The Nativity Season


Introduction (Ages 18+)

All great things in life must be prepared for—we human beings can’t just casually “walk up to” significant events without readying ourselves for them. And certainly the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord calls for joyful yet serious preparation.

That is why this unit of study is entitled The Nativity Season. The feast does not stand alone. In preparation for the Feast of the Nativity, the Church offers us a season, a time,  to prepare—the Nativity Fast, or Nativity Lent, known to many in the West as Advent. One of the lessons in this five-lesson unit deals with this period of preparation.

God began preparing His people long ago, of course. A second lesson in the unit tells students about the ancestors and genealogy of Jesus Christ. The all-important Biblical connection is made in this lesson, showing students how the Old Testament prepared people over millennia for the coming of the promised Savior. The Theotokos is presented as the one who brought this long process to its intended fruition.

The Nativity season also brings us celebrations of several inspiring saints. First among these is Saint Nicholas, and a third lesson in this unit gives students an understanding of his real place in the Church. They come to see him as a self-denying defender of the faith and protector of the poor, rather than merely a cozy and uncritical dispenser of presents.

Another lesson takes students into the lives of more “winter saints”—among them Saint Romanus the Melodist, Saint Barbara and Saint Herman.  And of course there is a lesson on the various aspects of the Feast iself.

Like all the units now being produced by the DCE, this one is written on five levels, thus offering material for parishioners of all ages. So, for example, in one lesson the younger children talk together on a simple level about giving and receiving gifts. The same lesson, written on another level, invites older students to look at The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry’s great story about self-sacrifice and love. The format of all these lessons is the same as that in the units already available.

Two overall objectives for this unit are:

  1. Students will be able to describe some of the elements of the Nativity season, including hymns, saints, fasting, and Old Testament preparation.
  2. Students will be able to define the Feast of the Nativity as God’s long-awaited gift to us of a Savior.

Some Notes:

Gathering for Prayer: We suggest having a gathering place for the class to pray together. You might have a candle, flowers or a plant, and the appropriate icon for the lesson. Icons are provided in the Resource Section of each lesson. You can reproduce these and put them on backing and then display them on a small stand (like a plate stand.) Of course you can use your own icons, or print out the ones in the Feasts and Saints section of the OCA website.

Teachers of younger students may also want to establish a place to gather for stories. A specified area, perhaps sitting on a rug or gathering in a circle of chairs, will serve the purpose well.

Preparing Ahead of TIme: Lessons include themes, objectives, attached resources,  step-by-step procedure, and a list of materials needed. In some lessons, the Materials section will give you special notes for lesson preparation. These enable you, as you prepare by reading through the lesson and getting materials ready, to be aware of any particular things you'll need to do. It is assumed that you will always have Bibles (we recommend the Revised Standard Version) plus pens/pencils and paper ready for use in class.

Timing Your Lessons: Because our church schools vary widely in the time they have for teaching, we have not timed the procedural steps of these lessons specifically. You are free to adapt, shorten or expand the material, or to spread it over more than one session.

Extra Resources: Many lessons include extra information, icons, links to resources, or other items. Use these for your own edification, or to enhance your class presentations. They are there for you to use in whatever way you choose.

For unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given. Authority rests on His shoulders, and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace  
(Isaiah 9: 6.)

Great Expectations (Ages 18+)

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Overview

Expectations Must Sometimes be Modified
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Objectives

By the end of this Lesson, learners should be able to:

  • State that anticipated events don't always meet our expectations
  • Acknowledge that sometimes we must modify our expectations
  • Compare the Winter Pascha to Great Lent
  • Identify the expectations expressed in the liturgical verses of preparation for the Nativity of Christ
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Materials

  • Icon of the Nativity of Christ
  • Copies of the short Story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (in the Resources section of this lesson) for each participant
  • Two nicely gift-wrapped boxes, one small and one large (e.g. a jewelry box and a shoe box or larger box) The larger box should be heavy--perhaps put in a rock surrounded by paper or packing material so it won't roll around. The smaller box should contain only a small paper icon of the Nativity of Christ.
  • 5 x 8 index cards for each participant
  • Markers, colored pencils, Christmas stickers and other stickers (dots, stars, moons, small shapes etc. to decorate the cards
  • Copies of The Winter Pascha by Fr. Thomas Hopko (in the Resources section of this lesson) for each participant
  • Copies of He is Coming, He is Approaching (in the Resources section of this lesson) for each participant
  • Chart with the words of the Nativity Troparion (they are the Opening Prayer for this lesson) taped up where students can see it during class. Use "Thee" and "Thou" or "You" and "Your" according to the way the words are sung in your parish. 
  • Chart with the words of the Closing Prayer to tape up as you say it together. These words are part of the Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ, which you will be looking at more closely in Lesson 3.
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Procedure

1

Closing Prayer

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today the virgin gives birth to the transcendent one,
And the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable one.
Angels give glory with the shepherds,
And the magi  journey with the star,
As for our sake He is born as a new child, He who from eternity is God.

 


2

Opening Prayer

 Display the icon of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Display the chart with the words of the Nativity Troparion where participants can easily see it.

(Have participants stand.)

Sing or say the words of the Troparion together.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.
For by it, those who worshipped the stars
Were taught by a star to adore Thee,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee!

Talk together about the words of the Troparion. Note that Christ is compared to "light" in three places. Let students find these. They are: the "light of wisdom,? the "Sun of Righteousness" and the "Orient," which means the light or star that rises in the East.

Of course this light isn't just physical. It is the light of real wisdom (not that supposedly given by the stars in the night sky, or a horoscope) and of truth.


3

Discussion: Expectations

  • Show the two gift-wrapped boxes. Ask the class what they might expect to be inside each box. List their guesses on the chalkboard.
  • Ask,  “Based on your expectations, which box would you choose?”

