For many families in our community, we are deep into the season of spring, that special time of year when things are growing, budding, green, and flowering. We have gathered a few fun spring family activities to share. It is our hope that you will find an activity or two that will help your family to create a happy memory in these final weeks of spring. Here are some of the ideas that we found:
Whether or not your family has “kindness elves” to help encourage you to act in kind ways, the spring ideas posted here are a lovely way to step out into the spring air and do something that will be helpful to someone else. Print the free “leaves” with kindness suggestions on them, cut them out, and keep a bowl of them ready for reading/doing. If you don’t have “kindness elves”, you can still use the leaves: pull one from the bowl each day, do what it suggests, and add that leaf to an empty grapevine “kindness wreath.” By the time you get to the end of spring, your wreath will be green and your hearts will be happy! https://theimaginationtree.com/25-spring-acts-kindness-ideas-kids-free-printable/
Note: This book sat on my shelf for several weeks, waiting until I had time to read and review it. Despite the delay, it turns out that the timing is perfect. Here we are, right in the midst of the Paschal season, and the book is full of references to the Resurrection of Christ. And it should be so! For how else can we, Christ’s followers, better celebrate His Resurrection than by responding with joy? If we truly know and believe what He has accomplished for us, our “light and momentary troubles” – yes, even the impossible ones we may be facing at this very moment – pale in comparison to His victory. St. John Chrysostom’s homily which we all just heard at Pascha says, “Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!” My brothers and sisters, let us join with the angels!
Phoebe Farag Mikhail’s book “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” is a balm for the disheartened soul. The author has found a way to simultaneously calm, soothe, and reassure the reader while also challenging them to live in an attitude of godly joy. Readers will step away from the book knowing what they need to do, with tools at the ready to assist them as they pursue true joy.
The book begins with an invitation section which answers the question, “What is joy?;” then offers insights into who/what steals joy from our life. The (much larger) second section of the book introduces seven joyful practices. These seven practices which the author offers as means to the pursuit of joy include: praying the hours; visiting the sick; repenting; giving thanks; offering hospitality; praying arrow prayers; and singing praises to God. Each practice is expounded via stories (both from the author’s experience and from others), scriptures, quotes from Church fathers, contemporary writings, scientific findings (as appropriate), and more. The book closes with an appropriate epilogue, casting the joy-filled light of the resurrection on a modern story of martyrdom which to the world seems to be only a tragedy.
The author admits that it took her five years to write this book from beginning to end. This was not because she had to search for so long to find all the right quotes or because she only has to write in the few moments left here and there to a wife/mother (who also happens to be a Coptic priest’s wife). Rather, she took five years to write the book because, at one point as she was writing, she found herself not practicing joy. She wanted the book to be genuine, tested, lived, so she set the writing aside and worked on her heart. It is my opinion that it was worth her wait. The text is a smooth blend of stories, practical advice, and wisdom founded on the strong base of Scripture and the wisdom of the Church fathers.
Although the author is a Coptic Orthodox Christian, this book is written in such a way that any reader who wants to live a more joyful Christian life will benefit greatly from having read the book. The references to Christian practices exercised in Ms. Mihail’s Church may differ from some other expressions of Christianity, but the ideas behind them are helpful to any follower of Christ. “Putting Joy into Practice” helps its readers to find practical ways to live out St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians (and to us): “Rejoice always… for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16, 18)
If you are generally a joyful person, read this book. It will give you reasons to continue choosing joy, as well as tools to boost your not-so-joyful days. If you are a complainer and grouch, say a prayer and then read this book, but prepare to change your attitude. Ms. Mikhail’s challenge is difficult to dodge, because the scriptures and Church fathers are pretty straightforward. Regardless of the attitude of their heart at the beginning of the book, readers will step away from it with a smile on their face and – better yet – with joy in their heart.
