Tag Archives: Scriptures

Gleanings from a Book: “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger

The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education’s Staff Assistant for Social Networking, Kristina Wenger, shares some of her side of the story behind the book which she co-authored with her friend Elissa Bjeletich, as well as a few gleanings from the book itself.

It began with an invitation from an online friend, Elissa Bjeletich, who I had met in person just weeks before the invitation came. The invitation went something like this: “I’m thinking about writing a daily meditation for families for Great Lent. Will you help me?”

I was tired. The previous twelve months had drained me. They included a failed business endeavor and the ensuing financial strains; the engagement and marriage of our daughter to our wonderful son-in-law; both kids moving out of our home; 3 trips to other parts of the country to help them get settled (one of them moved twice); additional responsibilities at work to be completed in the same amount of work time; and then an extended illness over Christmas. I felt that I had nothing left to give to the world when this invitation came.

But it came, and I was a little star-struck, to be honest. I had admired Elissa’s work from afar for years, and was tickled to have actually met her in person. And then she reached out and asked me to help her? Unthinkable, and yet there it was! So I stretched through my exhaustion and considered her invitation. How could I say no? Although I was depleted, I knew this project would be good for my soul and I wanted to work with Elissa. So, empty but honored, I accepted, and then the work began.

And it was work. In one month’s time, we chose a name, pitched to Ancient Faith Radio the idea of a podcast special for families, were granted approval, created a website, and wrote and recorded the first three weeks’ worth of daily Lenten meditations. For each episode, we brainstormed together, and shared the writing (Elissa did the bulk of it, thank God: she has more writing experience than I). Early on, we decided that it would be best to offer each meditation at two levels, one for older children and one for younger ones. We each recorded a level for the podcast: Elissa did the older children’s, and I, the younger.

We wrote each meditation with the desire to care for – and encourage – growth in the garden of our own hearts, praying that somehow God would bless our efforts and allow others to grow along with us. We resonate well with St. John Chrysostom’s exhortation, “Fasting is wonderful because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower.” We hope that our writing will help readers to embrace such an attitude about fasting (and Great Lent in general), so that truth can grow and bloom in their lives.

We continued to work away at the project throughout Lent of 2018, and by the time Holy Week rolled around, we had finally finished. We went from idea to completion in 2 and a half months (Pascha was only 83 days after Elissa extended the invitation to me!). By the grace of God, we were able to write and record fifty different meditations, each at two levels, in that time.

As Pascha approached, we did not feel that the project was finished. We had grown so much throughout the experience, and we really enjoy working together. We decided to continue our work with a weekly podcast, and Ancient Faith once again accepted our proposal. The continuing podcast is aimed at whole families, and we record it together each week. You can listen in at https://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden if you are so inclined.

We thought that perhaps our Lenten meditations could become a book, so we approached Ancient Faith Publishing, proposing the idea. They accepted our proposal, so we began adapting and rewriting the older children’s version in a way that would work for entire families to read and discuss together. This book is the result.

“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” offers one meditation each day for every day of Great Lent and Holy Week, including a final meditation for Pascha. Each week is themed as follows: Forgiveness, Orthodoxy, Prayer, The Cross/Humility, The Ladder/Almsgiving, Fasting/St. Mary of Egypt, and Holy Week and Pascha. (We loosely based our themes on this calendar of lenten activities which I wrote several years ago: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/great_lent_and_holy_week_activity_calendar.pdf.) Beginning each Sunday, every day’s meditation relates in some way to the theme for the week. Some days feature a scripture and thoughts on that scripture. On other days, we learn from the life of a saint. Every meditation concludes with a few questions, then a discussion question that allows the readers to make the book their own by talking together about how to apply that day’s lesson.

The book concludes with a fairly extensive appendix of related ideas for each week’s theme. There are craft and activity suggestions that could be done every week, if the readers are so inclined. The appendix begins with suggestions of ways to count down to Pascha. These countdown ideas are intended to help solidify and mark the passage of time in a way that can help young children for whom time is rather nebulous. Following those suggestions are ideas centered around each theme. As we say in the book, some weeks the reader might want to (and have time to) do some of these things. Other times, they will not. Readers will know which (if any) of these ideas will help their family, and can use the appendix accordingly. At our website, there are a few printable pages and supplemental resources related to some of these ideas. They can be found at https://tending-the-garden.com/supplemental-resources-for-the-book-tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/.

I am so grateful to God for His mercy and strength that extends beyond our exhaustion. Perhaps it is when we are most depleted that we are best able to allow Him to work in and through our lives. Certainly it is then that we know His kindness, for He extends grace when we feel that we have nothing left to give. This book (and the project as a whole) is evidence of that, for me. The project was a lot of work, but for me personally, it has also been incredibly restorative and helpful. Glory to God!

I want to thank Elissa for inviting me on this journey with her. Together we invite you and your family to join us, and grow alongside us. It is our prayer that “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” will be a help to those families who read it throughout Great Lent.

