The Theotokos


Introduction (Ages 10-12)

Christianity is unique in giving the world a true understanding of God as having humbled Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ, so that He could share and redeem our life. No other faith teaches, in the same way that Christianity does, that God would "demean" Himself by becoming Man. No other faith gives humankind the joyful news that by undergoing and overcoming an excruciating death, Jesus Christ destroyed death's power over us forever.

But our loving God is so careful of our freedom that He did not come to us in a flashy and overwhelming miracle. He sought human cooperation, and that came in the person of a young woman who lived in worldly circumstances of poverty and powerlessness. The young woman faced the brutal possibility that she would be stoned to death for fornication.  Her willingness to face that hard reality, to cooperate with God's will, came from her faith.

This unit is intended to help students see why the Orthodox Church honors that young woman, the Holy Virgin Mary and Theotokos. She had faith that all would be as the angel Gabriel promised her it would. So she said to him, "Let it be." With those words, she consented to God's plan for our salvation. How could we not honor her, above all other saints, when it is her co-operation that puts God's plan into action?

That brings us to one of several things we want students to know: Mary was not forced or obligated to consent to God's plan. She could have said "no." She is our model, born with free will as we all are, of one who chose to say "yes" to God, as we can also do.

We also want students to be aware of the reason for the Church's emphasis on Mary's ever-virginity.   (This applies mostly to older students, who are dealing with questions of sexuality in their own lives.) The translation of the Hymn to the Theotokos ("More honorable...") most commonly used in our OCA churches states: "Without defilement you gave birth to God the Word; true Theotokos, we magnify you." Students will be learning this hymn as part of the unit, so it is important that they understand its meaning properly. The word "defilement" is not the only way to translate the original words, and should not lead students to think that normal human sexual intercourse is considered "dirty" or "defiling" by the Church. The word only points to the miracle of this birth: Jesus was born without a human father, by the power of God, while still taking flesh from His mother. This was the divine/human birth of the divine/human Son of God.

Overall Objectives of the Unit

  1. Understand the importance of the Theotokos as an intercessor in our relationship with Jesus Christ and
  2. Understand the importance of the Theotokos as a model for us today.

Keeping these two objectives in mind can help us, as teachers, focus on the important fact that every worship service in the Orthodox Church contains one or more references to Mary. She also is given the the title of honor, established at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus (451), of "Theotokos" or Birthgiver of God.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann describes Mary's place in our faith in this way:

The veneration of the Virgin Mary is a necessary component of our faith: The image of the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Mother, stands [as] the image of infinite humility and purity, filled with beauty and strength; the image of love and the victory of love.  The Virgin Mary, the All-Pure Mother demands nothing and receives everything. She pursues nothing and possesses all. In the image of the Virgin Mary, we find compassion, tender-heartedness, care, trust, humility. We call her Our Lady and the Queen of Heaven and Earth, and yet she calls herself "the hand-maid of the Lord." ..  Christ said, 'Do not be anxious. Seek first the Kingdom of God' (see Mt 6:33). Beholding this woman - Virgin Mother, Intercessor - we begin to sense, to know not with our mind, but with our heart, what it means to seek the Kingdom, to find it, and to live by it.

THE VIRGIN MARY: THE CELEBRATION OF FAITH
by Alexander Schmemann, pages 21 - 22.

How the Unit is Arranged

The unit is comprised of five lessons of about 45-60 minutes each.  The first four each deal with a feast of Mary, and are presented in the order in which those feasts come in the Church calendar. This order also corresponds to the chronology of Mary's life. It's suggested that the Troparion and Kontakion for each feast be used as opening and closing prayers, respectively, of the sessions in which they are covered.  The fifth session deals with five icons of the Theotokos.

