My Orthodox Family


Introduction (Ages 18+)

" For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother, and sister and mother. "    - Matthew 12:50

My Orthodox Family , a parish-wide, self-study program, is designed to help us discover and develop ways we can continue to become living examples of Christ in our lives, while we help to build up society (i.e. “the world”).   We are responsible for our behavior in all the communities and “families” in which we live:   home, church, school, neighborhood, government, the environment, etc.   Our coming together as a community in Christ is the essence of our faith. “The word church, as we remember, means a gathering or assembly of people specifically chosen and called apart to perform a particular task.”  (Hopko, The Orthodox Faith II, Worship). No matter what our background, this is what binds us as Christians, and family members of His Holy Church.

The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds.   They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive fifteen miles, or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place, an act which is the very condition of everything else that is to happen.   For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God.  - Schmemann, For the Life of the World

As Orthodox Christians in America, we are a diverse mixture of peoples from throughout the world.  Looking back on four or five generations, many of us can trace our families to immigrants from Greece, the Middle East, Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, Siberia and the Far East.   Traveling long distances, our ancestors established new families and communities on the North American continent.  They discovered here the same Orthodox faith that Native Alaskans had adopted in 1794 from Russian Missionaries to America.  In a little over 200 years, Orthodox parishes have populated North America with more than 4-5 million people!

Our parish communities today include many new people who have found their home in the Orthodox Church.   They or their ancestors have come from a multitude of nations—Irish, Italian, English, Scandinavian and German cultures from Western and Northern Europe, as well as a mixture of traditional cultures from Africa, Asia, Mexico, and South America.   We not only live in multicultural societies, but in multicultural parishes in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.   As Orthodox Christians in America, spending time finding out who we are and where we want to go as an Orthodox community will help us see ourselves as a part of our local, regional, national, and world communities.  Along with those roles comes responsibility.   Every person within the parish community has a role to play; from the newly baptized, to the oldest.   How we see ourselves and our role as a Family of God is critical to the survival of the parish, as well as the entire Church in this world.

As God’s children we are called to witness our faith.   We are called to understand who we are as Orthodox Christians, and to bear witness to God with our families and friends by being good neighbors, reaching out to help others, and standing up and protecting those who are being mistreated, or are victims of discrimination or prejudice.   We are also called to know and live our faith; to correct misconceptions and wrong information about our beliefs, as well as to respect people of other faiths.  

Overall Objectives of the Unit

Throughout the duration of this FOCUS Unit, teachers will find it helpful to keep two main overarching objectives in mind:

  • Identify ourselves as Orthodox people, bound together as a family in Christian Love.
  • Understand that, as faithful Orthodox Christians, we must commit ourselves to His Commandment to love one another through acts of compassion and charity to all of God’s people.

Objectives are things which the students should be able to do as a result of the session. Keeping the two main obj,ectives in mind can help us, as teachers, focus on the important fact that our parishes were established for the purposes of worship, community, mission, and good works for each other, and for those in the world around us.  

God made us His People through the sacraments of the Church.   We became God’s Children in Baptism.  He anointed us with the Holy Oil of Chrism and called us to be His People; to hear, understand, and proclaim His Word as God’s prophets; to protect and care for the world as His anointed Kings—clothed in the white garment of Holiness; and to offer up to Him everything we are and do as a holy gift and service, as gifts offered by priests.   God calls us to restore the world as the Paradise He created for His people in the Garden.   He calls us to everlasting life in His Kingdom.   It is through life in the Church that we become His holy people who are called to do His work in this world!

How the Unit is Arranged

The unit is comprised of six sessions of about 45 minutes each.  The first five deal with identity, self-study, and involvement within our parish; while the last focuses on our involvement within our communities. The suggested prayers are just that.   Singing the Troparion of the parish is certainly appropriate as an opening prayer, with the closing being whatever hymn or prayer is your parish tradition for gatherings.  Students at the youngest level should probably keep the same prayers throughout the sessions for consistency.  

