Sunday, February 19, 2017

Printable Lenten Passports and a Memory Verse Garden

Following up on last week's post of Lenten resources, I organized my memory verse garden with rocks and put together a very simple Lenten Passport. Details below.

There are so many pretty Easter gardens online, and I've been wanting to make one. The last time we made a Lenten garden, the girls were really little and picked all he flowers. But now we're old enough to try again. I wrote a phrase from each week's memory verse (from the Sunday Gospel reading) on a rock and lined them up leading to a jar. The last rock covers the jar opening like Christ's tomb. I will turn the rocks upside down and only turn over the verse for the current week, to mark where we are on the path. We planted a couple of succulents around the cave, put moss around the rocks, and then sprinkled wheat over the back. We love watching how quickly our wheat grows during the Nativity fast, so we're excited to use it again for Lent. (I meant to plant it during Clean Week, but the kids were excited, so we put it together during Cheeseweek!)

planning out the garden, before planting

a baby food jar, covered in dirt makes a cave

We covered all the dirt with moss, and planted a few succulents around the hill,
laid in our rocks, and sprinkled wheat seeds in the back where
they won't hid the rocks or cave as they grow.

Rocks turned over, except the first, revealing the first
memory verse we are learning for Forgiveness Sunday.

I used the Lent cartoon cards/stamps that I made for our calendar into stamps for a little passport. The passport is very simple, but it includes the memory verse for the week and extra space to write other things (almsgiving activities maybe?) - so I think it will keep all our Lenten educational stuff in one place.  St. Spyridon's in Loveland, CO has a really beautiful and really inexpensive color passport with icon stamps that you can order here.

The passports are embedded here for you to download or print. Print the pages front and back, and take out the page of stamps before stapling into a book. (The last page is blank because its the back of the stamps.)

Passport preparations begun!
L colored the image and wrote her almsgiving plans for each week.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Lent Resources!

Whew, Lent seems early this year, and I'm trying to get ready. It has been a hard year, and I'm feeling a little broken down by it all. So, I'm looking forward to the struggle and the intensity ahead. This time of preparation is beautiful and difficult, and it calls me back to a place of deep joy.

Last year I wrote about the Christian origins of Lent and Pascha. If you're still thinking early Christians kept this feast because they secretly didn't want to give up their pagan traditions, you may want to check out that post. They had the greatest reason of all to celebrate this day with joy, and so do we - even with eggs and baskets!

So, here are a few resources! First, some printable calendars - we keep one of these on our fridge and color in the days as we go to mark our progress. Just grab and print on regular paper.

simple calendar with line drawings from
the OCA education website

calendar using my own cartoons, including Annunciation,
to match the services at our parish for 2017

And this pdf version is mostly blank, with a 2nd page of stamps you 
can add in to match your own church services. 
(Or get the printable passport with stamps here.)

Second, a Memory Verse Guide using the Sunday Gospel readings. This year I think we'll be writing them on rocks and laying them in a garden. At least, that's the plan, I haven't started yet. ;) You can check out our Memory Verse Tree and Memory Verse Garden printable, or just use this guide to do memory verses your own way. I left a blank to write in the date, so you can use the same printable every year. 

A potted Lenten Garden we made many years ago. 

Finally, here's a Holy Week Map I made for our parish. Each day has a brief description of what is remembered on each day and a suggestion for simple, tangible ways to participate in the day. Last year, we printed this as a tri-fold pamphlet with our parish's service schedule on the outside. 

Wishing you a good fast!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Celebrating Christ on Christmas

I grew up enjoying Christmas with family, special foods, and visits from Santa, and now my family also enjoys celebrating the birth of Christ on this day. For me, the beauty of the incarnation is that, as Mary held God in her arms, we can know God dearly, too. This is the beginning of our salvation. Earlier this year, I wrote about the Christian origins of Easter, and I thought I'd do the same for Christmas. I've put together a brief list of Christmas facts and some of their origins. I'm not a historian, but I offer my sources.

1. "Christmas" or "The Nativity According to the Flesh..."
Most people know that the word "Christmas" is a shortened form of "Christ's Mass" from the Latin. The name of this feast in the Eastern Orthodox Church is officially "The Nativity according to the flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ." Admittedly, this is quite a mouthful, and it is casually called "Nativity" or "Christmas" by most American Orthodox Christians I know. Still, the name points to the theological importance of the feast: Christ, who was God before the ages, was born as a child for our sake, as proclaimed in the kontakion of the feast.

I love Christmas carols, byzantine hymns included! You can hear the 
rich theology in the English (1:10) which is so beautifully chanted.