The lessons have each been written on five levels: ages 4-6, ages 7-9, ages 10-12, ages 13-17, and ages 18+.  The ages 13-17 may be split into two groups, older and younger, for discussions.  For each level in a session, there is a lesson plan. All the lesson plans contain the following parts:

  • The lesson theme
  • The age group for which the session is intended
  • The lesson title
  • A series of objectives 
    Objectives are things that the students should be able to do as a result of the session. Objectives should be things the teacher can measure.  Objectives contain verbs such as define, name, list, explain, tell, and other measurable actions. Through questions and discussion, teachers can ascertain whether students are able to fulfill these objectives. If they are not able to do so, teachers will know that review or repetition are necessary.
  • Resources and Materials Needed.
    These are the various materials the teacher will need to teach the session and meet the objectives. These include icons, art, photos, liturgical texts, Bible stories and passages, and craft materials that will be part of the session. 
  • Procedure This is a step-by step outline of how the session should go.

It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos,
ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God.
More honorable than the Cherubim,
and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,
without defilement you gave birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify you!

The Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8) (Ages 10-12)

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Overview

Mary's humanity and God's Love - Mary's humanity and God's Love
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Objectives

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

  • Identify the parents of Mary and retell some traditions regarding her birth
  • Contrast Mary’s co-operation with God with Eve’s refusal to co-operate with God
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the festal icon
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Materials

  • Bible: Genesis, chapters 2 and 3.
  • Icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos
  • Icon of the Nativity of Jesus Christ
  • Icon of the Resurrection (in which Christ is clearly shown pulling Eve as well as Adam out of the power of death)
  • Descriptions of the above icons from The Icon Book
  • Background on the Icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos found in the Description Section of the Icon Resource.
  • Genesis 2&3 Review Activity
  • Materials needed for Genesis 2&3 Review Activity
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Troparion (Tone 4)

Your Nativity, O Virgin,
Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!
The Sun of righteousness, Christ our God,
Has shone from you, O Theotokos.
By annuling the curse, He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death, He has granted us eternal life.

(You will want to have the words readable for students on a chalkboard or chart.)


2

Troparion Discussion

Ask students, "Have you ever had something go wrong because you didn't listen to your parents or another adult who loves you?" (Let students answer briefly.) Then, with the words of the troparion in mind, read Genesis 1: 27-30 and 3: 1-15 together.

Discuss these questions:

  • Were human beings created as man and woman right from the beginning? (Yes-verse 1: 27.)
  • What are some of the gifts God gave His creatures? (These are enumerated in 1: 29-30.)
  • Why was the curse put on the serpent? (The serpent caused God’s beloved creatures, man and woman, to sin.)
  • Was anyone cursed besides the serpent? (No. Human beings, men or women, were never cursed by God. See Genesis 3: 17-19.)

Look back at the words of the troparion. How do the words reflect Scripture? (The "curse" in Genesis is overcome by Jesus Christ. When He comes to the world, He defeats death. Since the time of Adam, death had had full power over human beings. With the coming of Christ, death's power is no longer final. We can rise to a new and everlasting life with Christ. That is why the New Testament and the Church often refer to Jesus Christ as the "new Adam".)


3

Icon Description

 Look together at the icon of the Resurrection. Christ, risen, is pulling Adam and Eve out from the power of death. Point out to students that this shows us two things: first, the sin of disobedience committed by Adam and Eve has been forgiven. Second, Jesus Christ's defeat of the power of death is complete. Now look at the icons of Mary’s nativity and Jesus Christ’s nativity. Compare elements of the two. Use The Icon Book for helpful information. Note that both the icons depict details that show the two births are real human births (baby being washed, etc.) Say that just as Christ is called the “new Adam,” Mary is called the "new Eve", and that later during the session you are going to find out why she is given that name.

4

Scripture Review

As a mini-review of the session so far, print out and complete Genesis 2 & 3 Review Activity found in the Resource Section.


5

Nativity of the Theotokos - Story Time

Read together the story of The Nativity of the Theotokos found in the Resource Section.

