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Especially for Parents

We've selected content from the Christian Education pages that is of special interest to parents.

40 Activities for Great Lent

by Sylvia Leontaritis (used with permission)
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While we are already moving along the path to Pascha (this is published during the second 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.

Preparing the Family for Great Lent (with printables!)

by Elissa Bjeletich (used with permission)

This post was published on her blog, Raising Saints on 2.19.19 (photo c/o svots.edu)

Great Lent is the path back home to Paradise. Because of their sins, Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, but through repentance and fasting, we find our way home: we take the journey to Pascha, when Christ will trample down death by death and break down the gates that closed us out of Paradise. How glorious! We are invited to prepare for that journey right now, and to take it in just a few weeks — the journey home to God. We should be trembling with anticipation and joy at the prospect!

I was baptized into the faith when I was near bursting with my first child; over the coming eleven years, I would bear six children, so Great Lents came and went, but I was not really able to properly fast. When finally the pregnancies and the nursing were finished, I was able to fast, but now I had a house full of children and a husband, and I had to learn how to fast myself while figuring out how to cook healthy meals that they would eat.

Book Review: Lights on the Mountain

Author’s note: Long ago I committed to reading fiction that strengthens my faith instead of dismissing it. I am fine with reading stories of people who struggle with life or with what they believe, as long as they are struggling towards God, not ignoring or shying away from Him. Because of these self-imposed limitations when it comes to reading adult-targeted fiction, I have limited my reading mostly to Christian fiction and classics. Suffice it to say that I have read a fair amount of both over the course of my five decades.

In all of my reading, I have yet to read a book like this one. Lights on the Mountain by Cheryl Anne Tuggle is Christian fiction at its best. The characters are so believable that you expect them to step right out of the book so you can marvel at the sunrise together, or share a cup of tea. Their struggles are real, as is their growth: painfully real, as is our human experience. Their story is carefully and beautifully told. This book is written as though it were already a classic.

Tuggle offers her readers a glimpse into mid-20th-century rural Pennsylvanian life, with its clash of cultures and challenges. Characters include a host of rural-minded Americans, a handful of hippies, a pair of Hungarians, a few Romanian “gypsies”, some Orthodox Christians, and more. (One character has Amish roots, but this is anything but another “Amish Christian Fiction” book: his cultural heritage is far from the focus of the book.) The characters interact with believable honesty, by turns disagreeing and misunderstanding; then accepting and helping each other as would be expected in a rural community such as theirs. (I live in Pennsylvania and married into a rural Pennsylvanian family, so I am familiar with such a community.)

Teaching Theophany

by Elissa Bjeletich (used with permission)

This post appeared previously as a Raising Saints podcast episode and was published on Elissa’s blog on 1.2.16.

Whether we celebrate on the Old Calendar or on the New, in our beautiful Orthodox tradition, we follow our 40 day fast with a feast that lasts not just one day, but several days.  We prepare ourselves with the fast, pulling ourselves away from the comforts of rich foods, and showing some self-discipline, so that we can focus not on making ourselves comfortable and full, but on prayer and alms and study.  We prepare our hearts in this way, and then when the feast comes, we multiply our joy with tables loaded with delicious goodies, which are all the more delightful because we haven’t seen them in a while.  Because the Feast of Christ’s Nativity is so important, the feast lasts ten days — and then we return to fasting just in time to gather our wits and prepare ourselves for the great feast of Theophany, the day of Christ’s baptism.  We take a short break from the feasting, and fast for just one day, in order to call our hearts to order and prepare ourselves to receive Theophany.

Gleanings from a Book: "Parent Points" by Fr. Chris Kerhulas

Father Chris Kerhulas’ book Parent Points is small but mighty. In its 107 pages, he blends his 40+ years of ministry experience with personal experience from parenting and grandparenting. Each chapter offers stories, wisdom, and insights into life as a young person, explained in a way which their significant adults can understand. Each chapter ends with “points,” takeaways for the reader to both meditate on and work on in their relationship with their children/youth.

Parent Points was an enjoyable, but meaty read. It made me both laugh and cry. It allowed me to reflect/reminisce while also planning ahead for future interactions. Best of all, the book made me THINK. How do I interact with the young people in my life? How can I improve those interactions? How can I help them to grow towards Christ, conveying His great love for them through the way that I treat them?