Purchase your copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/

Here are a few gleanings from the book:


“Have you ever prayed for someone who was mean to you? God asks us to pray for our enemies, because mean people really need our prayers to help their hearts soften so they will repent, and also because when we pray for someone we begin to see them as God sees them. We begin to love them and to feel sad for them because they are so twisted up and mean and unhappy.” (p. 36, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)


“We Orthodox love to light candles at Pascha and throughout the year. They provide light for our services, but they also remind us of the fire of God. Our God is light and truth—and He comes to us as a fire that burns away sin but does not consume us. When we light candles, we are reminded who our God is.” (p. 65, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)


“Imagine if you were to take a piece of clay and rub it in your warm hands. The clay begins hard and almost solid and impenetrable, like our hearts, but as we work it with our warm hands, the clay becomes soft and flexible. God’s warm presence does that for us; He transforms the hardness of our hearts into softness. And just like that clay, our hearts might just grow hard again if we stop praying for a while, but simply returning to prayer begins to warm us up again.” (p. 83, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)


“Sometimes we expect healing to look a certain way, but in fact what God sends is different from our expectations and much better for us. Like Naaman, when we come to the Lord for healing, if we can humble ourselves we will find that God sends both spiritual and physical healing.” (pp. 119-120, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)


“When we have become non-possessive (meaning that we have stopped caring so much about owning things), we trust completely that God will send whatever we need, as we need it. Instead of trying to own everything we will ever need and holding it tight, we turn to God. We trust that if we need something, He will send it. We pray to God for our needs, but we don’t mention them to anyone else because of our complete faith that God will send what we need. And then when someone gives us what we need, we thank God and recognize that it was really God who sent it.” (p. 145, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)


“…It is never too late. No matter what kind of life we are living, we can truly repent, and God will help us. While some saints are simply saintly from their birth, others spend years of their lives in sin and do terrible things. But God loves the sinners too, and He will help us in our struggles if we repent.” (p. 174, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)


“We don’t know when the Bridegroom will come—the Second Coming of Christ could happen today, or it may not happen for a long time. We just don’t know. But we do know that we have today. Today we can pray, today we can fast, today we can show love to the people around us, softening our hearts and building up that supply of oil. When the time comes, no one can give us soft hearts—we will have to work on our hearts now, by loving God and loving one another.” (p. 208, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)


“On this Holy Thursday, may we all think about how Jesus gives Himself to us. We are not worthy of Him, and yet He comes to live in our hearts. May He live inside of us in Holy Communion, and may we follow His example of humble service and great love.” (p. 214, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)


“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” co-author Kristina Wenger shares three ideas of lenten countdowns which are featured in the book:




Blogger and beautifully creative mom Sarah Gingrich created printable ornaments for each day’s meditation. They can be found in her review of the book, here: https://thelivescript.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/lent-a-hand/


Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading from the Scriptures Part 3: New Testament Stories

As we have discussed in previous blogs, bedtime is an excellent time to share Bible stories with our children. The stories, challenges, and encouragement found in the New Testament offer many examples from the Lord Himself and from His Disciples of how to live a life devoted to God. These stories are therefore an excellent source of bedtime stories and can easily be incorporated into the family bedtime routine.

As with the Old Testament stories we suggested before, New Testament stories can be either read or told to younger children. Older children may prefer to help with the reading. This reading can come straight out of the Scriptures, if desired, or from a story book. Whatever the means, it is vital that we help our children to learn the stories in the Holy Scriptures. Sharing Bible stories (as well as non-story Scriptures) at bedtime is one way that we can make that happen!

Here are a few suggestions of New Testament stories that may be helpful to children at bedtime:

Stories full of the joy that comes from God:

Elizabeth is Expecting a Baby (Luke 1:5-25)

Mary Says “Yes” to God (Luke 1:26-38)

Elizabeth and Mary Happily Thank God Together (Luke 1:39-56)

His Name Is John (Luke 1:57-80)

Jesus is Born (Luke 2:1-21)

Simeon and Anna Meet Jesus (Luke 2:22-38)

Jesus Welcomes the Children (Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-18)

Jesus Brings His Friend Lazarus Back to Life (John 11:1-44)

People Welcome Jesus to Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19)

Jesus is Alive! (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10)

Jesus Surprises His Disciples (Matt. 28:9-10; Mark 16:9-13; Luke 24:13-43; John 20:11-21:25)

Stories that show that God is strong:

Jesus and the Man Who Could Not Walk (Matt 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)

Jesus Heals Jairus’ Daughter (Matt. 9:18-19, 23-26; Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56)

Jesus Helps a Centurion (Matt 8:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56)

Jesus Raises the Widow’s Only Son to Life (Luke 7:11-17)

Jesus Stops a Storm (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25)

Jesus Walks on the Water (Matt 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21)

Some Disciples See that Jesus is God (Matt 17:1-9; Mk 8:31-9:1; Luke 9:22-27)