After reading the story, discuss these questions and points:

  • Think of Joachim after being turned away when he tried to make his offering to God. How did he feel? How would any of us feel? What does it feel like not to be part of a group because other group members think you are different from them in some important way?
  • Joachim and Anna had to wait a very long time to be blessed with a child. Have you ever had to wait a very long time for something you wanted very badly?
  • Joachim and Anna are honored by the Church for their patience and faith. When do we hear their names? (At the end of the Divine Liturgy, when we remember the saints of the day.)
  • We know that Mary freely consented to be the Mother of the Lord. She did what God asked. The “first Eve” refused to co-operate with God, and did what He had asked His creatures not to do. She and Adam listened to the serpent’s false promise that they would be “like God” rather than listening to God Himself. But Mary did co-operate with God, and did as He asked. That is why we call her the “new Eve."

6

Troparion and Kontakion

Review the meaning of the words in the Troparion and in the Kontakion. Ask students how, according to the troparion, Christ “annulled the curse.” (This is another way of saying that Christ destroyed death. Now it no longer has the final power over us that it did before.)

Talk about the three groups people "freed" according to the words of the kontakion. Joachim and Anna are freed from the shame of barrenness or childlessness. Adam and Eve are freed from the separation from God which resulted from their disobedience. And all of us are freed from the final power of death.


7

Closing Prayer

As a closing prayer, let students (those who wish to speak) offer thanks to God for some freedom they have. Close with the kontakion of the feast.

Kontakion - Tone 4

By your Nativity, O most pure Virgin,
Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness;
Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death.
And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin,
celebrate and sing to you:
"The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos,
the Nourisher of our Life."

 


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The Entrance of the Theotokos (November 21) (Ages 10-12)

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Overview

Mary's holiness and purity
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Objectives

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

  • Tell the general meaning of the Troparion of the feast
  • Tell what it means when Mary is described as a living temple of God
  • Retell the stories of other Biblical women who were called to important service by God
  • Compare the icons of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple and the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
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Materials

  • Bible:  Luke 2: 22-40 and 41-50.  Psalm 45: 13-17.
  • Story of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
  • Icon of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
  • Icon of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple
  • Descriptions of the above Feasts from The Icon Book
  • Liturgical Hymnsof the Feast
  • Holy Women of the Bible Activity
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Pens, markers, and crayons for drawing and writing
  • Teacher Backgound Info
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Troparion (Tone 4)

Today is the prelude of the good will of God,
of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the Temple of God,
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice,
O Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation!

Make sure students understand these words in the hymn:

  • prelude: something that prepares us for what is to come. (If some of your students play or study music, they may be familiar with this word in the context of music)
  • anticipate: look forward to
  • dispensation: God's (the Creator's) gift or plan of salvation

2

The Story of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple

Tell the class that you are going to read about the event described in this hymn. Read the story of the Feast found in the Resource Section.

Discuss these points:

  • Mary's entrance into the Temple reminds us that later her divine Son will also be presented. Read together Luke 2: 22-40. Note that Mary and Joseph followed the law of the Old Testament and brought their Son to present Him to the Lord. Simeon and Anna the Prophetess (not the wife of Joachim) had been waiting many years to see the Savior, and when Jesus was brought to the Temple, they knew they had seen Him.
  • In the next verses of Luke (41-50) we see something that goes beyond the law of the Old Testament. The young Jesus is teaching the rabbis and scholars in the Temple. Now the law of the Old Testament is fulfilled and the Savior they promised has come.
  • The Old Testament also gives us a "prelude" of Mary's entrance into the Temple. Look at Psalm 45, verses 13-17. Note how these verses are reflected in the story you have just read together.

3

Holy Women of the Bible

Print out and complete the Holy Women of the Bible Activity found in the Resource Section.

4

Icon Activity

Look together at the icons of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, and of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Use the descriptions in The Icon Book to compare the two.

5

The Theotokos as the "living temple"

Talk together about the title “living temple” that is often applied to the Theotokos. Ask students to tell what they think it means. (Bring into the discussion the idea that Mary carried Jesus Christ in her body as He was getting ready to be born. But also, she did the will of God. In both ways, she was ready to be God’s servant. So she was always offering God worship. The temple is the place where God is always worshipped. Thus we can call Mary a “living temple” of God.)