Note: To reinforce the message of the short story that will follow as part of this session, have students lift each box. The weight of the rock in the larger box may lead them to believe it will contain something of some value. On the other hand, there is the old saying, "Good things come in small packages." Let students make their choices based on their own ideas.


4

Discussion Questions

Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4, and put these discussion points on the chalkboard for the groups to talk about:

Describe a time in your life when that you had high expectations

How were these expectations met? Were you satisfied, or disappointed?

How did your feelings of satisfaction or disappointment affect your future actions?

(Tell participants that they can choose any event, either recent or in the past, to talk about. The effect on future actions might have been that they were encouraged to have high expectations again after being satisfied. But if they were disappointed, they might have lowered their expectations so as not to experience disappointment again. In either case, it would be interesting to talk about how our experiences affect what we expect in the future.)


5

Short Story

Read “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry together. You might want to try some of the reading strategies attached to this lesson.

Discuss:

What were Jim and Della's expectations?

Were their expectations reasonable?

How did they deal with their unfilfilled expectations?

What do you think they will do next? What do you think they should they do next?

 


6

As Christmas Approaches

After reading "The Gift of the Magi", talk about your own expectations by using the following questions:

  • What are some of the things you anticipate as Christmas draws near?
  • Do you think your expectations are realistic?
  • How do you deal with the reality that your expectations are not always fulfilled?
  • What elements in our society might make our expectations for Christmas unrealistic?  (This would be a good time to discuss the constant "hype" and commercialism that can lead us to have unrealistic expectations of the Christmas season and holiday. We are pushed to think everything should be fun and exciting. We are also pushed to overdo with gifts, entertaining, and decorating.)
  • What can we do to make our expectations more realistic? (Encourage discussion of the fact that the Church calls us to prepare for the Nativity in a quiet, thoughtful way by giving us a Lenten period. The event we prepare for is monumental, but it comes quietly with the birth of a child who is not mighty in the world's view. Though it is counter-cultural, we can slow down and use this gift of time to think about the meaning of Christ's incarnation.)

7

The Winter Pascha

Distribute copies of the The Winter Pascha and read it together. Then, discuss the following to continue the discussion above:

  • How did Mary, Joseph and the Magi prepare for the birth of Christ? (Let participants come up with their own answers, based on what they know about each person. Suggest that Mary and Joseph did not have much opportunity to prepare because of the journey they had to make.)
  • What opportunities does the Church give us to receive the gift of Christ’s Nativity? (Special prayers, hymns, and services which call us to prepare with joy to receive Christ, and also to make special efforts to serve others. Let participants come up with their own answers in addition to these suggestions.)
  • How does the Winter Pascha prepare us in the same way as Great Lent? How is it different? (As noted, the two Lenten seasons both call us to prepare in quiet, meditative ways. The only real difference is in the events each season prepares us for--otherwise, they are very similar.)

8

He is Approaching. He is Coming.

Distribute copies of the Resource entitled He is approaching, He is coming

Ask participants, "What words in this hymn give a sense of anticipation, or perhaps urgency?" (Let participants answer. The words approaching, coming, expectation, prepare, and hasten gie this sense.)

Ask, "Is there a difference between this kind of anticipation and ugency that is different from the anticipation and urgency that pervades our society during the Christmas season?" (Let participants give their ideas. Bring forth in the discussion that the urgency here has nothing to do with making sure all the presents get wrapped--the "Christmas rush." The anticipation here has nothing to do with what presents we hope to get from others. Rather, the anticipation is of our salvation. The urgency is because the time to meet Christ and follow Him is now.)

Give each participant a card. Have them each choose a verse from the various readings and hymns you have looked at today. This might be a verse that will help them keep the Nativity fast in a peaceful way, or simply  a verse they like.

Participants can write their chosen verse on the card, and the decorate it with the materials you have provided.

Have participants take their cards home.


9

Wrap-Up

 Open the two gift boxes and discuss the contents. Did they meet participants'  expectations? (Perhaps the larger box might be thought to contain a more valuable gift. But the small box contains a depiction, in the icon, of the truly valuable gift--God becoming man for our sake.)

Before saying the Closing Prayer together, go over the meaning of two of the words:

"transcendent"  means greater than any other.

"unapproachable" does not mean that we cannot come to God in prayer and worship, but that He is beyond anything or anyone else--no other being or thing can even begin to match Him in glory and beauty.


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Showing God’s Love (Ages 18+)

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Overview

St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia - The life of St. Nicholas illustrates how we can help others while not seeking praise and thanks. This is the way God calls all of us to live.
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Objectives

By the end of this Lesson, learners should be able to:

  • Identify St. Nicholas as a bishop, and as the patron saint of many groups
  • State some facts about Saint Nicholas' life that differentiate him from the popular figure of Santa Claus
  • Relate the saint's life experiences to our own today
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Materials

  • Icon of the Nativity of Christ
  • Icon of St. Nicholas
  • Copies of the Resource for this lesson entitled "St. Nicholas--Nearly Everybody's Saint!" for each participant
  • Notebooks and pencils for each participant (for journaling)
  • Collected ideas for a class service project from the "Resource Handbook." FInd this on the OCA website under Work of the Church. The Handbook offers a wide variety of possible ministries and projects. Tell your priest and parish council that you will be undertaking a service project, and bring to class the information about those you feel the participants might want to try. Class members could also look at the Handbook and bring to class information about projects they find interesting
  • For # 3 in the Procedure, entitled Digging Deeper: Saint Nicholas, you may wish to put the questions on a chart before your class session, since they are rather lengthy and would take a lot of time to write on the chalkboard
  • Copies of  the following "The Story of Saint Nicholas" for each student

 

The Story of Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas was born in the fourth centure in a small town near the sea. It's now in the country of Turkey. His parents raised him to love God and to care about other people. Nicholas had a great sadness early in life--his parents both died while he was young. But he always remembered what they had taught him, and he helped other people whenever he could.

