Friday, August 3, 2012

Transfiguration Journey

For this activity, you'll need a few blindfolds, a Bible, an icon of the Transfiguration, and a lot of trust! Our goal is to lead the children or teens on a journey to understanding God better. Remember, Peter, James, and John were still not able to identify Christ as God before the Transfiguration happened on Mt Tabor. We say that their eyes were yet to be illumined...

To begin, consider your surroundings: your home, a park, the Church? Where might you hide the icon of the Transfiguration, so that you can lead the children or teens to it? Can you climb up stairs, while holding hands blindfolded, to simulate ascending Mt Tabor? Can you convince them to trust you, while they are uncertain where you are going, and why? When you arrive at your destination, only then can the blindfolds be removed, hands let go, and the story revealed.

Explain that God had a very important message for the disciples before His crucifixion, just like Moses who climbed Mt Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. Like them, you have ascended to a high place to learn about Christ. How did it feel trusting the leader? Are they ready to see why they've taken this journey?

Ask one of the children to read out loud Matthew 17:1-9.

Next review the icon together and identify why each person was there: Moses, represents the Jewish Law, Elijah, represents the Prophets, Peter, James and John, represent all those alive in Christ. The Holy Trinity is also present. Can they identify how? The Father speaks, Christ is present both fully divine and human, and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Light surrounding Christ.

Complete the discussion by asking the children to draw out the important lessons they have learned about God. What did He want to teach us?

* That Jesus is fully God and fully Man

* That Jesus is the bridge of the past, present, and future:
by having present Moses, Elijah, and the new disciples

* That God is the Holy Trinity

* That we too can become like Christ, transfigured and
radiant with the Holy Spirit

Along your journey back, chat with the kids/teens about the timing of this event in Christ's life and explain that the Transfiguration happened right before Jesus was to be crucified. For us today, we can feel equipped with the Truth and prepared for the trials ahead of us, as the disciples did entering the Lord's Passion.

Please e-mail if you would like to receive the Word Scramble handout on this lesson or the icon larger which includes the journey up the mountain together and back down.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Teaching 10 Commandments

 We're in the process of teaching the 10 Commandments throughout our Orthodox summer religious education classes, and although we don't have an established curriculum, there have been many resources that I'd like to share in case others might need them. It could be a great Vacation Bible School program as well.

We teach one commandment every week, adding them to our two plaques cut out of cardboard. Along with the short lesson, we are watching small portions of this animated video  posted on youtube each week.  It really does seem that as the story of the Prophet Moses unfolds, so do the lessons of the 10 Commandments along with it. The kids are really enjoying the video. I find it well done, even if the Prophet Moses was not so muscular.

First 4 -              Mans’ relationship with God
Last 6   -            Man’s relationship with fellow man

1.      I am your God. There are no other gods except me.
2.      Do not believe in other fake idols. Worship only God.
3.      Do not use the Lord's name without serious purpose.
4.      Work 6 days and dedicate the seventh for God.
5.      Honor your father and mother.
6.      Do not kill anyone or anything - including even a bug!Life is from God.
7.      Honor and respect marriage between one man and one woman
8.      Do not steal.
9.      Do not tell lies
10.  Do not be jealous of others.

Intro: Begin a discussion on how we know what right and wrong is? Ask for examples to be given of good behavior and bad. Where did we learn this? Most often answered, from our parents. And "Who" is the greatest Father of us all? God, who wanted us to have a set of rules to follow, so that we may live in harmony with His desire for us, and the world. These guidelines are called the 10 Commandments.