The lessons have been developed based on five age levels:  ages 4-6, ages 7-9, ages 10-12, ages 13-17, and 18-older.  Every age level has its own individual lesson plan.  All the lesson plans contain the following parts:

  • FOCUS Unit Title, Lesson Title & Age Level
  • Lesson Objectives
    The lesson objectives are the things measurable by the teacher.  Through questions, discussion and activity participation teachers can measure whether students were able to fulfill these objectives. If they cannot, teachers will know that review or repetition may be necessary.
  • Materials
    Materials are the various items required to teach the lesson.   These include items such as craft materials and classroom Bibles.  
  • Resources
    Resources are items the DCE has provided for use while teaching the lesson.  These include printable icons, line drawings, handouts, liturgical texts, Bible stories, planning worksheets and many other kinds of professionally developed teacher resources to aide in teaching the lesson.  The resources have been categorized into two groups: Required Resources and Supplemental Resources.  Required resources are specifically referred to within the lesson plan.  Supplemental resources are generally useful in gathering background information.  Often, the supplemental resources will be links to external web sites and suggested books for the teacher to read.
  • Lesson Procedure
    This is a step-by step outline of how the session should go. Please be aware that some lessons require advance preparation--read lessons, prepare for them, and think prayerfully about them well before you meet students in the classroom.

Every Family Has a Story (Ages 18+)

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Overview

Family is Love - Every family’s story is different. Families are composed of different members and numbers of members, and they relate to each other in different ways.
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Objectives

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

  • Identify various relationships in families, and in particular the relationships between parents and siblings
  • Describe some of these relationships as they exist between Biblical figures
  • Relate their own experiences of these relationships, not only those based on blood ties but also those based on Christian love
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Materials

  • Tape
  • Bibles
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Pens & paper
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Modeling clay or Play Doh
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

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

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere and fillest all things.  
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life:  
Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.


2

Discussion Starter-Bridge

Tell the group that in this six-session unit you are going to look at some of the relationships in families. Say: The Bible, and the lives of our saints, give us many stories of relationships. Some of these relationships were healthy and good for the people in them, and some were not. We, in our own lives, also have a variety of family relationships. There are brothers with brothers, sisters with sisters, brothers with sisters, These sibling relationships are the ones we are going to look at today.

Continue by saying: Those of you who had siblings, either sisters or brothers, were given a special gift. Think for a moment about those sibling relationships, and share any special memories you would like to that involve a brother or sister. I’m going to put some words on the chalkboard that may bring some memories to mind.

Write on the chalkboard: rivalry, unique closeness, shared secrets, practical jokes, nicknames, family events. Wait a few minutes, and let people share their memories.
Go on to say: Some of us are fortunate enough to have someone who is not a blood brother or blood sister, but who is as close to us as a sibling. This may be a cousin or other relative, or it may be someone who is not part of our own biological family.

Ask participants to share any memories they have of such a relationship.


3

Bible Studies

  1. Divide the class into two groups of 4-5, or into several groups if you have a good many participants.
    Assign each group the A or B Bible study below, and ask groups to be ready to report on their conclusions.

    Bible Study A
    Read together the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37: 1-28 and then Genesis 45: 1-15.
    This second reading tells of Joseph’s success in Egypt after his years of slavery. Talk about the following questions, and let participants give their own opinions. Some suggested answers are offered in italics:

  2. How was Joseph able to heal the wound his brothers had inflicted on him? (One answer could be that he was able to see God’s purpose in what happened.) How might his example help us do the same?

  • Parents often have a strong effect on their children’s sibling relationships. How do you think Joseph’s relationship with his brothers was affected by their father’s behavior? (Making Joseph such an obvious favorite was bound to stir up resentment in the others.) How would you advise parents to avoid the same mistake?

  1. Bible Study B
    Read together the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25: 28-34 & 27: 1-29.
    After Jacob so disgracefully cheated his brother, many years went by. Jacob had an unusual experience, and then had another encounter with Esau.

    Read Genesis 32: 22-33:11 and then talk about these questions:

  2. What experience did Jacob have that made him willing to humble himself before Esau?
    (His encounter with the angel had changed him, and made him a more godly person. )

  • What does the encounter between the brothers tell us about Esau’s character?
    (The encounter between the brothers shows that Esau was basically a good, forgiving person. He may have been foolish in letting himself be duped into giving up his birthright for a bowl of food, but he was not a hard person who held a grudge after all the years of Jacob’s absence.)