So it isn't a surprise to learn that one day, Nicholas did something that people still remember today, hundreds of years later. A very poor man in the town had three daughters who all wanted to get married. But their father had no money to give them the things they needed to get married, or even enough to buy them a few nice clothes. He certainly could not provide a dowry--the customary gift from the bride's family to the groom's family--and without it his girls would have a hard time finding worthy husbands.

The father, who loved his daughters, became so desperate that he was tempted to do a terrible thing: to sell his daughters into prostitution so that they would at least have enough to eat and a roof over their heads.

Nicholas' parents had left him a good amount of money, but he wasn't interested in keeping it for himself. He knew of the man's problem, and knew he could help. On a dark summer night, he took a bag of gold and threw it in the poor man's window. Hearing the noise, the man woke up and ran to the window, but couldn't see Nicholas outside.

The next night, Nicholas did the same thing, again making sure that nobody saw him. But on a third night, the man was waiting by the window and saw the generous man who had saved his daughters from poverty. He thanked Nicholas with tears of joy running down his face, but Nicholas just nodded his head, smiled, and told the man to give thanks to God. Then he quickly left.

People in the town and the surrounding area came to love Nicholas. It seemed he was always helping someone, smiling at a child, or giving poorer neighbors what they needed. And he could always be counted on to be in church on Saturday evening, Sunday, and any other day there was a service. So when it came time to elect a new bishop, Nicholas was the person everyone thought of. In fact, God Himself had chosen Nicholas, telling a bishop to wait in church to see who would arrive earliest for the morning service. The devout Nicholas, as usual, was the first, and so the bishop knew he was God's choice.

Nicholas himself had not wanted to be a bishop. After a visit to the holy places--Jerusalem, Golgotha and Mount Sion--he planned to go to the desert to live as an ascetic. But a voice, which he recognized as divine, told him to go home.

Back in his home of Lycia, he entered a monastery, wanting nothing more than a quiet life of prayer. But again a voice said, "This is not the vineyard in which you shall bear fruit for me. Go back to the world and glorify My Name there." So Nicholas was consecrated a bishop.

The Emperor Diocletian hated Christians, especially well-loved and influential ones. Soon Bishop Nicholas was arrested, chained, and thrown into prison. It was not until the next Emperor, Constantine, took the throne, that Nicholas and thousands of other Christians were finally set free. They had been tortured and starved, but they had kept their faith.

Nicholas had to face new problems after he was set free. He was one of the bishops who attended the Council of Nicaea, where clergy from all over the world gathered to ask the Holy Spirit to guide them in choosing the right words to express the Church's teachings. One person present at this Council was a man named Arius. He was clever, and able to speak well to a crowd of people.

But Arius had some dangerous and false ideas. He was trying to convince everyone that Jesus Christ is not the divine Son of God, but just a man created by God like every man in the world. He talked and talked, with his smooth words and clever phrases.

Finally Nicholas couldn't stand any more lies from Arius. He stood up, went over to Arius, and slapped him in the face!

Of course Nicholas knew this wasn't the right thing to do, and the other bishops at the Council were shocked that a bishop would do such a thing. They even took away his rank as a bishop. But the Mother of God appeared to them all in a vision, and told them to give him back his rank. They did so.

Nicholas never stopped helping others. There is a story of sailors who were caught in a raging storm at sea. They had heard of St. Nicholas, and they had been told that he saved people and even did miracles. They called on him to save them, and as they did so he came to them in a vision, took the helm himself, and guided the boat safely into port. When the sailors reached town they went to church and thanked God, just as Nicholas would have wanted them to. After this happened, sailors wished each other a safe journey by saying, "May St. Nicholas hold the tiller!" (Ask participants what the tiller is, and if necessary tell them it is a bar or handle on a boat that turns the rudder, the hinged piece that steers the boat.)

Another time, there was a famine--a terrible shortage of food--in Nicholas' home town of Myra. Some ships loaded with wheat came into the harbor, on their way to the great city of Constantinople. Bishop Nicholas asked the crews on the ships to leave some wheat for his starving people. They refused, worried that they would get in trouble if they arrived at Constantinople with less than full loads. But the bishop assured them that they would have no problem.

They trusted this bishop so famous for his goodness and mercy, and left two years' worth of wheat. And sure enough, when they reached the port at Constantinople, their ships were full.

Sometimes St. Nicholas, as bishop and guardian of his people, had to deal with government officials. He once heard about a governor who had condemned three men to death for terrible crimes. But the men were actually innocent--the governor had accepted a bribe, and was willing to execute them in exchange for a big sum of money. Nicholas went to the place where the men were to be put to death and ordered the executioner to stop. By a miracle, he did so and the men went free.

Then Nicholas went to the office of the governor and confronted him with the dishonest thing he had done, almost taking three lives for money. He convinced the man to repent, and prayed with him for God's forgiveneness.

As it happened, three military men under the direct command of the Emperor Constantine were present at this event. Little did they know that in a few weeks they themselves would be falsely accused of serious crimes against the Emperor. They were sentenced to death, and it occurred to them to pray to Saint Nicholas. Soon after, the saint appeared to the Emperor in a vision and told him to overturn the unjust sentence. The three innocent officers were saved.

St. Nicholas did many miracles. But we remember him especially for his kindness. We may never do miracles, but we can help and be kind to others. Maybe, like St. Nicholas, we can sometimes do good things secretly. Only God will know, and He will rejoice that we have learned from the great saint and bishop, Nicholas.  END

 

Note: The Resources section of this lesson contains several biographical and hagiographical materials about Saint Nicholas. You may want to add some details from these materials as you tell the story, or simply read them for your own edification.

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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Display the icon of the Nativity of Christ. You can also display the word chart if you feel participants would still like to have it to see the words.

(Have participants stand.)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.
For by it, those who worshipped the stars
Were taught by a star to adore Thee,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee!