1st Commandment - God reveals "who" He is so that we may worship Him correctly. He tells us His Name (YAHWEH) We know our God created the World and everything in it. He says He is the Alpha and the Omega or the beginning and the end. And as Orthodox Christians, we know God to be 1 in 3 persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just as we have mind, word and breath within the same person, Christ is the Word, the Holy Spirit the Breath all within the same one God. Video footage: The birth of Moses and his early childhood facing the cruel behavior of Pharoah, Moses attempting to do good

2nd Commandment - God cautions us to take care not to fill our lives with so many other things that there is no room for Him. Nothing can or should replace God in our lives, nor the time we devote to Him each day. Just as it is important to worship Him in Truth, as we learned from the 1st Commandment, now we must take care only to worship and honor Him as the only God. Identify together examples of false idols (see handout) or ask your teens to cut out "idols' from popular magazines.Discuss trendy statues and how acceptable it is to display these in store windows and homes today, along with putting our faith or hope in superstitions, astrology horoscopes, fortune telling, and magic. (All of which if we have participated in, we need to confess!) Video footage: Moses before Pharoah, who calls upon power of magicians and says Pharoah is "god" Eventually led to desert, the Jews make a gold calf

3rd Commandment - How many times do we here people yell out "O My God!" Can you imagine if God turned His attention each time, only to be told..."oh nevermind...I didn't really mean to call for you?" This is a common slip up but it can show our lack of respect for God's name. Let us teach instead to use our Lord's name only in prayer and doxology!

4th Commandment: This is a good chance to ask our children how often and when they remember God? Do they think of Him first thing in the morning? How about during a lesson at school, or in an afternoon sport? When we are busy, do we remember God is with us or do we treat Him like He is invisible? God knows that our day is filled with many tasks...and for this reason, He asks us not to forget Him by making sure we purposely stop everything else.

Our craft was to decorate these boxes as our "Kivoto" or Tabernacle that Aaron was tasked to build to house the plaques and for Moses to enter in to speak with God. We glued a square laminated card inside listing the 10 Commandments which were visible through the window, and decorated the outside colorfully with paints and decals. We also encouraged the students to only put religious items inside (a small cross, or icon card they may receive as a gift, a prayer rope, etc.) and to keep the box near their icons at home... The boxes were purchased here 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Preparing for Pentecost

Christ is Risen! But then what?

The story continues of course.... with more exciting details and events to engage our young listeners. Christ shows what we would call "superhuman" qualities! He appears in the upper room to the Apostles twice when the doors are sealed shut. He is seen along the road to Emmaus, but in some sort of disguise to Luke and Cleopa, until He breaks bread with them and is recognized essentially in the Eucharist (see the lesson plan here). Then forty days later the disciples stand in awe as Christ is taken up before their own very eyes into the sky on His return to the Father. What could possibly come next for the followers of Christ?

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”

Click this link for the printable lesson: Pentecost Worksheet & Kneeling Prayers

*** This year, I'm finally committed to bringing the prayers with me on Pentecost Sunday, because they are always in a language I cannot fully understand! ***

Monday, April 23, 2012

Christians in the Holy Land

Even though you and I may live far away from the Holy Land, as Christians and as Orthodox Christians we must stay educated about the situation there. Everyday life is VERY hard for the faithful people who remain there. We can keep them in our prayers and also do more for them by educating others about the injustices that occur. The images of the wall that Israel has erected are just horrifying. Bethlehem is completely trapped. Try getting across to see a doctor, or go to school...practically impossible and life-changing overnight. It reminds me of other ancient walls, like that in Berlin which I visited and saw how people who tried crossing were killed. Not exactly peaceful co-habitation.

View this 60 Minutes special that aired on Sunday, April 22, 2012. Click here.

The producers are correct - this is sacred space for us. Christians should not be squeezed out. We must peacefully proclaim the land where Christ was born, crucified, and resurrected as Holy Ground.

Please view this video and pass it along to others you know. There is a second video on Taybeh, the last village that Christ visited before His crucifixion. I remember fondly Dr. Maria Khoury and her children. We must do all that we can to support them and encourage them not to leave Palestine! They are the hope of future generations!