  • Parents often strongly influence the relationships between their children. How do you think Rebekah’s treatment of Jacob influenced his relationship with Esau? (Her obvious favoritism was not healthy for either brother, especially when she encouraged Jacob to follow his worst instincts and cheat Esau.) How would you advise parents to avoid the same mistake?
Give the groups time to finish their studies, and then let them report.

4

Wrap up

Read together the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 18: 35. This is the end of the parable about the unforgiving servant.

Talk together about this question:
  • Why does Jesus use the word “brother” here, rather than “friend” or “neighbor” or some other word?
Let each participant choose materials from those you have brought, and then use what they have chosen to fashion something that shows the meaning of the word “brother” as Jesus uses it. This can be a drawing, a clay figure, a paper or stick figure, a poem, etc. When everyone has finished, those who wish to can tell the rest about the thing they have created.

5

Closing Prayer

O Lord, grant our brothers and sisters health, peace, love, long life and Thy holy grace so that they may follow Thy holy paths and do all that pleases Thee. Grant that we may spend our days in peace and love, for what is better or more beautiful than for all to live together as brothers and sisters? Hear our prayer, and have mercy on us, for Thou art merciful and lovest mankind, and to Thee we send up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Adapted from Orthodox Prayer Book, published by Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery, Fort Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1990.)

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Life Together as a Family (Ages 18+)

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Overview

Family Equals Cooperation
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Objectives

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

  • Name cooperation as an important element of family life
  • Give some examples of family cooperation
  • Identify cooperation with God as another element of family life
  • Describe ways God can use our cooperation to make us do new or unexpected things that may alter our family life
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Materials

  • Bibles
  • Paper
  • Pencils
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Resources


Required Resources
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

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

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere and fillest all things.  
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life:  
Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.


2

Planning Time

Evaluate the results and materials from sessions for other age groups, which you collected last week at the end of the session. Plan ways they can be part of a parish archive.


3

Discussion Starter-Bridge

Say: If we think about how a family “works” best, we’d have to say that co-operation between the family members is an important factor. (Let participants give examples of situations that require family co-operation for a good outcome.)

Read together the story of Noah and his family in Genesis 6:11 to 7: 16. Say: We can assume that the building and preparation of the ark was a co-operative effort of the family members, just as they all co-operated in joining Noah in the ark once it was completed. So we could say that Noah and his family co-operated with each other, but they also co-operated with God.

Discuss this question:
What problems might Noah’s family have faced in their effort to co-operate with God and with each other? (They might have been daunted by the immensity of the job, and perhaps they were considered eccentric or crazy by their neighbors. There is also the human tendency to be uneasy about any big change in the future.)


4

Bible Studies

Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4, and assign each group Bible Study A or Bible Study B. Ask groups to be ready to report on their conclusions.

Bible Study A
Read together 2 Timothy 1:5 and 3: 15. Talk together about these questions:

  • In what way did Timothy’s mother co-operate with God?
  • What co-operation do you see among the members of Timothy’s family? (Obviously both mother and grandmother taught him the faith, and taught him to take responsibility for it)
  • Do you see any ways in which Eunice and Lois’ co-operation with God might have affected their family life in a costly way? (They would miss Timothy’s company after he went to work with Paul, and might worry about his safety in the new and sometimes hostile places he was going to visit. Yet they must have been proud that Paul thought so highly of their beloved boy.)
Bible Study B
Read together Mark 5: 35-43. Talk together about these questions:
  • In what way did Jairus co-operate with God?
  • What difficulties might he have faced in doing so? (Others were clearly discouraging him from calling on Jesus Christ, and their unbelief even reached the point of laughing at Christ.)
  • How did God use Jairus’ co-operation to bring about something unexpected? (Obviously, the raising of the little girl was a new and unexpected experience for those who were so cynical as to laugh.)
  • How did God’s action affect Jairus’ family? (Feeling that they had lost their little daughter they of course were delighted to have her back. Jairus’ faith and his willingness to co-operate with God by entrusting his daughter to Jesus saved her life.)
When the groups have reported and discussed their conclusions, say: We see how these two families were affected by their co-operation with God. In Timothy’s family, someone was taken away, at least for a time. In Jairus’ family, someone was restored. Yet both were blessed by God. Both families were affected in ways they might not have expected.
When Jesus called fishermen to be His disciples by saying, “I will make you fishers of men” He meant that He would use their abilities in new ways; perhaps unexpected things would happen to them too. The same goes for us. When we co-operate with God, we may be called to use our abilities in new ways, and new things may happen in our families and in our lives.

