Skip to Navigation

vnieuwsma's blog

Holy Land Exhibit

This exhibit has been retired and the elements for display are no longer available.

By Carole A. Buleza

"Scripture Through the Lens of the Holy Land" is an exhibit is available for rental from the Antiochian Archdiocese Department of Christian Education (see below for details). The exhibit is dedicated to His Eminence Metropolitan Philip for his continuing support of Orthodox Christian Education, and to all in the Archdiocese whose roots in the Middle East have given the Antiochian Department of Christian Education the particular privilege of presenting the Holy Land in word and image. Participants at the 2011 Orthodox Institute, "Scripture Through the Lens of the Holy Land" were the first to view the exhibit prepared especially for that event.

The Feast of the Annunciation

The Feast of the Annunciation is a very important feast of the Faith. Did you ever stop and think about why that is true? Why is the Annunciation one of the twelve great feasts of the Church? Let us take a moment to think about what happened at the Annunciation, so that we can be better prepared to lead our family in celebrating this great feast.

When we stop and think about it, we can see that each part of this event is notable of its own accord, and together, all are essential for our salvation. It began when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she had been chosen by God to bear His Son.The fact that this angel appeared shows that the event was significant, for he is sent whenever God has an important message to convey. God's selection of Mary to become the Theotokos is a critical part of the event, since she was a holy young lady who had consecrated her life to God's service. Her agreement, "Let it be to me as you say," is a vitally important piece as well, because it simultaneously demonstrates Mary's humility before God and her willingness to obey. Also noteworthy is the fact that this event marks the moment in history when a person became the first Christian, for after the Annunciation, the Theotokos truly had Christ living within her.

Lenten Resources for Parents and Sunday Church School Teachers

For many more resources throughout Great Lent and beyond, be sure to follow ​the Ascetic Life of Motherhood blog. These resources were originally gathered by the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education in February, 2019.

  1. Ancient Faith Radio offers many podcasts to help you prepare for Lent, including this one. 
  2. Chart idea to help Children embrace Lent
  3. Coloring for Lent and Pascha:
    "Color Your Way Into Pascha" offers pages for little ones to color, from the Triumph of Orthodoxy through Pentecost. 
    "Color Your Way Through Holy Week" offers coloring pages for each day of Holy Week. 
  4. A wide variety of Lenten activities, including printable charts that can help children keep track of where they are during Great Lent can be found here. 

An Active and Growing Sunday Church School

An Interview with Rebecca Likiardopoulos
St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, Kansas

Rebecca is serving her first year as Church School Director at St. George Cathedral. There are usually 75-90 students attending each Sunday, and the program is seeing growth, especially in preschool through second grade classes. As the second half of the 2019-2020 school year has been affected by a global COVID-19 pandemic - with temporary closure of churches and church schools - this interview includes a special look back at St. George VBS 2019.   

Which curricula is used for Sunday classes?

Our classes utilize a mix of curriculums; our rubric is based on the Archdiocese’s recommendations. This year we are trying out “My Orthodox Church”, the new 7-questions middle school curriculum.

How is Church School organized for Sunday classes and how many teachers are assigned to each class?

This year we have 6 classes: pre-K, K, 1&2, 3/4/5, Middle and High school. They are usually broken up by enrollment numbers and applicable grades. Because we have so many little ones, next year we will probably have pre-K, K, 1, and 2 as individual classes. We try to have at least 2 teachers per class to help share the load and provide coverage. The goal is to have those with teaching credentials or experience on staff. That is not always possible, but the goal. I also try to get at least one helper for class to help with snacks, getting supplies etc.

40 Activities for Great Lent

by Sylvia Leontaritis (used with permission)
Follow her blog

While we are already moving along the path to Pascha (this is published during the first week of Great Lent), it’s never too late to find fresh ideas for enhancing the journey with our families. Sylvia was generous enough to grant permission to share this list of activities with our Orthodox Christian parents. (from the archives of Adventures of an Orthodox Mom)

One of the things parents constantly ask is how to keep their children involved during Lent. It’s a tricky business, this Orthodox child rearing. As parents we struggle with finding balance between regular every day activities (both theirs and ours) and making sure our children keep in mind the seriousness of what we’re preparing for. Involving them should be a process everyone enjoys, a special time to pass on spiritual lessons in a way a child will both learn from and have fun with.