“Why is living in joy so hard? What can we do to live in the joy of the Resurrection when there are so many ways our joy can be stolen? As I pondered these questions, they led me on a path of trying to learn why joy is so hard, but more importantly, to learn how to live in joy, how to protect it from the thieves that strive to steal it, and how to share it with others.” (p. 8, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“We might not be happy every day; in fact, we might face suffering every day. But we can have joy every day. Running after joy is akin to holding a cup upside down. Joy is there, waiting to be given, but it doesn’t enter in. Rather than running after joy the way we might seek after pleasures or happy circumstances, we must instead rest and reorient ourselves into a posture of receiving, not running. The practices I share here are meant to help us reorient ourselves, to turn our cup right side up so that joy enters, and we exclaim, in the words of the psalmist, ‘My cup runs over’ (Psalm 23:5).” (pp. 15-16, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“Joy thieves can be just like the little animals that steal tomatoes from the garden. On the outside, they can be small, cute, and furry, even comforting, and yet somehow they can still manage to steal our joy. The early church fathers called them ‘the passions.’ In this context, passions are not to be completely confused with our modern use of the word to describe a positive, driven desire to do something good or meaningful. Nor are they to be confused with the ‘passion of Christ,’ which is related to the Latin word for suffering and endurance. Rather, these passions are extreme versions of human behavior that lead to sin.” (p. 22, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“Praying the Hours helps us, even in the bustle of our days, to stand in God’s presence and feel this ‘fullness of joy.’ The Hours are not just for ascetics, then, but even for busy, distracted laypeople, an anchor to pull us away from the storms of life into God’s presence and the presence of the entire community of believers. The moment I pick up my prayer book to pray, someone else is praying the same prayer, someone else has prayed another prayer a few moments before me, and others will be praying when I stop. In this way, when I pray the Psalms, I become part of an eternal chorus, even if it seems like I am praying alone. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:20)” (p. 37, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“The common thread running through these experiences is that visiting the sick is not about finding the right words to say, giving a sermon, or asking intrusive questions. A visit to the sick that brings the joy of the Holy Spirit is a visit that provides giving, listening, and connection. Bring bright flowers, a gift, a meal, or your hands and feet to serve when needed or asked. Bring listening ears and the ability to be silent when necessary. Bring a smile, a song to sing, or a story to tell. Bring a piece of art or craft you have made—-or bring supplies to create something together. Be joy, and expect the experience the joy of visiting Christ himself. Christ certainly needs no sermons from us.” (p. 61, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“Repentance makes room for joy within us, room that was previously filled with sin, shame, and fear. When we repent by turning our lives around like the prodigal son and the Samaritan woman, we experience its joy, and it is contagious. The heavens rejoice. The church rejoices. We cannot help sharing that joy with others, so they too might encounter Christ. Putting joy into practice means practicing repentance, even on a daily basis.” (p. 76, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“I am learning… that when I thank God ‘in any condition, in every condition, and in whatever condition,’ I might not be asking God to take me out of a condition of suffering, or even to see a silver lining around that suffering. Rather, I am thanking him in that condition of suffering, and sometimes I might even thank him for that suffering… Thanking God for suffering is… acknowledging that perhaps that suffering can serve a greater purpose.” (p. 85, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“Sometimes discovering who needs hospitality is a matter of taking a few moments to sit outside, linger on your front porch, or say hello to the neighbor living on the same floor in your apartment building. We might feel overwhelmed by great needs of the world presented to us on the news, but it is our simple acts of hospitality that will change the world, not our worries.” (p. 122, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“These days, when we find ourselves waiting, we fill the time by looking at our smartphones, checking our social media feeds or our emails, making every moment a constant input of information—often information we cannot control or tasks we cannot take action on while in line or sitting in traffic. This can add to our general sense of stress and lack of control… Using arrow prayers can help us reclaim control of our time and energy. Information overload drains us, but prayer fills us.” (pp. 127-128, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
Need to learn a few “arrow” prayers? Here are some of the arrow prayers found on pp. 136 -137 of “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. You may wish to print them onto cardstock, cut them apart, and glue to decorative paper or a blank index card (which you can decorate if you’re so inclined). Place these prayers around the house, in your purse or briefcase, even in the car so that you remember to pray.
“The joy of the Lord’s presence starts in the fiery furnace, not outside it… We begin the hymn [of the three saintly youths in the fiery furnace] with an exhortation to the youth in the fire to sing to the Son of God who is there with them in their suffering—and therefore also in their joy. This exhortation applies to us as well. We don’t wait to praise God until after we are saved from the furnace, when our prayers are answered the way we hope they will be. We praise him even in our troubles, acknowledging and confessing that he is there with us in those troubles. When we can wipe away from our eyes the smoke of our problems and praise him, we see him in his glory there—and this is powerful. This is joy.” (p. 146, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
“My hope is that, by drawing from examples of how my church helps us live in the joy of the Resurrection, this book might open your eyes to the ways your tradition helps you practice joy. Once you begin to see it, whether you are in a happy situation or in great pain, it is all joy.” (p. 163, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)
Christine Rogers’ new book, “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a comfortable fit for its readers. The language is simple enough for mid-elementary-level readers to read on their own. The story line is intriguing, though, and will capture the attention of younger or older children as well as the adults who read this book.