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Closing Prayer

O Lord, grant our brothers and sisters health, peace, love, long life and Thy holy grace so that they may follow Thy holy paths and do all that pleases Thee. Grant that we may spend our days in peace and love, for what is better or more beautiful than for all to live together as brothers and sisters? Hear our prayer, and have mercy on us, for Thou art merciful and lovest mankind, and to Thee we send up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Adapted from Orthodox Prayer Book, published by Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery, Fort Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1990.)


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God’s Story and God’s People (Ages 18+)

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Overview

Some Were Faithful to God; Some Were Not
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Objectives

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

  • Contrast the unfaithful family of the Herods with the faithful family of Sts. Basil, Macrina and Gregory of Nyssa
  • List various elements of faithfulness in order of importance
  • Enumerate ways we can build faithfulness in our families and parishes
  • Choose a Biblical phrase that reflects the idea of family faithfulness to God
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Materials

  • Bibles
  • colored markers
  • decorative materials (assorted stickers & stick-on stars)
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • glue
  • tape
  • pieces of 8 ½ by 11" cardstock (one for each participant)
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

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

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere and fillest all things.  
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life:  
Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.


2

Planning Time

As in the previous session, discuss the materials you have collected from the sessions being conducted with other age groups, and plan ways they can be incorporated into a parish archive.


3

Discussion Starter-Bridge

Say: In the Bible, and in the history of the Church, we see people who reacted very differently to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Some were faithful to His teachings and achieved extraordinary things; some were unfaithful and did spectacular harm. Today we’ll look at two examples, one of each kind.

4

Bible and Saints Study

Read the following stories together, in whatever way you wish—aloud with readers taking turns, or with people reading silently and then talking about what they read. Have Bibles on hand so you can look up the passages referred to.

The Herods: Generations of Enemies of the Faith

The generations of rulers we call the Herods or Herodians didn’t lack intellectual ability. They were smart and able people, in fact. There were many generations in the family, but the three that we will look at are those who played a notable part in New Testament history.

The first of these three Herods was called “the Great.” He would destroy anyone he considered to be a threat to his power, which is why he is remembered for the “murder of the innocents” described in Matthew 2: 16-18. He also killed some of his own sons. Yet the possibilities of real greatness were there: he was a builder of great vision, his crowning achievement being the Temple in Jerusalem. He was also a statesman of sufficient diplomacy to impress Mark Anthony, Augustus, and many others.

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great. There must have been a longing for God deep inside the man: Saint Mark tells us that when Herod heard John the Forerunner speak, “he was much perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” Saint Mark says also that though Herodias had a grudge against John and wanted him killed, Herod “feared John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe” (Mark 6: 19-20.)

Herod Antipas’ lust had been stronger than he was, and he had taken his brother Philip’s wife Herodias, a fact which John could not ignore and against which he bravely spoke out. Perhaps if Herod had been a stronger man in many ways, things would have been different. But Herodias’ “grudge” against John only grew, and in the famous scene of her daughter dancing before Herod, the king’s lust and weakness combined with her cunning to overwhelm him. She extracted a promise from him, knowing that he had at least enough integrity to keep a promise made to her. Then she demanded John’s death, to which Herod reluctantly agreed.

Herod Antipas also interrogated Jesus Christ when He was arrested. On that occasion, too, he showed at least a superficial interest in the faith. Luke’s Gospel says that Herod “had long desired to see [Jesus], because he had heard about him, and was hoping to see some sign done by him” (Luke 23: 8.) But without a “good show” on Jesus’ part, Herod’s interest waned. He reverted to mockery and contempt in questioning Jesus, and soon sent him back to Pilate.

