Tag Archives: saints

Learning from the Saints: St. Paul (June 29)

As we prepare for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, let us take time to learn more about each of these saints, and help our children to do the same. This post will focus on St. Paul. (There are so many details of his life that we could not include, so we have tagged scriptural references, so you can read more if you wish to!)

 

The Holy Apostle Paul was born in Tarsus. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, and was originally named Saul. He was a very intelligent man, who studied under the renowned teacher Gamaliel. He learned to be a tentmaker, and worked as one (at least part time) for much of his life.

He was a very zealous young man, who honored his Judaic faith and did all that he could to protect it. This is why he was present at the stoning of St. Stephen: he considered Christians to be heretics of the Jewish faith, and wanted to do what he could to purify and preserve it. (Acts 7:58)

Saul was adamant that the Christian movement be stopped, and he did all that he could to stop it. (Acts 8:3) He was on his way to Damascus to continue his mission to rid the area of Christians (Acts 9: 1-2) when he had a life-changing vision. In a blinding light, Christ Himself stopped Saul on the road and spoke to him. Saul was blind after that encounter, and the voice of Christ left him with directions to go to Damascus and wait for instructions there (Acts 9:3-9).

Saul obeyed Christ’s commands, went to Damascus, and sent for Ananias. Thankfully Ananias also obeyed Christ’s command to go see Saul, even though he knew that Saul was an enemy of the Christians, and therefore feared for his own life. Upon arrival, Ananias prayed for the repentant Saul and God healed his eyes (Acts 9: 10-19). He began to preach that Christ is the Son of God, and was so convincing that many Jews were amazed! (Acts 9: 20-22) When local authorities found out that Saul was preaching about Christ, they came in pursuit of him. But the other Christians let Saul out of the city by lowering him in a basket over the city wall (Acts 9: 23-25). He returned to Jerusalem, where Barnabas (who had also studied under Gamaliel) took him under wing, defending him against the Christians who still doubted his conversion (Acts 9:26-28). Saul and Barnabas worked in Antioch for a season (Acts 11: 26). Then the Holy Spirit led Barnabas and Saul to set off on many missionary journeys (Acts 13: 1-3). Saul’s lifestyle of enthusiastic diligence continued, only now he was zealous to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone who would listen!

They traveled first to Cyprus. During this time is when the scriptures begin to refer to him as Paul (Acts 13: 9). From there they traveled to modern-day Turkey (Asia Minor) (Acts 13: 13). While there, Paul preached and helped many people to learn about Christ. God used him to heal a crippled man (Acts 14: 8-10). The Jews were upset that so many people were learning about Christ, so they came and found Paul, stoned him, and left him for dead. But he was not! (Acts 14: 19-20). Paul and Barnabas traveled from there to Jerusalem, teaching and preaching along the way (Acts 15). Then they traveled back to Antioch for a while. They decided to revisit the cities where they had preached, but could not agree on who to take along. So it was that Barnabas and Paul parted ways, each taking another man to help them (Acts 15: 36-40).

Paul and Silas’ travels led them to meet a half-Jew/half-Greek named Timothy (Acts 16: 1-3); a seller of purple named Lydia (Acts 16: 14-15); and a spirit-possessed slave girl whom they healed (Acts 16: 16-19), among others. Healing the spirit-possessed girl landed them with beatings and imprisonment. That night there was an earthquake that unlocked all the prisoners’ chains, but none escaped. Instead, Paul and Silas were welcomed into the jailor’s house, where they preached and converted the entire household. (Acts 16: 20-34) When it was discovered that both Paul and Silas were Roman citizens with rights as such, they were quickly asked to leave the city!

When they left, they traveled, ministering in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens (Acts 17); Corinth and Antioch (Acts 18); Ephesus (Acts 19); Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20); and Jerusalem (Acts 21-22). Along the way, they encountered difficulties, resistance, and people who wanted to learn about Christ. In Jerusalem, there was such an uprising against Paul that he was bound and was to be questioned during a scourging (Acts 22:22-24), until Paul asked if it was legal to treat a Roman citizen like that (Acts 22: 25-28). It was not, so he was unbound. However, the Jews really wanted to kill Paul, so the centurion sent him to Governor Felix by night, with an armed guard of 200 men (Acts 23). Governor Felix kept postponing making a decision of what to do with Paul, so his case was passed on to Governor Festus when he took over (Acts 24). Governor Festus’ inquiries led Paul to appeal to Ceasar (Acts 25).