Young Spyros’ family is hard-working, but nonetheless they experience one hardship after another. The book tells the story of how Spyros (a nickname for Spyridon) and his family face each of their struggles with faith. It also reveals the ways in which God chooses to send help.
The grandfatherly man who arrives and helps Spyros when he badly cuts his foot early in the story is, interestingly enough, also named Spyridon. Spyros offers to call the grandfather “Abba” and the man accepts that nickname. After the first meeting, Abba continues to show up in Spyros’ life, helping him as needed and inspiring him to do what is right. It takes the reader almost the entirety of the book to realize that “Abba” is actually Saint Spyridon himself, appearing to and physically assisting his young namesake who truly needs his help.
Although “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a work of fiction, it is a highly believable and delightful read. This book very naturally shares much of the wisdom of St. Spyridon, challenging readers to growth in their own Christian walk, without the reader feeling at all that they are being preached at by anyone. It incorporates some true stories of ways in which God has used St. Spyridon in the lives of those who have asked for (and received) his help. The book offers a glimpse into the saint’s real life on earth, within the context of a fictitious story.
Besides the story itself, there are a few extras that make this book so helpful to its readers. Vladimir Ilievski’s cover and occasional illustrations throughout the book are true to the story, giving readers a face for each Spyridon, while also bringing to life the setting on Corfu. The pages about St. Spyridon himself, found near the end of the book, help readers to learn even more about this wonderful saint. His troparion and icon are at the end of the book, for those who wish to ask for his prayers and see his icon.
This book is an enjoyable read for young and old alike. Children will resonate with Spyros and love his story so much that they will slip back into it, re-reading the book from time to time. Just like St. Spyridon’s shoes, this book will be well-worn by the families and libraries who own it. Here’s hoping that Christine Rogers keeps writing books like this!
Here are a few gleanings from the book (mostly quotes from “Abba”/St. Spyridon, so as not to give away any of the story line), as well as a handful of resources that can help your family learn more about St. Spyridon and his miracles:
“Spyros sat down, and the old man took his foot again. He tore a piece of fabric from the bottom of his cassock and used it to gently dry and wrap Spyros’ injury. He then took one of his own shoes and eased it over the bulky bandage.” (p. 22, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)
“‘Pray in the little things, pray in the big things. Leave everything to Him.’ Abba lifted his hand and showed Spyros the rope he was holding. ‘This is a prayer rope… For each knot on the prayer rope, say a prayer. Even the simplest prayer works great good in our hearts.’” (pp. 34-35, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)
(Spyros is talking to his friend Niko about Abba here:) “‘…when he talks about God, he does it in a way that makes me want to listen instead of staring out a window at church, just waiting for liturgy to be over.’ He looked at his friend. ‘I know it is strange, but I still hope that you can meet him. And then he will say to you the same thing he always says to me— “Until we meet again, may God bless you.’”’ (pp. 50-51, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)
“‘It is good to have goals and to make plans, Spyros,’ Abba said, ‘but you must remember to give all those plans and goals to God in heaven. Ask for His blessings and mercy before you begin any task.’” (p. 57, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)
“‘Saint Spyridon is the patron saint of our island,’ his father replied. ‘Many times he has saved the people here from invasion and enemies. Once,there was a great famine, and no one had any food to eat. By the prayers of Saint Spyridon, a storm blew a ship off course, and the ship was full of grain. It landed here on Corfu, and the people were saved from starvation.’” (p. 79, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)
“Spyros reached his hand out to touch the icon on top of the reliquary. Father Theodore continued to speak. ‘Saint Spyridon is famous for his miracles and for appearing to people in need. He walks about so much helping people that he wears out his shoes. In fact, every year, we open his reliquary and give him new ones.’”(p. 84, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)
St. Spyridon was present at the first ecumenical council. At that council, he used a brick to demonstrate the unity of the Trinity. He held the brick in his hand and then squeezed it. Miraculously, fire shot up from it, water dripped out of it onto the ground, and then all that was left in his hand was dust. “There was only one brick,” Saint Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.” Read this and more about the life of St. Spyridon, including many miracles worked in his lifetime, here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2000/12/12/103526-st-spyridon-the-wonderworker-and-bishop-of-tremithus
Ancient Faith Publishing’s editors have compiled and created a beautifully illustrated guide that will help children to prepare their hearts for confession. “A Child’s Guide to Confession” is full of helpful information and questions as well as beautiful illustrations. Here is a brief overview of the book, followed by a few gleanings from its pages.