The third Herod, known as Herod Agrippa, was the grandson of Herod the Great. The family failing of pride really overcame this man, and no doubt gaining the favor of the self-worshipping emperor Caligula only increased his dangerous tendencies. He actually allowed people to hail him as a god.

We read that when he did this, an angel of the Lord immediately smote him because he did not “give God the glory” and he died a gruesome death (Acts 12: 21-23.) Like the other Herodian rulers before him, he ignored or suppressed his knowledge of the Jewish faith, and paid the price for forgetting his place as one of God’s created beings.
Herod Agrippa’s youngest daughter carried on the unfortunate traditions of her family. Drusilla left her Jewish husband to marry Felix, the Roman governor. This was illegal both because her first husband was still alive, and also because Felix did not profess the faith of the Jews.

But Felix and Drusilla’s great sin was caused by the same fear that Herod and Herodias had felt in the presence of John the Forerunner. For Drusilla and Felix, Saint Paul’s words about the Christ, and the judgment to come, were conscience-searing. They did nothing to spare the great apostle his unjust trial and death. Like her older male relatives, Drusilla cast aside the faith she had been born to, and silenced her own conscience as well as any person who dared to question her way of life.

A Large and Saintly Family

The emperor Diocletian was one of the fiercest persecutors of Christians ever to sit on the Roman throne. During the time of his power, the grandparents of St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil the great, and their sister St. Macrina fled to the mountainous regions of Pontus. They lived a rugged life full of hardship, and when they returned to their home, their money was gone and their health was undermined. The husband died during this time, but his wife Macrina was to live a long life. Later her married son Basil also died fairly young, leaving ten children to the care of their grandmother and their mother, Emilia. These ten children would form an extraordinary group of saints.

The eldest child, also named Macrina, was the great model and teacher for her younger brother Gregory, who wrote about her life. He says that from her earliest years she taught the psalms, so that “when she awoke from sleep, or was about to commence any work, or when she went to sleep, the words of David were on her lips, as a good companion.”
Some years later, Macrina was espoused to a man who died early. After that, she considered herself to be married and would never consider another man. She took care of her mother, the household full of younger children, and all the concerns of taxes, maintenance, and business. But little by little, Macrina brought the rest of the family into a simple, monastic way of living. Her mother was gradually influenced by her daughter’s example, and the household evolved into a place where the family and their former servants lived on a completely equal footing, eating the same simple food, wearing plain clothing, and praying together.

When younger brother Basil came home from school, quite full of himself and his acquired knowledge and worldly ways, his family’s example led him also to change. He began working with his hands and living in poverty, still pursuing knowledge but with far less pride and far more dependence on God as the source of all true knowledge.
Navcratios, another brother, decided to give up everything he owned and went into the thick forest near the River Iris with a companion. The two young men devoted themselves to prayer, vigil, and fasting. They fed themselves by fishing in the river, and took care of some old, sick men who lived nearby. Navcratios died suddenly after only five years of his life in the forest. But though the family grieved deeply for their beloved son and brother, they were not overcome by grief because of their faith. Gregory writes that their mother did not “wail, rend her clothing, or lament with funeral dirges.”

Peter, another brother, became adept at work with his hands and well-versed in science. But he, too, sought the life of an ascetic and he, too, helped others. When a severe famine struck the land, Peter was able to supply food to crowds of people.

In the next several years, both Emilia and Basil died. Gregory writes admiringly of how his sister Macrina took these terrible blows:

Just as gold is tested in different furnaces, so that if any impurity is not purged in the first furnace, it may be removed in the second, and again in the last furnace of all admixture. In like manner was Macrina tried with various applications of sorrow: First, there was the death of Navcratios, second, of her mother, and third, the departure from this life of the universal glory of our family, I mean, the great Basil. However, she prevailed as an undefeated athlete who was in no way tripped up by any attack of misfortune.”

 Macrina herself would die a few years later. But she and her brothers, guided by the example of their parents and grandparents, left the Church a wonderful legacy of holiness and scholarship. They were a family that continually blessed God, and were blessed by Him.

-- The information in this story is adapted from The Lives of the Spiritual Mothers, Holy Apostles Convent, 1991.