Ten Sick Men are Healed by Jesus (Luke 17:11-18)

Jesus Heals a Beggar Who is Blind (Mark 10:46-52)

Saul Meets Jesus (Acts 9:1-18)

Dorcas is Raised to Life (Acts 9:36-42)

Stories that demonstrate how God protects His people:

Joseph Obeys God and Saves Baby Jesus (Matt. 2:13-22)

Jesus Tells Stories About How God Wants to Save Everyone:

     One Missing Sheep (Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7)

     The Woman and the Coin (Luke 15:8-10)

     The Son Who Did What He Wanted (Luke 15:11-32)

     What Happened to the Farmer’s Seeds (Matt 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9, 13-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15)

     A Good Shepherd (John 10:1-6)

Saul’s Basket Escape (Acts 9:19-25)

Peter Walks out of Jail (Acts 12:1-19)

Paul and Silas Hang Out with Their Jailor (Acts 16:20-40)

Stories that show how God provides:

Jesus Helps a Bride and Groom (John 2:1-11)

So Many Fish! (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)

Jesus Tells About a Kind Stranger (Luke 10:25-37)

Five Loaves and Two Fish (Matt 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14)

The Holy Spirit Comes to Help the Church (Acts 2:1-41)

Scriptures (not stories) that teach us how to better follow God:

Jesus Preaches on a Mountain:

     Love Everyone, Even Your Enemies (Matt 5:38-48)

     How to Pray (Matt 6:5-15; Luke 11:1-4)

     How to Live (Matt 6:16-34)

     More on How to Live (Matt 7:1-23)

     Two Ways to Build (Matt 7:24-28)

Encouraging Letters from the Apostles:

     The Best Gift (1 Corinth 12:1-31)

     Do Good to Everyone (Gal. 6:1-10)

     Live in God’s Love (1 John 4:7-21)

These are only a few of the New Testament stories and Scripture passages that can be shared with our children. They are not all-inclusive, but they are a place to start! The most important thing is that we find ways to help our children connect with the Holy Scriptures.

Here are additional resources that can help us learn from the Scriptures together at bedtime:
If you missed these links from our Old Testament Bible Stories post, these Orthodox resources can assist us as we teach our children stories from the New Testament:

The Orthodox Study Bible. This translation of the Scriptures offers footnotes filled with insights from Orthodox scholars. If you do not yet have a copy in your home, you can find it here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-study-bible/

The Children’s Bible Reader. This Bible storybook was published by the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece. It has been translated to English, and offers many stories from the Bible that are illustrated in a style similar to iconography. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270

The Children’s Bible Reader is also available online here: http://cbr.goarch.org/


These Bible storybooks are not Orthodox-published but can help an Orthodox Christian family to learn stories from the Bible (both Old and New Testaments):

The Jesus Calling Bible Storybook tells stories from the Bible in simple language that children can understand. The illustrations are gentle and colorful. Each story includes a related Bible verse for the reader to ponder. It also offers a short meditation that can help the reader to think of how Christ can help them just as God helped the person in the story. (Note: because this book is not Orthodox-written, a few of these meditations may need to be omitted, reworded, or discussed after reading to clarify our Orthodox belief on the matter. If you use this book, we advise that you read ahead so that you can be prepared. But as a whole the book is lovely, which is why we are mentioning it.) http://www.thomasnelson.com/jesus-calling-bible-storybook

Before I Dream Bible Storybook tells 60 Bible stories in simple language. Each story is a verbal feast for the senses, drawing in the listener to fully engage in the story. The author did this on purpose, to fully engage children’s thoughts in the Scriptures before bedtime. Although this book is no longer available from its publisher (Tyndale), https://www.amazon.com/Before-Bedtime-Storybook-Henley-Playsongs/dp/1414300921  offers links to new and used versions of the book.

God’s Word For Me Bible Storybook offers 104 stories from the Scriptures in child-friendly language accompanied by pleasant illustrations. Each story ends with an opportunity for application: a verse to ponder or a suggested activity related to the story. http://www.thomasnelson.com/god-s-word-for-me#

Here are links to suggested Scriptures for bedtime meditation:

Here are some verses (from both Old and New Testaments) that can be helpful to think about at bedtime: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/20-great-bible-verses-to-read-before-bed/

And these inspirational verses can be helpful to both children and adults at bedtime: http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/inspirational-bible-verses/

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading from the Scriptures Part 2: Old Testament Stories

As we prepare our children for bed, what a blessing it can be to share with them stories from the Holy Scriptures. Including reading from the Scriptures in our family’s bedtime routine offers each member of the family the gift of learning more about God and His work among us while also opening our minds to Truth. Scripture reading at any time of the day, but especially in the evening when we have time to reflect and think about what we’ve just heard or read as we fall asleep, offers great things for Christians of any age to ponder. So, if we read Scripture passages together at bedtime, our children can lie in bed and truly think about “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

There are so many stories, teachings, and truths in the Scriptures that it may be difficult to know where to begin. Families with very young children will benefit from investing in some Bible storybooks that offer illustrated stories from the scriptures, written in a way that is appropriate for children to understand, and read those together. Families with older children can read the stories straight from the Bible. This offers multiple opportunities: beyond the stories themselves, reading straight from the scriptures helps the children to see where these stories come from, and can also be used as an occasion to help the children to learn how to look things up in the Bible for themselves. Some families commit to reading the whole Bible together by reading a small section at a time. This takes a long time, but it gives them the chance to experience the Scriptures together and discuss each section after the reading.

