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Resources for Parents + December 2016

While there is an abundance of resources for Orthodox Christian Parents on the internet, here are a few that have been featured on our facebook page recently. These resources will help you explore the lives of saints with your children.

To follow our facebook page, visit www.facebook.com/orthodoxchristianparenting.

The Orthodox Church in America Department of Christian Education offers these (free!) printable activity books that will help your family learn about saints (and the animals that served them; those commemorated in the Litiya prayers; those that can help in times of trouble; and those from North America) through stories and related activities.

November 30, 2016 + The Knowability of God

by St. John Damascene

"Now, one who would speak or hear about God should know beyond any doubt that in what concerns theology and the Dispensation [the term commonly used for the Incarnation by the Greek Fathers] not all things are inexpressible and not all are capable of expression, and neither are all things unknowable nor are they all knowable. That which can be known is one thing, whereas that which can be said is another, just as it is one thing to speak and another to know. Furthermore, many of those things about God which are not clearly perceived cannot be fittingly described, so that we are obliged to express in human terms things which transcend the human order. Thus, for example, in speaking about God we attribute to Him sleep, anger, indifference, hands and feet, and the alike.

November 23, 2016 + The Spotless and Holy Virgin

by St. Gregory Palamas

Today we celebrate the memory of those things that contributed, if only once, to the Incarnation. He Who is God by nature, the Co-unoriginate and Coeternal Word and Son of the Transcendent Father, becomes the Son of Man, the Son of the Ever-Virgin. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8), immutable in His divinity and blameless in His humanity, He alone, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied, "practiced no iniquity, nor deceit with His lips" (Is. 53: 9). He alone was not brought forth in iniquity, nor was He conceived in sin, in contrast to what the Prophet David says concerning himself and every other man (Ps. 50/51: 5). Even in what He assumes, He is perfectly pure and has no need to be cleansed Himself. But for our sake, He accepted purification, suffering, death and resurrection, that He might transmit them to us.

God is born of the spotless and Holy Virgin, or better to say, of the Most Pure and All-Holy Virgin. She is above every fleshly defilement, and even above every impure thought. Her conceiving resulted not from fleshly lust, but by the overshadowing of the Most Holy Spirit. Such desire being utterly alien to Her, it is through prayer and spiritual readiness that She declared to the angel: "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word" (Lk. 1:38), and that She conceived and gave birth. So, in order to render the Virgin worthy of this sublime purpose, God marked this ever-virgin Daughter now praised by us, from before the ages, and from eternity, choosing Her from out of His elect.

On The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos

On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:

Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Maria of Paris

Commemorated July 20 or August 2

In 1891, in Riga, Latvia, a baby girl named Elizabeta (“Liza,” to her family) was born to the Pilenko family. The Pilenkos were Orthodox Christians, and raised Liza in the faith. When she was 14, Liza’s father died, and Liza was so upset that she gave up her Faith. When the family moved to St. Petersburg, instead of going to church, Liza began to hang out with radical people who, like her, liked to read and wanted to make the world better. They would spend hours talking about revolution and about theology, but (in Liza’s words) they “seemed to do nothing but talk.” She wanted to actually DO something to make a change. Years passed, and Liza slowly came back to her faith.

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Maria of Paris (July 20 or August 2)

In 1891, in Riga, Latvia, a baby girl named Elizabeta ("Liza," to her family) was born to the Pilenko family. The Pilenkos were Orthodox Christians, and raised Liza in the faith. When she was 14, Liza's father died, and Liza was so upset that she gave up her Faith. When the family moved to St. Petersburg, instead of going to church, Liza began to hang out with radical people who, like her, liked to read and wanted to make the world better. They would spend hours talking about revolution and about theology, but (in Liza's words) they "seemed to do nothing but talk." She wanted to actually DO something to make a change. Years passed, and Liza slowly came back to her faith. 

When she was only 18, Liza got married. Three years later, she left her husband and moved back to the house where she grew up. While she was there, she gave birth to her daughter Gaiana. Three years after Gaiana's birth, Liza was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy of The Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. She was the very first woman to study there! For a while in 1918, Liza was the mayor of her town. This was during the time that the Bolsheviks were taking over Russia, and she was accused of being part of their Red Army. She was arrested and taken to trial. Her judge, Daniel Skobstova, said she was innocent, and he had her released instead of executed. After she was free, she went to find him to thank him. They quickly became friends and were married only a few days later!

November 16, 2016 + On Understanding the Divine Services

by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, 1749-1809

[B]eware, brethren, the thought which the devil implants in some and which says: "you are unlettered and unlearned and do not understand what is said in church and so why do you submit to the Church in all things?" You are answered, brethren, by an abba in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, who tells you: "It may be that you do not understand what is said in church, but the devil does and quakes and fears and flees. I mean that you, too, even if you do not understand all the words spoken in church, you will understand a lot of them and benefit from them". And I would add this: if you go often to church and hear divine words, the continuation of this is that, in time, you will understand what you – earlier – did not, as Chrysostom says, because God, seeing your willingness, will open your mind and illumine you to understand.