2. Why We Have Religious Holidays 
Jewish Christians initially kept the Jewish calendar of feasts (see, for example, Acts 12:3, 20:16, 27:9). The Jewish Passover was clearly imbued with new meaning in Christ's resurrection (I Cor. 5:7), and became a distinctly Christian feast by the 2nd century. At the same time, during the persecutions of the early church, local communities commemorated the martyrs with celebrations on the anniversary of their death. The remembrance of these holy days were the beginning of the liturgical calendar, which developed somewhat organically as the church deemed what was instructive and beneficial to the ongoing life of the church. During the 4th century, with the legalization of Christianity, feasts celebrating occasions in the earthly life of Christ became popular especially on the actual or supposed historical sites of the events, and this is when the feast of the Nativity arose. Source

The liturgical calendar is like the most beautiful church school curriculum, worship plan, and memorial service combined. In the course of a year, the average liturgical Christian will learn theology by singing the hymns of the feasts; she will hear how the Old Testament is fulfilled by Christ through the scripture readings; see the many ways that the light of Christ can be shown in our lives by hearing the lives of the saints; and she will grow in understanding of all of Christ's saving work through his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection. More on the Orthodox liturgical calendar, and a cool infographic.

The Gospel Reading during the Liturgy for the  Nativity 

3. December 25th
Remember the calendar is primarily liturgical, even though it is rooted in historical events, so it doesn't mean that Christ was actually born on December 25th. The early church initially celebrated the feast of Theophany, or God's revelation of himself to us on January 6th. Later, the various aspects of God's self-revelation were separated into two feasts. Theophany, celebrating the public manifestation of the Trinity at Christ's baptism, remained on January 6th, and Christ's humble and hidden birth was celebrated on December 25th.

That date may have been chosen to replace the pagan feast of the Unconquered Sun as an opportunity to introduce pagans to the true Son, or else to use the winter solstice as a reference to Christ. The hymns illustrate this beautifully, "For by it, those who worshipped the stars were taught by a Star to adore You, The Sun of Righteousness, and to know You, the Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to You!" (Source) Christmas lights are similarly reminders of Christ, the true light.

Another possible reason for this date is that it is exactly 9 months from the feast of the Annunciation on March 25th. This feast was celebrated very early, and its date was chosen in relation to the date of Christ's death because of the ancient concept of "integral age." Both reasons are theological in nature, not necessarily historical, and show the church finding ways to redeem the time. (Source)

Many Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar which differs by 13 days. So, they celebrate the Nativity on January 7th, but, as I understand it, the reasoning is the same.

4. Christmas Services
Since Christmas began as the celebration of Christ's birth, it began as a church service. In the Orthodox Church, Christmas services are modeled after the services of Pascha, because we understand Christ's death and resurrection to be the cause of all things. (Orthodoxwiki) Like Pascha, we begin the season with a 40 day fast (often called Advent), and end it with an evening vigil and feast. (Western Christians have a shorter Advent beginning on December 1st.) Advent is also full of fun activities that prepare us for the coming of Christ like gift-making, almsgiving, keeping a Jesse Tree, or preparing a manger or nativity scene for Christ.

At our parish, the Christmas vigil is late at night on Christmas Eve followed immediately by the Divine Liturgy. The timing means that we are sharing in the Eucharist around midnight, welcoming Christ's birth. This makes a long, but joyful, service as we sing the canon, "Christ is born, glorify him!" and children fall asleep on the floor.  We break the fast together at church with sausage balls, spanakopita, chocolate, and other foods we've been missing, then hurry on to bed. When everyone wakes up the next morning, we enjoy the usual presents and time with family, and we rejoice to find the baby Christ in the manger.

baby not-sleeping during the Nativity vigil

5. The 12 Days of Christmas
While most Americans start celebrating Christmas sometime in November (or before), Orthodox Christians fast to prepare for this feast. But, not to worry, when the feast arrives, we celebrate for 12 days! Since Christmas and Theophany were linked from the beginning, the 12 days between them became the festal period, full of caroling, food, and decorations. So you don't have to take your tree down until January 6! (Fr. Andrew has a more detailed take on the length of Christmas here.)


6. St. Nicholas and Stockings
I've written about St. Nicholas many times before, so I'll be brief now. Because this great saint is remembered during Advent, he became associated with Christmas. He is known for his generosity, especially in the story of St. Nicholas tossing gold coins through the window into stockings of three poor maidens. Orthodox families incorporate St. Nicholas (or Santa) into their celebrations in many different ways, but the Church remembers him liturgically on December 6.

