Sunday, April 24, 2016

Red Egg Poem printable

I decided to play around with a new red egg design this year, and I made a little poem to go with it. It fits a full size page, but feel free to scale it down for cards, etc. We're almost there!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Holy Week Map

This is a Holy Week Map I made for our church. It folds into a pamphlet. The outside has our church's contact information and services, but the inside has a map of all the services of Holy Week with a brief description. If you want to use the map, you can leave off the second page with our church info.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

When God Made You (a book review)

I wrote this review for We Wilsons, but wanted to share it with my reader's here, too. 

I like to include books in our Easter baskets each year, and this year I found one so lovely I bought it for my godchildren, too! I love a book that puts beautiful illustrations and poetic images in children's hands, and even better, this book challenges them to think poetically, too. When God Made You is a delight. We don't celebrate Easter until later this year (see why here), so I'm still waiting to share it with my kids, and I can hardly wait!

Each page introduces a new child from a different culture and with different gifts. It goes one to explain the unique recipe for each child: seeds, fizzy candy, drum beats and wood. My oldest daughter loves drawing connections to metaphors, so I believe she will like thinking about how these "ingredients" work together to make each child's unique skills and strengths. The book ends by asking, "What beautiful things was God thinking when He made you?" I expect we will have silly and serious conversations about what beautiful things in our world might make each of us.

The book clearly presents God as the maker of people (and beauty!), but doesn't go much farther to explain God. This has the lovely affect of encouraging children to see God through his creation, and leaves the door open for you to discuss your faith in the way you choose.

The illustrations initially look like fanciful watercolors, but the more you look, you can see illustrator Megan Elizabeth Gilbert included collage elements as well. The pictures are full of new things to find with each reading.

The author Jane Meyer encourages children to write or draw their own page for "When God Made You," and send it to her! Here are some instructions I put together to get my kids started, with my own little entry below. I'll have to share later when the kids do their own.
1. What do you do really well? (an action, e.g. painting)
2. What do you like about that? (looking, color, being playful)
3. What is hard about it? (seeing too much,
3. What kinds of things help you do it? (brushes, pigments, flowers, icons)
4. Where do you live, and where do you do your action? (Tennessee, upstairs)
5. Write your explanation of what God was thinking when He made you!
6. Draw a scene of you doing your thing in your place. Be sure to show what is unique about where you live, and include the elements that you like and that help you. Hide some of these elements here and there so people don't see them all at first (because isn't that how God hides things in us?).
When God made Laura, he spattered her cheeks with copper and tickled her fingers with foxgloves. Then he gently opened her eyes and brushed her lashes with sunlight and clay and gold leaf. Stepping aside and pointing, God said, "Laura, paint!"

*This book review contains affiliate links, but I bought the book and reviewed it out of my own delight!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

We've been talking about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving this week. Here's what we're up to:

Our table centerpiece
We made a similar centerpiece a few years ago, and so I thought we'd do it again this year. I pulled out stuff that could represent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving like this cardboard icon on a popsicle stick and a candle (prayer), mixed dried beans (fasting), coins (almsgiving). I also included a flower pot with sand, and a little vase - and I just talked about the three things we do during Lent and let the kids put the centerpiece together however they like. They added the purple flowers for a little beauty and joy. I ask them every few days, "What three things does this remind us to do?"

We have plans for the kids lenten prayer and fasting, so I decided to make a plan for almsgiving, as well. I gave them each a piece of paper divided into 6 sections for the 6 remaining weeks of Lent (we didn't get organized for clean week). Then I asked them to think of at least one act of kindness they could do each week for different people. They spent some time thinking and drawing in their plans. When they were finished, we talked about giving in secret, and folded the papers in half to keep their plans private. They've been excited about their secret plans, and keep checking to see what their supposed to be doing this week.

I drew this little diagram to teach them about the three legged-stool of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and then later scanned it and made a fancy little gif. :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Celebrating Christ on Easter (with baskets!)

You guys, I love Easter.

Easter, or Pascha, along with Lent and Holy Week, has become my favorite time of year. These days of intense preparation are beautiful and difficult and call me back to a place of deep joy.