Governor Festus asked the visiting King Agrippa to hear Paul’s case, and Paul thus had the chance to tell the story of his life and his conversion to both of them (Acts 26). After hearing this, King Agrippa told Governor Festus that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.

Paul’s voyage by boat to Rome for that appeal was struck with a terrible storm which ended with a shipwreck in Malta. All aboard survived (Acts 27).

Paul’s miraculous survival of a viper bite opened the doors for him to minister to the people of Malta before catching another ship to go on to Rome (Acts 28). When they arrived in Rome, Paul was allowed to live in a rented house with his guard. He lived there for two years.

During all of his journeys as well as while under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote letters to individuals and churches. 14 of these letters have been included in the New Testament and are encouraging even to their modern day readers! Paul was given the title “The Apostle to the Gentiles” because of his missionary work everywhere from Arabia to Spain, to Jews and Gentiles alike.

Around the year 68 AD, during the time of Nero’s persecution, Paul was beheaded for his faith. He was buried where the basilica of St. Paul now stands.

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!



St. Paul, Apostle of Christ, intercede for our salvation!

Sources: The Bible, “The Prologue from Ochrid” by St. Nikolai Velimirovic,  and http://stpaul-orthodox.org/stpaullife.php

 

Here are some other ways that your family can learn about St. Paul:

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This site has many pages about St. Paul: http://www.biblicaltourguide.com/aboutstpaul.html

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There are many (non-Orthodox, but very helpful) stories from and printables about the life of St. Paul at the Biblewise.com website:
Here is one sample: http://biblewise.com/kids/fun/amazing-paul.php

(Search “Paul” for hundreds of entries.)

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For a hands-on introduction to the life of St. Paul, try this with your children: Select a number of the scriptural references in the blog we wrote about his life, and find a prop for each (ie: dark glasses for when he was blinded, a boat -or part of one- for when he was shipwrecked in Malta, etc.) Strew the props wherever you will be meeting as a family for this learning time. Have a basket containing all of the references available. Allow each family member to select a reference, read it (you read it for them if they need help), and guess its prop. After every prop has had its story told, work together to put the “prop life of St. Paul” in order according to the scriptural references.

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Read the journal of an Orthodox Christian who traveled with others from her parish to see many of the sites where St. Paul had been: http://stpaulsirvine.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/A-Journal-of-a-Pilgrimage-in-the-Footsteps-of-St.-Paul.pdf

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These videos offer the life of St. Paul as a documentary in four 15-minute segments:

1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfMkKTKIN3g

2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIrorT_aqsQ

3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWT2qf4naDo

4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mC8ClbcZ2vA

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Here is a five-minute Orthodox video about the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=117&v=NREVFRDUdJg

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Decorate your table to celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. After studying their lives together, talk as a family about what you could include in the decorations that would remind you of them and their faithfulness to God. You may wish to include a centerpiece featuring an icon of them.
Find a printable icon of Sts. Peter and Paul on pg. 29 of this book: https://www.scribd.com/doc/14024263/Orthodox-Christian-Icon-Coloring-Book

Have a blessed feast!

Learning About the Saints: The Three Holy Hierarchs (Jan. 30/Feb. 12)

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs with a special feast every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.

Hundreds of years after these hierarchs departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to which of these three men was the greatest. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites. The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder of this. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 (Feb. 12) as the day to celebrate all three of them.

Read more about the Three Holy Hierarchs, and find a personal challenge for each of us from their lives, in this blog post about them: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The three most great luminaries of the Three-Sun Divinity have illumined all of the world with the rays of doctrines divine and true; they are the sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom, who with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams: The great and sacred Basil, and the Theologian, wise Gregory, together with the renowned John, the famed Chrysostom of golden speech. Let us all who love their divinely-wise words come together, honoring them with hymns; for ceaselessly they offer entreaty for us to the Trinity.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as your family learns about the Three Holy Hierarchs together:
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Read more about the three holy heirarchs here: http://www.wenorthodox.com/three-hierarchs/ or here http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/01/feast-of-three-hierarchs-sts-basil.html

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Find more information about the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs here: http://www.goarch.org/special/threehierarchs/index_html

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Share this book about the Three Holy Hierarchs with younger children: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/20-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Three-Hierarchs/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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Print this icon for your children to color, or for use in another feast-related craft project: http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Three-Holy-Hierarchs-line-border.gif

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Be encouraged by these words from Metropolitan Tikhon, in his Jan. 30, 2105 homily on the Three Holy Hierarchs: “…the gentle, warm, and clear holiness and perfection of the Three Hierarchs [teaches] us, not oppressively but with peacefulness:

Not to give in to despair when we uncover the passions within our own hearts, but to slowly weed them out one by one; Not to be discouraged because we don’t seem to have control over our children and their behavior, but rather continually strive to love them and pray for them and not judge ourselves to be failures; Not to be overwhelmed when we find it difficult to live in a community, whether it is our family, our seminary or our parish, but to find hope in the examples of the great saints who give expression to true community.”

