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!

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St. Patrick’s Day Trinity “Muffins”!

I ran across the idea of “Trinity” muffins here and just knew I had to try them and share this great idea with you!  We plan on making these for a snack for our Hope & Joy meeting this Saturday, after learning about St. Patrick and talking about the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.  I think kids of all ages would really enjoy these!

The original recipe called for using biscuit dough,  but I found that pizza dough works just as well. I tested this recipe using vegan pre-made dough from Trader Joe’s, but it does still have a little oil in it, so for an oil-free option you could try making this recipe (though I haven’t tried it).  If you have lots of time you could make the dough with the kids as well, and use the rise time for another activity.  Since we have a lot we are trying to cover, I will probably just bring the dough pre-made.

The only ingredients you need are your bread dough, cinnamon, and sugar.  The children can help mix together the cinnamon and sugar in a large bowl first ( I just eyeballed this).  Then each child gets three small pieces of dough, about the size of small meatballs, and a cupcake liner.  You can explain that the three balls represent the 3 persons (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit) of our one God.

The children can roll each piece of dough into a ball and then in the cinnamon sugar, and put them touching inside their muffin liners.

After baking in a muffin pan at 350 degrees for 14-18 minutes, they should be ready  (I confess I lost track of how long I left them in, so watch them).  When they come out of the oven the 3 balls of dough are now, of course, one “muffin”!

When they had cooled, my daughter immediately asked for sprinkles on top, so we added some green sugar crystals as well, which settled into the cracks and highlighted the three parts nicely!  I was especially surprised when I pointed out the three parts to my daughter and she remarked that they looked like pretzels.  What a great theological tie-in! We made pretzels for lent last year to talk about fasting (i’ll do a post for that soon), and that would be another fun option for a snack as well. Here is a shamrock version you could try as well.

Hopefully this little cooking project will be a great illustration of the Holy Trinity and a nice conversation starter for a group discussion.  If you would prefer to not make a sweet treat, they would probably be equally yummy sprinkled with kosher salt and fresh herbs like rosemary, for a focaccia-esque muffin.

Stay tuned for more St. Patrick’s day ideas, coming soon..

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.

Celebrating St. Patrick

(Troparion, Tone 3)

O holy hierarch Patrick, wonderworker and equal of the apostles, enlightener of the Irish land, entreat the merciful God, that He grant our souls remission of transgressions.

***

Our Joy and Hope meeting is set for March 17 this month, which is of course St. Patrick’s Day! It will be a great opportunity to take this day back from all the  “leprechauns and luck” and use it to teach our children about not only a well-loved saint but also the Holy Trinity.  I’m excited to share some fun ideas over the coming days that you can use to celebrate the real St. Patrick as well!

First up, resources. We plan on reading St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons, for a brief introduction to the saint’s life that will appeal to our different ages. (Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola is another option). We are also considering reading Three in One: A Book about God, to enhance our discussion of the Holy Trinity (which will begin with a real three leaf clover/shamrock, of course!)  While not written by an Orthodox Christian, the book presents a  tangible metaphor (a tree) for the Holy Trinity without straying from Scripture. (I ran it by my husband, a seminary grad, who gave it his OK, which means a lot to me!)  We will do some fun cooking/craft projects relating to the Holy Trinity & symbolism of the shamrock, and end with learning/singing the hymns “Father Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity One in Essence, and Undivided” and  “One is Holy.  (We’ll also talk about where these hymns fall during the Divine Liturgy, to encourage participation at what will be the next day’s service).

Crafts/Games/Cooking Projects coming up next-stay tuned!

P.S. Did you know that Orthodox Christian Fellowship has some great resources on their website about “the real St. Patrick”? Included are the icon above (from the hand of Michael Kapeluck) , a supplication service from which the above Troparion is taken from, and Irish recipes. Though we often think of St. Patrick as a western saint, he was  born in 387 and died in 461. For more information about St. Patrick, a great resource is orthodoxwiki.

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

“Creating” with the Daily Readings..

It is always nice when the daily readings are a bit more”kid-friendly” for the three and under set! Today was one of those days, as one of the Old Testament readings was Genesis 1:24-2:3.  It got me thinking that we should do some kind of activity relating to the “living creatures” and more specifically, the birds of the air.  Since it is still technically winter (though in North Carolina you certainly wouldn’t know it!) I thought it would be fun to make some bird feeders.  Taking care of God’s creatures seems like a nice (perhaps loose) extension of almsgiving during this first week of lent.