2

St. Nicholas

Ask students, "What saint would you say most people know especially well as being kind and generous?" (Most will probably answer Saint Nicholas, or you can suggest his name.)

Say, "Even though the character of Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas, there's very little similarity between Santa and the real saint. Let's find out more about the saint." Distribute copies of "The Story of Saint Nicholas" and read through it together. You can have one student read, or have several taking turns. Display the icon of Saint Nicholas as the story is read.


3

Digging Deeper: Saint Nicholas

Discuss the following questions, either all together or by having four groups each discuss one, and then sharing their thoughts with the whole class:

1. Nicholas lost his parents early in life. How can we help those who have hard losses to become compassionate, as he did, rather than bitter, as some who suffer such losses do?

2. Nicholas dealt with things we also see: financial desperation, corrupt officials, having your life plans interrupted (becoming a bishop rather than a monk). Can his example help us deal with disappointment and disillusionment in our own lives?

3. Nicholas hit the blaspheming Arius.  Does his action surprise you? What should a person do who feels that kind of anger for the same kind of reason? 

4. The Troparion for Saint Nicholas includes these words: "Your poverty enriched you." How would you interpret these words?


4

A Service Project

With the materials you have collected from the Resource Handbook, have the class decide on a service project they can undertake.  Write down your plans, the things each class members will do, and the results you hope to achieve. Check in with the priest and parish council.


5

Journaling

Give each participant a notebook and pen. Ask them to write (or draw, or express in their own way) their reflections on whatever aspect of Saint Nicholas'  life they find most significant. In addition, ask them to write about something they will do secretly to help another person--in the spirit of Saint Nicholas.

When people have finished, collect the notebooks and pens, assuring participants that you will not open the notebooks, and that they are only being collected so that everyone will have them again for the next class session.

If participants prefer to take their notebooks home, they certainly may do so, but ask them to be sure to bring them to the next session.


6

Wrap Up

Give each participant a copy of the Resource entitled "St. Nicholas--Nearly Everybody's Saint"  to take home and look over. It is fascinating to see how many people, all over the world,  have taken this wonderful saint as their patron.


7

Closing Prayer

Display the icon of the Nativity of Christ. and have participants stand.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.
For by it, those who worshipped the stars
Were taught by a star to adore Thee,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee!


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The Winter Saints (Ages 18+)

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Overview

Saints Are Special People Who Are Friends of God - Knowing about these winter saints helps students to fully know and prepare for Christ’s birth.
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Objectives

By the end of this Lesson, learners should be able to:

  • Describe the life and work of St. Romanus the Melodist
  • Sing or say and reflect upon the Christmas Kontakion, and identify it as the composition of St. Romanus
  • Identify some elements of a Kontakion
  • Give basic details of the lives of Saint Barbara and Saint Herman, whose feast days fall during the Nativity Fast/Advent
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Materials

  • Resource Download: Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ (One of the Resources for this lesson is an MP3 file of the Kontakion which you can download and burn to a CD for use in class) and a CD player
  • Copies of the text of the Kontakion (in Resources for this lesson) for each participant
  • Copies of the Resource entitled St. Herman Handouts for each participant
  • Icons of St. Romanus
  • Icon of the Nativity of Christ
  • Copies for each participant of the following two stories: 1) life of Saint Romanus  2) life of Saint Barbara

 

Saint Romanus the Sweet Singer or Melodist

Saint Romanus was born many years ago. He lived in a big city, and he helped the priests and bishop in the great church there. (Show the photo of Hagia Sophia, and tell students you can still visit it, though unfortunately it is no longer a church.) Many people came to worship at the great church, and he was busy all day. But he spent his nights praying alone, sometimes in a field or in a smaller church outside the city.

One Christmas Eve, the night before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, Romanus was asked to read some of the prayers during the service. The great church was crowded, and everyone was listening. But Romanus was not a good reader. He did not say the words clearly, and nobody could understand what he was saying. Every word he fumbled over echoed in the high, open space of the church. Several people laughed at him. Finally, another reader had to take his place.

Romanus was very unhappy. He wanted so much to be able to read in church, and to do it properly. But maybe he would never be able to. He knelt with his head in his hands and prayed before the icon of Mary, the Mother of God, and told her how sad and humiliated he was.

The next day, the Mother of God spoke to him in a gentle voice as he prayed. She gave him a scroll (show students the scroll and say that a scroll can have either writing or music on it) and told him to eat it. That may seem strange to us, but it was her gift to the young man. It probably tasted like thin bread. Once he ate the scroll, a wonderful thing happened. Romanus was able not just to read prayers and Scripture properly--he could sing. He felt inspired to hymns, putting the words he loved to music. 

That evening in church, Romanus was able to sing in a beautiful voice. What did he sing? The very first hymn he wrote, the Nativity hymn that starts, "Today the Virgin gives birth ..."

Romanus became a deacon in the church, and a teacher of singing and songs. Of course, this didn't happen quickly. He had to practice, and spend many hours to get better at singing and writing church hymns. The Mother of God had given him a gift, but it was not magic. He still needed to work hard to get good at what he wanted to do.

By the time Romanus was older, he had written so many beautiful hymns and lived such a good life that the Church made him a saint. Romanus was able to do what he loved most, thanks to the loving kindness of the Mother of God.

Today, in our churches, we still sing many of the hymns that Saint Romanus wrote. They are called "Kontakia."  END

In the Resources section for this unit are several icons of Saint Romanus. Look at them together, and ask students to find details that show he was a deacon (censer, stole) and one that shows he composed music (scroll.)

 

 

Saint Barbara the Greatmartyr

In the early fourth century, a rich and well-respected widower named Dioscorus lived with his daughter Barbara in the Syrian city of Heliopolis. He was proud of his beautiful daughter--so proud that he began to worry about letting anything or anyone in the world come too close to her. He built a tower for her to live in.