Read the entire homily here: http://www.svots.edu/metropolitan-tikhons-homily-feast-three-holy-hierarchs

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If you have a counted-cross-stitch fan in your family, you may want to know that this pattern to stitch the icon of the Three Holy Hierarchs is available: http://www.easterngiftshop.com/Item/IcCS3Hier

Through the Eyes of a Young Reader: “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks

You may remember the blog post we published about the recently-published Orthodox children’s book, “Queen Abigail the Wise,” by Grace Brooks. Our blog post was published in May 2015. (If you did not get a chance to read the blog before, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/.

We are in the new calendar year, which means that Great Lent is not too far off. The entire story of “Queen Abigail the Wise” takes place during Great Lent. We are revisiting the book in this blog post for two reasons. First and foremost refers to my statement in the first blog post about the book, “I must share this book with my 10-year-old goddaughter.” I did exactly that, and gave my then-10-year-old goddaughter Hope her own copy to read. After she read the book, we got together and talked about it. I thought you may be interested to hear Hope’s perspective on the book, not just mine, so here it is! (Mind you, there are spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t say we didn’t warn you about them!)

When Hope and I got together to discuss this book, I came with a series of questions for her. I tried to think of questions that would help “grownups” have a sense of how relative and enjoyable the book is for a young Orthodox Christian. (As you may have read in the prior blog post, the book is geared to children, but I found it to be uplifting even though I am an adult. I thought it was a great book, and I was pretty sure that Hope would like it. The older I get, though, the more I realize that what I think is nice for a person of a certain age may not necessarily sit as well with them as I thought it would. So I wanted to test this in-my-opinion-wonderful book with Hope to get her opinion of it. Here it is.)

The first question I asked Hope was whether or not she liked “Queen Abigail the Wise.” I was rewarded with the anticipated resounding “Yes!” and a huge smile on her face. Curious, I asked why, and she said, “I liked how [Abigail] had to do something to get something.” and “I like that she figured out that the young priest was the the iconographer by the end of the story.” (Remember, I already warned you that there are spoilers!)

I went on to ask Hope if there were parts of the book that she could relate to, and she said “Yes…” So I asked her which parts of the story she could relate to. She said, “Well, sometimes I get bored in church, too…” and went on to explain that she can understand how that felt to Abigail. She also said that she could relate to Abigail’s feelings at Pascha, when Abigail felt hot and cramped. Hope said that, like Abigail, she’s also not a crowd person and also, she is not hungry when she’s tired — just like Abigail.

Hope named Abigail as her favorite character in the book when asked, because, “I liked how she didn’t want to give up; and she felt bummed about missing church. I do that too sometimes. I also liked how she was willing to work hard and help others because she wanted the icon so badly.”

I couldn’t just ask about a favorite character, so I wondered aloud if Hope had a least favorite character? She said, “Well, at the beginning probably Vanessa because she seems snobby but I changed my opinion at the end. I could also say baby Jacob but he did play an important role.” (Again, spoilers! Well, almost…)

Although “Queen Abigail the Wise” is a chapter book, it contain a few illustrations. I am a visual person and love pictures, so I was delighted with the sketches: I found them charming. But, as mentioned above, I wondered if my personal theory fit with the actual practice and thus, how the illustrations would sit with a young lady of her age. So, I asked Hope if the illustrations added to the story. She said, “Yes, I like to have visuals!” (Like godmother, like goddaughter, I suppose!) But she mentioned that she wished for color, not just blackline illustrations. (I suggested that since the book is her very own, she could go through and color any illustrations that she wanted to, if she wished. A few weeks later, she came to church with her book and showed me that she had colored part of it with colored pencils! It was beautiful.)

I then asked an all-encompassing question about the theme of the book. I wondered what Hope thinks that the author, Grace Brooks, was trying to say with this story. What does Hope think is the book’s message? She give me two excellent answers: “If you set your mind to something and if you work hard you can achieve it… And no matter how much you dislike something or someone, in the end you may find that you actually love them.” Both answers were insightful. Sage words, coming from a 10-year-old.