 

After reading these stories together, talk about this question:
  • What do you think were some of the differences in “atmosphere” and “attitude” in the homes of the Herodians and that of the saints in the second story?
    Probably the teaching of simple humility before God had much to do with the difference, since other things were similar in the households—members of both families were intelligent and educated, and knew or had known worldly prosperity.


5

Discussion

Say: We know that prayer, worship, and reading Scripture will help to build our faith. Let’s think for a moment about how to build faith in a family. I’ll put some things on the chalkboard. These are things that parents might model for their children. Let’s decide which would be most effective in building children’s, and the family’s, faith. Of course, we can add other elements that you think are important.
Put on the chalkboard: Perseverance in difficulties, knowing the teachings of the faith well, willingness to forgive wrongs, sense of awe before God.
Have participants put these in order from least to most important or effective. They can add any other elements they choose.

6

Activity

Give participants each a sheet of card stock. Invite them to make and decorate (with the decorative materials you have provided) placards for their homes. These should be verses from the Bible that express their feelings about pledging that their families will be faithful to God. Four possible verses are listed below, or participants can choose their own. They can then write the words on the placard, and decorate it.
  • As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24: 15.)
  • Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your dwelling. (Psalm 91: 9-10.)
  • In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:6.)
  • Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. (Proverbs 16: 3.)

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Closing Prayer

O Lord, grant our brothers and sisters health, peace, love, long life and Thy holy grace so that they may follow Thy holy paths and do all that pleases Thee. Grant that we may spend our days in peace and love, for what is better or more beautiful than for all to live together as brothers and sisters? Hear our prayer, and have mercy on us, for Thou art merciful and lovest mankind, and to Thee we send up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Adapted from Orthodox Prayer Book, published by Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery, Fort Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1990.)


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Members of God’s Family (Ages 18+)

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Overview

Early Christianity; New Life in Our Parishes
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Objectives

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

  • Retell what St. Paul writes about the life in Christ in the Letter to the Romans.
  • Give examples of people who welcomed new people to the Church.
  • List ways that we can welcome new people to our parishes.
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Materials

  • Bibles
  • paper
  • pencils
  • story of the life of St. Innocent of Alaska from the OCA website.
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Resources


Optional Resources
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

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

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere and fillest all things.  
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life:  
Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.


2

Planning Time

Continue as in earlier sessions to evaluate materials for a parish archive.

3

Discussion Starter-Bridge

Read together Romans 12: 9-21. Ask participants:

  • If we are thinking of how to bring new life to our parish by attracting, inviting, and welcoming new people, how could these words help us? How would a parish in which Paul’s words were put into practice be attractive to people searching for a church home?
Tell participants: We sometimes worry that our long services might deter people from joining our Orthodox parishes. But a survey done with people who left Christian churches shows that hypocrisy of church members is the main reason they left—“length of services” is way down the list. So if hypocrisy is the biggest problem, how could St. Paul’s words help us not to be hypocritical?

Have participants, on their own or in pairs, rewrite St. Paul’s words and (if they wish) add examples of what he means. After everyone has finished, let people share their rewrites, and let them tell how doing what Paul writes about could keep us from being hypocritical in our church lives.


4

Bible Studies

Read together the description of Lydia in Acts 16: 15 and 16: 40. Then read together the story of St. Innocent of Alaska. Ask: What are some things that Lydia and St. Innocent did that could attract people to the faith? (Lydia practiced hospitality. She also received Paul without worrying about his “bad reputation” among certain people. St. Innocent really “reached out” to people by learning their own languages, and by doing things to help them in daily life. He also traveled long distances to reach people, showing how much he cared about them.)

 

Encourage participants to think of ways in which hospitality, reaching out to people, and accepting people as they are could help in making your parish a home for seekers and newcomers. Make a list of specific practices and activities that could attract and welcome these people.

5

Closing Prayer

O Lord, grant our brothers and sisters health, peace, love, long life and Thy holy grace so that they may follow Thy holy paths and do all that pleases Thee. Grant that we may spend our days in peace and love, for what is better or more beautiful than for all to live together as brothers and sisters? Hear our prayer, and have mercy on us, for Thou art merciful and lovest mankind, and to Thee we send up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Adapted from Orthodox Prayer Book, published by Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery, Fort Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1990.)