Click here to view a friend's album of pilgrimage pictures of the Holy Land

Thursday, April 19, 2012

St George Skit & Coloring Page

While enjoying the light of  Pascha for 40 days, don't forget that there are still many great Saints on the calendar to learn about! Coming up this Monday, April 23rd is the great martyr Saint George, who bears the title trophy-bearer in English.
The Dragon
Traveling on a white horse (Saint Demetrios is on the red horse), the soldier Saint George met a young girl, a local princess chosen by lot, who was about to be offered as food for the hungry dragon who threatened a certain town in Libya. He encouraged the maiden to have faith in Christ whom she did not know yet, and dropped to his knees in prayer, asking God to use that opportunity for others to believe in Him as the One True God. Upon meeting the dragon face to face, he made the sign of the cross, and the dragon fell like a meek puppy at the feet of the Saint. He instructed the girl to take her belt off and use it as a leash for the dragon
His Suffering
The Saint openly confessed himself as a Christian, and for that faced many tortures. He bore the weight of a large stone on his chest, was stretched on a wheel of knives, was buried in a pit with only his head above ground for three days and three nights, and was given a poisonous potion to drink from a magician. From all this, God healed and preserved him. When the Saint raised a boy from the dead through his prayer to God, the Empress Alexandra, wife of Diocletian, converted to Christianity. The furious Emperor imprisoned the Saint and beheaded Him in 303 AD.
His Appearances
God continues to work miracles through the Saint, even until today. About fifteen years ago a generous man in Syria came to Germany to build a "home" as he was instructed for someone whom he saw in a vision. The Syrian man met our priest on the street corner who was exhausted and ready to give up building our Church because the money ran out. After an explanation and a large gift from the Syrian, the Church was completed, bearing the name and icon of Saint George. The man finally recognized who spoke to him in the vision when he came face to face with the icon!

Video located here:

Skit Script located here:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Red Egg

Here's a look at the pious custom of red eggs in the Orthodox Church for you and your families to enjoy. Where did the tradition come from anyway? It seems there are a few possible answers to this question...of which I prefer to believe in the miracle that God worked through His handmaiden, Mary Magdalene (whom by the way is often wrongly attributed as the prostitute who anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair - See Orthodox Wiki for a well cited clarification).

Other symbolism, not as dogma, but as tradition includes:

*The egg as the new life in Christ through His resurrection

*Red for the color of our Lord's blood but also for His divinity

*The outer shell to be cracked as the doors of Hades are shattered

Since children enjoy decorating the eggs, why not encourage them to display their faith on them, as the picture shows! Be sure not to throw away any icons if you use them, but certainly include symbols like ~ icxc, fish, crosses, tree of life, the Trinity, 4 Greek Letters for Mother of God...etc

This worksheet is available in PDF format here

Holy Week Scrapbook Craft

For all you creative folks out there, consider putting your talents to use to create a Holy Week Scrapbook for your family or parish. Fill it with fun icons, Scripture verses, symbols, various languages, or photos as the week progresses. Use this as a learning tool, or a memory keepsake for 2009.

Here are a few suggested "call outs" to use with the icons:

Entry into Jerusalem:
Can you find Zaccheus? Why is Christ seated side-ways on the donkey? Did you know in colder countries the faithful use pussy willows instead of palm branches?

Washing the Disciples' Feet:
How many disciples were present? Who asks Jesus to wash his whole body? What is so special about feet?

Mystical Supper: Can you find St John resting on the bosom of Christ? How about Judas? He's usually the only one reaching for the food and is shown in profile, which signifies his two-faced betrayal.

Christ on the Cross:
What were the last words of our Lord? Can you find the blood and the water that spilled out from Christ's side? Who was crucified with Jesus? What was written above His head? In which three languages?

Christ being taken down from the Cross:
Can you find St. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea? They cared for Christ's body and received permission to take Him down from the cross. Who is holding Jesus' head? How will they bury Christ?

The Empty Tomb:
Which women were first to the tomb of Christ? What did they take with them? What is left behind where Jesus was laid?

The Resurrection:
Can you find Adam and Eve being raised from their tombs? How about those departed who are standing to the sides of Christ - Saint John the Baptist (right) and King David (left). Abel, the son of Adam (left) and the first man to die, is present and depicted wearing a shepherd's robe. Why are there keys and broken locks under the Cross?