Gleanings from a Book: Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women by Sylvia Leontaritis

Reading through the Psalter is a beautiful discipline at any time, but especially during a Lenten period. Sharing this experience with friends is even more lovely. Over the years, I’ve been part of several Lenten Psalter groups. Alongside my sisters (and some brothers) in Christ in these groups, I have both struggled and enjoyed the process of reading twice through the Psalms during a particular Lenten period. When I heard about Sylvia Leontaritis’ new book Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women, I was excited to have this pretty-covered version of the Psalter to be my companion book as I pray.

What I did not expect was the chance to pray the Psalter while feeling that I was sharing the experience with a wise best friend. Both Sylvia’s heart for God and her desire to live a truly Orthodox life pour out through her words, simultaneously challenging and encouraging her readers in a way that is usually reserved for dear friends. The tone in which she writes welcomes the reader to embrace her observations, ponder them, and then consider how to implement the ideas for their own growth.

A Handful of Resources: Summer 2018

Several fantastic resources have recently come to our attention. Some of them have been around for a few years, while others are recently published, but all of them were new to us and we consider them well worth sharing! Here they are:

  1. The SuperHolies series of books by Mireille Mishriky includes three books from 2016 to date, with more to come: Philo and the SuperHoliesPhilo and the Patience SuperHoly, and Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly. Each book explores the “SuperHolies” (the virtues mentioned in the Scriptures as the fruit of the Holy Spirit), which can be “activated” in our life when we ask for God’s help. Each book tells about a time when Philo (a Coptic Orthodox boy) finds himself in a tough spot, remembers the SuperHolies, and then prays by making the sign of the cross. This activates the “SuperHolies” in his life and helps him respond as he should!
  2. Love & Joy Coloring Book by Draw Near Designs, copyrighted 2017, is a child-sized (or purse sized!) coloring book with 25 spreads featuring saints of the Orthodox Church and a quote from/about each.

Ideas for Summer Fun

In the northern hemisphere, it’s summer time! For many families, this means a break from our usual school year schedule. We want to provide our children with plenty of time to regroup and rest after the intensity of their studies, because they have worked very hard. We want them to learn to have some unstructured time - and perhaps even a little taste of boredom - to give them the opportunity to invent and play their own games. But we also want them to continue learning, although perhaps in a different way than they are learning during the school year. And in the midst of all of of that, we want to make fun memories together as a family. 

To these ends, here is a small gathering of fun activities, learning opportunities, and ways to make this summer a little more fun. Try one or all of them, if you are so inclined! Tuck your favorite ideas into your back pocket if you’ve already got a good handle on your summer. It could be that one or more of them will come in handy at the last minute!

Regardless of how we spend the summer, may we enjoy the change in schedule and savor the additional time to be together! 

Summer is already partly spent, so you may already have a routine that works for your family. But if not, or if you want to switch things up a bit, here’s a clever way to do something fun together each day of the week during summer vacation:

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Need ideas for preschoolers? How about some of these? 

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This page offers 30 educational, creative, and budget-friendly (not to mention fun) ideas of summer-y things to do with kids!

Gleanings From a Book: Everything Tells Us About God by Katherine Bolger Hyde

From the first glance, this beautiful book invites engagement. The cover sets the tone for the book: it creates an expectation for beauty, variety, and a joyful reveling in God’s generosity with His people. When the reader opens the book, the end paper catches their eye. It is a golden, nearly-completed puzzle. But why is that one piece missing? And what does this have to do with the title? Without reading a word, the reader is already curious and determined to know more!

The book begins by telling the reader that the world is like a giant puzzle. God made this puzzle to tell us about Himself. He designed each piece - each part of the world - to help us learn some of His secrets. When we really look at the pieces, we can learn about Him through them!

Tending The Garden – Family Meditations for Great Lent

A brand new resource is coming out just in time for Great Lent! Author and podcaster Elissa D. Bjeletich and Orthodox Christian Parenting's Kristina Wenger have teamed up to create this blog and podcast.

Find the initial blog post, which includes three creative ideas for a "Lenten Countdown" at the blog site, tending-the-garden.com! Remember to subscribe, so that as Lent begins, you can access daily printable meditations related to the themes of Great Lent. The meditations will also be available as podcasts from Ancient Faith, so your family can read them OR listen!