So each year around this time, when I see people lamenting bunnies and pastel eggs, and dismissing the whole thing as pagan, I want to remind them of the beautiful Christian origins of this feast. This is the Feast of feasts! Early Christians didn't keep this feast because they secretly didn't want to give up their pagan traditions - they had the greatest reason of all to celebrate. We, too, have every reason to celebrate this day with joy - even with eggs and baskets!

So, to encourage you to embrace this season, I've put together a brief list of Easter facts and symbols explaining their origins (with sources). I'm not a historian, so I'm relying heavily on wikipedia, and in this case, I'm grateful for the communal knowledge it offers on the subject. I'm also including some pictures from my family's celebration of Pascha in recent years. Here we go!

1. "Easter" or "Pascha"
Icon of Christ on the cross at St. Nicholas
Orthodox Church in Jackson, TN, 2015
The word "easter" derives from the old Germanic word for the month Easter usually fell in: Ēosturmōnaþ (our month of April). The month was named for the goddess Eostre, a germanic divinity, in the same way that many of our months are named for Roman gods. This connection to the goddess is dependent solely on a statement by Bede in the 8th century. But the celebration of Easter undoubtedly preceded the term. (Wikipedia: Easter Etymology)

Early Christians actually called the feast by the greek name for Passover, since the resurrection happened during the Passover weekend and the earliest Christians were Jews. Πάσχα or Pascha is the greek word. (Wikipedia: Easter Etymology) The words can be used interchangeably. In the US, the name "Pascha" is still used by Orthodox churches.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul calls Christ the passover, or Pascha, "For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Christ fulfills the old feast, and is himself the new feast!

2. Beginnings
Easter began as Jewish Christians continued to celebrate Passover with the new Christian implications. A fully formed Christian celebration of Pascha is evidenced by the mid-2nd century by the Paschal homily of Melitos of Sardis. (Wikipedia: Easter in the Early Church, and the Homily)

3. Lent 
decorating the funeral bier on Holy Friday
The term "lent" is derived from an old English term meaning spring. In Greek speaking countries it is called Μεγάλη Τεσσαρακοστή, which means "Great 40 days," but still called "Great Lent" in English. (Wikipedia: Great Lent)

In the early church, new Christians prepared for their baptism with a period of fasting and prayer. This gradually developed into a 40 day fasting period, and was connected to Easter, and was eventually adopted by the whole community in communion with the new Christians' baptism. The liturgical celebration of Lent and Holy Week vary in the East and West, and among Orthodox Christians customs vary in different regions, but they all originated as a time of repentance and preparation for baptism. (Wikipedia: Lent)

Holy Week is an intense week of services, walking us through the final days of Christ's life. My favorite part begins when we read 12 long gospel passages about the passion on Thursday night and during the service nail an icon of Christ on a cross. On Friday morning, the children decorate the funeral bier with flowers. Then, we have a shorter service remembering Christ being taken down from the cross, when the icon is taken down and wrapped in a sheet and laid on the funeral bier. That night we carry the funeral bier in a procession around the church, and re-enter the church by going under the bier (symbolizing our union with Christ in death). Holy Friday services are powerful and beautiful!

On Saturday night, around midnight, the church is dark. Slowly, chanting a beautiful invitation to receive Christ's light, the priest brings one candle from the altar, and everyone lights their candle until the church is full of light. Soon, we shout and sing Christ is risen in many languages. The fast is over and the celebration has begun. After the Liturgy, we have a big feast in the middle of the night, eating all the foods we've been fasting from. I love that all of our serious hard work ends with full-hearted fun.