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Great Lent

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Great Lent consists of the 40 days leading to Holy Week, which, in turn, immediately precedes Pascha. Since its early days, Great Lent has been observed as a time of penitence, spiritual growth, and illumination. Although it is a time of great spiritual struggle, it is also a time of deep joy for Orthodox Christians, as we prepare our hearts to experience Christ's Passion and Resurrection.

An Interview with Kelly Hamwi: Directing a Large Church School

The 2019-2020 school year marks Kelly’s fourth year serving as the Church School Director at St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral. The parish currently has 270 children registered, with 12 individual classes from K4 (4-year olds) up to Grade 12. Due to a limited number of classrooms, the older grades are combined: one for grades 9/10 and the other for grades 11/12. On average, half of the registrants attend in any given week. Classes begin once the children have received communion during Sunday morning Liturgy. They run for approximately 45 minutes until 12:15pm. For the most part, there are two teachers, and in some cases, three teachers for each of the classes.

Which curricula is used for Sunday classes?

We use both the Antiochian and Greek Orthodox curriculum up to Grade 8. There is no formal set curriculum for grades 9 and up. Teachers are given the flexibility to teach the material that is most pertinent for the older students. This includes studies of the lives of the saints, feast days etc.

Did you have previous training/experience which prepared you for the Director role? If yes, please describe.

I served as a Church School teacher for 4 years before being called to the role of Director. As a teacher, I was able to see the challenges teachers face and the importance of training them to be able to best manage the classroom.

Are there books, resources, etc. that you would recommend to Directors for their own development / enrichment / training in the role of Director?

We provide training in September to kick-start the year (through the Department of Christian Education) both for the teachers and directors. This training is open to other parishes in the diocese.  Not only is it beneficial to learn from more experienced educators/pastors but it also allows interactive discussions with fellow Church school directors and teachers.

The Great Feasts: The Life of Our Lord

By Carole Buleza

The Twelve Great Feasts and Pascha, taken together, are an overview of the life of our Lord. While it is important for our children to know about His miracles and teachings, it is just as important for them to know the main events of His life story. Our salvation resides in His life. Furthermore, just as we are baptized into Him, our own story—our life—must rest on His. Jesus' life comprises the "foundational story" for Christians. A foundational story answers the ultimate questions of life, death and why we are here, and guides our thoughts, values, and actions. The Christian story provides answers to all these questions and gives us the virtues of faith, hope, and love that, even if not recognized as such, influence our attitudes and actions and curb the anxiety that comes from unexpected events and uncertain times. It is a strong foundation.

Visit The Great Feasts: the Life of Our Lord Program for curriculum and supplementary resources


Spiritual Reading

Below are a few thoughts about spiritual reading to keep in mind. All notes are from A Practical Guide to Spiritual Reading by Susan A. Muto. Our meetings will provide insights, and encouragement to one another. Each chapter provides for us a theme to dwell on. We will read aloud one or two paragraphs and dwell on those for a minute before we discuss what wisdom is found there to aide our spiritual growth. Common themes will arise about the problems faced in the life of the spirit.

Take notes while you read.

Notice particular themes.

Write out your thoughts. They are for you to think about, not a confessional of short-comings, but rather a record of dialogue with text. The notes are solely yours, and don’t have to be shared.

Observe what you read.

Read as a disciple for inspiration.

Dwell with the text to make connections from what you read to your life, here and now.

Look for timeless truth.

Review fundamentals of the inner life as lived out; no apology for repetitions; reaffirmations of the values of humility, patience, and gentleness.

Do not label text and make it irrelevant.

Try to become involved in the meaning of the text, let it apply to our life, how does the text challenge life now?