Share photos of your family's "Lenten Countdown" on Facebook or Instagram, with #tendingthegarden , #orthodoxlent and/or #orthodoxfamily.

May the Lord bless you and your family as you prepare for this wonderful, holy season of Lent!

On Demonstrating Love to Our Children

As we approach Valentine’s Day and see reminders of love everywhere around us, the opportunity arises for us to evaluate how well we are loving others. It is one thing to say that we love someone, but often quite another thing to act in such a way as to show them that our words are true. However, even God Himself is demonstrative with His love: “...God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If God, who IS Love, chooses to demonstrate His love, how much more should we, who are not in essence love, do our best to do the same?

The reason that we know and love God is because of His demonstrative love for us. Because we love God, it follows that love for others should flow out of the love that we have for Him. St. Justin Popovich indicated such (and more!) results of loving God when he said, “Love for Christ overflows into love for one's neighbor, love for truth, love for holiness, for the world, for purity, for everything divine, for everything deathless and eternal... All these forms of love are natural manifestations of love for Christ. Christ is the God-man, and love for Him always means love for God and for man.” And St. Basil the Great encourages us to demonstrate our love, not just for family and friends, but to everyone in his statement, “As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people.”

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle 6: Teach the Joy of Repentance

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing. Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here.

Principle 6: Teach the Joy of Repentance

Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book Parenting Toward the Kingdom is filled with wisdom and encourages godly parenting. The sixth and final principle, “Teach the joy of repentance,” is yet another challenge towards godliness, and is as invaluable to the souls of the parents who follow it as it is to those of their children. He begins with a chapter on repentance, then discusses the joy of repentance, and closes with the encouragement that Orthodox Christian homes nurture repentance and confession.

The chapter on repentance begins by encouraging parents not to focus on “doing” parenting, but rather to focus on loving God while responding to our children. He emphasizes that only a saint would parent perfectly, and that we should not expect ourselves to be able to do so. Rather, we should expect ourselves to learn and grow, just as we expect our children to learn and grow. The Holy Spirit will raise in us the fruits necessary to be the parents we must be. If we want to best reach our long-term parenting goals, we need to labor to acquire the Holy Spirit. As we work towards living a Godly life, it is important that we not cover over our mistakes; but rather that we use those mistakes to teach our children the joy that is found in repentance. Since repentance is at the heart of our Christian life, it follows that teaching repentance should be at the heart of our parenting.

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle 5: Teach the Joy of Obedience

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing. Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here.

Principle 5: Teach the Joy of Obedience

Dr. Mamalakis encourages his readers to teach their children the joy of obedience in chapters 14 and 15 of his book Parenting Toward the Kingdom. Chapter 14 focuses on the joy of obedience, and ch. 15 encourages parents to nurture a culture of listening. Parents need to be attuned to both to successfully teach their children the joy of obedience.

He begins the chapter about the joy of obedience by acknowledging that it is difficult to get our children to listen to us and to obey. He states that while obedience is important, it is not the end goal.

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #4: Separate Feelings from Behaviors

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing. Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here.

Principle #4: Separate Feelings from Behaviors

Dr. Mamalakis encourages parents to separate feelings from behaviors in principle 4 of Principle #4: Separate Feelings from Behaviors. This is a very important principle, as demonstrated by the fact that it takes almost one-third of the book to speak to it. He addresses this principle across seven chapters: Take the Side of Feelings, Set Limits to Behaviors, Strategies for Setting Limits, Setting Limits With Your Child, Responding to Pushback, Understanding Consequences, and Giving Consequences.

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of Kingdom Values and Virtues

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing. Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Read an overview blog post about the book here. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here.

Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and Virtues of the Kingdom

Dr. Mamalakis' third principle of parenting encourages parents to understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. This principle is covered by two chapters in his book Parenting Toward the Kingdom. The chapters encourage parents to name their child's struggle and to separate their own struggle from their child's.

Dr. Mamalakis begins addressing this third principle by reminding the reader that if we are truly parenting toward the kingdom, we need to name our children’s struggles and frame every struggle that they encounter in the context of the kingdom. That is, we must look at each struggle in terms of the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God. Every struggle our children experience is an opportunity to help them learn those values and virtues. God has placed each of us into our family to struggle and learn together about His kingdom: that is what family life is all about.