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Being an Orthodox Christian (Ages 18+)

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Overview

Loving All, Because All Are Our Neighbors
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Objectives

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

  • Tell what Jesus Christ said about who our neighbors and family are.
  • Identify Bible figures and saints loved by Christ though disdained by the world
  • Relate the experience of seeing a person encounter Jesus Christ, in a letter to a friend
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Materials

  • Bibles
  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Handout: St. Euprosynos the Cook (September 11)
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Resources


Optional Resources
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

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

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere and fillest all things.  
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life:  
Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.


2

Planning Time

Proceed with your evaluation of materials for a parish archive, as in previous sessions.


3

Bible Studies

Say to the group: We know that Jesus Christ calls us to love our neighbor. But it’s up to us to make sure we understand who our neighbor is. Let’s look at the Lord’s words.
Read together Luke 10: 29, in which Christ answers the question “Who is my neighbor?” by telling the crowd the parable of the Good Samaritan. Then read Matthew 12: 46-50, in which Our Lord tells us what it truly means to be one of His family.

Talk about these questions: How would you say Jesus defines “neighbor”? What kind of person does Jesus welcome as His brother, mother, sister? (Special note: Some people consider this passage to be a rebuke to the Theotokos. But Orthodox belief is that He is pointing out His Mother as the great example of one who “does the will of my Father in heaven.”) 

Say: When we say that we will love all our neighbors and family, as Christ calls us to do, we are saying a lot. Looking through Scripture, we see that Jesus included some people in His circle of family and neighbors that many people might not welcome, or might not think “worthy.”

Read together: Mark 2: 13-14, John 4: 7, and Luke 19: 1-10. Discuss: Why might each of these people been hard for others to accept as a “neighbor” or “member of Christ’s family”? (Tax collectors like Matthew were hated; a Jew would never normally drink from the cup of a Samaritan and more specifically a Samaritan woman because the Samaritans were not pure; Zacchaeus was a known cheater.)

Jesus calls us always to broaden our love, to include more people in it, and to expand our personal definitions of “neighbor” and “family.”


4

  1. Read together the story of St. Euphrosynos the Cook. Discuss:
  2. Why might the other monks have been surprised to learn that St. Euphrosynos held such a prominent place in the Lord’s “family?” (To them he was an unimportant menial worker, not articulate or well-educated.)

  • What does this tell us about how we are called to treat our neighbor? (It’s easy to forget that Jesus Christ often gave special attention to “unimportant” people. He wants us to love them as He did.)
Next, read together the following story of St. Vitalis:

In the time of Patriarch John the Merciful, a young monk arrived in the city of Alexandria. He immediately made a list of all the prostitutes in the city. He spent his days practicing a peculir kind of asceticism, hiring himself out for the most backbreaking labor.

At night he would visit a brothel, give the money he had earned during the day to one of the prostitutes, and then shut himself in with her. As soon as the door closed behind them, Vitalis would beg the young woman to lie down and have a good night’s sleep, while he spent the entire night in a corner of the room, praying to God for her. He visited a different prostitute every night, till he had gone through the whole list, and then he started over again with the first woman whose name he had written down.

His counsel and loving concern caused many of the women to give up their way of life. Some married, some went to monasteries, and some found an honorable means of making a living. But all of them were forbidden by Vitalis to tell anyone what he did when he visited them.

Soon the young monk, therefore, became a scandal to the whole city of Alexandria. He was spat on, hit, and called names in the street. But he bore it all with patience.
When Vitalis died, his deeds became known. Miraculous healings took place over his grave, and many people brought their sick to be healed.

 -- Information taken from The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 2

Discuss:
  • How would most of us feel toward Vitalis if we saw him in the streets of Alexandria, not knowing what he really did at night? Would he be someone we would welcome as a neighbor or as part of our Christian family?
  • How might Vitalis’ actions have affected the attitude of the prostitutes toward Jesus Christ?

 


5

Wrap up

Have participants take the role of someone looking on when Jesus encountered Matthew the tax collector, or the Samaritan woman, or Zacchaeus. (They can choose any one of the three.) Give everyone pencil and paper, and ask them to write a letter to a friend, telling about what they saw. They can write about what they thought of the person before Jesus came on the scene, what they expected Jesus to do when He encountered the person, and what they thought after they had witnessed the encounter. Those who wish to may share their finished letters with the rest of the group.