Her pagan teachers were allowed to visit Barbara, for Dioscorus was devoted to the worship of the gods and wanted his daughter to learn to be the same.But nobody else except servants could enter the tower, which was very luxurious and beautiful, but still a prison.

A tall tower does at least offer a view of the country around it. Barbara saw wooded hills, a swiftly flowing river, and meadows covered with flowers. At night the sky was full of stars and twinkling lights. All of this was incredibly harmonious and beautiful, and   Barbara began to ask herself how it could have come into being.

Before long she became convinced that the idols her father and friends worshipped could not have created anything. They themselves were created by people's own hands! She decided to spend the rest of her life trying to discover who created the world, rather than getting married and living as a rich man's wife and the mother of his children.

Her father had other ideas. He wanted her to marry, and there were certainly plenty of young men ready to become her husband. He insisted so strongly that she must marry that Barbara warned him, "I love you very much, but if you keep pushing me on this you may create a separation between us that we won't be able to heal."

Dioscorus decided that Barbara had been too isolated, and allowed her to go into the city. The result was the worst thing that he could ever have imagined. Barbara met Christians who could answer her questions about the Creator, and who taught her about the Holy Trinity. A priest who was visiting the city enlightened her heart and mind by telling her about Jesus Christ the Savior, and granted her request to be baptized.

About this same time, Dioscorus ordered a bathhouse to be built on his property. He instructed the builders to put in two windows, approved the construction plans, and went out of town on business. While he was gone, Barbara told the builders to put in a third window. This was a way of honoring the Holy Trinity and a way of showing how the Three-Person God enlightens the world.

Dioscorus, back from his trip, was angry that his instructions had not been followed. Then his daughter told him the reason--she had found the true faith of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She did not believe in his idols and would not worship them.

This enraged him so much that he grabbed a sword and began beating her with it. She escaped and ran into the street, but her father found her. Unable to believe that his own daughter would defy him, he turned her over to the governor of the city. When the pagan governor and his helpers could not make her deny her faith in Christ, they took her into the public square and tortured her.

A Christian woman named Juliana saw what was happening to Barbara. She called out, "Stop that! She has done nothing wrong!" The governor's helpers grabbed Juliana, and tortured her along with Barbara. The two died together, praying and praising Christ. 

Nine hundred years later, the relics of Saint Barbara were transferred to the city of Kiev by another Barbara, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor.The relics rest there now, in the Cathedral of Saint Vladimir.  END

 

 

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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

DIsplay the icon of the Nativity.

(Have participants stand.)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.
For by it, those who worshipped the stars
Were taught by a star to adore Thee,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee!


2

Activity

Play the recording of the Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ written by Saint Romanus. This was the Closing Prayer for Lesson 1. Have the word chart displayed.After listening to the recording, sing the Kontakion together a few times.

Then distribute copies of the text of the Kontakion, a pdf in the Resources for this lesson. Have participants find these parts of the Kontakion:

  • the prelude
  • the stanzas or ikoi (strophes)
  • the refrain
  • Have them find the number of stanzas in the hymn.

Answers:

  • the prelude begins "Today the Virgin.."
  • the first stanza begins "Bethlehem has opened..."
  • the refrain of each stanza is "a little child, God before the ages"
  • there are 24 stanzas.

Read stanzas 3, 4 and 5 together. Ask, "How do 3 and 4 reflect very human feelings about the miracle of Jesus Christ's birth?" In Stanza 3, Mary the Mother of God or Theotokos is speaking to her Son. She points out that she is obediently doing what God asked of her, but she is expressing surprise--and almost annoyance--at the way He has chosen to do it. The words "your servant" are Mary's words about herself.

In Stanza 4, the magi are basically saying to Mary, "Who are you that you should have been chosen to bear this Child?") Like Scripture, the hymns of the Church are not afraid to show the whole range of our human emotions and attitudes.

Read together Stanza 5, and then Numbers 24: 17. Here is an early prophecy of the Savior. Stanza 5 is a beautiful description of the Star, Jesus Christ, who is greater and brighter than all stars, and who allows us to put aside all augury (relying on omens and fortune telling) because His love makes those things unnecessary and meaningless.

Read the 22nd stanza together. It begins "When the blameless Virgin saw..." Ask participants to name the "trinity of gifts" that Mary asks her Son to accept. (These are the well-known gifts of the Magi--gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are named in the 21st stanza.) Ask: " What three things does the Virgin ask her Son for?" (Temperate seasons, growth of the crops and fruit, and the well-being of all people on earth. The Theotokos is also a "mother" to us, always concerned for the welfare of all of us human beings.)

 If necessary, review the meaning of "transcendent" (greater than all others or supreme) and "unapproachable" (not inaccessible but so great as to be unmatchable by anything or anyone).


3

The Life of Saint Romanus

Say, "Let's find out more about the life of Saint Romanus, the composer of this Kontakion."

Distribute copies of  the story about Saint Romanus' life. Have a participant read the story, or have several people take turns reading.

In the Resources section for this unit are several icons of Saint Romanus. Look at them together, and ask participants to find details that show he was a deacon (censer, stole) and one that shows he composed music (scroll.)

After you have read the story, ask: "How might Romanus have reacted differently after his humiliating experience on Christmas Eve?" (Let participants answer. Of course, he might have given up, or become angry. Instead he humbly asked help of the Mother of God.)


4

The Lives of Saint Barbara & Saint Herman

Give each participant a copy of the story of Saint Barbara's life. Have one person read it aloud, or have people take turns reading. Display the icon of Saint Barbara as the story is read.

When you have finished the story, distribute copies of the St. Herman Handouts to each participant. Divide the class into groups of three or four. Have each group read the story of Saint Herman's life, with the iconographic drawing in view. Have them look at the map of his travels, to get an idea of the cold and hardship his journey from Russia to Alaska entailed.

Ask each group to choose two things they think are most significant about Saint Herman. Let the groups share their choices with the rest of the class.