Don’t let the child-friendly size fool you: it may be small, but this little book is gold. Its engaging illustrations paired with text which gently nudges readers towards repentance make each of its 104 pages invaluable. The book is divided into color-coded sections including a welcome; what confession is; preparing for confession; self-examination; prayers and scriptures to read while waiting for confession; a prayer after confession; a note for parents; and an extensive glossary explaining difficult terms found elsewhere in the book.
The book acknowledges that there are many ways to prepare for confession. The editors decided to focus on 1 Corinthians 13 for this book. God is Love, so it follows that Orthodox Christians prepare for confession by looking at their actions in light of love to see how they measure up, discover where they have fallen short, then repent and confess those shortfalls. Each phrase of the scripture is appropriately illustrated and is followed by a number of child-friendly questions related to the phrase.
Throughout the book, Nicholas Malara’s illustrations offer glimpses into the lives of Orthodox children who are interacting with the Church and their world. The illustrations make the book more accessible to young children, and more delightful for older children. They truly bring Orthodoxy to life for a child (and a few even include a subtle touch of humor that will make the reader smile!).
This book is a must-have for any Orthodox Christian family. It will help children to embrace confession, and walk them through the entire process, from beginning to prepare for confession all the way to the rejoicing that follows. Children of all ages (parents included!) will benefit from preparing their hearts for confession with this little gem.
Contributors to the project include Elissa Bjeletich, Fr. Noah Bushelli, Fr. Nicholas Speier, and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.
Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few additional resources to help you help your children to prepare for confession :
“When preparing for confession, find a peaceful place where you can sit and pray and think. If it helps, have a pencil and some paper handy to help you remember what you’d like to confess to your priest. Always start by asking the Holy Spirit to help you…” (p. 15, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
“You will be speaking to God directly, reminding Him that you believe in Him, that you are one of His disciples, and you will be saying sorry for the things you have done that have created distance between you…” (p. 19, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
“Love is kind.
Have I hurt a person or an animal on purpose?
…Have I been caring when someone gets hurt?
Have I ignored someone who needed help?” (p. 25, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
“A Prayer from St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain
O Jesus, the most-good goodness
I have done no good before You;
But grant that I may make a beginning because of Your goodness.” (p. 48, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
“Now you are at church, waiting your turn to speak with the priest and offer your confession. While you wait, read thoughtfully through a selection of these prayers or Bible verses to help soften your heart…” (p. 51, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
“Dear Child of God,
You did it! The distance that came between you and Christ is now erased. All of the beauty and light and goodness that is beaming out of Him is beaming out of you too! For He is filling you with His powerful light…” (p. 73, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
“Preparation for confession is best founded in daily watchfulness and open discussion at family gathering times of meals, prayer, and spiritual study…” (from the Note to Parents, p. 85, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
“Let us not be helicopter parents. While we need to pray and arrange for our children’s best interests, we also need to honor their own freedom, relationship with God, and spiritual development… Praying for our children is the best way of keeping them in God’s will.” (from the Note to Parents, p. 85, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
“Absolution – the removing of sins through the act of confession. When your sins are absolved, they are wiped clean, and the separation between you and God has been erased!” (from the Glossary of Terms, p. 89, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)
Perhaps your child/children will benefit from using this printable as they prepare for confession. The printable provides space for them to draw or lines to write notes of what they are ready to confess. They can keep it with them as they read through “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, making notes as they go along, then take it along when they go for their next confession.
This is the ninth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.
Great and Holy Pascha is the most important day of our entire church year. We call it the “Feast of feasts” for this very reason. On this day we celebrate Christ’s victorious triumph over death. This is the reason He came to earth and became incarnate: so that He could trample down death by His death, and save us.
On Holy Saturday, we heard St. Matthew’s account of the women finding the empty tomb during the vesperal Divine Liturgy. The Paschal Gospel reading acknowledges that we know the events of the day already, having just partaken of them all week. So instead of revisiting these events on Pascha, we turn our ears to the first verses of St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… In Him was life and the life was the light of men…” The passage reminds us that God created the world and has now re-created it through Christ. This Gospel reading points us to the reason for all of the events we have just witnessed, and reminds us of the truth of the hope that we have in Christ.