In the event that you need an idea of a place to start, here are suggestions of Old Testament stories, listed in categories that may be helpful to children at bedtime:

Stories full of the joy that comes from God:
God Calls His Creation Good (Gen. 1:1- 2:3)
Adam and Eve Live in Paradise With God (Gen. 2:7- 2:24)
God Makes a Promise to Noah (Gen. 8:1- 9:17)
God’s Promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1- 12:8; 15:1- 6; 17:1- 9; 17:15- 22; 18:1- 15; 21:1- 6)
Hannah’s Prayers are Answered (1 King. 1:1- 2:10)
A Servant Girl Saves Her Master (4 King. 5:1- 15)
A Young King Brings His People Back to God (2 Chron. 34:1- 35:21)

Stories that show that God is strong:
God Saves His People from Slavery (Ex. 6:28- 12:42; 13:17- 14:31)
The Walls of Jericho Fall (Josh. 1:6- 3:17; 6:1- 19)
David vs. Goliath (I King. 17:1- 29)
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (3 King. 18:1- 30)

Stories that demonstrate how God protects His people:
Young Prince Joash is Saved and Becomes King of Israel (4 King. 11:1- 14; 17; 19- 12: 9) Esther Saves Her People (Esther 2:5- 8:12)
Ruth Finds a New Family (Ruth 1:1- 4:17)
The Three Hebrew Youths are Saved from the Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3:1-97)
Daniel Obeys God and an Angel Protects Him from Lions (Daniel 6: 1-29)

Stories that show how God provides:
Joseph Rescues His Family (Gen. 37:1-36; 39:1- 45:8)
Baby Moses is Safe (Ex. 1:7- 2:10)
The Hungry Hebrew People Have Food and Water in the Desert (Ex. 15:22- 17:7)
Elijah and the Ravens (3 King. 17:1- 6)
Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath (3 King. 17:8- 24)
God Works Miracles Through Elisha (4 King. 4:1- 7; 8-37; 38-44)

There are so many scriptures that can be shared with our children at bedtime. These are only a few of them. We recommend that you select the stories you want your children to know, and start there!

Here are a few resources that may be helpful as you read from the Scriptures together at bedtime:

The Orthodox Study Bible. This translation of the Scriptures offers footnotes filled with insights from Orthodox scholars. If you do not have a copy in your home yet, find it here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-study-bible/


The Children’s Bible Reader. This Bible storybook was published by the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece. It has been translated to English, and offers many stories from the Bible that are illustrated in a style similar to iconography. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270


Bible Stories for the Very Young. This Bible storybook offers vibrantly colored pictures that perfectly illustrate the simply-told stories. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Stories-Young-Sally-Grindley/dp/0747535523/


Words to Dream On. This beautifully-illustrated Bible storybook offers many simply-told Bible stories. Each story has a short related thought and one-line prayer that reflects on the story. (Author’s note: This is the bedtime Bible story book for kids that I like best of all the ones I found while working on this project. It is lovely.) Find it here: http://www.thomasnelson.com/words-to-dream-on


365 Read-Aloud Bedtime Bible Stories offers one Bible story each day for an entire year. The stories are very short, written simply, and printed in large type that is easy for young readers to read for themselves. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Bedtime-Bible-Story-Book-Read-aloud/dp/1557482640


For upper-elementary-aged children:
Find 84 Bible stories from the Old Testament that can be read online or printed here: http://kids.christiansunite.com/biblestories_old_testament.shtml

Find 125 readings* (for upper elementary aged students) from the Old Testament in the online Bible “storybook” found here: http://biblehub.com/childrens/ *note: the wording in some of these stories can be a bit difficult to navigate, so you may want to read or retell them using language your children can best understand


In addition to reading Bible stories/the Scriptures together, you may want to help your children work on memorizing verses or simply bless your children with Scripture verses as they fall asleep. Here are a few suggestions of ways to do so:
This family offers Psalms as prayers to ponder as their children go to sleep: http://www.intoxicatedonlife.com/2013/07/18/psalms-to-use-for-bedtime-prayers/

And here are some comforting Old Testament verses that you can offer to your children for them to think about as they fall asleep: http://christianity.about.com/od/prayersverses/a/Comforting-Bible-Verses.htm


Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading From the Scriptures Part 1: Introduction and a Few Resources

In prior posts, we have discussed the importance of establishing a bedtime routine. Gathering together as a family, calming down together, and reading together are all things we can do as part of a nightly routine that benefits our children. For the next few posts, we will take a look at reading stories from Scripture. This post will share the survey results along with a few possible resources. In forthcoming posts we will suggest stories to share with your children from both the Old and New Testaments.

