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From the Hearth: Preserving Our Most Precious Gifts

By Keidi Lewis
September 2017, The Word

There are many compelling reasons to become more like Christ and to live out His love. Worthy reasons abound: for the good of mankind, to become sanctified, to heal others with Christ’s love, to draw nearer to other parish members, to strengthen our marriages. In most of these areas I have been able to “fake it,” doing the right thing, being good. It is possible to create a reasonable facsimile of Christ-like behavior, without allowing Christ to do any transforming. I could cheat, and have done for most of my life—until I had children. I am blessed with three daughters, who are God’s sweetest gifts to me and the most terrifying inspiration. For them, I have to know Christ; to them, I have to show Christ.

Recently I sat down to write an informative article about keeping our children in the Orthodox Faith, because the greatest hope we have for our children is that they follow Christ in His Church throughout their lives. My purpose was to research my way to Godly children. I looked at how to increase the factors that are statistically relevant in who stays Orthodox and why or why not. I’m not sure what I was reading at the time, but it must have been scholarly journals because what I churned out was on the boring side of a scholarly journal. The article was full of practical steps to take, statistics on the habits and beliefs of people who call themselves Orthodox Christians, and what statistics show about young people who chose the faith of their parents. There are oodles of data out there, easily found, mostly from Protestants, about why people stay in or leave their childhood faith.

​Finding a Way to Help (Even on a Limited Budget)

Author’s note: We have written in the past about having a family goal for the summer. If your family’s summer goal is to grow in the faith, read on! We’ve also shared some ideas of activities in your back pocket for when your children need some guidance/something to do. Here is another idea  - something that your family can do together that will offer common purpose while also allowing you to actively live your Faith this summer.

There are so many different needs that come to our attention. A local fire or flood, a foreign orphanage, a friend-of- a-friend’s illness with lofty medical costs, hungry homeless in a nearby city, etc. The list goes on, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Because we are Christians, we need to live a life of giving and helping. We become aware of needs, sometimes on a daily basis, and we know that we should be part of the cure for those needs. But where do we start?

Gleanings from a Book: "The Suitcase" by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called The Suitcase: a Story about Giving. The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant - even a leader - in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book. 

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine!

Gleanings from a Book: Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the- trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed! My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)

But I digress. Let's get back to the book. "Parenting Toward the Kingdom" outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

Liturgy of Bedtime

by Albert Rossi, Ph.D., St. Vladimir's Seminary

One of the more regular times of "Letting the children come" to God is bedtime. Often stories and prayers at bedtime can be relaxed, non-competitive time with children. When everything is right, bedtime can be a time when the unconditional love of parent for child is almost tangible. Children are usually tired and sometimes less frenetic. It also goes without saying that some nights seem more like thinly veiled chaos. But, hopefully, most nights are more peaceful.

Going to sleep for children happens gracefully only within an elaborate ritual. This is the liturgy of going to sleep and is not totally unlike other liturgies. Father Alexander Schmemann spoke of the Eucharist beginning with the long ritual of getting dressed for Church and continuing through the trip to Church and all the beautiful liturgy preceding Communion. In a similar way, children go to sleep after intricate ceremony. This usually includes taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, kissing everyone in the household goodnight, hearing a story, saying prayers, getting tucked in, and for little ones, a Linus blanket and Teddy for special security. This is the liturgy of bedtime. It's a tender time, a loving time. It's a rare and precious time. It's a time to be close to each other and to God.

Resources for Parents + December 2016

While there is an abundance of resources for Orthodox Christian Parents on the internet, here are a few that have been featured on our facebook page recently. These resources will help you explore the lives of saints with your children.

To follow our facebook page, visit www.facebook.com/orthodoxchristianparenting.

The Orthodox Church in America Department of Christian Education offers these (free!) printable activity books that will help your family learn about saints (and the animals that served them; those commemorated in the Litiya prayers; those that can help in times of trouble; and those from North America) through stories and related activities.

On The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos

On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:

Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.

Exploring Bedtime Routines and Other Rituals: An Introduction

This fall we will be focusing our attention on bedtime routines and other rituals. Over the summer we posted a survey that many of you took time to answer for us. Those answers will be a significant portion of some of these posts. The first question on the survey invited respondents to rate the importance of a bedtime routine in their family, on a scale of 1 (having no routine at all) to 10 (using the same routine every night). An overwhelming majority (more than 82%) rated routine at bedtime as having an importance level of 7 or higher. We were curious to see if the general public, beyond our Orthodox Christian Parenting community, considers a regular bedtime as truly important or not. We also wondered whether or not it is important to do the same sequence of events in preparing for bedtime every night. We did a little research, and here is what we found:

Our Vision of Leadership is Service

by His Grace Bishop John, The Word, February 2016

Without vision, the people shall perish, but he that keeps the law is blessed.
Proverbs 29:18

VISION IS AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP. CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP IS LEADERSHIP BY THOSE WHO PUT ON CHRIST, AND WHO GATHER AS THE CHURCH TO UNDERSTAND AND TO DO GOD'S WILL. THIS UNDERSTANDING COMES FROM GOD'S PROMISE THAT "WHERE TWO OR THREE GATHER IN MY NAME, THERE AM I WITH THEM" (MATTHEW 18:20). TOGETHER, WITH LOVE AND MUTUAL SUBMISSION AND RESPECT, CHRISTIANS DISCERN GOD'S WILL, "SUBMITTING TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST" (EPHESIANS 5:21).