I asked Hope if she had a favorite part of “Queen Abigail the Wise.” She answered, “The end, when Abigail gets her icon… And the way she describes the icon was pretty, too.”  I asked her if she would recommend this story to others, and she answered,”Yes!” She went on to say, “I would recommend it especially to those new to the Orthodox faith.”

Hope could not think of any part of the story that she did not like. Rather, she liked the book so much that sometimes she stayed up reading it past her bedtime! She was reading it in summer, so she could lie in bed reading until it got too dark outside to read by the snatches of light shining through her window. She got in trouble for doing so (oops!), but she really liked the book, and that’s what she does when she likes a book. (Again, like godmother, like goddaughter!)

So, as I had expected, Hope liked the book. She could relate to the characters and enjoyed learning along with them. Her experience with the story was similar to mine, and I am glad. But you’ll recall that I mentioned two reasons for this blog post, and you may be wondering about the second.

Well, the second reason I am posting about this book right now is all about timing. In a matter of weeks we will be in Great Lent again! You may want to get this book to share with an Orthodox youngster of your own, so that he/she can read it during Great Lent this year! Or perhaps you personally want to follow the related blog posts as the weeks go by: they are very challenging and encouraging for Orthodox Christians of any age! Or maybe you just want to read the book yourself, for your own growth. We’re sharing this blog post now because both Hope and I want to give you plenty of time so that you can do any (or all!) of the above!

Taking one final glimpse at my interview with Hope, my final question for her was whether or not she would be willing to read a sequel when it comes out? She answered with a resounding, “YES!.” So now there are TWO of us eagerly anticipating the second book in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club!” Our guess is that if you and/or your young Orthodox friends get a chance to read “Queen Abigail the Wise,” you will feel the same way. We certainly hope so!

Here are some important links related to the book:

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Purchase “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks, either for yourself or for young friends, here: https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/  
There is also an ebook available. (But you can’t color in the illustrations of an ebook with colored pencil!)

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Meet all the girls in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club” at the Queen Abigail website: http://queenabigail.com/

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According to this blog post by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, http://queenabigail.com/2016/11/27/december-news-with-queen-abigail/, the second book in the series will be available soon! This one is called “Vanessa the Wonderworker!”

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Follow along on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QueenAbigailtheWise/ for a variety of interesting posts including fresh creations by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, new blog posts that she writes, and other interesting things that she finds online and shares which are enjoyable to children and adults alike!

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Consider reading your way through “Queen Abigail the Wise” bit by bit, meditating on these wonderful blog posts by author Grace Brooks. http://queenabigail.com/2016/07/20/reading-through-queen-abigail-with-me/ Perhaps you can do this with a young friend, or even an entire Sunday Church School Class, throughout the course of Great Lent. Consider using these “Abigail” notebooks to document your learning along the way: http://www.cafepress.com/+queen_abigail_the_wise_journal,1908228623!

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Sharing Stories of the Saints

In past blog posts, we have offered ideas of picture books to share, chapter books to read together, and Bible stories to ponder as our children prepare to go to sleep. Bedtime is also a time when we can share stories from the lives of the saints. By sharing the stories of people who have fought the good fight to the end, we introduce our children to real-life “superheroes” whose life they can ponder as they fall asleep, then emulate when they awake. The saints’ life on earth was amazing, sometimes even miraculous, because of their love for God. We must share their stories with our children! Our children will not hear these stories or know what God can do in/through someone unless we teach them about the saints.

Of course, many saints endured terrible trials and tortures. We do not want to frighten our children at bedtime, so we must be mindful of each child and what they can handle, and thereby carefully choose the saints whose life stories we share. Stories of the saints’ martyrdom may not be appropriate for us to share with our very young children at bedtime. But our children need to know that sometimes people choose to follow God even if it threatens their life. So, stories of martyred saints should be shared (with careful wording), with older children, keeping in mind what our children can handle. It is our job as parents to introduce our children to the saints in a way that conveys their devotion to God and His work in their lives. Let us do diligently, but with sensitivity to each child in our family.