Once again, we thank the participants who filled out our summer survey. Of those who took time to complete our survey, 70% answered the “how do you select which Scriptures to read?” question, implying that they include reading scriptures in their routine.

Here is how they answered:

22 %  – We follow the daily Bible readings prescribed by the Church.
45% – We read from a Bible storybook.
10% – We are reading our way through the whole Bible, one section at a time.

The rest offered these answers:

  • “Our kids go to a Christian School and we may start with what they’ve read that day to discuss our perspective as Orthodox Christians on the topic.”
  • “We may read the children’s Bible if she shows interest.”
  • “Either a Bible storybook or from the daily readings. Sometimes both.”
  •  “Kids may request certain stories, or I choose, or we try and find something close to the church calendar.”
  •  “Our kids choose daily stories, we read them stories that go with the Feast Day.”
  •  “We follow the readings, though not perfectly, and we read additionally from various story books or according to relevant feasts or lessons.”
  •  “Sometimes we follow daily readings, sometimes we are inspired by the upcoming feast, sometimes we just work our way through Bible storybook.”
  •  “The daily Bible verses and a Psalm or a chapter from Proverbs.”
  • “Home school lessons.”

And these respondents’ families include Scripture reading in their routine, just not at bedtime:

  • “We don’t read scripture at bedtime. We do that after lunch.”
  • “We read through a Bible storybook in the mornings.”
  • “We read from a Bible story book on Sunday afternoons.”

As you can see, there are many ways to select which Scriptures/Bible stories to share with your children. Here are a few related resources that may be helpful to your family. Note: not all of them are Orthodox, but they are helpful enough that we decided to  included them. What Scriptures and/or Bible storybooks does your family read together? Please share them in the comments below!


“Bible stories can be paraphrased in simple language and told enthusiastically to your youngsters. If possible, try to follow the church calendar of daily readings for your selection of a Bible story on a given night. With younger children, the focus can simply be on the Sunday Gospel and Epistle reading. As a means of introduction, as well as reinforcement, the reading can be discussed daily on the week prior to that Sunday reading.” https://oca.org/the-hub/the-church-on-current-issues/nourishing-children-in-christ1

This Orthodox Bible storybook, The Children’s Bible Reader, is written at a 3rd grade level, but children of other ages can definitely enjoy reading it or hearing it read to them. http://www.svspress.com/childrens-bible-reader-illustrated-old-new-testaments/

The Children’s Bible Reader an Orthodox Children’s Bible storybook, is also online! Read (or listen to) the stories here: http://cbr.goarch.org/

In case you are not aware of it, we offer a weekly podcast featuring Sunday’s Gospel, told in simpler words for younger children, and read for older children. Listen to the podcast, called “Let Us Attend,” here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. There are also printable handouts at five different levels available to share with your children: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend


The Read and Share Bedtime Bible and Devotional offers 200 simply-written stories from the Bible, as well as 50 devotional readings that can help families focus on God before going to sleep. Geared to young children, it can also be enjoyed by slightly older ones. https://www.amazon.com/Read-Share-Bedtime-Bible-Devotional/dp/1400320836/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476889361&sr=1-1&keywords=9781400320837


Words to Dream On: This Bible storybook has selected Bible stories that focus on “God’s love, care, protection, trustworthiness, and power.” It offers 50 different Bible stories, each with a short Bible verse for the family to ponder, as well as a prayer related to the story. http://www.thomasnelson.com/words-to-dream-on#


365 Bible Stories for Young Hearts offers one story for each day of the year. This book is an easy way for families to read their way through the Bible (well, through many of its stories) in one year. https://www.amazon.com/365-Bible-Stories-Young-Hearts/dp/158134807X



On Learning the Scriptures by Creating a Scripture Journal

Recently, we have looked at the importance of memorizing the Scriptures and helping our children to do the same. This blog post will offer another way to meditate on (and even memorize) the Scriptures: through Scripture journaling. When you maintain a Scripture journal, you meditate on and/or memorize the Scriptures by creating an artistic illustration of a different Scripture passage on each page of the journal. There are many ways to do so, and you do not need to be an artist to create a Scripture journal. If you can write or if you can doodle, you can create one of these journals. Even young family members can make a Scripture journal! It is a fun, creative way to delve into the scriptures, and many members of the family can enjoy doing this exercise together.

You will need a blank journal for each family member who wishes to participate. You will also want to round up pens, pencils, markers, crayons, colored pencils, watercolors; whatever art supplies you wish to work with in your journal. (Note: remember that if you plan to use markers or watercolors in your journaling, you will want a journal with thick pages so that the colors do not bleed through to the next page. You will also want to place extra paper behind each page as you work, to absorb any possible bleed-through.)

