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!

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Nativity of the Theotokos

Shoebox Ark of the Covenant:
paint gold and glue on skewers, draw cherubim wings with sharpie

Inside paint a wooden square for the law of Moses,
glue a stick and flower to a wooden disc for the rod of Aaron,
and paint a wooden spool as the jar of manna

I used the Children's Garden of the Theotokos curriculum to plan this lesson for our church school kids for the Nativity of the Theotokos. I love an excuse to make a craft for the kids, so I made this ark and its contents and hid them away. I meant to print icons and paste them on, but my printer was out of ink, but I like how the drawings turned out. I found several nice comparisons of the scriptures about the Ark of the Covenant and the Theotokos, and simplified those points into a lesson plan (embedded below). I'll first teach about the Ark and its contents, and then show how those are types of Mary and Christ. If you don't want to make an ark, the coloring handout below communicates the same points. My lesson plan includes a scripted lesson, followed by a simple outline. I usually just use an outline when teaching, but reading through a script first helps me think it through.

I taught this lesson to my kids before, without the fancy ark, but the comparison of the OT scriptures with the visitation was new to me. I love how David's dancing foreshadows the Forerunner leaping for joy! And I had never thought about how the presence of the Ark blessing the people is similar to the way we understand the grace of God to work through his saints.

This lesson could be used for several of Mary's feasts (or during Lent for teaching about the Akathist Hymn). But I think the point about David welcoming the ark with joy fits nicely with the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos as we welcome her birth with joy.

On the back:of the law of Moses,
an icon of the Transfiguration (Christ the Word, fulfills the law and prophets);
On the back of the rod of Aaron, an icon of the Annunciation (the Virgin birth);
On the back of the jar of Manna, an icon of Christ, the Bread of Life

On one side of the ark, an icon of Panagia Platytera, (or More Spacious than the Heavens)
showing Christ in Mary's womb.
Grab and color this handout that explains the ways that the ark is a type of the Theotokos!

[Quick update to add this page of matchbox covers! My smart husband thought that matchboxes would make a sweet and inexpensive craft box for the kids to cover. We'll color them then modpodge them on in class. I think this would be sweet for matches in the prayer corner, too!]

Print page of matchbox covers - don't scale to fit!

Lesson plan as a Word doc:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Good fast! We've printed out our coloring calendar to help the kids count ahead to the feast with flowers. They're also promised big, fancy dishes of ice cream on the feast since we are skipping it now. We're hoping to get one last bunch of flowers from around the yard for the feast.

I'm re-listening to Fr. Hopko's podcast on the feast of Dormition:
"Now, when people say we are saved by faith through grace, there’s no greater example of that than Mary. Mary is nothing but faith and nothing but grace. When the angel comes to her, he calls her Kecharitomene, highly graced or as they say in Latin Gratia Plena, full of grace. She’s nothing but grace. 
But she’s also faith, and nothing but faith. Elizabeth says about Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of that which was spoken to her by the Lord.” And then Mary says to the angel, “Let it be to me, according to your word.” So she’s a perfect disciple and absolutely obedient and absolutely faithful and totally full of grace. She’s nothing but obedience, grace, faith and love."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Let the words of my mouth

Learning about Orthodoxy through books, and having an Orthodox worldview are very different things. The books are a beginning, but developing "the mind of Christ" is a slow process.

I have noticed that there are many phrases that you frequently hear the Orthodox use that reflect the rich theology deeply woven into the life of the faithful. God is present here and now, and every act and person is commended to him. I have collected some of these here:

"Lord have mercy."
"May God receive."
"By your prayers."
"Esm il salib."  
"Thank God."

"Lord have mercy."
We pray this frequently in all of our services (For the sick, the suffering... Lord have mercy. For travelers... Lord have mercy), but also privately, when we hear of someone in need of prayer. For every need, in every situation, we ask God for his mercy:
"The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for 'Lord, have mercy,' are 'Kyrie, eleison'  that is to say, 'Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.' Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal  a very Western interpretation but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray 'Lord, have mercy,' with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy." - GOARCH
See also this from the Antiochian Archdiocese. 