We know that we should be sharing the lives of the saints with our children and that we need to carefully choose/word the stories that we share. So, how do we find saints’ stories to read or tell to our children? Our survey about bedtime rituals asked the participants if and how they select saint stories to share with their children at bedtime. Here are their answers:

  • We follow a daily calendar of the saints that includes a short reading about one. (29%)
  • We listen to a podcast about the saint of the day. (4%)
  • We do not read about the lives of the saints. (42%)

The survey respondents who do share stories from the lives of the saints with their children offered the following resources/ways that they select which stories to share:

  • “My kids pull a book out of the shelf where we keep the children’s books about the faith.”
  • “We read about saints from time to time but not consistently.”
  • “books of saints for children”
  • “I have a lot of children’s books on the Saints and I read from those.”
  • “We choose any from our collection of lives of the saints.”
  • “child chosen or daily recommendation”
  • “Our kids have their favourites and we introduce new saints once in awhile with a new book about them.”
  • “We read that day’s entry from Prologue of Ohrid, including all the saints of the day, homily, reflection, contemplation, and hymn of praise.”
  • “I have a few books for children about saints, which I read to them from a few times a week.”
  • “Sometimes I research and read about a particular saint relevant to our family life. I find the troparian and repeat it three times.”
  • “We read from a book called “Prologue of Ohrid,”
  • “We talk about lives of the saints, but we have a baby.”
  • “We read the prologue.”
  • “saints we have picture books or icons of”
  • “some daily, some random”
  • “whatever book is closest to hand”
  • “We read the prologue or child books about the saints.”
  • “When we do, it is the Saint of the day, looked up online.”
  • “Randomly [selected saint stories] from our children’s library”

What other resources have you found helpful when you share the stories of the saints with your children? Please comment below and share them with the community!

Holy saints, please intercede for our salvation and for the salvation of our children!

Here are some resources that we have found helpful:

Ancient Faith Ministries’ podcast “Saint of the Day” (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday ) offers a short reading each day featuring the life of one of the saints commemorated on that day, as well as an extensive archive of stories of others saints commemorated each day.

Our AODCE Pinterest page offers the following ever-growing board that includes links to saint stories and/or ideas of ways to help children: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/saints/

These (free!) printable activity books will help your family learn about saints (and the animals that served them; those commemorated in the Litiya prayers; those that can help in times of trouble; and those from North America) through stories and related activities: http://dce.oca.org/page/activity-books

Paterikon For Kids offers beautifully illustrated, child-sized tiny books by various authors, including saint stories and stories from the Bible.  Available individually or the entire set (at a significant discount). Also available in 12 other languages. http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-Set-1-20/English-Paterikon-for-Kids-1-20-Set/flypage-ask.tpl.html  

Little Falcons is an Orthodox Christian children’s magazine published quarterly. Each issue has a theme and includes articles, activities, and stories based on that theme. It also includes at least one story from the life of a saint, often written as a play so that several readers can share the story together. http://www.littlefalcons.net

New Martyr Magazine is a new quarterly Orthodox Christian children’s magazine. Each issue includes illustrations by children, stories, puzzles, photographs that help children learn more about the faith, and a story about a saint.  http://newmartyrpublishing.com  

2017 Daily Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints Calendar: This spiral-bound calendar offers the references for daily scripture readings, a brief story of one of the saints of the day, a list of all the day’s saints, and a quote from a church father. http://www.livesofthesaintscalendar.com  

This blog post offers many links to online resources for stories from the lives of the saints: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/02/lives-of-saints.html

On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8 or 21)

The very first feast of the new Church year is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and it is a very good place to start! After all, the birth of the Theotokos is where many of the other feasts begin. In this feast, we celebrate the miracle which God worked in the lives of Sts. Joachim and Anna, who were His faithful servants, but were never blessed with a child. Childlessness was a hardship for them. They had reached old age and had borne no children! In those days, barrenness was considered punishment from God for sins, and thus everywhere they went, people could look at them and judge them as sinners simply because they had no child. In fact, when Joachim went to the Temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest because of his childlessness (remember, at that time it meant “apparent sinfulness”). It was at this point that Joachim went off to the hills to earnestly pray for a child.

Meanwhile, Anna was in Jerusalem at their home wondering where he was, while also praying for a child. While they were praying one day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to each of them, telling them that their prayers had been heard, and they would be given a daughter whose name would be known through all the world. He told Joachim to go back to Jerusalem, and he told Anna to wait for Joachim at the Golden Gate. They both believed the angel and obeyed him. So when Joachim arrived back at Jerusalem, there was Anna, waiting for him at the Golden Gate! God kept His promise to them by allowing them to conceive the Theotokos.

