Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday

I can’t believe how quickly Holy Week is approaching. Time has completely gotten away from me! On that note, I wanted to share some ideas for Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, since they are quickly approaching.

Sylvia at Adventures of an Orthodox Mom has a beautiful post about her family tradition surrounding Lazarus Saturday, and has a recipe for Lazarakia posted, too.   Also,  Orthodoxeducation.blogspot has a fun “mummy” wrapping activity that looks fun for older kids!

For Palm Sunday, I was inspired by the “Hosanna” banner here and decided to make a simple one myself. Leanna used pretty doilies and real palm leaves to form the letters; I used simply construction paper and markers, so this is an activity that could easily be made with a group of children.  After cutting out the leaf shapes, I just wrote the letters, and lacking a hole punch, used clothespins to hang the leaves from a green ribbon.  Since my daughter is very interested in cutting right now, but has limited skills, I think she will enjoy snipping around the edges to make them even more “palm”-like.   There are lots of possibilities with these banners, you can use whatever materials you have on hand to decorate them more.  One fun idea would be to trace the letters in glue and add beans, little torn leaves, glitter, etc, though you may need to use cardstock to hold up to the glue.

Younger children can enjoy drawing and cutting out their own paper palms to wave; you can attach them to chopsticks, pencils, straws, etc.  I also created this little Palm Sunday set for my daughter to play with.  I have had the wooden peg dolls since my Catachesis training, being too intimidated to start painting them, given my horrible drawing skills. When I saw similar Godly Play/CGS figures outfitted in felt, I figured even I couldn’t mess that up! So I cut out some simple felt clothes, and left the faces blank (because I like this in the Waldorf approach, and also because all I can draw are smiley faces!) I then cut out cloaks and palms from felt; if you are a more talented artist than I, you could cut the figures out of felt as well.

You can purchase the peg dolls online or at Hobby Lobby, Ben Franklin, or AC Moore (they no longer sell them at my Michael’s).  Short on time? Check out the amazing Holy week/Pascha set offered at Orthodox Christian Craft Supply. Their learning box offers 11 crafts for Holy week and Pascha for only $15! Hopefully there is still time for shipping. When my daughter gets a little older I will definitely be purchasing a set for us to make.

A few Holy week ideas to link/share coming soon!

A Lenten Centerpiece

I have wanted to share so many more Lenten ideas these past weeks, but things have been a bit hectic as of late. So here is one idea that I have implemented in our house and am really enjoying-a Lenten centerpiece (I’ve seen them referred to as “Lenterpieces” around the web!)

The idea behind a Lenten centerpiece, for me, is to be a great visual reminder of Lent at every meal, and every time I walk by our dining room table (which happens to be part of our living room as well).  I’ve found that just by placing an icon in an unexpected place, your eye will be drawn to it so much more than the others in your home which your eyes have become more accustomed to seeing.

Our centerpiece is very simple, as you can see: a purple silk runner with a lace ribbon, an icon, candle, empty bowl, and alms jar. The empty bowl is a reminder of fasting of course, for both ourselves, as well as a reminder of those who don’t have enough food to eat (The Catholic tradition has a wonderful Lenten charity effort called Operation Rice Bowl that inspired me in this).  The alms jar can be filled with ideas for the whole family to choose from each day-for some wonderful ideas check out Phyllis Onest’s “Lenten Bouquet” here. There are lots of other inspiring ideas here too). The icon can be changed out as to the appropriate day, and can be a wonderful conversation starter around the dinner table.  And of course the candle can be lit before mealtime prayers, and serve as a point of interest for little ones during quiet prayer time.

There are many more great ideas for Lenten centerpieces around the web, ours is definitely one of the more simple ones.  But I have already found that it is working in our home as a visual reminder to stay focused on Christ amidst the busyness of everyday life. And it was so sweet to have my three year old daughter tell me after breakfast that she had to move the “beautiful purple fabric” so she didn’t spill her cereal milk on it. This coming from a little gal who just recently experimented with drawing on the ottomans, and is prone to leaving a trail of toys, clothes, and crumbs wherever she goes!

St. Gregory Palamas..and pretzels!

image courtesy of troparia.com

O light of Orthodoxy, pillar and teacher of the Church,
ideal of monastics and invincible champion theologian,
O wonder-working Gregory, boast of Thessalonica and herald of grace,
Forever pray to the Lord that our souls be saved.