Much later in the day, when we gather again for Agape Vespers, the Gospel reading assures us of the reality of Christ’s resurrection, when He appears to His disciples and even Thomas cannot deny that Christ, God incarnate, has defeated death and is alive. The words of Christ to His disciples are offered to us as well, in all the languages we are able to muster, for they belong to every human on earth. He says to them, “Peace be with you!” and again, “Peace to you!”
He goes on to send his disciples (and us) out into the world, breathing Life into them when He breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Just as God breathed into Adam and Eve when He first created the world, He breathes into His disciples as He creates His Church. So Pascha celebrates Christ’s resurrection and thus, the beginning of the Church. He thus fully tramples down death: His resurrection has trampled physical death, and His Church offers us spiritual life instead of spiritual death.
On Great and Holy Pascha, we begin a 40-day season of celebrating Christ’s victory over death, and the beautiful gift He gives us in the Church. Glory be to Jesus Christ! Glory be forever!
Christ is risen!
Al Maseeh Qam!
Cristo ha resucitado!
Hristos a Inviat!
Here are a few quotes from the Church fathers about the resurrection, as well as a few links that you may find helpful in preparing to celebrate Pascha as a family:
“Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him.
Yesterday I died with Him; today I am made alive with Him.
Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I am raised up with Him.
Let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us … ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most proper.
Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us.
Let us become Divine for His sake, since for us He became Man.
He assumed the worse that He might give us the better. He became poor that by His poverty we might become rich. He accepted the form of a servant that we might win back our freedom.
He came down that we might be lifted up. He was tempted that through Him we might conquer. He was dishonored that He might glorify us. He died that He might save us. He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were thrown down through the fall of sin.
Let us give all, offer all, to Him who gave Himself a Ransom and Reconciliation for us.
We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him that we might be cleansed. We rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him. We were glorified with Him because we rose again with Him.
A few drops of Blood recreate the whole of creation!” ~ St. Gregory the Theologian
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”~ St. John Chrysostom (Paschal Homily)
“…Now since you are celebrating the holy Pascha, you should know, brethren, what the Pascha is. Pascha means the crossing-over, and so the Festival is called by this name. For it was on this day that the Children of Israel crossed over out of Egypt, and the Son of God crossed over from this world to His Father. What gain is it to celebrate unless you imitate Him Whom you worship; that is, unless you cross over from Egypt, that is, from the darkness of evildoing to the light of virtue, from the love of this world to the love of your heavenly home? ~ St. Ambrose of Milan
“By His Resurrection, Christ conquered sin and death, destroyed Satan’s dark kingdom, freed the enslaved human race and broke the seal on the greatest mysteries of God and man.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovic
“As, then, Jonah spent three days and as many nights in the whale’s belly, and was delivered up sound again, so shall we all, who have passed through the three stages of our present life on earth — I mean the beginning, the middle, and the end, of which all this present time consists — rise again. For there are altogether three intervals of time, the past, the future, and the present. And for this reason the Lord spent so many days in the earth symbolically, thereby teaching clearly that when the fore-mentioned intervals of time have been fulfilled, then shall come our resurrection, which is the beginning of the future age, and the end of this.” ~ St. Methodius of Olympus
“Having seen the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. We worship your Cross, O Christ, and we hymn and glorify your holy Resurrection. For you are our God, we know no other but you, we name you by name. Come all the faithful, let us worship the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold through the Cross, joy has come in all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, we hymn his Resurrection. For having endured the Cross for us, he has destroyed death by death.” ~ Anonymous
Each day of Holy Week, there’s a special service (or more) that we Orthodox Christians celebrate together. As you attend each service, encourage your children to spy out the following items/events. Print these pages, cut them in half, then stack and assemble them into a little booklet, and staple it together. We purposefully did not number these, so that you can add pages for services you will attend that are not listed here, and/or exclude the pages of services you will not be able to attend. Encourage your children to follow along, marking the icon following each item after it happens. (They could use colored pencils, markers, pens, small dot stickers, or whatever works best for your family.)
This is the eighth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.
On this sixth Sunday of Great Lent, we will be celebrating Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as we prepare to enter into Holy Week. We usually refer to this feast as the Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem, but we also call it Palm Sunday.
From the beginning of time, victorious kings have ridden joyously into their home cities after battle, surrounded by cheering crowds celebrating their success. The celebrations have changed over the years, but at the time of Christ, such a parade would have included palm branches being waved and laid on the road.