Don’t read to debate, or for information. Abide in the text, let it teach you. Remain a disciple.

Accept your limited self, no comparisons either to the Elder, or others. Move along at God’s pace for you.

Our failures and limitations are OK. God aims to fill us with his grace, in His time.

Don’t get discouraged, consolation may come and then go.

Keep your soul encouraged following the spiritual path towards transformation.

Learn to trust God.

Let the book be a lens to Christ.

Do you recognize him as a sibling from the same father and mother?

The saints wait for us to find them, and crown them.

Outline of Elder Thaddeus’s Life

Born and baptized October 6 (Old Calendar) 1914, Feast of Holy Apostle Thomas, weakly and sick, fearing he would die, in Serbia. Named Tomislav.

As young boy, mother died. Father remarried twice. Step-mothers abusive. Father didn’t stand up for him. Different from other kids because of dietary issues. No one thought he’d be good for anything. Found solace in God, and his own thoughts.

Realized early in life that life consists of serving others and that he must patently bear both sorrow and pain in serving.

Was apprenticed to be a tailor rather than a farmer because physically weak. Not successful.

At 18 years old, desire arises to become a monk. Writes letter to Gornjak monastery. While awaiting reply, he falls gravely ill, decides to forgo treatment. Told has 5 years to live.

1932 Goes to monastery against parent’s will. At Gornjak monastery, told and guided to go to Miljkovo monastery instead, to find the kind of monasticism he seeks. This monastery is coenobitic, meaning life in community. Strict prayer rule: Daily liturgy, strict fasting, full cycle prayers, pray in cell.

1932 At Miljkovo, becomes a Novice. He is given several obediences all of which he failed at, but his Abbot covered his failures with love and patient forbearance. As he thought he had only 5 years to live, he confessed all thoughts, and gave himself over to constant prayer of the heart. Once he became a monk, the battle with his thoughts intensified. Abbot counsels him to pray with contrition of heart. He starts zealously to read the Holy Fathers.

After one year, Abbot Ambrose dies in 1933. Monastery starts to break up. He’s thrown into deep sorrow, and loses prayer of heart. His soul is torn by sadness. Finds consolation in a book called The Path to Salvation by St. Theophan the Recluse.

Interview with Subdeacon Alexei Shevyakov

Subdeacon Alexei Shevyakov has served as Church School Director at St. Vincent of Lerins Orthodox Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for five years. The Church School program is divided into two groups: Levels I and II of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for Pre-K through 3rd Grade, and traditional classes with OCEC curriculum and Faithtree materials for students in 4th Grade and older. 

How many students attend your church school? How is your church school organized for Sunday classes (by age, by grade level, etc.) and how many teachers are assigned per class?

In addition to our Atrium (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd), we have two Church School groups. The Younger Group is Grades 4-6 with 8 students this year. The Older Group has 11 students in Grades 7-10. We have two teachers assigned to each class; they choose their program and teach it in an alternating fashion.

Our Church School runs on Saturdays prior to Vespers, for 1 hour, every week throughout September-May (minus big Church feasts and long weekends.)

"My Orthodox Church," a New Program for Middle School Students

"My Orthodox Church" is a middle school program of frequently asked questions that Orthodox Christians encounter. It provides a platform for students and teachers to engage with our faith and bring knowledge and understanding of the faith to the task of identity-building. The materials used for researching the answers are from both The Orthodox Study Bible and from pamphlets from Ancient Faith Publishing that are available at most parishes.

Instructor's Manual

Student Book

Password Cards

An Interview with Anne Beach: Christian Education at the Parish and the Diocesan Level

Anne served as church school director of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church (Brier, WA) from the fall of 2005 through May of 2019. She is also the Diocesan Coordinator for the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West, serving the Pacific Northwest area. In this role, Anne schedules, organizes, and provides educator workshops as requested, and advises and trains Church School personnel. Additionally, Anne recruits the Creative Festivals Chair for the Northwest.