Select a verse (or verses) which you want to ponder or memorize. Decide how you will illustrate that passage. You can simply write it in your own handwriting, thinking about the meaning as you write, and perhaps writing a few of the keywords in a way that emphasizes their meaning. This is a very basic way to Scripture journal, but it achieves the goal of engaging the Scriptures and meditating on each word.


Once you are comfortable with that method, you could write the passage in a similar way, but add some color and a few small illustrative pieces to help bring out the meaning of the passage.


Perhaps you would rather meditate on the passage by creating a sketch that helps you to learn its meaning. If that is the method you prefer, you can print out the passage, tape it into your journal on one side, and create an illustration on the other page that helps you think about and learn the passage.


If you are memorizing the passage, one way to do so is to print it out and glue it in the middle of a journal page. Read through it several times, and then continue to repeat it to yourself as you create a colorful design around it. Zentangle patterns work well for this type of journal piece, and can give you ideas for your design. Repetitive doodling is great for meditation, so, as you are working, continue to repeat the passage. You will memorize the passage and have a beautiful addition to your journal when you finish!


It could also be that the passage will lend itself to a particular idea of how it should be illustrated. If that is the case, you can create your illustration around the passage, gluing a copy of the passage in the midst of the piece.


You could also hand write the passage right in the midst of your illustration.


These are only a few of the variety of ways to create a Scripture journal. If this method of Scripture meditation/memorization appeals to you, by all means, try it! Your final results may not be museum-worthy, and that’s okay. The purpose of the exercise is not to create a stunning work of art for the world to see. The act of Scripture journaling is intended to help you to learn more about the Scriptures, to meditate on their meaning, and to commit them to memory. The final product will serve as a reminder of your work of meditation and memorization.

“And we, too, who do no more than listen to the Scriptures, should devote ourselves to them and meditate on them so constantly that through our persistence a longing for God is impressed upon our hearts [and thereby we shall be amazed to] see how the wisdom of God renders what is difficult easy, so that gradually it deifies man.” ~ Saint Peter of Damaskos


Here are some links that you may find helpful as you begin your Scripture journaling:

Here is a blog post about Scripture journaling. This journaler uses both lined and unlined pages when she creates a piece: http://michelleperkett.blogspot.com/2015/11/new-mps-bible-art-journaling.html

Want to try your hand at Scripture journaling, but don’t know where to start? Take this 30 day challenge: http://karachupp.com/shall-write-copy-30-day-challenge/

Here’s an excellent blog on doodling that incorporates Scriptures into the doodles:  https://1arthouse.wordpress.com/doodles-101/

This artist uses some zentangle techniques in Scripture journaling: http://www.zenspirations.com/galleries/scriptures/

This Scripture journaler has illustrated passages in a more “smash journal” style: http://www.carissagraham.com/2012/03/i-made-book-scripture-scraps.html

Need inspiration to draw an illustration for the Scripture passage you are memorizing/pondering? Here are a few beautiful pieces where the artist drew an illustration and incorporated the passage in her own handwriting. http://peggyapl.blogspot.com/search?q=prayer+journal

Consider taking this 31-day challenge to begin your family’s adventure in Scripture art journaling: http://artbyerinleigh.blogspot.com/2012/09/31-days-of-scripture-art-journaling-day.html




Verse-of-the-Week Box Tutorial

One way to learn scripture is to have it constantly in sight! Here is a tutorial to make a “Verse-of-the-Week” box to keep at a place where you will see it frequently. (The kitchen sink, bathroom mirror, or on a bedside table would be three possible places that could work well for this!) Each week, a different verse can be displayed in the metal curlicue “verse holder.” Each time you see the verse, read it aloud and then repeat it to yourself a few times. By the end of the week, you can have the whole verse memorized!


To make your own “Verse-of-the-Week” box:

Purchase a square hinge-lidded wooden box (mine was $1 at our local craft store, and came with an embedded magnet closure!) and some jewelry wire (14 gauge or thicker).


You will also need craft paint, a paintbrush, an oil paint marker (or paint in another color and a thin brush), a needle-nose pliers, newspaper, a drill with a bit about the width of your wire, and spray varnish (if desired).


Cover your work surface and paint the wooden box. I painted mine inside and out, allowing one side to dry at a time.


Once the paint is completely dry, write “Verse of the Week” on the lid of the box. Be careful to have the hinges on the left of the lid when you write. Then, when the box stands upright, the hinges will be on the left when you open the box to pull out a new verse. 


If desired, spray the entire box with varnish.


Use the cutting edge in your needle nose pliers to cut a 7”- 8” length of the jewelry wire. Then, holding one end of the wire in the needle nose, carefully twist the end of the wire into a tight spiral, curling it around itself about 3 times, and leaving about 2” on the straight end. Flatten the spiral curlicue inside itself until it is nearly flat. This curlicue will be your verse holder.