As we look at St. Matthew’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry, we see that this is exactly the kind of welcome our Lord received as He entered Jerusalem. We know that Jesus is not just a King, but the King of Kings, but at the time, not everyone knew or accepted Him as such. However, when He raised Lazarus from the dead, word got around about that great miracle, and He was welcomed into Jerusalem with palm branches being waved and set on the ground; and some people even lay their cloaks on the ground to welcome Him.
Not only did they act in these king-welcoming ways, but the people also loudly proclaimed who He is. They said, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) All this commotion caught the eye of the entire city, and other people started asking, “Who is this guy?” and they heard that it was Jesus, the prophet who came from Nazareth in Galilee.
On Palm Sunday, we enter into His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, joining the crowds in welcoming Christ. We wave palms (or pussy willows) and also cry, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
We know why He is coming; what He is coming to do. How much more should we welcome Him? After all, we know that He is not only a great Healer/Wonderworker, but that He is the very God Himself, incarnate! Let us therefore welcome Him with adoration and honor into our parish on this special day. It is right that we do this! However, we should be welcoming Him in the same way every day into our own life and heart. We can allow this Holy Week which lies ahead to help us begin to properly do so.
“O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead,
before Thy Passion, didst confirm the universal resurrection.
Wherefore, we, like babes, carry the banner of triumph and victory,
and cry unto Thee, O Vanquisher of death:
Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!”
Here are some quotes from church fathers about the Triumphal Entry, as well as related links that you may find helpful:
“For Christ was not the king of Israel so that he might exact a tax or equip an army with weaponry and visibly vanquish an enemy. He was the king in that he rules minds, in that he gives counsel for eternity, in that he leads into the kingdom of heaven, for those who believe, hope and love. The people shout, ‘Hosanna!’ meaning ‘save now!’, or ‘Lord grant salvation!’. St. Saverus explains this mystery saying, ‘Now there was never any king, simultaneously just, a redeemer, gentle and seated on a donkey who came to Jerusalem, unless this is he who alone is King of kings, God the Redeemer, Jesus. He is kind, gentle and abundant in mercy for all those who call upon Him, as it is written.’” ~ St. Augustine
“Instead of our garments, let us spread our hearts before him. And if we think that today our desire for Christ is complete, let us again take the advice of St. Gregory of Nyssa who says, ‘This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see Him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more. Thus, no limit would interrupt growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the Good can be found nor is the increasing of desire for the Good brought to an end because it is satisfied.’” ~ one of the Church Fathers
“He began with a manger and finished with a donkey, in Bethlehem with a manger, in Jerusalem with a donkey”. ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian
“With our souls cleansed and in spirit carrying branches, with faith let us sing Christ’s praises like the children, crying with a loud voice to the Master: Blessed art Thou, O Savior, who hast come into the world to save Adam from the ancient curse; and in Thy love for mankind Thou hast been pleased to become spiritually the new Adam. O Word, who hast ordered all things for our good, glory to Thee.” (A Sessional hymn of the Orthros)
“Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king: the Word of God made flesh. We are called to behold Him not simply as the One who came to us once riding on a colt, but as the One who is always present in His Church, coming ceaselessly to us in power and glory at every Eucharist, in every prayer and sacrament, and in every act of love, kindness and mercy.” Read these encouraging words about Palm Sunday, and more, at: https://www.goarch.org/palmsunday
As we prepare to approach the holy and glorious Paschal feast, we do well to remember that we are not the only ones preparing for and then commemorating the resurrection! Sometimes we may forget that people in other parts of the world are celebrating as well. But they are! Easter in Ramallah by Wafa Shami offers its readers a sweet glimpse into Paschal traditions in Ramallah, Palestine.
It is a delight to read the story of Noor and her best friend Laila, as they share the experience of Holy Week and Easter together. Western readers may be surprised to learn that the girls are of different faiths: one is Christian, one is Muslim, yet they are truly best friends, which is not always what westerners expect from relationships in that part of the world. These girls literally (and figuratively) live side by side, for they are next-door neighbors who play together and find themselves one moment frankly discussing the struggle the other must experience while fasting according to her faith tradition; and the next moment they are together attending the “Parade of Light” so that they can each light a candle with the Holy Fire.
Readers will come away from this story with the sense that they’ve visited Palestine over Easter. They will feel the warm sun on their heads; imagine sharing the fresh green almonds with their friend; and almost hear the bands marching in the Light Parade. They will wish to taste the ka’ek and ma’moul sweet treats which sound so delicious. They’ll wonder if all of those natural vegetable dyes actually work for coloring eggs. They will want to put on their own best Easter clothes, and try to crack Noor’s eggs with one of their own. Best of all, readers will step away from this story delighted by the peace and friendship that it exhibits between Palestinians of different faiths.