November 9, 2016 + On How Grace Operates in the Mysteries

by St. Nicholas Cabasilas

The Holy Spirit grants to those who partake of the sacred offerings the remission of sins of their sins. "Let not this grace be removed from these offerings because of my sins." There are two ways in which grace operates in the precious offerings; first, by grace they are sanctified, and secondly, by grace we are sanctified through them.

The working of grace upon the offerings — the first of which we spoke — cannot be invalidated by any human evil. Since the consecration of the offerings is not the work of human virtue, it cannot be hindered in any way by the wickedness of men.

Am I Any More Ready to Receive Christ Today Than Israel Was 2,000 Years Ago?

by His Grace Bishop John, from The Word Magazine, November 2016

Last week a young man came to me lamenting over not living as if Christ is resurrected and the tomb is empty. I invited him to explore with me what that "living after the Resurrection" should look like. He thought that there should be some peace, arising from a simple understanding that God has accomplished already those things that we fear and dread. We should not need to compete for God's attention or love; He has come to us!  Therefore we should live without fear.  There should be some joy, as we understand that God is with us, cares for us, and is active in our lives.  This is why He took on flesh and shared in everything that human life is, from conception to death. There should be freedom to make godly choices, because Christ is the Truth that has set us free. Filled with God, we no longer try to fill our emptiness with food, alcohol, drugs, television or anything else of the world. We have life-giving food from above.

October 12, 2016 + The Virtue of St. Martin of Tours

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue of Ohrid: Lives of the Saints, October 12th

By what virtue have the saints been most exalted and glorified in the eyes of heaven and men? Primarily by their humility and service. Even before his baptism, while he was still an officer, St. Martin had a servant whom he considered more a brother than a servant. He often served this servant unashamedly; in fact, he even rejoiced in it. Again, when St. Hilary wanted to ordain him a priest, he refused this honor with tears, and begged the bishop to let him simply be a monk in some remote place. Once, St. Martin was traveling from France to Pannonia to visit his parents. While he was crossing over the Alps, murderous robbers captured him. When one of the robbers raised his sword to behead him, Martin showed no fear, and remained motionless; he did not beg for mercy but was completely at peace, as if nothing were happening. The robber, amazed at such behavior, lay aside his sword and asked Martin who he was. Martin replied that he was a Christian, and hence, he was not afraid-for he knew that God, according to His great mercy, is always close to men, especially in times of danger.

October 5, 2016 + On the Good That Is Shown

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue of Ohrid: Lives of the Saints, October 5th

There be many who say, Who will show us any good? (Psalm 4:6).

My brethren, great is God's goodness. What words can express that goodness? Great is the goodness of the Heavenly Kingdom with its fiery angels, wonderful saints, and the sweetness of Paradise. Who can describe this goodness? Immortal life, close to God and the angels of God, in the company of the saints and the righteous, is a great good. Another great good will be our meeting with our kinsmen and friends in the heavenly world; with our parents, our children, and our most beloved ones, who by their departure left us in sadness and grief. Who will show us all that good? Many asked this in King David's time, and many ask even today. Who will show it to us, so that we may believe and hope?

Who Is the Enemy?

by His Grace Bishop John, from The Word Magazine, October 2016

October is Youth Month in the Antiochian Archdiocese. We make special efforts to remind the youth that they are not the future of the church, but part of the present. Baptized into Christ, they already have gifts of God's grace and the responsibility to live and share the Faith of the Apostles that has been delivered to them. They were baptized to gather as the Church, allowing them to grow, respond to God, pray for the world and witness to the truths that God has revealed to them and us. The God who has revealed himself allows them and us to encounter him and engage ourselves with him. These are their Christian vocations, and ours from our youth up, along with God's call to resist those "many passions that war against us."

September 28, 2016 + On How the Holy Spirit is Sent

from St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359 (Homily 24, 1-2)

A short while ago, with the strong eyes of faith, we beheld Christ ascending, no less clearly than those accounted worthy to be His eye-witnesses. Nor are we less favored than they. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed", says the Lord (Jn. 20:29), referring to those who've found assurance through hearing, and see by faith. Recently we saw Christ lifted up from the ground bodily (Acts 1:9). Now, through the Holy Spirit sent by Him to His disciples, we see how far Christ ascended and to what dignity He carried up the nature He assumed from us. Clearly He went up as high as the place from which the Spirit sent by Him descended. He Who spoke through the prophet Joel showed us whence the Spirit comes, saying "I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2:28), and to Him David addressed the words, "Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit; they are created: and Thou renewest the face of the earth" (Ps. 104:30). It follows that at His ascension Christ went up to the Father on high, as far as His Fatherly bosom, from which comes the Spirit. Having been shown, even in His human form, to share the Father's glory, Christ now sent forth the Spirit Who comes from the Father and is sent by Him from Heaven. But when we hear that the Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son, this does not mean that the Spirit has no part in Their greatness, for He is not just sent, but also Himself sends and consents to be sent.