Turn the box on its side, lid side towards you (upright, lid shut, so you can see “Verse of the Week” facing you). This is how your box will stand when it is in use. Mark the center of the now-top of the box. Drill straight down into that mark as far as you can (try not to go through to the inside of the box). Insert the straight end of the metal curlicue into the drilled hole. If for some reason it fits loosely, add a dab of strong glue (such as Super Glue or E6000) before inserting the curlicue. Allow it to dry and paint the box paint color on top of the glue if needed. Be sure that the curlicue curls parallel to the front (lid) of the box.  


Select 52 verses that you wish to focus on for the year. Write them out on cards or type them and print them out on cardstock, several verses per page. Trim the printed verses down to cards that will fit inside your box. Store the verses inside the box.

12636904_10207445361003977_1614622009_o.jpgSelect one verse each week to stand in the curlicue. You may need to adjust the curlicue spiral to more open or more closed so that it will hold the card. Read, re-read, and memorize!


Find one set of printable verses, all 52 of them from the Gospel of Matthew (shown in the photos) here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/52versesmatthew.pdf 

More on the Liturgy of the Word

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy. The intent of the series is to remind us of what our children are learning about the service. That way we as a family can better understand what is happening around us during the Liturgy, and together we can more fully enter into “the offering of the people for the whole world!” (Photos courtesy of Teaching Pics: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics.)

Let us now look closely at the second part of The Liturgy of the Word, which begins with the reading of the Epistle. What happens during this important part of the Divine Liturgy? What are our children learning about it? How can we all best contribute to and benefit from this part of the service?

This part of the Divine Liturgy contains important readings from scripture; that’s how it got its name. “…The first part of the Liturgy –the “word” – contained all of the readings from the Old and New Testaments – the “Word” of God.” http://www.uocyouth.org/files/Download/hgh%20february%20liturgy%20of%20the%20word.pdf

Here’s a brief (grownup version) synopsis of what is happening during the Liturgy of the Word: “As an introduction to the first reading, a Psalm verse (Prokeimenon) is sung as a refrain, with other Psalm verses. The reader then reads a designated portion from an Epistle (letter by an Apostle) or the Acts of the Apostles (a short history of the Church in Jerusalem after Christ’s Resurrection). Before the Gospel is read, it is preceded by the refrain “Alleluia” sung three times along with selected Psalm verses. During the Alleluia, the altar, icons, temple, and people are incensed in preparation for hearing the holy Gospel and to remind us of God’s presence through His Word — Jesus Christ — in the Gospel. The deacon, if one is present, or a priest then reads the appointed Gospel of the day. The Gospel is the Word of God given to us as food and nourishment for our souls. This is followed by a sermon or time of instruction on what we have just heard in the Scriptures or on some other theme.

“The Liturgy of the Word… ends following the Litany of the Catechumens. This litany prays for those who are being instructed in the Faith and who are preparing for Baptism and admission into the Church… Today, throughout the world in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, [and in Latin America, as well] there are many people who are catechumens preparing for Baptism. They need our prayers, and the prayers of this litany. If nothing else, this litany reminds us again and again that we are to be a missionary and evangelizing Church — that is, a Church bringing the good news of the Gospel to those who have not come to believe in Christ and who are not members of His Body, the Holy Orthodox Church.” from “The Orthodox Liturgy Part 2: The Liturgy of the Word,” by Archimandrite Alexander Cutler, http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/olit-word.htm.

Our children are also learning about what happens at this part of the service. “Before we listen to the Gospel read in church, the priest says, ‘Let us attend!’ This means ‘pay attention.’ The church is censed. This lets us know that something important is to happen. First we hear a reading from the Epistles, letters of advice written by St. Paul. After this, we listen to the priest (or the deacon) read from the Holy Gospel Book… As we listen each Sunday to the reading of the Gospel, …we learn how Jesus lived and how He wants us to live. The priest explains the Gospel reading in his sermon and helps us to understand how we can make the lesson part of our life.” “Hearing God’s Words in Church” by Mick Mirovic, Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Gospel” #55, p. 12, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf. “As we listen, we gather His [our Savior’s] words into our minds and hearts as treasures…” The Way the Truth the Life, p. 31, available here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2013-2014_book_list_and_order_form.pdf.

Our children are learning about small details from the Liturgy, including what the word “prokeimenon” means and what the prokeimenon is. “The prokeimenon, which literally means “that which goes before,” is a verse from the Old Testament that is suited to the particular Epistle and prepares the people to listen.” Teaching Pics, back of picture #9, available at <a “http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics”>http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics.