Shaima Farouki’s watercolor illustrations of the story are gently whimsical, visually enlivening spring in Ramallah. Each beautiful illustration contains just enough detail to offer an accurate glimpse into Palestinian life. They round out the story, adding details that delightfully enhance it.
We recommend Easter in Ramallah as a lovely addition to any home, school, or Church school library. It expands its readers’ world by allowing them to think beyond their own celebration of the resurrection. It also offers the opportunity for readers to notice what traditions are the same the world over; which ones are slightly different; and which ones are brand new (and perhaps ones which they, too, would like to embrace). This book offers a satisfying taste of what it is like to celebrate Pascha in Palestine.
This is the seventh in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.
On this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we focus on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. St. Mary was born in Egypt, left home at the age of 12, and spent the next 17 years taking advantage of men for her own physical pleasure. Not until she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (for all the wrong reasons, but God works even through our wrong choices) did she begin to question the path she was taking. It was when she was unable to enter the church to venerate the Holy Cross that she realized something was wrong. The Theotokos herself helped Mary to understand the severity of her sins, and she repented. She repented so completely that she spent the rest of her days in the desert, fighting against her own fleshly desires and sins. God was with her there in the desert, and he showed His presence to her by providing for her needs and helping her to learn the scriptures and the ways of the Church even without another human there to teach her about them. This allowed Mary to grow more and more holy.
A holy monk, Zosimas, was the lone person she saw, and she did not see him until 47 years after she fled to the desert. They had only two encounters, both of which encouraged each of them. Zosimas was able to learn of Mary’s story, and Mary was able to receive Holy Communion at the hand of Zosimas right before she died. Each of these two people longed for holiness in their own life, and both were humbled by the other’s presence on their journey.
This humility is an interesting contrast to Mark 10:32-45, the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This Gospel reading reminds us of the squabbling disciples, who are fighting for greatness in this passage. It is interesting that the Church has chosen to offer us the opportunity to study the life of St. Mary, who fought her pride and humbled herself in the desert for most of her life; and then contrast it with the disciples’ desire to sit at Christ’s right hand in His kingdom. It is as though the Church is saying to each of us, “Here are two approaches to life in the Kingdom of God. Who will you choose to be like?” We all know who we should emulate, but repenting and humbling ourselves as completely as St. Mary did is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Yet here is her life, offered to us as we approach the end of Great Lent, encouraging us to continue to fight the good fight as she did; to abstain from our passions so completely that we learn from Christ Himself and find ourselves humbled when we are in the presence of even the humblest of fellow humans.
Holiness is not limited to those with a perfect background. Although God can certainly work in and through those who have always lived holy lives (as did Abba Zosimas), He also brings healing and holiness to those of us who repent completely and turn our focus away from the things of this earth and completely on Him (as He did in the life of St. Mary of Egypt). Glory to God who embraces us as we struggle and meets us in that place!
In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother;
For taking up your cross, you did follow Christ,
And by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away,
but to attend to the soul since it is immortal.
Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the Angels.
St. Mary of Egypt, please intercede for our salvation!