How many students attended your church school for the 2018-2019 school year? How is your church school organized for Sunday classes and how many teachers are assigned per class?

We had 29 students attend our church school program this year. Our classes are divided by school grade, differences occur from year to year - some are single grade, some are two grades depending on the number of students. This past year we had 3’s & 4’s combined, kinder, no 1st grade students, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th & 6th grade, no 7th grade students, one 8th grade student who joined the 9th/10th grade class, and 11th/12th grade class. Classes have patron saints; several years ago, we decided to take our class patrons from the lists of North American saints. We have at least one teacher per class. We have had teachers with assistants, co-teachers, and teachers who alternated Sundays. We try to be flexible based on our student numbers, their needs, and teacher preferences.

Upcoming Teacher Development Workshops: Nov. 9 and 16

Deacon Elisha Long will present a two-session workshop at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral​ in Wichita, Kansas on Saturday, November 9. After celebrating a Divine Liturgy for the Feast of St. Nektarios, participants will enjoy the enrichment course "Promise & Preparation: Finding Christ in the Old Testament." Dn. Elisha will explore the Old Testament as it relates to revealing Christ. Following a provided lunch, Dn. Elisha will discuss classroom strategies and approaches to help your students learn and retain what is being taught. Cost is $25 per person.

For more information, contact Vasiliki Oldziey at ​

Antiochian Women of the East Fall Retreat & Gathering at Holy Protection Monastery

We are pleased to announce the first AWE Fall Retreat & Gathering on October 12, 2019 at Holy Protection Monastery in White Haven, PA. We listened and heard you about having a Fall Retreat and Gathering that is near you while being accessible to many across both Dioceses.

Come meet your sisters in Christ from other parishes to spend the day with one another meditating in the beauty and silence of the Monastery with worship, fellowship, and a spiritual discussion with Fr. Don Shadid as Keynote Speaker. His topic is "Resisting Temptation in the Modern World."

Holy Protection Monastery is on a mountain overlooking the Lehigh River Valley in the Pocono Mountains region of Pennsylvania, with a white cross that can be seen on the Monastery's mountain from Interstate Route 80.

August 2019 Newsletter

Dear friend of St. Athanasius Academy:

Author of Resurrection and Life – Jesus:  On the road to Bethany, John 10:39-40

Not unto the death of Lazarus, but unto the glory of Jesus – John 11:4

John 11: 39: "Take away the stone." Martha, said to Jesus, "Lord, by now He is giving off an odor. He has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God."

1. Why did Jesus not summon Lazarus from the grave from a distance or raise him before the stone was removed? In His guidance, it is good for people to see beyond miracles in hopes to grasp a deeper appreciation of His glory and grace. This is possible only by active participation – for such is the path of knowing Jesus to be our Father, from in the beginning.

(Read more in our August newsletter.)

August 2019 Coupon (PDF)

On Creating (and Using) a "Godfulness Jar" in Your Classroom







Mindfulness is a buzzword in current culture. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for mindfulness is this: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Many mindfulness practices encourage focusing your mind on positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts being promoted are not necessarily compatible with our Orthodox Christian faith. 

Some of our students are already experiencing mindfulness training in their school. Some teachers are finding it to be a helpful tool in their classroom. (In fact, it was one teacher’s suggestion of keeping a jar of quotes on hand to help students focus that inspired the idea for the “Godfulness Jar”.) 

While affirming our own selves is not what we’re about as Orthodox Christians, the practice of focusing our minds should not be a foreign concept to us. We hear often in the Divine Liturgy a reminder to focus: “Let us attend!” It depends upon what we focus that causes that focus to be for our growth or our downfall.

On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers

As we prepare our hearts for and then commemorate the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, let us take some time to think about Mary, the Theotokos. What can we learn from her love for God and her submission to His will? How did her choices and the way that she lived her earthly life affect ours? How does she continue to impact the world since her Dormition?

We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been. 

May the Holy Mother of God pray for all of us, that we will be saved and that we will follow God as wholeheartedly as she did!