Today is, of course, the second Sunday of Lent and the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas.  It is wonderful to celebrate this pillar of our faith as we enter more deeply into lent and the challenges of keeping the fast. As troparia.com summarizes:

Saint Gregory is known as one of the great defenders of Orthodoxy and is most well known for his defense against the heresies of Barlaam.  Gregory was asked to defend the Monastic ways of the Holy Mountain from the charges of Barlaam of Calabria, who, influenced by the Latin Church, believed that philosophy and human thought were the way to know God.  Orthodoxy has always known, through the wisdom of the Holy Fathers, that prayer and fasting were the key to knowing God.  Barlaam believed that the monks of Mount Athos were wasting their time in their prayers and fasting when they should be studying the great philosophers of mankind…(St. Gregory) taught the Orthodox knowledge that it remains impossible to know God in His essence or person. However, with sufficient prayer and fasting, and turning oneself over to God, through purification of one’s soul, anyone could come to know Him in His energies and being. (troparia.com)

Among the many gifts and insight St. Gregory has given us, his defense of the importance of fasting and prayer in coming to know God is a message as relevant today against modern thought as it was seven hundred years ago.  And I think it is also probably one of the more accessible aspects of St. Gregory’s teachings for children, since we should probably save teaching about the “essence” and “energies” of God for older children.  An interesting tidbit we can share with kids is that St. Gregory was a great student in school, one of the best.  But he realized that even though school can be important, loving God, and learning about Him through praying and fasting, is the most important thing we can do.

Legend of the Pretzel

Last year during Lent we made pretzels to begin our discussion of fasting, and I think it would be a great-tie in to learning about St. Gregory as well, as it combines  learning about monks and monasteries with both fasting and prayer*.  (If you are not familiar with the legend of the pretzel you can read more here.  The pretzel is a most appropriate food symbol for Lent, as it  shows the form of arms crossed in prayer, reminding us that Lent is a time of prayer, and consists only of water and flour,  reminding us to fast).  It was neat to see how making the pretzels got the children thinking about how all the yummy foods they enjoy often contain eggs, butter, etc, and how fasting entails abstaining from these favorite foods.  (Pretzels can also be a tangible example and counterpoint to the rich breads we enjoy in celebration on Pascha.) For our lesson I used this little booklet (not the lesson on the web page, click on the pretzel for the pdf) as a group introduction first and it worked very well, as it is written in simple language but still imparts a lot of great information.  I can’t find the recipe we tried, but this one could be used, as the butter can be omitted.  I hope you enjoy!

*don’t worry,  i realize the bit of irony that pretzels (most likely) originated in a western monastery, and I am using them to teach about our Eastern Orthodox saint’s contribution defeating a heresy from a western perspective regarding the way of the Eastern monastics!  Interesting enough, though, I just read another bit of info about pretzels on wikipedia: “The looped pretzel may also be related to a Greek ring bread, derived from communion bread used in monasteries a thousand years ago.-wikipedia.  There is some more food for thought!

Prayer of St. Ephrem for Children

When my daughter was two, I found this little book in a church bookstore and had to have it for her.  It’s called the Guardian Angel Children’s Prayer Book: An Introduction to the Divine Liturgy and Prayers for the Young Child, by Fr. T. Lozynsky, ilustrated by Yaraslova.  Unfortunately, a quick google search yielded no immediate online sellers, but I will keep looking.  This little book has wonderfully charming illustrations that take the child through the Divine Liturgy, simple explanations of the sacraments and feast days, and common prayers.  One thing I especially like is that it has a simplified version of the prayer of St. Ephem/Ephraim that even young children can understand.  We have added it to our morning prayers with our three year old and I wanted to share it with you.

I have typed it up into word and thought it would be nice to make prayer cards with, perhaps mounting it on some pretty scrapbook paper or letting my daughter decorate the back.  I am learning how to use scribd and hope to share the copy I’ve made with you soon!

I will also have a copy of the “original” prayer if you would prefer that one.  In the meantime, I wanted to share this little prayer booklet put together by the GOYA of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Norfolk, VA.  I think It would make a nice activity to make these little books together by adding a nice cover, either from cardstock, fun foam, or the like.  They could be kept for personal use or given as gifts. You can find it here : Orthodox Christian Prayer Book Pocket-Size.

Candleholders-an oldie but a goodie!

Here is a simple craft that I’m sure everyone has seen before: tissue paper-covered candleholders.  I had wanted to try something new, but ended up making these with my daughter today and re-appreciating how simple and easy they are! Despite the simplicity, they are still enjoyable for older children to make, and can be a wonderful lenten activity and addition to your prayer table/corner.  Lighting candles before praying and reading Scripture is both theologicaly significant and a great point of interest for children of all ages.  These little candles can also be a nice gift for grandparents, godparents, etc.

We used candles that I buy for our prayer corner from A.C. Moore for $1 apiece.  You can also usually find several different styles of tea light/candle holders at dollar stores, or you could use baby food jars or canning jars.  We tore up purple tissue paper into small pieces, and used watered down glue to adhere them.  (If you have it, Mod Podge works even better).  I also added some purple glitter to the glue for some added sparkle (so much less messy than adding glitter separately!) After they dried, we added a simple yarn bow, but you can use any kind of ribbon, raffie, etc, to finish them off. Simple but sweet!

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Apolytikion in the Second Tone

We worship your immaculate icon, O Good One, asking the forgiveness of our failings, O Christ our God, for of Your own will You were well-pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, that You might deliver from slavery to the enemy those whom You had fashioned.  Wherefore, we cry to You thankfully, “You did fill all things with joy, O our Savior, when you came to save the world”.

-© Fr. Seraphim Dedes