So, why do we celebrate this feast? The Kontakion of the feast tells us why:
“By your nativity, most pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness, Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: ‘The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life.’” In other words, we are not just celebrating the miracle of Sts. Joachim and Anna’s release from barrenness. Through Mary, the child given to them, Christ was born. And through His birth, death, and resurrection, Adam and Eve were released from Hades; and we ourselves are set free from the guilt of our sin. So, why would we NOT celebrate this feast?!?

Below are some links that can help us learn more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Other links will help us teach our children about the feast so that we can better celebrate together.

Blessed Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos!

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“The icon and the feast… acknowledge a transition from barrenness to life. This was but another foreshadowing of what would be offered through Christ, the transformation from death to eternal life.” Read more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, including a brief explanation of the icon, here: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/vmnativity/index_html

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Find an explanation of the icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as well as a gallery of this icon as written by different iconographers, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-icon/
Together as a family, look at the different icons. In each, seek every detail mentioned in the explanation, and note how it is written in that icon. What can your family conclude about the consistency of icons written by different iconographers? What aspects of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos are the most important, as demonstrated in all the icons? Talk together about how those aspects apply to your family: how do they change your life?

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Celebrate the birth of the Mother of God with lots of blue, the Theotokos’ color! On the Feast day, dress in blue; decorate the house with blue; eat a “blue” meal (including as many blue things as possible: maybe a salad with blue cheese, fruit salad or fruit pizza decorated with blueberries, blue jello, etc.); you get the idea! Find this and other fun ideas, as well as a printable wheel for all of the feast days here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/nativity-theotokos-0

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Find a list of books to read together as well as a variety of activities to consider doing with the family, in celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, here: http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2011/09/festal-learning-basket-nativity-of.html

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Families with very young children will want to take a look at the ideas of ways to celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos mentioned in these blog posts: http://churchyearforchildren.blogspot.com/search/label/Nativity%20of%20the%20Theotokos

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Find a plethora of information, as well as thought provoking and inspirational encouragement related to the Nativity of the Theotokos in this wonderful book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

 

Learning About the Saints: St. Phanourios (Commemorated on August 27/September 9)

This morning when I checked my plans for what I would be writing about for this blog post, I immediately got goosebumps. Months ago I had planned that today I would write about St. Phanourios, but I had forgotten that plan until I was ready to begin. Mind you, St. Phanourios is one of my favorite saints, and I frequently request his prayers for myself and for my family. I am indebted to this saint for his multiple intercessions on our behalf. Time after time, his prayers have worked miracles for us, and we are grateful. But the reason for my goosebumps was because St. Phanourios’ prayers just worked a miracle for our family yesterday, so the timing is impeccable. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about this wonderful saint!

Very little has been passed down about the life of St. Phanourios. Around 1500, a previously-forgotten chapel was unearthed in a building project in Rhodes. All the icons in the chapel were disfigured or crumbling, but one was still intact. In fact, it almost looked freshly-painted, it was in such good shape. It features a young man named as “St. Phanourios,” holding a candle-topped cross. Surrounding the central icon are a series of twelve smaller icons depicting the saint’s refusal to give up his faith and the tortures that he endured in the process.

Because of the icon’s miraculously fresh appearance in the midst of rubble, as well as the evidence that St. Phanourios maintained the Faith through his tortures all the way to his martyrdom, the Church leaders in Rhodes agreed that he should be revered as a saint. A church was built in his honor on the site of the ruins. People began to venerate the icon, and they became aware that the prayers of St. Phanourios are blessed with miraculous intervention. Because his icon was found after being lost for so long, and because his name is derived from the Greek word  φανερώνω, or phanerono, which means “I reveal,” people began to ask St. Phanourios to pray that they would again find lost items and/or that they would regain their health. Time and time again, he has done so, and many people have been blessed through his prayers. Somewhere along the line, people began to bake a special sweet bread to share in thanksgiving for the saint’s prayers. (Some have said that he wants this bread to be baked, accompanied with prayers for his mother, who died outside of baptism, but that is not the official reason for baking it. Phanouropita should be baked as a request to the saint for help, or in thanksgiving after he has helped, then shared with an account of the miracle God has wrought through the prayers of His servant.)