 


5

Journaling and Wrap Up

Suggest to participants to write in thier journals about one of these:

 

  • Choose Saint Romanus, Saint Barbara, or Saint Herman. If  you could ask your saint one question, what would it be?  OR
  • Saint Barbara honored God through a building. Saint Romanus honored God through the art of music. Saint Herman honored God by living a life of poverty and prayer. Which comes closest to the way you honor God, or hope to honor God?

Continue with your plans or work for the service project you have undertaken. Update participants on anything they need to know.

 


6

Closing Prayer

(Have students stand.)  Play the Kontakion again. Sing or say it together.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today the virgin gives birth to the transcendent one,
And the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable one.
Angels give glory with the shepherds,
The magi journey with the star,
As for our sake He is born as a new child, He who from eternity is God


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Members of God’s Family (Ages 18+)

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Overview

The Geneology of Jesus - By learning of the genealogy of Jesus, we learn that we are all God’s family. We can learn much about the coming of Christ and the incarnation in the Old Testament, especially in the prophecy of Isaiah.
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Objectives

By the end of this Lesson, learners should be able to:

  • Note some of the ancestors of Jesus Christ
  • Recognize that the ancestors form a continuous line from the forefathers and foremothers of the Old Testament to the birth of Jesus, the promised Messiah
  • Explain the meaning of Jesus Christ's Incarnation
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Materials

  • A copy for each participant of the Resource handout: Messages of the Promised Messiah
  • Icons of "Mother of God of the Akathist" and "Holy Righteous Joseph the Betrothed" (Resources for this lesson) to display during class
  • One copy of the "Jesse Tree Illuminated Manuscript" and "Jesse Tree Window" (Resources for this lesson) to look at together during class. You may also want to find and show the class icons that depict the Jesse Tree.
  • Icon of the Nativity
  • Items for Journaling
  • For "The Ancestors of Christ" (Procedure step #4), copies for each participant of "Christ's Ancestor's" below:

 

CHRIST'S ANCESTORS (after each ancestor's nme, write in the Bible passage and description that fits. You will need to look up at least some of the Bible passages--maybe not all)

1. NOAH

2. JACOB

3. JOSEPH

4. RUTH

5. DAVID

6. ISAIAH

7. ELIZABETH

BIble Passages:

  • Genesis 45: 4-8 II
  • Samuel 5: 1-5
  • Ruth 2: 1-9
  • Isaiah 11: 1
  • Luke 1: 39-45
  • Genesis 8: 20-22
  • Genesis 28: 10-15

Desriptions:

  • King and ancestor of Christ
  • Forgave persecutors, as Christ would
  • God's first promise
  • First to call Mary "Mother of My Lord"
  • Foreigner became faithful believer
  • God's renewed promise
  • Prophecy

END

 

 

 

 

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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Dispay the icon of the Nativity.

(Have participants stand.)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.
For by it, those who worshipped the stars
Were taught by a star to adore Thee,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee!


2

The Incarnation

Put the word INCARNATON on the chalkboard. Ask participants how you would break this word down into parts, and put those on the chalkboard:

  • IN--coming into or entering
  • CARN--flesh
  • ATION--a process, something taking place

Ask participants, "Based on this breakdown, how could we define the word for someone who was not familiar with it? (Let participants answer. Basically, it means "becoming flesh."  Speaking specifically about Our Lord, we say that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is God becoming Man.)

Read to the class this simple modern story about why the Incarnation took place:

Once upon a time, there was a farmer who was having a run of bad luck. Her health was deteriorating, there were crop failures that year, and she had problems with her children. Her faith in God was wearing thin. It was hard to believe that God could understand and care about the struggles of ordinary human beings. Then, to add to her troubles, a bad storm began to brew. As she hurried out to get the animals into the barn, she noticed a flock of birds overhead, frantically searching for shelter.

As she watched them fly confusedly in one direction and then another, getting blown around by the strong wind, she felt sorry for them. She tried to think of a way to shoo them through the open barn door to safety. But the noise of the panicky animals and her own shouting only seemed to frighten the birds more.

She thought to herself, “Poor little things! If only I could become one of them! Then they would trust me, and I could lead them to safety!” 

Suddenly she stopped in her tracks. She whispered to herself, “Now I understand why He did it that way.”

After reading the story, discuss these questions:

Does this story give a good explanation of the Incarnation? (Let participants give their opinions.)

Does the story give the whole explanation? (Let participants give their opinions. Bring into the discussion that there is more to the Incarnation than the story expresses. While the story shows that Jesus Christ became Man in order to save us from something, we are also saved for something.)

To make that point, put these words of Saint Athanasius on the chalkboard:

GOD BECAME MAN SO THAT MAN MIGHT BECOME GOD.

Ask participants to say what these words mean to them. Bring into the discussion that the words don't mean that we will ever be God. They mean that we are intended to live with God forever, to share the blessings of His Kingdom.

Through the Incarnation we see, in the Person of Jesus Christ, how to live in a way that prepares us for the Kingdom, as well as saving us from death. This is an essential part of our understanding of the Incarnation.

 


3

The Ancestors of Christ

Display the icons of Mary ("Mother of God of the Akathist")  and Joseph ("Holy Righteous Joseph the Betrothed") as you go through this section of the lesson.

Put the words ANCESTORS and GENEALOGY on the chalkboard.

Ask participants to define them both. Most participants will know that "ancestors" refers to the generations of our families that came before us. "Genealogy" is the record of our ancestors.

Say, "Jesus had human ancestors. His birth was anticipated through many generations." Then glance together at the genealogies in Matthew 1: 1-17 and Luke 3: 23-38. Let participants pick out familiar names.

Divide the class into pairs, and give each a copy of Christ's Ancestors, from the Materials section of the lesson. Let them complete the exercise.