"May God receive."
Or "May God receive your efforts."
I first heard this in the book A Scent of Holiness, and have found it very helpful to me. When someone offers some act of kindness or other almsgiving, the recipient responds not with "Thank you," but with "May God receive." In this way the recipient acknowledges the kindness of the other is a service to God, and also offers a prayer as their thanks. Similarly, if someone does respond with, "thank you" the giver may reply with "May God receive," which points back toward God, rather than just deflecting with something like, "it was nothing." See also here and here

"By your prayers."
Or "Through the prayers."
I also first read this in the The Scent of Holiness, but also from Fr. Stephen at Glory to God. It is used both in the services, but also in daily life, by which we attribute our accomplishments (or even our salvation) to the prayers of others:

"It is a recognition that we cannot make this journey alone. I have days when I think I’m doing ok, and then there are much longer periods when I realize that only by the prayers of others and the mercies of God will I make this journey in any shape or form." - Fr. Stephen

"Esm il salib."  اسم الصليب

Forgive me if my transliteration here is poor - I relied on Google translate. I hear this frequently from a dear friend at my parish who says it three times (in Arabic) every time she picks up my infant daughter. She told me it means, "in God's name," but I also see it translated as "by the name of cross," which is a shorted form of "may you be saved by the name of the Holy cross." She is commending to God something beautiful and precious.

"Thank God."

I still forget so much to say this, but hearing it from others, especially frequently from our khouria, has made a deep impression on me. Whenever someone compliments another, instead of replying, "you're welcome" or deflecting, we reply "thank God." So, "that was a big help to me!" is answered with "thank God!" Similarly, we may say, "what beautiful weather, thank God!" All good things are from God. This is different from a prosperity gospel, because we thank God in all things, not only in prosperity. In our morning prayers, we thank God for raising us up in each day. 

Friday, May 6, 2016


Before we started our mission church, we traveled 2 hours to attend church in Memphis. We love this church so much, but often felt like we were observing this community from a distance and not able to participate in their life. We attended Pascha, but we couldn't stay for the picnics and parties, and so a lot of our celebrating happened alone. We wouldn't even be Orthodox or have our own mission for a few more years, and so it was lonely at times.

One year Kh. Susan (who was my first Orthodox friend), wrote about one of their traditions: making Magiritsa on Pascha. A friend had taught her this recipe, which is meant to feed the whole church, and the instructions factor in the timing of the services. After her friend Urania died, Kh. Susan wanted to pass on the tradition to other women in their church. When I read Kh. Susan's writing about making soup with her friend, I wanted so badly to be one of those women learning to make lamb soup in the kitchen at St. John. I don't imagine that Greek soup or red eggs are among the more important parts of Christianity, but they play a really beautiful role, sanctifying our daily lives and connecting us to each other. This special meal on this special day is one of the ways they are bound together in community. I wanted to belong, too.

So I made her soup. At home in my own kitchen. I remember that was the year we were choosing a house site on our land. We put some soup in a thermos and had a picnic during Bright Week on our house site. The kids were just babies, our house was just a dream, and my Orthodox community was in a thermos hours away from the church.

But it was a beginning.

Now, we have a thriving parish with many friends who teach us their faith. I am grateful for the time my friend Tina spent teaching me to make kolliva; and for Emily, who helped me to make my prosfora loaves more even; and for all the others who share their life and faith with us in these simple and cullinary ways. And now I'm making this soup for my parish.

So anyway, make some soup. You should read her full directions at the link above, but the proportions I used (about 1/4th recipe) are as follows:

2 lbs lamb
1 small batch parsley
1 small batch cilantro
1 bunch green onions
1/2 yellow onion
1/2 TBSP fresh dill
2 TBSP butter

Avgolemono Sauce:juice of 3 lemons (9 TBSPs lemon juice)
1 1/4 TBSP cornstarch
4 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the lamb in a big soup pot. When cooked add the butter and all the chopped herbs and onions. Add enough water to make soup. [ I think I added 8-10 cups of water.] Simmer for 1 hour or longer. Meanwhile, whisk together the Avgolemono sauce. Shortly before serving, slowly add some of the broth to the avgolemono sauce a little at a time, stirring constantly so that the eggs do not curdle. Then add the mixture to the soup pot, and stir constantly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. (I always make mine ahead of time and my eggs always curdle. Its still wonderful, though!)