Our family will be baking phanouropita very soon because of the most recent miracle God worked for our family through the prayers of St. Phanourios. It’s a long story, so hang onto your hat: Two and a half weeks ago, our son’s computer refused to turn on. Part of his schooling includes online classes, so he uses that computer to connect with his classes and his schoolwork is stored on that computer. He’s also a budding photographer and his most recent work is only on that computer. We really need that computer to work for him, so we prepared to send it to the company from whence it came so that it could be fixed. Unfortunately, this happened on the day before we left for vacation, and we had little on hand to properly package a computer, but wanted to get it off as soon as possible. So we grabbed old packing envelopes and tissue paper, thoroughly wrapped the computer in them, and packed it into a box so that when someone came home a few days later, the shipping company could schedule a pickup and it would be off for repairs before we all got home from vacation. After the pickup, we waited for confirmation that the computer made it to its destination, but we heard nothing. A week later, vacation over, we began to wonder where the computer was, so my husband began to call points along the shipping route to try to track down the package. Through a long and tedious process, we discovered that it had gone missing. We suspected that it had lost its shipping label, and my husband spent hours on the phone, daily, for many days, trying to learn all that he could. And of course we prayed, asking St. Phanourios to help us find the package.

We had many false leads, and there were a few times that we thought it had been found. But every time we’d realize that we had misunderstood or we had received automated confirmations that did not match up to reality. Two weeks after its shipping date, we were becoming convinced that the computer and all of our son’s work which it holds were gone. We continued to pray and ask St. Phanourios to intercede on our behalf, but it was beginning to look like the answer this time would be “no, you do not need to have that computer anymore.”

Yesterday morning my husband spent another hour or more trying to track the computer down: at this point, we were running into the limit of days when they may still be able to access images, etc., of the package. And then, suddenly, I had an odd email show up in my inbox. It was from a company from which I had purchased a humble bag of chai in support of a school choir fundraiser for one of my favorite choir buddies from church. The email told me that a computer had been mailed to their company because one of their mailing envelopes was found in the computer’s packaging, although the package itself had lost its label. Upon further contact, we’ve confirmed that the computer is ours. Glory to God!

I have no idea why the shipping company sent the computer to one of the many addresses stuffed in its packaging instead of looking at all of the packing envelopes, finding the common address on all of the labels (ours), and sending it back here. However, I am thankful that they sent it to an honest company who went to the extra lengths to find our contact information and reconnect us with this much-needed computer! We are grateful to St. Phanourios for his intercessions for our computer, and to God for allowing us to find it once again. We have the recipe for our phanouropita ready and waiting to be baked upon the computer’s return. And in the meantime, we gratefully pray, “Lord, have mercy on the soul of St. Phanourios (and on the soul of his mother), save them, and save us!”

Through the prayers of St. Phanourios, Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

To learn more about St. Phanourios, visit these sites:

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See a photo of the actual icon of St. Phanourios that was found in the rubble so long ago, here: http://orthodoxtraditions.blogspot.com/2013/12/st-phanourios-great-martyr-newly.html

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Want to know more about St. Phanourios? Read this account of how he miraculously intervened and saved three stranded priests: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/08/the-veneration-of-saint-phanourios-on.html

(Also on this page, you will find pictures of shrines that have been built to commemorate the saint, as well as the stories behind some of them!)

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Did St. Phanourios ever help you find something? You may want to make a batch of phanouropita and share it, telling about the miracle as you do! Here’s a recipe: http://myocn.net/tradition-thanks-st-phanourios-finds/

Find another recipe for phanouropita in this lovely blog post: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2010/08/27/st-fanourios-the-martyr-and-miracle-worker/

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Read a non-Orthodox testimonial to St. Phanourios’ help (and yet another recipe) here: http://leitesculinaria.com/51916/writings-greek-phanourious-cake.html

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Find a prayer to Christ, thanking Him for St. Phanourios’ help, and a prayer to bless a phanouropita here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/prayers-to-christ-and-st-phanourios.html

Find the akathist to St. Phanourios here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/prayers-to-christ-and-st-phanourios.html  

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This beautiful child-sized book tells the story of the finding of the icon of St. Phanourios: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/18-Paterikon-for-kids-Saint-Phanourios/flypage-ask.tpl.html. You can also hear Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of this book in her “Under the Grapevine” podcast, here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/saint_phanourios

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Print the icon of and troparion to St. Phanourios found here: https://app.box.com/s/uvph2nn833y8gr1fj7yd

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Host an end-of-summer “Lost and Found” party that can help you teach your children about St. Phanourios. Invite other friends to join you, if you like. Read or tell the story of St. Phanourios. If you have personal examples of miracles that his prayers have caused, share them with everyone. Before (or together, during!)  the party, bake a St. Phanourios cake to share. Play some games like “Sardines,” “Hide and Seek,” have a scavenger hunt, or play a version of hide and seek where you have hidden items around the room ahead of time and the children must find them . For a craft, have the kids each make their own “lost and found” game such as  http://www.catholicinspired.com/2010/11/st-anthony-lost-and-found-game.html, only smaller (as suggested here http://www.kidspot.com.au/cute-diy-find-it-jars/ ). Be sure to pre-print and perhaps even laminate the list of items that will be put into the jar, so that your party guests will have a nice game (the jar and the list) to take home with them. Every time they play with this game, they will be able to remember St. Phanourios and how he helps people find lost things!