Saints of Recent Decades: An Introduction

In our forthcoming blog posts, we will be focusing our attention on saints who have lived in recent decades. (We will use the term "recent" somewhat loosely, as some of them lived more than a hundred years ago, which most children consider to be very, very old.) Our intent is to provide a resource for you that can be used to introduce your Sunday Church School students to saints who they can see in icons but also (at least in most cases) in actual photographs as well. Seeing the photos can help the children to better grasp the reality of the saints' existence, that they are real people who actually lived and struggled just like we do to live an Orthodox Christian life. It is our goal that along the way, all of us will "meet" new friends as we learn about these saints who have walked the earth more recently.

Exploring Bedtime Routines and Other Rituals: An Introduction

This fall we will be focusing our attention on bedtime routines and other rituals. Over the summer we posted a survey that many of you took time to answer for us. Those answers will be a significant portion of some of these posts. The first question on the survey invited respondents to rate the importance of a bedtime routine in their family, on a scale of 1 (having no routine at all) to 10 (using the same routine every night). An overwhelming majority (more than 82%) rated routine at bedtime as having an importance level of 7 or higher. We were curious to see if the general public, beyond our Orthodox Christian Parenting community, considers a regular bedtime as truly important or not. We also wondered whether or not it is important to do the same sequence of events in preparing for bedtime every night. We did a little research, and here is what we found:

September 21, 2016 + Sonlike Love for God

by St. John of Kronstadt

To what end do fasting and penitence lead? For what purpose is this trouble taken? They lead to the cleansing of the soul from sins, to peace of heart, to union with God; they fill us with devotion and sonship, and give us boldness before God. There are, indeed, very important reasons for fasting and for confession from the whole heart. There shall be an inestimable reward given for conscientious labour. Have many of us the feeling of sonlike love to God? Dare many of us, without condemnation and with boldness call upon the Father in Heaven and say: "Our Father!".... Is there not, on the contrary, no such sonlike voice to be heard in our hearts, which are deadened by the vanities of this world and attachments to its objects and pleasures? Is not our Heavenly Father far from our hearts? Is it not rather an avenging God that we should represent to ourselves, we who have withdrawn ourselves from Him into a far-away land? Yes, by our sins all of us are worthy of His righteous anger and punishment, and it is wonderful how long-suffering and forbearing He is to us--that He does not strike us like the barren fig trees. Let us hasten to propitiate Him by repentance and tears. Let us enter into ourselves; let us consider our unclean hearts in all strictness, and when we see what a multitude of impurities are keeping them from the reach of Divine grace, we shall ourselves acknowledge that we are spiritually dead.

September 14, 2016 + On Silence and the Priesthood

by St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

Now what ought we to learn before everything else, but to be silent, that we may be able to speak? Lest my voice should condemn me, before that of another acquit me; for it is written: By your words you shall be condemned. Mat. 12:37 What need is there, then, that you should hasten to undergo the danger of condemnation by speaking, when you can be more safe by keeping silent? How many have I seen to fall into sin by speaking, but scarcely one by keeping silent; and so it is more difficult to know how to keep silent than how to speak. I know that most persons speak because they do not know how to keep silent. It is seldom that any one is silent even when speaking profits him nothing. He is wise, then, who knows how to keep silent. Lastly, the Wisdom of God said: The Lord has given to me the tongue of learning, that I should know when it is good to speak. Justly, then, is he wise who has received of the Lord to know when he ought to speak. 

September 7, 2016 + On the Priestly Office

by St. John Chrysostom

The priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks among heavenly ordinances; and very naturally so: for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself, instituted this vocation, and persuaded men while still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. Wherefore the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as if he were standing in the heavens themselves in the midst of those powers. Fearful, indeed, and of most awful import, were the things which were used before the dispensation of grace, as the bells, the pomegranates, the stones on the breastplate and on the ephod, the girdle, the mitre, the long robe, the plate of gold, the holy of holies, the deep silence within. But if anyone should examine the things which belong to the dispensation of grace, he will find that, small as they are, yet are they fearful and full of awe, and that what was spoken concerning the law is true in this case also, that what has been made glourious has no glory in this respect by reason of the glory which excels (2 Corinthians 3:10).