Our children are learning what the Epistles are and why they are important for us: “Some of the apostles… wrote letters of instruction, or epistles, to the newly formed Christian communities. Many of these New Testament books bear the name of the community or person to whom they are written… These letters encourage the faithful to persevere despite obstacles, and sometimes chastise them for quarreling or immoral behavior. they are important because they continue to teach us how to live as Christians.” The Way the Truth the Life, p. 32, available here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2013-2014_book_list_and_order_form.pdf

Our children are also learning where the Gospels came from and what the Gospel book is. “Everything that we know about Jesus Christ’s life on earth was written down by four of His friends and can be found in a book called the Holy Gospel. The book of the Gospel is really four books put together. We can always see this book on the altar table.” ~ from an article called “the Four Evangelists,” Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Gospel” #55, p. 5, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf

Our children are learning why the Gospels were written: “When we get a new tv or computer, we always read the instruction manual so that we will know how to make it work properly. The Gospels are our instruction manual in which God teaches us how to live our lives so that the ‘picture’ and the ‘sound’ of our lives are in focus, bringing us the joy and fulfillment which is God’s promise to us.” ~ “The Good News of the Gospel” by Natalie Ahanin, Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Gospel” #55, p. 7, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf

Our children should also be learning about catechumens. We have the opportunity during every Divine Liturgy to pray for those people in our community and around the world who have not yet joined the Holy Orthodox Church. The Liturgy of the Word finishes with the chance to remember them in our prayers.

So, besides praying for catechumens, how can we best participate and help with this portion of “the offering of the people for the whole world?” There are a variety of ways: We contribute to the Liturgy of the Word by standing upright during the readings, to show our respect for God’s words. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives when we listen attentively to the Epistle and Gospel being read and to our priest’s homily. As mentioned above, we work together with the saints and angels on behalf of the catechumens when we pray the Litany of the Catechumens.

A little preparation ahead of time can help us to be ready for the Liturgy of the Word. When we have a little time to talk together, we should ask our children what they know about this part of the Divine Liturgy. We can discuss any or all of the above with our children, to make sure they understand, if there is any part that they didn’t already know about. Every Sunday, we should also prepare for this part of the service on our way to church. How? Well, for example, our family has a half hour commute to our parish. We have learned that this gives us enough time to pray together our morning prayers and begin to ready our minds for the forthcoming liturgy. As we drive, we also read together the Epistle and Gospel readings for the day. That way we have two opportunities to hear them, in the event that our minds should drift during one of them! Each family will need to think creatively, and discover the way that works for them, to prepare themselves for the Liturgy of the Word.


Following are some posts related to the Liturgy of the Word.

About the Liturgy of the Word: “Sometimes it is difficult for young people to understand the epistle and gospel readings. Each week ask them to explain the readings in their own words and guide them through the process.” ~ a suggestion from http://www.uocyouth.org/files/Download/hgh%20february%20liturgy%20of%20the%20word.pdf


About the Liturgy of the Word: “When Christ preached the gospel he gathered the apostles and sent them to preach his word. That is why the epistle is read at this point. Again, Christ continued to preach the gospel and to work miracles. Thus the gospel is read, either by the deacon (who represents the apostles) or by the priest (who represents Christ). Incense is offered between the epistle and the gospel reading, because of what has been said: we are Christ’s fragrance before God when we teach God’s word.” http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/theophilos_divine_liturgy.htm


This week’s Divine Liturgy blog focuses on the Holy Scriptures as they are read during the Divine Liturgy. Are you aware how much of the Divine Liturgy itself is actually scripture?!? Check out an abbreviated synopsis (in the form of an image embedded in the blog) here: http://www.theophany.org/services-scripture-in-the-divine-liturgy.php (If you want to go even more in-depth with this, read this http://www.scribd.com/doc/36956193/The-Scriptures-in-the-The-Divine-Liturgy#scribd.)


One way to prepare for the Gospel reading in Sunday’s Divine Liturgy is to read it together as a family beforehand. Another option is to listen to it! Each Sunday’s Gospel reading is presented in two formats (read straight from scripture and retold at an easier-to-understand level) here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Download printable pdfs of these readings; complete with thought-provoking questions written at 5 levels here: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.


“In order to fulfil the words of Christ, you must know them! Read the Holy Gospel, penetrate its spirit, and make it the rule of your life.” ~ St. Nikon of Optina http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/originals/b6/59/91/b65991d7cefe06ff20e4be25dd2c1a38.jpg


“The Divine Liturgy as Teacher”

“How do we learn?  Must be active participants in the process.  Must prepare.  This is not entertainment, but a life experience; the quality of that experience is up to us.  Some are transformed into saints by their participation, others waste this powerful time by daydreaming, just trying to enjoy the music, or gutting it out.  It is the same as in school (we get out of it what we put into it), but the lesson being taught is so much more important.  The homily is part of that.  If we have prepared through prayer, fasting, and the study of Scripture, then we will benefit from even the most dull preacher presenting the most formulaic sermon.  Again, we control what we get out of the lesson.  We need to work with the Holy Spirit so that God can speak whatever words we need to hear into our minds and hearts.” ~ from http://www.orthoanalytika.org/2013/12/22/teaching-the-divine-liturgy-meditations/