Christian leadership is always a leadership of service. "After that, he put water into a basin, and began to washthefeetof the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded" (John13:5). We lead by being true servants of each other and servants of God. Vision is the discernment and articulation of our goals, and of the pathways that take us there.

This leads me to ask, how is it, then, that we discover God's vision for us – God's vision for us as the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, as dioceses throughout North America, as parishes, committees and mission or work teams, and even as Christian families and individuals?

Models of Parenting for Clergy and Parents

by His Grace Bishop John, The Word, December 2015

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:31–33

St. Paul uses the family relationship of a husband and wife to describe the relationship of Christ and His Church. We also use our relationships in the Church to understand better our family relationships. This is legitimate, because both family and Church are gifts from God and present models of reasonable and holy behavior. Further, Christ uses the metaphor of a good father to describe how God as Father relates to us. The purpose of parent-child relationships, as well as pastor-parishioner relationships, is for us to respond to the incarnate God who, by His Spirit, lives with us now. In these holy relationships our primary relationship is with our God, and this relationship is realized in our families and parish life, and nurtured by them. I would like to explore how models of good parenting can build holy and productive relationships between a pastor and parishioner. (A model relationship of a healthy pastor and parishioner can build healthier family relationships, too.) I apologize from the start that my study "paints with a wide brush" or is simplistic. I also write knowing that every parent uses many styles of parenting, depending on what is appropriate to the situation. Each style has positive and negative aspects, depending on a number of circumstances. I also confess, up front, that my bias is for the authoritative parenting style.

Smart Parenting XXV: "Yes, Virginia, Second and Third Hand Smoking is Child Abuse"

by Fr. George Morelli

A recent Google Alert on Psychology referenced an article addressing the effects of exposure to tobacco smoke titled - I pray facetiously as a question - "Is Secondhand Smoke Child Abuse?"1 The answer is obviously: "Yes!" Even those who would argue contra-wise would at the very least maintain that exposing children to secondhand smoke is a "moral failure" that needs addressing by mental health practitioners. I would be remiss if I did not add a couple of increasingly occurring unhealthy, and thus abusive, habits related to smoking: vaping, a recently emerging health hazard, and even some culturally sanctioned perilous practices such as 'hookah' smoking.

Smart Parenting XXIV: Spanking - Physical, Psychological and Moral Abuse

Revisiting: "Smart Punishment"
by Fr. George Morelli

It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones (Lk 17:2)

The major goal of good parenting is to provide the milieu and guidance their children need to become the 'most they can be' in all major domains of life. These domains include the dimensions of spirituality, moral character, family and social commitment, personality characteristics, and intellectual and cognitive-behavioral-emotional development. The cornerstone for all development in the orthodox Christian family is Christ and his Church. In this regard we can think of the words said by St. Paul to the Ephesians that we are all part of God's family that is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." (2:20). This is especially true for those, male and female, husband and wife, who are "one flesh" in a blessed marriage, as is prayed in the Orthodox Wedding Service, "unite them in one mind and one flesh, and grant unto them fair children for education in thy faith and fear. . . ."

Psychological Principles of Smart Parenting

Morelli (2005, 2006ab) has pointed out that the principles of cognitive-behavioral management are ideally suited for application to good parenting.  All behaviors, whether appropriate or inappropriate, have both cognitive and behavioral factors that can influence their occurrence.

The major psychological principles that influence behavior can be summarized thus:

Behavioral basics:

Smart Parenting XXIII: Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

by Fr. George Morelli

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. (Mk 16: 16)

One of the teaching challenges of those committed to the Mind of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church is the homogenization of Christianity by those who have been ensnared by the spiritual cancer of religious relativism that has permeated the Western world. Political, religious and social correctness is the mantra of the 3rd Millennium. It is also the great scourge of our modern world. It is the duty of all true and committed Christians, especially those charged with the guiding others in Orthodoxy, to be steadfast to the mind of Christ and His Church (Morelli, 2010). It must begin in the little church in the home the 'domestic church,' then be connected to the local parish and its clergy and then on to the Church universal.