4. The date
Churches in the East and the West use the same ancient formula to calculate the date of Easter, but the East uses the old Julian Calendar as opposed to the new Gregorian calendar. So Eastern churches celebrate Pascha sometimes several weeks after Western Eastern, although occasionally they still fall on the same date. You can read the specifics of the calculations at the link. (Wikipedia: Easter computations) This year Easter and Pascha are 5 weeks apart! So if you miss out on Western Easter, you still have time to join in on Eastern Pascha. ;)

Our Pascha Basket, 2014

5. Easter Baskets 
Easter baskets at the front of the church at
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
Early Christians fasted prior to Easter by giving up meat, eggs, and dairy (as well as wine and oil). So when Pascha arrived, they brought baskets of these rich foods to the church to be blessed. After the Paschal Liturgy they feasted on these foods in the spirit of the joy of the resurrection. (Wikipedia: Easter Egg Lenten Tradition)

 Eastern Orthodox Christians still keep this tradition, with varying customs. In our church, we bring our baskets, laden with food and decorated with flowers and fancy cloth covers (like mine shown above), into the front of the nave of the church during the Liturgy. At the very end of the service, the priest blesses the eggs and "flesh meats" - and then we take the baskets to the hall to enjoy our feast together. Besides food for the church feast, many families include foods that they will take home and enjoy throughout the rest of Bright week as they continue to celebrate at home. In our basket above, we included butter, eggs, chocolate for the kids, summer sausages and fancy cheeses.

6. Easter Eggs 
printable cards telling
the meaning of Red Easter Eggs
Eggs are certainly a sign of new life and spring, and this fits thoroughly with the themes of Passover and Easter. While pastel and chocolate eggs are modern traditions, the egg itself has long been associated with Christian Easter. The egg reminds us of a stone, but, like Christ's tomb, it breaks open to reveal new life. (Wikipedia: Easter Egg)

Orthodox Christians don't dye their eggs in pastels, but deep red for the blood of Christ, which yields this new life. The tradition of red eggs comes from legends about Mary Magdalene. (Wikipedia: Easter Eggs Legends) The one I'm most familiar with tells how Mary shared the gospel with the Roman Emperor. When appearing before the emperor, one usually brought a gift, and Mary, having given away all of her possessions to the poor, brought a humble egg. The emperor was offended by her simple gift, and when she told him that Christ was risen from the dead, he rudely replied, "He is no more risen than that egg is red!" And immediately the egg turned red in her hand. (From a Children's Paradise of Saints)

I can appreciate another reason eggs may have become abundant at Easter celebrations. Christians fasted from eggs during the springtime, when hens suddenly begin laying lots of eggs! So by the time Easter arrived, they needed to eat all the eggs so they wouldn't go to waste. We have a dozen or so chickens at our house, so I try to dye a bunch of red eggs to share each year!

my red eggs, ready to go to church!

7. The Easter Bunny
Orthodox Christians don't have any bunnies in their traditions, although I might still eat a chocolate one! Wikipedia suggests the easter bunny was developed later by German Lutherans to reward good children much like Santa Claus. So, although this is one of the customs people are quick to call pagan, it seems to be just a fun, folk tradition with springtime symbols. (Wikipedia: Easter Bunny Association with Eostre) We don't play Easter bunny in our family, but we still enjoy treating the kids with baskets of their own on the following morning, with chocolates, books, and toys. Here's our Pascha breakfast table, late on Pascha Sunday last year (after we came home and slept off our late night Liturgy and feast).

A beeswax egg candle, cadbury eggs, homemade donuts, legos
and new bibles were in the kids' Pascha baskets last year.

So there you go. Whatever customs you don't like, the thoroughly Christian traditions are rich enough that you can easily do without bunnies and pastels and still celebrate this feast with joy.

This video shows the end of the procession at the Paschal vigil last year. We've just filled the dark church with light and we begin to shout, "Christ is risen!" in many languages. Last year, I had a 1 week old newborn, but I didn't want to completely miss our mission church's first Paschal celebration, so baby and I sat in the narthex to watch, and that's where I took this video. Towards the end, you can see our baskets at the front of the church and children sleeping in the chairs - this is the joy at the end of the journey.

End of the procession during Paschal Matins. Christ is risen!

I've mostly written here about the light-hearted customs of baskets and eggs, but they are only a small part of this rich feast. The celebration of Pascha reveals the mystery of the Christian faith in the resurrection, the eighth day. More than just remembering the resurrection, we immerse ourselves in it "to experience the new creation of the world, a taste of the new and unending day of the Kingdom of God." (Orthodoxwiki: Great and Holy Pascha) So don't miss out on this Feast of feasts on account of bunnies or pagans. Instead, let's celebrate it with prayer, struggle and beauty, with fun and food, singing and shouting "Christ is risen!" because, truly, He is risen. 