July 28 is St. Timon Sunday

His Grace Bishop Basil writes:

In a gesture of Christian love and support for Metropolitan SABA and his flock, the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America has committed itself to a Sister Diocese relationship with the venerable Archdiocese of Bosra, and many of our parishes and missions have come forward to be paired - or "twinned" - with congregations in Metropolitan SABA's Archdiocese in Sister Parish relationships. To call attention to this project, dubbed "The Hauran Connection," the Sunday nearest July 28th, the feast of St Timon, is observed annually as "St Timon Sunday" throughout our Diocese.

This year our annual "St Timon Sunday" will be Sunday, July 28th. On that day we ask our congregations to highlight all aspects of our Sister Diocese project.

Read His Grace's full letter.

Interview with Matthew Duncan: the goal is to be engaged with each other

Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education
Interview Series: Church School Directors throughout the Archdiocese
Matthew Duncan, St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Pawtucket, RI

July 2019

The Goal Is To Be Engaged with Each Other

How long have you served as Church School Director?

This is my first year as Sunday School Director at St. Mary. Before that I taught our teen Sunday School class and was the SOYO adviser.

How many students attend your church school? How is your church school organized for Sunday classes and how many teachers are assigned per class?

We have about 50 students on our rolls (but we don’t get that many on a weekly basis). Currently, our Sunday School is made up of four classes: preschool-kindergarten, 1st-3rd grade, 4th/5th grade, and middle school/high school. Each class has one teacher, except the middle school/high school class, which has two teachers. We also have a music teacher who teaches our students Liturgical music every other week. Our teachers—Jiana Dayekh, Nancy Muller, Holly Lazieh, Elijah Vollendorf, Andrea Vollendorf, and Maureen Gurghigian—are all extremely hardworking and dedicated. We’re very lucky to have them in our Sunday School.

July 2019 Newsletter

Dear friend of St. Athanasius Academy:

Gospel Writer John – The Son of Thunder:  Beloved Disciple of Jesus—our Christ and Our Father

He is a pillar of churches, possessing the keys to the House of Wisdom; to Paradise re-opened this day. His Gospel drums the chalice of Jesus being the promised One revealed to Moses – I AM, the I AM. He it is, who in loving trust, reclined his head on the bosom of Jesus – the Incarnate Word – with the trusting of love of a son.

He had no claim to fame, nor social status – a lowly fisherman able only to mend nets. He was untaught, could not read, and was uneducated in the words and ways of the Temple, and its conflicting teaching.

(Read more in our July newsletter.)

July 2019 Coupon (PDF)

Arise, Take up Thy Bed and Walk

Our Ministry to Those with Special Needs

by Bishop THOMAS (Joseph), Peter Schweitzer and Subdeacon David Hyatt

Disabilities which cause cases of special need do not discriminate between races, socioeconomic status, nationality, gender or age. In the United States, people with disabilities are the largest minority group comprising nearly 20% of the population. According to the World Health Organizationi, there are more than 54 million Americans with a physical, sensory, or mental disability of any kind. Across our world, the estimates are that nearly 15% of the human population is affected in some way by a disability that causes special needs in order to function in society, reflecting an increase from 10% in 1970. If these numbers are correct, it is a statistical certainty that our God-protected Patriarchate has a similar number of faithful who desire to pray, learn and serve within our parishes. The needs are among us and surround us in the societies in which we live, the only question is whether or not we will respond in loving action to provide improved accessibility to our inquirers, catechumens and faithful with special needs.

Any Orthodox Christian discussion of those with disabilities or special needs requires an understanding of suffering. In the growing secular societies that surround us, human suffering, disabilities, illnesses, and special needs are tragedies to be overcome and remedied in this life. Otherwise, human life is rendered meaningless and absurd. This is how the contemporary world views suffering and disability. If suffering can’t be overcome, disabilities banished, psychological problems medicated, the human enterprise is considered pointless. Of course, this is not the Orthodox understanding of human life or its purpose.

Syndicate content