Smart Parenting XX + Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are the Pure of Heart for They Shall See God

by Fr. George Morelli

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8)

In a previous article (Morelli, 2012) I discussed the importance of Christ delivering the Beatitudes while on the summit of the mount. My commentary was based on Forest's (1999) insight that the 'mount" as an object that is high and points to heaven, and was, as such, purposely chosen by Christ. Forest writes: "Mountains are images of earth reaching toward heaven, thus places of encounter between Creator and creature." This is most fitting because it relates to the spiritual preparation needed to "see God."

St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954) refers to this symbolism of the mount in his Homily VI on this Beatitude. First, St. Gregory takes the perspective of God's vision, from above, of His creation beneath Him:

When from the sublime words of the Lord resembling the summit of a mountain I looked down into the ineffable depths of His thoughts, my mind had the experience of a man who gazes from a high ridge into the immense sea below him.

Smart Parenting XIX + Halloween: A Few Spiritual Pointers for Orthodox Parents

by Fr. George Morelli

“But whosoever shall cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be to his advantage that a millstone turned by an ass were hung upon his neck, and he were drowned in the deep of the sea."   (Mt. 18:6)

SamhainSamhainIn the United States and many European countries as well, we are coming up to the annual festival of the celebration of "All Hallows' Evening." Its roots go back to ancient pagan Celtic tradition Samhain (pronounced: Sah-ween) when villagers would light large outdoor fires and put on costumes to hide from and ward off roaming ghosts of spirits and the dead. The Research Center of the Library of Congress reports: "It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living."[i]

The Celtic region included the area that is now modern Great Britain, France and Ireland. Also part of the pagan banquet was that animals andFeralia FeastFeralia Feastcrops were placed in the bonfires as a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The conquest of the majority of Celtic lands by the Romans in 43 AD added additional pagan elements to the feast. One was Feralia, a late October festival wherein the Romans memorialized their dead. Second, was a day to sacrifice to the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.

Pomona's symbol is the apple. To this day, apples are common in modern celebrations of this festival. The name of this festival has also been changed. It is no longer referred to as "All Hallows’ Evening." All know it by the name "Halloween."

Smart Parenting XVIII + Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are the Merciful for They Shall Obtain Mercy

Praying for God's MercyPraying for God's Mercyby Fr. George Morelli

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy." (Mt. 5:7)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954), the Church Father who has written such extensive Homilies on Christ's Beatitudes, instructs us that this Beatitude on mercy, among all of them, points us in a singular way to the core of who God is. He emphasizes that this "Beatitude is the property of God par excellence."

The saint then tells us of the challenge to us that is inherent in this spiritual perception. He asks:

If, therefore, the term "merciful" is suited to God, what else does the Word invite you to become but God, since you ought to model yourself on the property of the Godhead?

Once we have attained being merciful, then we are deemed worthy of Beatitude, because we have attained that which is characteristic of the Divine Nature. Mercy is one of God’s Divine characteristics that He has revealed to mankind. As the prophet David tells us: "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth, to them that seek after his covenant and his testimonies." (Ps 24: 10). And in another psalm David cries out: "O Lord, thy mercy is in heaven, and thy truth reacheth, even to the clouds." (Ps 35: 6). This is beautifully described by St. Isaac of Syria, who in his 1st Ascetical Homily (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) tells us:

Do you wish to commune with God in your mind by receiving a perception of that delight . . .? Pursue mercy; for when something that is like unto God is found in you, then that holy beauty is depicted by Him. For the whole sum of the deeds of mercy immediately brings the soul into communion with the unity of the glory of the Godhead's splendor.

Smart Parenting XXVII + Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are They Who Hunger and Thirst after Righteousness

by Fr. George Morelli

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."  (Mt. 5:6)

The terms righteousness or the righteous that we read often in Sacred Scripture and spiritual reading are frequently ill-understood. This fourth beatitude from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5: 6) can help us understand the depth of spiritual meaning of righteousness.

Firstly, it is not something merely external or superficial or as defined in the dictionary as simply being "morally upright." Our Lord starts out this beatitude by connecting righteousness with hungering and thirsting for it. This means that righteousness must come from the depths of our spirit, that is to say the center of our minds and the depths of our hearts.

Smart Parenting XXVI + Applying Christ’s Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are The Meek

by Fr. George Morelli

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  (Mt. 5:5)

Meekness is not a personality characteristic or, in fact, a virtue valued in modern society. If anything, it would be an attribute to be avoided.  Surely, in the common secular understanding of this term, parents would mostly likely want to avoid raising children to be "meek." A glance at a typical dictionaryi definition of this word indicates that meekness is associated with being cowed, submissive, spiritless and tame. Worldly success, on the other hand, would be enhanced by traits just the opposite of meekness: being aggressive, spirited and/or exciting.