Use google image search to save and print your own icons

For a FREE Journey to Pascha Handbook click here

Friday, April 6, 2012

Pascha Poem & Orthodox Craft Idea

With a long white piece of paper, we made three folds and created our very own accordion Pascha card with original poem to accompany the Passion and Resurrection of Christ icons cut out from Orthodox catalogs. This simple craft turned out to be a nice way to reinforce the meaning behind each day for young and old. Especially for godchildren and penpals far away, it helps us stay in touch spiritually since we will not be able to celebrate together. Here are the words to our poem:

  1. To Christ our God, Who raised Lazarus from the dead...
  2. You traveled to Jerusalem with the people you led...
  3. Teaching all to be servants rather than trying to get ahead...
  4. Your Body and Blood for eternity us you fed...
  5. Then nailed to the Cross, You conquered death for three days dead...
  6. As we wait to proclaim with our eggs dyed red...
  7. "I am the Resurrection and the Life,
      he who believes in me shall never die." Jesus said.

Holy Week for Teens and Children

If you are looking for ideas for Holy Week in your parish, here are two of my favorites.

One idea was posted back in 2008 which leads young people to the Sacrament of Confession, often for the first time. Another idea is to teach our young people about the miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem.


Pair everyone up (with same gender) for a "piggy-back" contest.
For younger ones, use backpacks instead and add heavy items like staplers, stones.

The idea is to get them to try carrying around a lot of weight, to see how long they can go...before needing to release the "burden of our sins" They are not moving around, but rather standing in one place in one large room.

During the time period, you could ask various teens to read aloud the Gospel accounts of Christ's judgment before Pilate, Crucifixion, and burial in the Tomb. After the final pair has surrendered to sitting down, you discuss how it felt, what their thoughts were, how heavy was the weight for them, and at what point did they want help? What delayed them surrendering? Often, it is our pride that keeps us away from God, because we want to go about life on our own, until we finally accept God's help because we have reached or limit.

Explain that Confessing our sins is exactly this same concept...of finding relief in the sacrifice that Christ made once and for all. When we experience the weight of sin in our lives,
there is nothing to help us remember God's love for us better than experiencing Confession.

When I did this activity, I showed them the Prayer of Absolution from the Sacrament of Confession, where our priests, through the grace bestowed on them from their ordination, with the stole over our head, and us kneeling, absolves our sins.

This activity lead into a personal reflection time to prepare to confess their own sins troubling them. See the 10 Tools for preparing, or print this reflection list located here... Ask if your priest is available during the afternoon to hear their confessions. I would encourage everyone to go to a personal Confession, however, even if only 5 teens go, it's absolutely worth it.

During down time, young people could help decorate the Tomb with flowerings and crawl under it
in the shape of a cross (which is an old custom)


A second idea is to watch a collection of videos of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem.  That miracle is one many of our kids have never heard..and the miracle continues each year!

On the Eve of the Resurrection, inside the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, the Holy Fire descends on the Patriarch of Jerusalem from within the Holy Sepulcher and believers pass the light around to all the faithful, who usually hold 33 candles bound together, to signify the 33 years of Christ's ministry on the Earth. The fire is miraculously given but also miraculous in nature, because it does not burn, just as Moses and the Burning bush. Believers have proved this by passing their hands through the fire, and many photos show. It's color is different than normal too, with more of a white-blue hue. The Holy Fire also bounces around like no light show ever manipulated by machines! Pilgrims have seen the Fire ignite unlit oil lamps on It's own.

There are many articles available as well, some better than others...

Search YouTube for videos and compile the best clips for your own presentation.

I hope one year to have the great blessing to be there in person - since I have only heard firsthand experiences from friends. The faith of the person has also contributed to many miracles that some see and others don't. Glory to God!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lazarus - Arise!

Remembering back to last year, the kids really enjoyed our Lazarus Saturday activity so I'm posting it again with a few talking points to build into your lesson early enough, along with our favorite photos.

It's extremely significant that the Church places Lazarus Saturday exactly one week earlier than the Resurrection of Christ. It is a miracle for teaching us the power of God so that we may learn to truly believe and have our faith transformed at Pascha. Just as we begin Holy Week, we get a glimpse and foretaste of the way God will save the world from the corruption of death. As Christ said, Lazarus was merely sleeping. Although death had claimed him, and he smelled from the corruption of his body, he will live again. This is our Orthodox theology! Our view of death as sleeping. A joyful sorrow of what we are about to experience in Holy Week.