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This page points to many resources about St. Phanourios: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/08/saint-phanourios-resource-page.html

On the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15 or 28)

The final feast of the Church year is the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. At this feast, we celebrate the “falling asleep” (dormition) of the Theotokos. The disciples were miraculously brought together with the Theotokos in Jerusalem, and they were with her when she fell asleep in the Lord. Only Thomas was not present for her falling asleep and her burial. When he arrived a few days later and they opened her tomb so that he could see her body for one last time, they discovered that it was no longer there! Our Lord had taken her body to Heaven, giving all of us hope of eternal life!

How do we explain this miracle to our children when we can barely wrap our own minds around it? Well, because it is a miracle, we can not explain it. However, perhaps we can offer a slightly similar concept. We can invite the children to think of their favorite toy (especially effective for this would be a particularly-favored “lovey” if there is one such toy in the family). Have them imagine parting with that favorite, and only receiving part of it back again. For example, “We all know how much Sophie loves Mr. Bun. He goes everywhere with her! Remember that time that she left Mr. Bun at the restaurant while we were on vacation and we had to drive all the way back to get him? Would Sophie like it if, when we went back, we only brought part of Mr. Bun with us and just left the rest of him there in the restaurant? No! Well, it’s a tiny bit like that, here. Our Lord really loved His mother, the Theotokos. Of course, she was not a toy, but she was favored by God because she lived such a holy life. When she departed this earthly life to go to Heaven, Our Lord took all of her – even her body – to Heaven, too! Now even her earthly body is with Him in Heaven!” Granted, there are many weaknesses in this comparison, but it is a starting place for discussion. We should continue, “The Dormition is a good reminder for us to live holy lives and love God as the Theotokos did! We also want to live in Heaven with Him when we depart this life!”

Here are links to resources that will help your family learn more about the Feast of the Dormition:

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Find a printable countdown coloring page to use during the Dormition Fast here: http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/07/dormition-fast-calendar-printable-and.html

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Consider assembling a countdown with candles to be burned daily during the Dormition Fast as shown here: http://craftyincoffeeland.blogspot.com/2013/08/dormition-fast.html?m=0. If you are so inclined, decorate them with symbols of the Theotokos as demonstrated here: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/07/sobering-time.html.

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This countdown craft includes a daily reading focusing on a different type of the Theotokos as described in scripture: https://craftycontemplative.com/2010/07/28/dormition-calendar-craft/

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Read about the Feast of the Dormition, learn more about the festal icon, and find the hymns of the feast in this blog post: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/dormition/index_html. Read more about the feast here https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/dormition-of-the-theotokos. Listen to this podcast on the theology of the feast, as explained by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory, here:http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/dormition_of_the_theotokos

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“If we follow her example, our souls can become like hers and find everlasting rest in Christ’s hands.” (p. 59) Read more in the fascinating segment about the Feast of the Dormition in this book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

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Find printable resources that help children learn the names of the Theotokos, as well as a printable activity page related to the Dormition here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/08/dormition-word-search.html

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Print a copy of this popup centerpiece. Feature it on your dining room table or in your prayer corner as you celebrate the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/abbe11671878e0c8d20d278ea0ae08af.pdf

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If your parish celebrates the dormition with the blessing of flowers, consider doing what this mom suggests so that the children have a hand in preparing your bouquet(s): http://churchyearforchildren.blogspot.com/search/label/Dormition%20of%20the%20Theotokos

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This beautiful book tells the story of the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-21-23-NEW/23-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Dormition-of-the-Theotokos/flypage-ask.tpl.html. Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of the book here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/the_dormition_of_the_theotokos1

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Some children will be fascinated by this miracle that happens annually (with very few exceptions) at the time of the Dormition of the Theotokos, on the Greek island of Cephalonia! It involves snakes and the icon of the Theotokos, and started when nuns prayed and asked the Theotokos to deliver them from pirates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Za9-uX4b8