St. Gregory of NyssaSt. Gregory of NyssaWhat Spiritual Meekness is not

The Holy Spirit-inspired spiritual perception of St. Gregory of Nyssa, however, gives an entirely different meaning to the teaching on meekness that Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ gave to His Disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. .

Mount of the Beatitudes ChurchMount of the Beatitudes ChurchSt. Gregory certainly does not mean meekness in the modern societal sense I mentioned above. In fact, he specifically dismisses the spiritual meaning of meekness as that which "is done quietly and slowly." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, 1954) Just the opposite, St. Gregory in his homily on meekness goes on to reference St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 9: 24), saying "he advises us to increase our speed; So run, he says, that you may obtain."

Honing in on the meaning of Spiritual Meekness

Smart Parenting XXV + Applying Christ’s Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are They Who Mourn

by Fr. George Morelli

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Mt. 5:4)

In the first article I wrote (Morelli, 2012) on applying the Beatitudes to Orthodox Christian parenting I pointed out that it is also no accident that after Christ's time in the wilderness confronting and overcoming the temptations of Satan, the evil one, He was prepared for His public life of teaching. The first of Jesus’ teachings is the Sermon on the Mount, in which He gave us the well known Beatitudes (Mt 5: 1-12).i

Such a period of spiritual preparation for being aware of the enticements of the world, its adversities and how to confront them is not the usual practice of Eastern Christians awaiting Holy Matrimony. Rather, is not uncommon that in preparing for a holy and blessed marriage, the male and female shortly to become one flesh focus their attention on the worldly joy of marriage and relegate the spiritual factors to second place. An emphasis on the worldly aspects of marriage is certainly the main focus of secular society, in which a wedding is, for many, part of an elaborate booming and costly industry.ii Unfortunately, the focus is on merely worldly joy rather than spiritual joy In fact, however, there is an important aspect of spiritual joy that can and should be stressed in a true Orthodox Wedding. A passage in our Orthodox Marriage Service emphasizes such happiness. This is no better expressed than in the prayer sung by the choir after the sharing of The Common Cup:

Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

by Fr. George Morelli

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:3)

INTRODUCTION

In previous articles on parenting I have emphasized the importance of making connections between Christ, His Church and the issues and problems that make up modern life (Morelli, 2010). Jesus entry into his public life is recorded by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew. It was at His baptism in the River Jordan by St. John who is called the Baptist. This event is called the Theophany in which Christ's Divinity was proclaimed by His Father as told to us by St. Matthew: "And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Mt 3: 16-17) The spiritual-theological significance of the Theophany is noted in the beautiful Apolytikion of the Feast:

Holy TheophanyHoly TheophanyWhen Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity wast made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who hath appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

Smart Parenting XXIII: Coping with Bullying

by Fr. George Morelli

...but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through... kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love.... (2 Cor 6:4,6)

In a recent Smart Parenting essay on the spiritual and practical aspects of love (Morelli, 2011), I start out simply with  St. John's most profound yet un-complex understanding of God: "God is love." (1 Jn 4:16). This love is shown in the relation of the persons of the Holy Trinity amongst themselves, God's creation and continuing care for His people, and the self-emptying (kenotic) love Christ has for us by His incarnation, passion, death and resurrection for our salvation.  I then go on to point out that we must understand  the meaning and application of Divine Love in our families and to the world. We have to emulate in our own lives this same love and model this to our children and others by our behaviors, which should be:

a set of actions that are aimed at the good and welfare of the other. Love means having truly beneficent care for the welfare of others in thought word and deed.

In a follow-up essay, (Morelli, 2011b) I point out that if love is understood in this way, we would be given one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, peace. And in turn, children disposed to peace in working through their relationships with others.

Smart Parenting XVIII and Smart Pastoring: A Spiritual Child is a Happy Child

By Fr. George Morelli

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Lk 12:48).

What makes for a happy child? According to some recent behavioral research, (Holder, Coleman & Wallace,  2008)[i] it is a child who is also ‘spiritual.’  The authors define spiritual in a different way than most Orthodox Christians would comprehend.  This article will attempt to outline the core of Orthodox spirituality and see if this understanding can be integrated with these researchers’ findings.

We know that the Body of Christ which is His Church is the most sublime gift given to us by God. This includes, of course, the Divinity emptying itself. The Father sending, that is to say, giving us His Only Begotten Son, to assume human flesh and, as St. Paul has told us, He,  “…Christ is the head of the church, his [B]ody, and is [H]imself its Savior.”  From the Anaphora prayer of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom we pray (and learn): “[Christ] gave Himself up for the life of the world, ….Take eat: this is my Body which is broken for you….Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood … which is shed for you ….Having in remembrance, therefore this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Session at the right hand, and the second and glorious Advent…”

Parents and Pastors as head of their church family

The Domestic Church

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