​On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #1: Always Parent with the End in Mind

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing. Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book at Ancient Faith.

Principle #1: Always parent with the end in mind.

Dr. Mamalakis encourages us to “Think Long Term” and to consider “How Children Learn” in the first two chapters of “Parenting Toward the Kingdom,” which address the first principle of parenting: “Always parent with the end in mind.” Parenting with the end in mind requires that we think beyond the moment and our short-term goals (ie: for peace and quiet at the dinner table) to what our long-term goals for our children may be (ie: for them to learn to work out their disagreements in a godly manner) and act towards that end. To be able to do so, we need to think first of what type of adults we wish our children to be when they are grown. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that, as Orthodox Christian parents, we think far beyond earthly “success” as a goal for our children, and look instead to what will make our children successful followers of Christ.

Time to Go to Church… A Time to Fear and Dread?

Author’s note: The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education is blessed to be able to share the wisdom of others. Parents, find out how others are keeping their kids engaged in the service by exploring this compilation of advice shared by Fr. John Peck on his website Journey to Orthodoxy. You can explore the original article and also view our handout on church behavior.

Let the Little Children Come
by Presbytera Marilisse I. Mars

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 19:14

It's Sunday morning. The church bulletin says that church starts at 10:00am. It's now 10:30am. You're walking to the car to take yourself and the kids to church. You're arriving at communion. You're embarrassed to come in that late, but you're less embarrassed (after all, half the parish comes to church late) than you would be by your children's behavior if you stayed for the whole service. You walk in during the Lord's Prayer. A few minutes later, thank God, communion. Now you can go. Lunchtime!   Read More...

Helping Children Worship
From St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church

Dear St. Luke Family,
We are on a quest to train our children to love the Lord's Day! We want them to love the Divine Liturgy, to actively engage in it, and to understand it.

​Finding a Way to Help (Even on a Limited Budget)

Author’s note: We have written in the past about having a family goal for the summer. If your family’s summer goal is to grow in the faith, read on! We’ve also shared some ideas of activities in your back pocket for when your children need some guidance/something to do. Here is another idea  - something that your family can do together that will offer common purpose while also allowing you to actively live your Faith this summer.

There are so many different needs that come to our attention. A local fire or flood, a foreign orphanage, a friend-of- a-friend’s illness with lofty medical costs, hungry homeless in a nearby city, etc. The list goes on, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Because we are Christians, we need to live a life of giving and helping. We become aware of needs, sometimes on a daily basis, and we know that we should be part of the cure for those needs. But where do we start?

Gleanings from a Book: "The Suitcase" by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called The Suitcase: a Story about Giving. The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant - even a leader - in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book. 

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine!

Gleanings from a Book: Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the- trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed! My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)

But I digress. Let's get back to the book. "Parenting Toward the Kingdom" outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

Gleanings from a Book: Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God's Creation

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting - Cultivating God's Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Liturgy of Bedtime

by Albert Rossi, Ph.D., St. Vladimir's Seminary

One of the more regular times of "Letting the children come" to God is bedtime. Often stories and prayers at bedtime can be relaxed, non-competitive time with children. When everything is right, bedtime can be a time when the unconditional love of parent for child is almost tangible. Children are usually tired and sometimes less frenetic. It also goes without saying that some nights seem more like thinly veiled chaos. But, hopefully, most nights are more peaceful.

Going to sleep for children happens gracefully only within an elaborate ritual. This is the liturgy of going to sleep and is not totally unlike other liturgies. Father Alexander Schmemann spoke of the Eucharist beginning with the long ritual of getting dressed for Church and continuing through the trip to Church and all the beautiful liturgy preceding Communion. In a similar way, children go to sleep after intricate ceremony. This usually includes taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, kissing everyone in the household goodnight, hearing a story, saying prayers, getting tucked in, and for little ones, a Linus blanket and Teddy for special security. This is the liturgy of bedtime. It's a tender time, a loving time. It's a rare and precious time. It's a time to be close to each other and to God.

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.

On The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos

On November 21 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.

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:

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