Nurturing Children for Service

by His Grace Bishop John, from The Word Magazine, September 2016

Metropolitan Joseph strolled into the meeting of the North American Board of the Antiochian Women after spending over an hour with the archdiocese teen leadership. With what at least one of our women described as "a heavy heart," Metropolitan Joseph shared with the women that the Archdiocese will need more clergy to serve when our aging clergy retire, and we need monastics, people to build and maintain homes for the aged, people to take care of the unborn and their mothers, Christian educators for the young, as well as people to do all kinds of other ministries.

Learning About the Saints: St. Phanourios

(Commemorated on August 27/September 9)

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

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

August 31, 2016 + The Way of a Christian

by St. Herman of Alaska

Without exalting myself to the rank of teacher, nonetheless, fulfilling my duty and obligation as an obedient servant for the benefit of my neighbor, I will speak my mind, founded on the commandments of Holy Scripture, to those who thirst and seek for their eternal heavenly homeland.

A true Christian is made by faith and love toward Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity, according to the word of the Saviour Himself. He deigned to say: not the rigteous have I come to call, but sinners to salvation; there is more joy in heaven over one who repents then over ninety righteous ones. Likewise concerning the sinful woman who touched His feet, He deigned to say to the the Pharisee Simon: to one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, but from one who has no love, even a small debt will be demanded. From these judgements a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy, and not in the least accept an inflicted despair. Here one needs the shield of faith.

August 24, 2016 + On the Two Characteristics of Love

by St. Cosmas of Aitolia

If you wish to be saved, seek no other thing here in this world as much as love.

Know my brethren that love has two characteristics, two gifts. One of them is to strengthen man in what is good and the other is to weaken him in what is evil. I have a loaf of bread to eat; you do not have. Love tells me: Do not eat it alone, give some to your brethren and you eat the rest. I have clothes; love tells me: Give one garment to your brother and you wear the other one. I open my mouth to accuse you, to tell you lies, to decieve you; but at once I remember love and it deadens my mouth, and does not allow me to tell you lies. I stretch out my hands to take what belongs to you, your money, all your possessions. Love does not allow me to take them. Do you see, my brethren, what gifts love has?

August 17, 2016 + Committing Ourselves to the Lord's Will

by St. Silouan the Athonite

Father Lazarus, who had been a captain in the army, used to tell the story of how a certain peasant went to fetch wood for the furnace. Exhausted by his labors, he lay down to rest under a giant oak-tree, and looking up at the branches of the oak and seeing the masses of fat acorns growing on them, thought to himself, '"It would have been better had pumpkins grown on the oak-tree." With this thought he shut his eyes, and suddenly an acorn fell and hit him hard on the lip. Whereupon the peasant said, "I was wrong: God is smarter than I am, and did well to make acorns and not pumpkins grow on oak-trees. If that had been a pumpkin, it could have killed me with its weight!"

August 3, 2016 + The Expulsion of Sorrow

by St. John of Kronstadt

Wherever I am, as soon as I raise the eyes of my heart in my affliction to God, the Lover of men immediately answers my faith and prayer, and the sorrow immediately departs. He is at every time and every hour near me, only I do not see it, but I feel it vividly in my heart. Sorrow is the death of the heart, and it is a falling away from God. The expansion, the peace of heart through lively faith in Him, prove more clearly than the day, that God is constantly present near me, and that He dwells within me. What intercessor or angel can set us free from our sins or sorrows? None, but God alone. This is from experience.

July 27, 2016 + Faith in God's Existence

by St. John of Kronstadt

Faith in God's existence is closely connected with faith in the existence of our own souls, as a part of the spiritual world. God's existence is as evident to the pious mind as its own being, because every thought, good or bad, every desire, every intention, word or act of such a mind is followed by a corresponding change in the state of the heart, peace or trouble, joy or grief, and this is the result of the action upon it of the God of spirits and bodies, Who is reflected in the pious mind as the sun is reflected in a drop of water; the purer the drop is, the better, the clearer will be the reflection; the more turbid the drop, the dimmer will be the reflection; so that in the soul's state of extreme impurity or darkness, the reflection entirely ceases and the soul is left in a state of spiritual darkness, in a state of insensibility. In this state the man having eyes, sees not, and having ears, hears not. Again, in relation to our souls, God may be likened to the outer air in relation to the mercury of the thermometer--with this difference, that the expansion and rest, rise and fall of the mercury proceed from the change in the state of the atmosphere; whilst, in the first case, God remains unchangeable, everlasting and eternally good and just. Whilst the soul, changeable in its relation to God, suffers changes in itself, thus it unavoidably expands and obtains peace of heart when it draws nearer to God by faith and good works, and unavoidably contracts, becomes restless and wearied, when it withdraws itself from God by unlawful acts, want of faith, and unbelief in God's Truth.

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