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Closing Prayer

O Lord, grant our brothers and sisters health, peace, love, long life and Thy holy grace so that they may follow Thy holy paths and do all that pleases Thee. Grant that we may spend our days in peace and love, for what is better or more beautiful than for all to live together as brothers and sisters? Hear our prayer, and have mercy on us, for Thou art merciful and lovest mankind, and to Thee we send up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Adapted from Orthodox Prayer Book, published by Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery, Fort Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1990.)

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The Work of God’s People (Ages 18+)

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Overview

We are Accountable to God for Our Lives and the Lives of Those Around Us
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Objectives

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

  • Name various ways in which saints were accountable to God for themselves and for others
  • Choose one way of pledging to be accountable to God for another person
  • Make concrete plans for a parish archive, using the materials and items collected by other age-level groups using this unit of study
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Materials

  • Bibles
  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Handout:
Note: Information on several of these saints can also be found in the series Saints for All Ages, available from OCPC, and in various books containing lives of saints.
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

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

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere and fillest all things.  
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life:  
Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.


2

Saints' Study

Say to the group:
In an earlier session we talked about Jesus Christ’s use of the work “brother.” And as far back as Genesis the question was raised, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis:9).

  • So what does it mean to be accountable to God for our own lives, and also for the live of those around us?
  • What does it mean to be our brothers’ keeper?
    Let’s look at the lives of five saints who took responsibility for their own lives, and the lives of those around them, in very different ways.

Read the lives of the five saints included in the lesson's resources listed above. Discuss the following questions about each saint. Suggested answers follow, but the group may come up with others:

  • St. Juliana: What did she have to give up to do God’s will?
    She gave up her own desire to enter a monastery. She was accountable to God for what He had called her to do, and for the welfare of her family as well as many needy neighbors.
  • St. Nina
    How was she accountable to God, and for the lives of others?

    When she knew that the Georgian people did not have the Christian faith, she felt responsible for showing it to them so that they could achieve salvation. She gave up her own homeland to do so.
  • St. Elizabeth the New Martyr
    What did she give up to be accountable to God?

    She gave up her high rank, and finally her very life, which she knew was in danger in the revolutionary years in Russia. Through her charitable works she took responsibility for the lives around her. She also took responsibility specifically for the man who assassinated her husband by forgiving him and encouraging him to seek God’s forgiveness.
  • St. Simeon the Stylite
    What did he give up to be accountable to God, and for the lives of others?
    We might say that he gave up “normal” life by sitting on a pillar. This is certainly true, but having separated himself so dramatically from normal life, he also became a counselor and advisor to many. This obliged him to give up much of the time of solitary prayer that he loved so much. In doing so, he took responsibility for the lives of those who needed his counsel and spiritual advice.

  • St. Romanus the Melodist
    How did this saint take responsibility for the lives of others?

    St. Romanus may not have known how his music would affect others in later centuries. But the fact is that many people who were imprisoned or suffered for their faith were comforted by singing Romanus’ music from memory when they could not worship openly. He therefore is responsible for helping many, and not only those who heard his beautiful hymns when he wrote them.

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Wrap up

Say: We have seen some different ways the saints had of being accountable before God for their own lives and for the lives of others. I’m sure you could name many other ways. Let’s each of us, privately, think about a way that we could be accountable for another person’s well-being before God. In that way we will be accepting some accountability for our own lives, too.

 

Give each person paper and pencil, and let them think about some responsibility they might take: praying for one or more people regularly, perhaps giving someone a weekly ride to church, shopping for someone who needs help, calling or emailing someone regularly, and so on.

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Closing Prayer

O Lord, grant our brothers and sisters health, peace, love, long life and Thy holy grace so that they may follow Thy holy paths and do all that pleases Thee. Grant that we may spend our days in peace and love, for what is better or more beautiful than for all to live together as brothers and sisters? Hear our prayer, and have mercy on us, for Thou art merciful and lovest mankind, and to Thee we send up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Adapted from Orthodox Prayer Book, published by Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery, Fort Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1990.)


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