I’m guessing you probably made one of these when you were little! So easy-all you need are pinecones, peanut butter, and birdseed.  This example is from kaboose.com-you can find full instructions here.

Pinecone Bird feeder from kaboose.com

If there are no pinecones near you, you can also use bagels, like Hearts and Trees did.  And if nut allergies are a problem, you can use lard or honey to make the birdseed stick (see here).

Another fun nut-free idea is to use gelatin and cookie cutters, like eighteen25 did.  A little more work for the adult, but very cute looking, and your child can choose their favorite shape.

Other ideas for today could be taking extra care of the family pet, perhaps making homemade doggie treats? Here is a fun and easy recipe from dogtreatkitchen.com that you can use cookie cutters with-but i have never  tried it so no guarantees your little pooch will like them!

A few Ideas for the Sunday of Orthodoxy

Icon from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Raleigh, NC

This Sunday is, of course, the first Sunday of Great Lent and the Sunday of Orthodoxy.  On Orthodox blogs and websites, there are so many wonderful icon activities.  I especially like this idea for an Icon family tree on Orthodox Education Blogspot:

Isn’t that beautiful? I will have to try it soon!  Another idea for your parish or Sunday school setting could be modeled after the following:

“At St. Andrew’s, in Boston, the children make and decorate icons.  They will procession (sic) around the church after Liturgy and Father will bless the icons.  These are saved, by the priest, who will give them to sick or shut-in parishioners during the coming year. – “monkvasy”,  posted on orthodoxchristianity.net.
What a neat idea! Another wonderful way for children to give alms during the first week of lent.

Our Prayer Corner

Please excuse these photos.  I am not the most talented of photographers, and the light in our little hallway leaves something to be desired!  But I wanted to share with you the little spot that my family and I have carved out for our prayer corner.  It is both figuratively and literally the center of our home, part of a small, square hallway that leads to every room in the house.  One of the jobs we give our three year old before we pray is to close all 5 doors surrounding us!

It was important to me to make this area work for all members of the family.  So that meant icons hung high, for my six foot three husband, and down low, to touch, for our baby and three ear old.

I picked up this little cabinet at a thrift store, years before having children, and loved that it looked like it had been handmade for a child, probably by a grandparent or uncle.  Its’ size and features have made it perfect for housing everything we need.

Though it can be hard to convince my daughter to abandon her play to join us for morning prayers, she does enjoy helping my husband light the candles and open her little cabinet.  We used to have little battery operated candles for her to place in front of the icons below, but need to replace the bulbs (hence the pink flashlight!)

Also pictured is a little tray with icons to look at, prayer cards like those used in Catechesis atriums (more on that soon), a few books, and a Montessori land & water globe we used when reading the creation story.  On the doors are icons of the Nativity and Christ Blessing the children.  I still need to get a little rug, to make the floor a little less cold in the winter!

Throughout the year, you can find different things tucked away in the cabinet, from palm crosses to art work made in Sunday School.  Now that my daughter is getting a little older, I plan on changing out the materials more often. I have lots of ideas for this, and hope to share them with you soon. It is a work in progress, that is for sure!

Why ‘Sprinkled with Joy’ ? Part 1

My three year old daughter loves sprinkles. LOVES them.  On cakes and cupcakes? Of course! But really on anything.  They have even become my secret weapon in getting her to eat healthier things, like tart Greek yogurt, for example. Most kids love sprinkles (and let’s face it, so do I!)  As I started to brainstorm ideas for making our HOPE and JOY meetings not only spiritually-centered but also fun, I found sprinkles were a great tool. You’ll see them mentioned here a lot, among other things!  And in some ways I’ve found they have become a bit of a metaphor for my approach to youth activities at our church.  Sprinkles are the fun, extra touch, to the sweet treat.  They can never replace the cupcake or cookie-they simply add some sparkle that can make the treat that much more enticing.  Just as there is only One teacher, Whose ways are Scripture and the sacraments, our teachings and efforts outside of this are the “extra” on top.  An important extra, of course! But sometimes I fear we can fall into the trap of taking ourselves a bit too seriously and spend too much of our time talking “at” our youth, using words that often go above their heads (or in one ear and out the other!) And I’ve found that attention spans on Saturday afternoons (when our Hope/Joy group meets) can be quite short!  So I’m striving to find and create easy, fun, projects, that a variety of ages can do, that correspond with a brief, but essential Orthodox truth.  I’m learning as I go, and making plenty of mistakes! But it is a joy to work with our Orthodox youth, and I hope this little blog can be of service to others doing the same:)