Answers:

  • 1. Noah/ Genesis 8: 20-22/ God's first promise
  • 2. Jacob/ Genesis 28: 10-15/ God's renewed promise
  • 3. Joseph/ Genesis 45: 4-8/ Forgave persecutors, as Christ would
  • 4. Ruth/ Ruth 2: 1-9/ Foreigner became faithful follower
  • 5. David/ II Samuel 4: 1-5/ King and ancestor of Christ
  • 6. Isaiah/ Isaiah 11:1/ Prophecy
  • 7. Elizabeth/ Luke 1: 39-45/ First to call Mary "Mother of My Lord"

Go over the answers together. Note the following with the class:

Isaiah (#6), writes of the "root of Jesse." This phrase is part of some of our prayers, because Isaiah made the prophecy in a bad time for Israel, and it has been taken as a prophecy of Christ. Even though Israel's disobedience had made her a mere stump of the healthy tree that God had planted, a shoot would grow--the Savior, Christ.

Joseph (#3), is sometimes compared to Jesus Christ. Ask participants why this might be so. (Joseph is seen as one who suffered unjustly and still could see God's plan in what happened.)

Ruth (#4) reminds us that God's plan is for everyone. (Ask participants how she is a reminder of this. (Ruth was from Moab, not just a foreign country but an enemy of Israel.)

Say, "This small sampling of the ancestors shows us how God's plan proceeded through the centuries and generations. There are many more who could be included. The line of Jesus' ancestors is sometimes depicted in a "Jesse Tree" icon or illumination." Look together at the examples you have copied from the Resources section of this lesson. Also note, on the icon of Mary the Theotokos, the figures around her--these also are the people who came before and awaited the Savior.

You might arrange to have participants visit the classrooms of the Ages 10-12 and 13-17 students to see and hear them tell about the Jesse Trees they created.


4

Messages of the Promised Messiah

Distribute the Resource handout Messages of the Promised Messiah to participants.  This goes more deeply into the verse from Isaiah.  

Have class members read Isaiah 11: 1-10, and then fill in the sheet with four attributes of the coming Savior (most of the answers will come from verses 1 – 5).

Then have them list four “wonders” that will take place when the Savior fully reigns (answers will come form verses 6 – 8).  

Ask: “Which attributes of the Savior do you think are the most important? Which of the 'wonders' would you most like to see?"

Next, have participants fill in the blanks in the second part of the sheet. Not all versions of the Bible will be worded exactly as on the sheet, but they are close enough that the answers will be similar. Answers don't have to match the sheet exactly.

 


5

Journaling and Wrap Up

Suggest that participants write in their journals about what aspect/s of the new world as described in Isaiah 11: 1-10 they find most appealing.

Continue with planning or work on the class's chosen service porject. You might keep a record of things that need to be done, and who is to do them. Then as they are completed you can mark them off.

Be sure to keep your pastor and parish council informed about your work. You might plan to make a presentation to the parish, and think of ways they can become involved,. perhaps by giving of their time, money, or any resources they have that could be of help.

 


6

Closing Prayer

(Have participants stand.)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today the virgin gives birth to the transcendent one,
And the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable one.
Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him.
The wise men journey with the star,
Since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child!


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God is with us! (Ages 18+)

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Overview

The Birth of Jesus Christ - God became man and dwelt among us: the Incarnation.
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Objectives

By the end of this Lesson, learners should be able to:

  • Compare and contrast the Nativity accounts and genealogies of Gospel wiriters Matthew and Luke
  • Review facts about Saints Barbara, Herman, Nicholas and Romanus
  • Consider ways which the terms New Child, Man and Pre-Eternal God can form an explanation of what the Incarnation of Jesus Christ means
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Materials

  • Icon of the Nativity
  • Items for Journaling
  • Copies for each student of the following Resources:
  •     ---    What shall we offer You, O Christ?          
  •     ---    Nativity of Christ Biblical Accounts         
  •     ---   The Nativity of Christ by Professor Veselin Kesich

For the "Review: Four Saints" activity, have the following for each group of 3-4 participants:

  • Adhesive tape that won't damage the wall
  • Four pieces of butcher paper (about 2 feet by 3 feet), each with one of these headings: Saint Barbara, Saint Nicholas, Saint Herman, Saint Romanus
  • A set of "clues", which you can create by making enough copies of the following phrases for each group, then cutting them into strips or small pieces (NOTE: The sets of 5 clues apply to the saints in this order: Barbara, Nicholas, Herman, Romanus)
  • An envelope to put the set of clues in

Clues:

 

A FURIOUS FATHER

A NUMBER OF SERVANTS

A THIRD WINDOW

A PUBLIC MARTYRDOM

A TOWER AS HOME

 

A SHIP IN TROUBLE

A FINANCIALLY STRAPPED FATHER

A RELUCTANCE TO BE BISHOP

A BRIBED OFFICIAL

A SLAPPED SPEAKER

 

A FOREST DWELLING

A JOURNEY FROM RUSSIA

A BOARD AS  BLANKET

A HAND-FED BEAR

A  LIMITED WARDROBE

 

A CHRISTMAS HYMN

A HUMILIATING CHRISTMAS EVE

A SWALLOWED SCROLL

A CROWDED CATHEDRAL

A DEACON AND TEACHER

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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Display the icon of the Nativity.

(Have participants stand.) In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.
For by it, those who worshipped the stars
Were taught by a star to adore Thee,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee!


2

Review: Four Saints

As a review of facts about Saints Barbara, Herman, Nicholas and Romanus:

  • Divide the class into 3 or 4 teams.
  • Have them take just a minute or two to choose team names.Give each team tape, a marker, and a small blank piece of paper.
  • Have each team write their team name on the paper and choose an area of the room's walls or chalkboard.
  • Have them put up their name paper with tape, and below that the the 4 chart papers you have prepared for them, with the names of the four saints. 
  • Give each team an envelope containing a set of strips of papers with "clues" pertaining to the saints.

Tell them that the winning team will be the first one that correctly tapes all the clues that pertain to each saint on that saint's chart.

Correct answers are given in the Materials section of this lesson. Go over the answers when everyone finishes.

 


3

Jesus in the Gospels: His Birth and Family

Give each participant a copy of the Resource for this lesson entitled Nativity of Christ Biblical Accounts. Everyone should have a Bible, or two people can share one. Discuss the following questions and points, letting participants answer and adding the information given as needed.

Look together at the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1: 1-17, not reading all the names but glancing over them and finding some familiar ones such as Ruth, Jesse, David and Solomon.

Ask, "Why does Matthew begin his genealogy with David and Abraham?" (Matthew is addressing his Gospel especially to fellow Jews. He wants to make the point that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and promises that they know well. The promises to Abraham and David are among the most important.)

Now look together at the first two verses of Matthew 2 on the Nativity sheet. Ask, "Do you see a way in which these verses reinforce the point that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament?" (The verses immediately contrast Herod, the king imposed on the Jews by the Roman government, with Jesus Christ, the true king given by God and prophesied in the Old Testament.)

Ask, "How is Herod depicted in these verses?" (He and his successors--see verses 16-18 and 22-- are characterized as brutal, and no friends of believers in Jesus Christ. Matthew is emphasizing to the Jews that they owe their deepest allegiance to only One: the newborn Savior.)

Ask, "How else does Matthew establish the universal kingship of Jesus Christ in the very first verse?"  (The wise men from the East are exotic and educated--they represent the "greater" world far from obscure Bethlehem. Yet they too know about and want to see this King.)

Glance together at Luke's genealogy in 3: 23-38. Don't try to read through all the names, but do read together verse 38. Ask, "How does this verse show us that Jesus Christ's salvation is for all people?" (It calls Jesus the "son of Adam." Every person--not just those of one nation or people--is descended from Adam. So Jesus Christ is the Savior for all people. Luke is a Gentile and wants to stress this to fellow Gentiles.)

Ask, "How often is Herod mentioned in Luke's account?" (He is not mentioned at all. Luke is not emphasizing the contrast of Christ as true King to Herod as mere worldly king.)

Now have the class look through Luke's account of the Nativity on the sheet. Ask, "Who are the first people Luke mentions as knowing about Jesus as the Savior? How is this different from Matthew's account? What part of the account is the same?" (The shepherds--verses 8-16--are first. Shepherds, unlike wise men, were neither exotic or educated. They were considered very low class. By making them the ones the angels visit, Luke again emphasizes that Jesus' salvation is for everyone. What is the same in this account is that they, like the wise men, set out to see the Child.)

Finally, reread Matthew 1: 3-6. This time ask, "Do you think it was usual in Matthew's time to include women in a genealogy?" (From the way you have asked the question, participants will realize that the answer is no. Tell them they are right--the inclusion of Tamar, Ruth, Rahab and "her who had been the wife of Uriah", meaning Bathsheba, is another way we are being shown that God's plan of salvation is for everyone. Genealogies of the time would usually only include men. And, as you noted in the previous lesson, Ruth came from the alien country of Moab.)

Ask, "Is there anything else that Tamar, Ruth, Rahab and Bathsheba have in common besides being women?"  (They were Gentiles, not members of the people of Israel. In addition, Rahab was a prostitute, and Bathsheba committed adultery with David. So Matthew, like Luke, is including people of all backgrounds in his genealogy. This emphasizes the universality and compassion of Christ's salvation.)

Ask participants: "What does this emphasis on universality say about our work in the Church?" (There may be various answers and opinions given, but certainly these verses tell us that we, in our churches, must be open to all people who seek Christ.)


4

Serving Others: Your Service Project

Continue with the work on your class service project.

If you have chosen something that will be ongoing when this five-week unit of study is finished, plan the means by which you will continue, and make specific assignments to class members. Set up a system for keeping in touch and making sure things get done as they need to.

If you have not done so, work with your pastor and parish council to  plan a presentation to the whole parish. This should not only be informative, but if possible give parishioners a way to take part in and contribute to the project.

You might consider making posters, preparing a brief informative piece for the parish bulletin, or simply planning to talk with as many parishioners as possible about what you are doing, to get their suggestions and to ask for whatever help they can give.


5

Wrap Up and Journaling

Suggest to participants to write in their journals about the gift they will give to God during this Nativity season. As they read over the gifts in What shall we offer You, O Christ, they can consider their own offering.

Give participants their journals to take home. Encourage them to keep writing during the Nativity season, and beyond.

Remind participants of the Nativity greeting and response: Christ is Born! Glorfiy Him! Encourage them to offer the greeting to others, and to promote its use in the parish.

Give each participant a copy of the Resource handout entitled The Nativity of Christ by Professor Veselin Kesich. Encourage them to do this Bible study with family or a group of friends. It is a good way of reinforcing the study you have done together over these weeks, and gives those who do it a way of going deeper into the study of the Gospels in general.


6

Jesus Christ: New Child, Man, Pre-Eternal God

Distribute copies of the Resource handout entitled What shalll we offer You, O Christ to each participant. 

Read through it together, and notice the two terms it applies to Jesus Christ: "Man" and "Pre-Eternal God." Then ask, "What is the term that appears in the refrain of the Kontakion on the Nativity by Saint Romanus?" (It is "new child.")

Discuss together: What does it mean to each of us that we have a Pre-Eternal God who became not just Man, but a New(born) Child?

Let participants give their ideas, and express their feelings. Perhaps you might discuss ways in which to approach discussions of faith with other groups (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists) who do not share our belief that the Pre-Eternal God became Man and New Child for us.


7

Closing Prayer

(Have students stand.)  

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today the virgin gives birth to the transcendent one,
And the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable one.
Angels give glory with the shepherds,
The magi journey with the star,
As for our sake He is born as a new child, He who from eternity is God.


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