Here are a few quotes from and about St. Mary of Egypt, as well as a handful of ideas of ways to help you and your family learn from her life:
“Let us say something about the thorns. Blessed Mary of Egypt was twelve years old when she fell into the hands of the devil. She lived in sin day and night. But the merciful God enlightened her and she abandoned the world and went into the desert. There she led a hermit’s life for forty years. She was cleansed and became like an angel. God wished to give her rest, so He sent the holy ascetic Zosimas to hear her confession and to give her holy communion. Then He received her holy soul into paradise, where she rejoices with the angels. If there is anyone here like Blessed Mary, let him immediately weep and repent, now that he has time, and let him be assured that he will be saved as was Blessed Mary.” ~ St. Kosmos Aitolos
“Believe me, Abba Zosimas, I spent seventeen years in this wilderness, fighting wild beasts: mad desires and passions. When I began to eat bread, I thought of the meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also missed the wine that I loved so much when I was in the world, while here I did not even have water. I suffered from thirst and hunger… Weeping and striking myself on the breast, I remembered the vow I had made. At last I beheld a radiant Light shining on me from everywhere. After a violent tempest, a lasting calm ensued.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt
“…A fire seemed to burn within me, awakening in me the desire for embraces. Then I would throw myself to the ground and water it with my tears. I seemed to see the Most Holy Virgin before me, and She seemed to threaten me for not keeping my vow. I lay face downward day and night upon the ground, and would not get up until that blessed Light encircled me, dispelling the evil thoughts that troubled me. Thus I lived in this wilderness for the first seventeen years. Darkness after darkness, misery after misery stood about me, a sinner. But from that time until now the Mother of God helps me in everything.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt
“For the Lord’s sake, pray for me and remember my wretchedness.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt, to Elder Zosimas
To St. Mary of Egypt: “With all eagerness and love thou didst run to Christ, abandoning thy former way of sin. And being nourished in the untrodden wilderness, thou didst chastely fulfill His divine commandments.” ~ The Great Canon of St. Andrew
“On this day we know that the worst, the lowliest, the filthiest, the most addicted, the most impassioned, the most possessed, by faith and grace through that same Christ, by the intercessions of His mother and all the saints, can enter into that same glory. And Mary of Egypt tells us that. She shows us that. And then she begins herself to intercede for us poor sinners.” ~ Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his meditation that offers the opportunity to consider two Marys, the Theotokos and St. Mary of Egypt. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/st_mary_of_egypt
This is the sixth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.
Today we commemorate St. John Climacus and his work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” both of which have had a great impact on the Holy Orthodox Church through their influence on the monastic community and on the Church at large.
St. John was given the name “Climacus” because of his writings. “Climacus” means “ladder” and thus his name is a nod to the work by that name. From a very young age, John desired to serve God with all of his heart. He became a monk at the Mt. Sinai Monastery when he was only 16 years old, and he served there faithfully for years before going into the desert to live a hermit’s life.
The fight against the devil and his passions was difficult, but John faithfully prayed and focused on Christ, and over time he became holier because of his refusal to give in to those passions. His holiness drew people to John, and even monks would come to him to ask for advice. God gave him the gift to be able to help people who were severely tempted and/or upset to be at peace.
God used John to work some miracles during his lifetime. For example, one time his disciple Moses was far from their dwelling, searching for dirt for their garden, when he got very hot and tired, so he took a rest under a big rock. As this was happening, John was back at his cell, praying, when he had a revelation that Moses was in danger. John began to pray fervently for his disciple. Later in the evening, when Moses returned home, he told John that while he had been sleeping under the rock, he heard John calling him, so he woke up and moved quickly, just as the huge rock crashed down right where he had been sleeping! God had heard John’s prayers and saved Moses with this miracle.
Many years passed, and John continued to faithfully pray and read from the lives of the saints. He continued to live a holy life. At age 74, he was made the abbot at the Mt. Sinai Monastery. The monks there asked him to write down all of the rules that he’d followed for his whole life, so that they could follow his example. He wrote about thirty steps that can lead monks (and any Orthodox Christian) closer to God. He called the steps “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Although this book was written about 1,400 years ago, it is still considered the ultimate guide to the Christian ascetic life.
St. John Climacus, please intercede for our salvation!
Here are a few quotes from St. John Climacus, as well as some resources that may be helpful to you and your family as we commemorate him and his wisdom.
“Fire and water are incompatible; and so is judging others in one who wants to repent. If you see someone falling into sin at the very moment of his death, even then do not judge him, because the Divine judgment is hidden from men. Some have fallen openly into great sins, but they have done greater good deeds in secret; so their critics were tricked, getting smoke instead of the sun.” ~ St. John Climacus
“An angel fell from Heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.” ~ St. John Climacus
“If the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, as He is said to be, and as He is in reality, and if anger is disturbance of heart, as it actually is and as it is said to be, then nothing so prevents His presence in us as anger.” ~ St. John Climacus
“Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly the angel who guards you will honour your patience. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible [Matthew 19:26].” ~ St. John Climacus
“The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” ~ St. John Climacus
“So this is the book of St. John the Abbot of Sinai, perhaps the most-read book… in Eastern Orthodox tradition after the holy Scripture… Written for monks, but fruitful and helpful for everyone who wants to deny himself, take up his cross, follow Christ… It’s for the person who says, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief!’ And it’s for the one who knows that only by prayer, only by fasting, only by doing the things that the Lord commands us to do, with faith, can we actually receive the grace of God, live by the grace of God, and be saved by the grace of God that is fully and completely poured out upon us in his crucified and glorified Son.” Hear this and more when you listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s meditation on St. John of the Ladder: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder