas-advent-calendar-ideas/

On Preparing for the Divine Liturgy

This is the second in a series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy. The intent of the series is to remind us parents of what our children are learning about the service. That way we can all better understand what is happening around us during the service, and then together as a  family we can more fully enter into “the offering of the people for the whole world!”


Some days I arrive at church and enter the Divine Liturgy with great determination to participate. Unfortunately, on other days, I simply walk in and hope for the best. I know how I should be entering into the liturgy: with a steadfast heart and focused mind; ready to actively participate in the communal work of offering up prayers, tithes, and my very time for the people of the whole world. After all, I should be already ready to jump in, on arrival: our family has a 30 minute drive to church, during which time we say our morning prayers and read the daily epistle, gospel, and saint-of-the-day reading. My heart should be ready: but some days, I struggle to jump right in and singlemindedly participate. Making that happen is not easy, even though I know that is exactly what I am supposed to do!


Stanley Harakas’ The Melody of Prayer: How to Personally Experience the Divine Liturgy (available at http://www.light-n-life.com/melody-of-prayer-how-to-personally-experience-the-divine-liturgy.html), says, “The text of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom invites the participation of the worshipper in concrete and specific fashion. No, one could even say that the text of the Liturgy begs, requires, yes demands participation. That without that participation a large portion of its riches remain closed to us.” (p. 15) I certainly don’t want to miss out on the riches of the Liturgy! Therefore, I must learn how to fully participate.  Later in the book, he says, “By understanding the general purpose and spirit of [each] section [of the Liturgy], one is able to enter it consciously, purposefully, and in tune with it… an appreciation for the structure and pattern of the service can enhance participation.” (p. 35) So, throughout the course of this series of blogs, I will focus on different parts of the Divine Liturgy, in hopes that we can all attune our hearts to each part, and participate as fully as possible.


The beginning of the Divine Liturgy lends itself to helping us to get ready to participate: it is filled with preparations, a “setting the stage,” if you will, for all that is to come. If we remember again (or learn, if we haven’t yet) what is happening as the priest prepares for and begins the Divine Liturgy, perhaps we will be better prepared to enter fully and be part of the service. Let’s review what happens at the beginning of the service, using materials that our children may also be using, so we can all be on the same page. “Most of us do not see the first of the three parts of the Divine Liturgy: the Liturgy of Preparation. During this time, the priest vests, prays, and prepares the Gifts for consecration.” (The Way, the Truth, and the Life, p. 97)


The service begins with the Preparation.  The priest prepares himself by vesting. “The clergy… put on uniforms… special clothes known as vestments, when they are celebrating the liturgy or doing other services in the church. This sets them apart as being special and reminds them, and us, that we are to come into God’s presence not as we are, but ‘clothed with Christ and His love.’” from the Little Falcons issue on “Holy Vestments,” issue 57, pg 4. (Side note: did you know that “orare” means “to pray,” so when the deacon raises his orarion, we know it is time to pray?!? (pg. 6)) The article, “Holy Vestments – Robes of Glory,” p. 4 – 9 goes on to explain the many different articles of clothing that the priest wears. The article says, “Vestments are like icons for through them we see Christ. They tell us that the person wearing them is no longer just the person we know in everyday life. He is the one through whom Jesus is teaching and sanctifying us.” ~ p. 9 It continues, “When we see the priest clothed in his beautiful vestments which we can see, we know that we must clothe ourselves in beautiful spiritual vestments which we may not be able to see but which we can show through our actions as Christians why try to be holy and live as Jesus teaches.” ~ p. 9. As he putting on each piece of his vestments, the priest prays a related verse from the Psalms.


Once the clergy are vested, they move on to the next portion of the preparation service: the preparation of the bread for Holy Communion. Note: There is an explanation of the preparation of the offering of bread, a recipe which we can use to make our own loaf, and other bread-related information in the Little Falcons Magazine issue #48, “Bread.” There is so much happening in this part of the service, and it is a very meaning-filled sequence of events. I find it fascinating, and must share some of it with you because of how perfectly it relates to this time of the year as we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord. Here is a portion of the preparation service, as explained at http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/theophilos_divine_liturgy.htm:

“First of all the prosphora (the bread for the Eucharist) is brought to the Church, representing the Virgin Mary when she was brought to the temple of the Lord by her parents. Imitating Zecharias, the priest takes it and places it in the ‘Holy of Holies,’ the Holy Table, while he puts on his vestments and gets himself ready for the proskomide — representing the years which the Virgin spent in the temple.

“Then the priest lifts it from the Holy Table and brings it to the prothesis, which symbolizes the journey to Bethlehem which the Virgin Mary took with Joseph because of the census. It was there that the Virgin, being with child (for the prosphora is marked with the name of Jesus Christ), gave birth to Christ in the cave, symbolized by the hollow cavity of the prothesis. ‘Then the child was laid in the manger,’ which is the paten.The covers denote the swaddling cloths. The asterisk represents the star which made its appearance. The thurible and the incense symbolize the gifts of the Magi.

“Isaiah says, ‘Unto us a child is born … and the government shall be upon his shoulders.’ This represents the cross, by means of which [Christ] conquered the enemy and reigned forever. And Christ himself says, ‘I did not come to be served but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.’ Therefore the Church combines Christ’s birth with his death. She ‘gives birth’ to him from the Virgin, removing him with the lance saying, ‘As a Lamb he was brought forth to the slaughter…’ She also pierces the same Lamb on the right side…”


The Preparation service continues with the covering of the wine and bread and offering of incense. “Before the service, the priest prepares our gifts of bread and wine and censes them. Incense is a symbol of our prayer. The smoke goes up into the air, and reminds us that our prayers ascend to heaven for God to hear.” (Little Falcons Magazine #2, “Incense,” p. 19) (A little more background on incense, for your information: “Incense is made of resins that come from special trees, which are mixed with fragrant oils. It is then placed on a hot coal, which burns the incense and makes a sweet-smelling smoke. Because incense is expensive, when we burn it, it is an offering made to God…” from http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/olit-prep.htm)


After the censing, the priest prays that God will bless the human offerings of bread and wine. There is a dismissal that concludes the Preparation service. Then, everything (and hopefully everyone) is ready for the next part of the Divine Liturgy: the Liturgy of the Word!


“We are invited every Sunday to encounter God in a way those of the Old Testament never had a chance. This encounter requires our attention, our timeliness, and our reverence. Let us seek to spend as much time within the Kingdom as possible. Let us also seek to share this opportunity with our fellow brethren, and encourage them to join us.” (from http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf) Because we are parents, it behooves us to share this opportunity with the “fellow brethren” living in our home: our children. And let us grow in the humility of allowing our little “fellow brethren” to reciprocate and encourage us to join in, as well. We will be ready to be in the Kingdom.

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”



The Melody of Prayer: How to Personally Experience the Divine Liturgy by Stanley Harakas: http://www.light-n-life.com/melody-of-prayer-how-to-personally-experience-the-divine-liturgy.html

Teaching Pics: available at http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/2214/0856/4733/OCEC-Catalog-2014.pdf, page 15

Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Vestments” #57, “Bread” #48, and “Incense” #2: http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf
Following are additional resources and quotes about the service of Preparation:


Two interesting tidbits on the clergy’s garments, found in the Little Falcons Magazine issue #57, “Holy Vestments,” on pp 7-9: The “epigonation,” the diamond shaped piece of stiffened cloth worn by married priests who hold a high office actually “originated as a knee protector when a sword was worn by secular officials so in the church it became the symbol of the sword of the spirit.” Also, the bishop’s omoforion is “often made of wool… it symbolizes the lost sheep which the good shepherd carries back to the flock on his shoulders.” Find more in the issue itself, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf.



Review and/or practice “vesting” the clergy with the paper doll versions of a bishop, a priest, and a deacon with your own copy of  Build Your Own Bishop, Priest, and Deacon




In this season of preparing for celebrating the Nativity, the service of preparation is especially meaningful: “First of all the priest censes the holy prothesis and the whole altar and thanks God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was so pleased. Then he ascribes to God’s love for mankind that glory which the angels ascribed at the birth of Christ, the “Glory to God in the highest …” He does this inaudibly (“mystically”), since the angels revealed this privately only to the shepherds. He also shuts the lower doors, leaving the upper veil open, in order to show that the world below and the crowds of people did not know then, in the beginning, the birth of Christ, which was known only to those on high who had acquired the form of God: namely, the prophets and the patriarchs, as well as the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Magi.

Then he gives the acclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit;” for through the incarnation of Christ we came to know the mystery of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Then the Litany of Peace and the prayers follow, because the Divine Liturgy is not only a recalling of the birth of Christ and his passion, but also a meditation to God for our sins.” ~ from http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/theophilos_divine_liturgy.htm




“Through the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we will participate in the transformation of ourselves into the Body of Christ and of this place into the very Throne Room of the Immortal, All-Powerful, and All-Loving God.  This is the balm to heal all wounds and The Way to perfection.  We are entering into the Kingdom of God.

Blessed is the Kingdom…’” ~ from http://www.orthoanalytika.org/2013/12/22/teaching-the-divine-liturgy-meditations/


“We are on time, we are ready. And we know that this journey, this experience, will end at the Divine Banquet Table in the Kingdom of Heaven, where we are fed by our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. As we enter the Church, we reverently make the sign of the cross and venerate the icons… And now we wait for the words that will begin our journey: ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto sages of ages, Amen.’ As the priest chants these words, we know that we are on board for the journey of a lifetime: entering into the Kingdom of Heaven to be united with God.” Little Falcons Magazine, #52, “Holy Liturgy”

Preparing for School

For many students in the northern hemisphere, it is time to prepare to go back to school for another year. It can be difficult to transition from the carefree days of summer vacation to the rigorous schedule of a school year. But with a little planning and preparation as well as a lot of love, we can help our children to make that transition in a healthy manner!

First and foremost, let us pray for our children. Here is an Orthodox prayer for a child’s first day at school:

“Dear God, here are (names), ready for their first day at school. They have been counting the days. They are so thrilled. Be with them today when they go into unfamiliar rooms, when they see new faces (make them kind faces!), when they stand in the lunch line, when they are on the playground. Keep them close to You as they learn and grow and make friends. Protect them from harm. Watch over them on the way to and from school. And as they become part of a larger world, help me to let them go and gain experience that they will need to become a responsible part of Your creations. Amen.”

Secondly, let us talk with our children. We need to find out what they’re looking forward to, any fears that they have, and how they want us to pray for them as they begin the year. Also, we should continually be talking with them about their faith. Orthodox Christian children in America are in the minority, as far as their Christian faith is concerned, and we can help them to stay strong in their faith even while they’re around others who believe very differently. “Your children need to know who we are (as a Church), so that they will know who they are.” (For the context of this quote, listen to this great podcast or read its transcript:  http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/episode/teaching_children_about_keeping_their_faith_in_the_context_of_being_a_minor.)

Let us also help our children to physically prepare for the school year. This may mean gradually adjusting bedtime/getting up in the morning time. It may mean revisiting ideas for packing lunch. It will certainly entail some shopping to ensure that our children have clothes that fit them, as well as school supplies that are needed. If your child has a favorite icon, consider doing this craft together, so he/she can take a reminder of their faith along to school: http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/diy-kids/tocp-diy-kids-back-to-school-icon-notebook/.

To be sure that we are ready for school, it would be good for us to go over this checklist of suggestions from Orthodox Family Life: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/school/b2s01.htm. Although it was first published in 1996, this checklist still is applicable to Orthodox families today. The checklist includes a variety of suggestions for preparing students of different ages for school, and can be a helpful resource to ensure that we have thought everything through before school begins.

Everything that we do to prepare ourselves and our children for the school year will be helpful for their success! Let us pray, talk together, and do all that we can to help our children to be ready to begin the new school year with peace and an awareness of God’s presence with them! May God bless our families as we grow together towards Him, throughout this school year.