More Reading:
- To read more about the Orthodox liturgical celebration of Great Lent and Pascha: GOARCH: Great and Hoy Pascha
- The author of the children's book Catherine's Pascha tells of the history of Pascha Baskets, Pascha Eggs
- Rita Wilson wrote about Greek Orthodox Pascha: This is how we do it: Greek Easter: 
- Not its not all about Ishtar.
- The Modern Myth of the Easter Bunny
- On the Bunny Trail: In Search of the Easter Bunny

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Great Lent Printables (Calendar, Lady Lent, and Services Cards)

I made some new printables for the kids at our church last week, and wanted to share.

First, is a new version of my older Lenten Calendar - the difference is that this one is made with cartoons I drew myself (and the previous one used the line drawings from the OCA education website), but also I made a second page with stamps of many of the other services of Lent. You can either paste them in to match your church's service schedule, or earn stamps as you attend services. I'm not sure how I'll use them this year, but here they are:

I drew a Lady Lent that includes the poem:

And finally I made these cards of services of Great Lent. I made these specifically to create a bulletin board for our church kids. I printed the first page (which has the Sunday's of Lent) full size, but I printed pages 2 and 3 at 50% so that the cards are smaller. (I mean to take a picture of my bulletin board for you, but forgot - maybe I'll get one later, but in the meantime, you can get an idea from the cartoon I drew for my daily comic! Picture added below.) Its basically a green winding path with the large Sunday cards spaced evenly throughout, and the smaller weekday cards inserted where they belong on the calendar. I also cut out a small black figure of Lady Sarakosti, and the children and I will move her along the path through Lent. 

You could probably come up with other uses for these cards - let me know if you do!

Bulletin board!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lenten Memory Verse Tree

We're doing a Lenten Memory Verse Tree this year, much like our Memory Verse Garden last year. We're using the same verses from Sunday's Gospels, but we've simplified things by just adding leaves to our tree each week. I'm feeling pretty good about this lower maintenance version, and I like using a tree as our imagery going into Lent and Holy Week.

 We're starting this week with the Triodion! Find the instructions and printables below.

1. Make a tree on a poster or wall (or a window) using brown construction or kraft paper. I used kraft paper and packing tape I already had to make my tree, seriously, in about 5 minutes. The kids were very impressed, but it was very easy! [You can see an example with instructions here.]

2. Print memory verse leaves on green construction paper. You can either use blank leaves and write your own verses, or use the leaves with verses already on them. [These leaves fit 2 per page; if you are making a smaller tree, you may want to print your leaves at 50% or other scale.]

3. Follow the weekly guide, cutting out and adding leaves to the tree each week as you discuss the Sunday’s Gospel. [Remember you can bookmark the Sunday's Gospel page from the Antiochian website and listen each week!]

4. [Optional: We have dogwood trees in our yard. Dogwood flowers are white with four petals like a cross. I intend to cut out a dozen or so of these and put them on the tree on Pascha night as a pretty surprise for the children after the Liturgy. The Dogwood flower template is also provided, and you can find "A legend of the Dogwood Tree" by Catholic Icing. You could also add fake flowers, butterflies or other pretty things to your tree.] I'll try to remember to add pictures after Pascha.

1. Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” – Luke 18:13
2. Sunday of the Prodigal Son: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” – Luke 15:18
3. Sunday of the Last Judgment: "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”--- Matthew 25:40
4. Forgiveness Sunday: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21
1. Sunday of Orthodoxy: “Come and see.” – John 1:46
2. Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas: “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’” – Mark 2:5
3. Sunday of the Cross: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” – Mark 8:34
4. St. John of the Ladder: “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” – Mark 9:23
5. Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt: "Whoever would be first among you must be servant of all.” – Mark 10:44
1. Palm Sunday: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” – John 12:12
1. Great and Holy Pascha: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1: 4, 5