Remember: Lazarus is each one of us. Each and every time we attend a funeral or place a loved one in the grave, we should remember this very real example. How does God feel about each one of us? Does He weep for us as He wept for Lazarus? Is He a loving God? Why has He allowed Lazarus to die?

We find the answer in the words of Christ to His Father, which are for our benefit. He says, "So that they may believe."

Christ attends the funeral to join the people in their sadness, and to transform the event into a celebration of life! He turns our tears of sadness into tears of joy!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Song: Jesus Prayer

In response to your requests, below are the audio files to learn the Jesus Prayer as a song with your teens and children. There are a few versions below: Two are slow, in English or Greek, and the third is a faster version to a slightly different melody that is especially great for road trips.You'd be surprised how the time passes quickly with everyone involved in prayer! Use this song to specifically pray for the poor, the hungry, the orphans, all monks and nuns, anyone by first name, etc... Although, if you are familiar with the theology behind the Jesus Prayer, you know that by praying this for yourself, you are essentially including all mankind and asking for God's great and abundant mercy to save us!

The first is in English, and sung in rounds from the CD "Panaghia With Us All: Songs and Hymns with the Children of Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church" recorded with Father Monk Christodoulos.

The second recording is simply the same melody in Greek: "Kyrie Isou Xriste, Yie tou Theou, Eleison Me"
And the third version...asking different members present to shout out the next name to pray for...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Monks & Nuns

This Sunday the Orthodox Church commemorates Saint Gregory Palamas during Great Lent, and it might seem like a difficult example to draw a lesson from. If you are wondering how to make this Sunday relevant, consider teaching about the subject of monasticism since the Saint spent several years living and praying within a small cave outside of Thessaloniki, Greece. It can be a great opportunity to introduce to our youth the actual daily routine of an Orthodox monk or nun. Even the fact that in our tradition, we have monks and nuns!

In Greek "monos" literally means alone. Hence the word "monastic" - one who lives alone

Brief vocab for the lesson with a printable worksheet:
The Talanto - a long narrow piece of wood struck with a pallet by designated monks/nuns in the monastery as a call to prayer for the others to attend Church. This tradition comes from the great Prophet Noah, who hit the ark to call the animals to enter inside.

The Hours - or otherwise known as the daily rule of prayer - praying the hours happens six times a day, at symbolic hours. 7 am (first hour, sunrise), 9 am (third hour, time of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost), 12 noon (sixth hour, our Lord's sacrifice began at Golgotha), 3 pm (ninth hour, our Lord's sacrifice on the Cross ended as He gave up His spirit to the Heavenly Father), 6 pm (Vespers - setting of the sun), 9 pm (Compline - before sleep), 12 midnight ( in the silent darkness the soul rises for prayer)

Komboskini - or prayer rope, in several sizes. The most common is 33 knots for 33 years of Christ's life. It is made by the hands of the monks/nuns who recite the Jesus prayer while making each knot, sealing within it the name of Christ. After it is complete, the prayer ropes are used as tools to continue praying for others and the world, often never leaving the fingers of praying monastics!

Tonsure -  this is the rite of initiation into the monastic state or the official blessing and becoming of a monk or nun in the Orthodox Church by a Bishop or Archimandrite. There are three levels: Rassophore, Stavrophore, and the Great Schema. The hair is cut as an offering of the person to God along with their whole life and their self will. Afterward the hair, even a beard, is never cut again. Vows of chastity, obedience and poverty are made with a commitment to strive within the monastery community of fellow brothers and sisters.

Ascetic - one who lives apart from the world to dedicate their life fully to God, sometimes in a cave or the desert. It is a very difficult life, with very little food, maybe dried bread or plants. Usually little clothing, a rock for a pillow and no dvd's, iphones or McDonalds!