So, don't worry about the historical accuracy of the December 25th; you can keep celebrating into January; and yes, Virginia, there is a St. Nicholas. May your Christmas be filled with with anticipation, joy, and thanksgiving! Christ is born!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Happy St. Nicholas Day! This year we got to introduce the littlest one to our St. Nicholas traditions, and we finally remembered to leave carrots for St. Nicholas's donkey. We usually get stickers and spend the morning making pictures with them while we eat our chocolate. One of our littles didn't feel so well today, so we're sleeping it off hoping we can get out to church tonight. Enjoy the day, friends. Holy St. Nicholas, pray to God for us!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Advent Calendar Printable

I'm printing my Advent Calendars, and thought I'd share. We're doing something a little different with our printable this year. (You can see my two other 25/40 day Nativity Fast printables, but I like this one best!) We usually keep one on the fridge for the whole family, but this year, I'll print a page for each person in our family. Each day we'll write something we're grateful for or someone to pray for on the calendar. As we get closer to the manger, we'll have a long prayer list.

40 Day Advent Calendar Printable

There is a line on the edge of the manger that you can cut, and insert the baby Jesus into. A page with babies is below - it may be nice to print on cardstock. We'll probably wait and do that on Christmas Eve. Otherwise, you could paste the baby on permanently.
Baby Jesus for 40 Day Advent Calendar Printable

I love this season, but we've got a lot going on this year, so I think keeping our activities simple and focused on joy and prayer and kindness will be important. I think the prayer list-calendar will go nicely with our kindness-manger activity. We make an effort to notice one another doing kind or selfless acts, and when we notice they get to add a straw to the manger. When we are kind to others, we are softening our hearts to make room for Christ, too. Even a dark cave filled with livestock can be a welcoming place when we are kind. On Christmas morning, when the manger is brimming with soft, kind yarn, I will lay the baby in the manger. I'm looking forward to it all ready!

Kindness Manger Activity

Friday, October 7, 2016

Goodnight Jesus (an Orthodox board book!)

pom pom balls in a can

I've returned to the how-do-I-manage-my-crazy-toddler-in-church?! stage of life. I haven't been here for awhile, and, although I think I'm more patient this time around, I had forgotten how hard 18 months old can be. I hold her while we sing and carry her around to see the icons, and when she gets restless I keep her quiet with this little can of pom poms. She's really into books lately, so recently I tucked some of her favorites in my bag, ...but later, when she wouldn't stop moooooing, I regretted bringing Mr. Brown Can Moo to liturgy.

So, I was super-excited to see the new Orthodox board book from AFP, Goodnight Jesus, and really grateful to receive a copy to review. Of course, AFP has tons of great kids books, and we usually bring a couple to church for the big kids - but there aren't a lot of options for this little age.* Like Mr. Brown, the best books for kids at this age are repetitive with a nice cadence, and give the little ones a way to respond. While Mr. Brown's sound effects weren't so appropriate for liturgy, the kissing encouraged by Goodnight Jesus will fit right in.

She snuggled in to read the book with me right away, immediately pointing and saying, "Zeezus!"in her sweet baby way. The pages are nice and sturdy, and I think that makes turning them more fun for littles. The little poem leads you through a list of people to kiss goodnight, starting with Christ and Mary, then saints from the Bible like John the Baptist and the myrrh-bearing women. We also kiss a gospel book and cross, then all the members of our family and a picture of those far away.

This is my first Orthodox-baby, and I've enjoyed seeing how quickly she learned to kiss the icons. She still kisses them more consistently than she kisses me! This book nicely ties together our love for Christ, with our love for the saints, the scriptures, our family, pets and dolls. The act of kissing is such a simple way to teach our children about love and tenderness and reverence, and the participatory nature of our faith. 

My big kids enjoyed the book, too! The oldest especially loved the picture of Christ just about to break open the gates of Hades; and the other laughed and laughed at the fish blowing a kiss. We all love the illustrations - which are bright and beautifully done. So it seems there is something in it for everyone, and I think we'll all enjoy taking turns to read it to baby.

The book is uniquely Orthodox because, of course, we like to kiss both people and things (like icons and the Gospel book). Still, its also simple enough that I think Christians of other traditions who can appreciate kissing will enjoy it, too. I'm thrilled to have such nice books for our kids! Be sure to check it out at Ancient Faith Publishing.

*We also love What Do You See at Liturgy, the only other Orthodox board book I've seen, and perfect for toddlers, too!