Gerontissa, Geronda, Abbess, or Abbot - This is the spiritual mother or father assigned with the task of guiding and confessing the others monks and nuns to their salvation in Christ. Visitors to the monastery often bow and offer a kiss to their hand to take their blessing.
Novice - This is the title used for a beginner or interested person in becoming a monk or nun. Often this candidate will live within the monastery for several years as a trial to be certain before being tonsured. 

Trapeza - This is the dining hall where meals are shared all together. Fasting from meat is year round, and often spiritual food is offered simultaneously through reading or a small sermon. Sometimes, water is drunk only second to food when a small bell is rung, reinforcing the discipline of taming self will through obedience and gratefulness to God.

Diakonima – each monk or nun has specific work to complete that is assigned to them. Everyone works for the love of Christ and contributes to the community. Some cook, others garden, while another sews, and chants etc.

A monk or nun leaves the world to prayer for the world!

Explain that there are Orthodox monasteries around the world, and include a short description or slide show of photos from Mount Athos if you would like. Also share the location of an Orthodox Monastery near you. From personal experience, there is no greater impact on our youth than an actual visit to an Orthodox monastery first hand! Please consider arranging for a group trip from your parish, and expose this way of life to our young people.

A few children's books on the subject:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lent Crafts: Pascha Candles

In our parish, we try to offer a small craft related to Great Lent and Pascha each year. This year we have chosen to invite parents to decorate a "Lambatha, or Pascha Candle" with their children after the celebration of a Divine Liturgy on Sunday. Often these can be purchased with stuffed animals and ribbons, but we aim to use small icon stickers, wax decals, and symbols from our faith instead. Beeswax is an ideal offering, however white is also fitting for the Resurrection if this is what your parish offers.

Here are a few symbols to incorporate:
A small icon of the Resurrection
A Cross
Three Crosses
Alpha and Omega
IC XC NIKA (Jesus Christ Conquers)
The "X" and P"
Christ is Risen

Here is a sample graphic to print on labels. If anyone else has done this craft before, please share your advice. I found the following links that were helpful:

Secondly, a thought was offered to decorate the small plastic cup that is often used to catch the wax from burning little hands.

Or thirdly, you could decorate a small white lantern to take the "Holy Fire" home. This is helpful protection from the wind as well during processions!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Orthodox Coloring Books for Lent

The time has come for Great Lent 2012 - here are some extra resources to challenge your young ones! We have compiled a printable PDF workbook available for free at this Scribd link. It contains coloring icons, games and craft activities to accompany the Sundays during Lent as well as Lazarus Saturday and Holy Week. Please do not reproduce or sell this for profit in any way - it is simply available for parish and home use only.

To purchase other fantastic resources available in many languages visit Potamitis Publishing has extremely reasonable prices which include even the cost of shipping! They have informed me that the workbooks
have nice explanations on each page in both Greek and English for example.

I wish you all a fruitful journey this year, with many blessings and illumination for a glorious Pascha celebration!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lady Sarakosti Poem & Coloring for Great Lent

Quiet Lady Sarakosti, is a custom from long ago,
Our grandmothers used to make her, out of flour and H2O.

She wears a simple nun’s dress, with a cross upon her head, her hands in prayer without a mouth, to keep the fast with mostly bread.

Her feet teach us how to count, the weeks of Lent are seven, we cut one off each Saturday, until Pascha and the new heaven.

**If you make a better translation of the original Greek poem, please share it! This is also my version of a more Monastic Lady Sarakosti drawing with a prayer rope in hand and head veil**

Lady Sarakosti Recipe
2-2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
2-2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon                            
water (as much as needed)        
* Not to be eaten! *

Combine flour, salt and cinnamon in a medium sized bowl and gradually add enough water to form a stiff, but flexible dough. Roll dough out to 1/2" thickness. With a sharp knife cut out the figure as shown above. Cut out two long narrow strips for arms and join at shoulders (wet surface to which arms will be applied). Make slits in dough for fingers.  Mark closed eyelids and noise with pointed object. Wipe entire figure down with a lightly dampened cloth to make shiny. Bake in moderate oven until golden.