Let students come up with their own ideas. Varied answers are completely acceptable, but they should be along the lines of the ideas offered here.

Next, ask students how we can become “living temples.” Ask them to create something that expresses their thoughts about this. They may decide to create a poem, a drawing, a short story or essay, a cartoon or some other form of expression.


6

Closing Prayer (Sung together)

Use the Kontakion of the Feast

Kontakion - Tone 4

The most pure Temple of the Savior;
the Precious Chamber and Virgin;
the sacred Treasure of the Glory of God,
is presented today to the House of the Lord.
She brings with her the grace of the spirit,
which the angels of God do praise.
Truly this woman is the Abode of heaven!

If you have time, go over the meaning of the last line of the kontakion with your students: "Truly this woman is the abode of heaven." Make sure they understand that the word "abode" means a place where someone lives or stays. Ask them what it means to say Mary is the abode of heaven. (She carried Jesus Christ in her body as He was getting ready to be born. This is the same as what any mother does with her baby. But Jesus is God's only Son, who came from heaven. So we can say that Mary carried heaven in her body when carried Jesus Christ. She was His "abode.")


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The Annunciation (March 25) (Ages 10-12)

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Overview

Mary's obedience and humility - Mary's obedience and humility
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Objectives

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

  • Retell,briefly,the story of the Annunciation and the Virgin Mary’s later meeting with her cousin Elizabeth
  • Describe Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s message as an example of faith and humility
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the icon of the feast
  • Describe the Incarnation of Christ as a miracle and a manifestation of God’s love
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Materials

  • Bible:   Luke 1: 26-56, I Samuel 2: 1-10, Mark 3: 31-35, John 2: 1-11, John 19: 25-27.
  • Icon of the Annunciation, and description from The Icon Book
  • 3 large sheets of paper for charts
  •  Rulers for students to share
  •  Markers/crayons
  •  Tape
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Troparion of the Annunciation - Tone 4

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry out to the Theotokos!
Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

  • The first line reminds us that Mary has a central role in God’s plan to save the world from the final power of death (this is what “salvation” means.) She consents to be the Mother of God.
  • The second line reminds us that God has planned this salvation forever (that is why it is “eternal”, and it is a “mystery” because it is God’s plan and therefore beyond our power to know or understand fully)
  • The last line gives the Virgin Mary the title “Full of Grace.” Grace is God’s gift to all human beings who truly want to follow His commandments and someday live with Him in the Kingdom. Grace is what enables us to follow Him through this earthly life with its temptations and difficulties

2

Story of the Annunciation

Tell the class that the Feast of the Annunciation is about an announcement, and make sure they understand that “annunciation” is the act of announcing. Discuss the general idea of “announcements” briefly: To announce a thing is to share it, and we only announce important things. There are many ways of announcing things (let the class come up with examples such as TV, radio, websites, e-mail, fliers, newspapers, invitations.)

Read the story of the Annunciation (found in the Resource Section) together:

With the class, read Luke 1: 36-45. Talk together about these questions and points:

  1. What other good news does Gabriel give Mary? (He says that her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who has wanted a child, is going to have one.)
  2. What does Mary do after talking with angel? (She goes to visit Elizabeth to share her joy. This shows us something of Mary’s loving and outgoing nature.)
  3. What title does Elizabeth give Mary? (She calls Mary “the mother of my Lord.”)
  4. What unusual thing happens when Mary tells Elizabeth her wonderful news? (Elizabeth’s own baby “leaps for joy” inside her body. That baby is John the Baptizer and Forerunner. Even in the womb he knows that Mary’s baby will be the Savior.)

3

Scripture Reading

Group Activity
With the class, read Luke 1: 46-55. Put the title “Magnificat” on the chalkboard, and tell the class that this hymn of praise to God is part of our worship services. The title comes from the first word of the hymn in Latin. Point out to the class that the mother of Samuel in the Old Testament sang a hymn of praise much like this one. Read I Samuel 2: 1-10 together. Divide the class into three groups. Give them paper, markers, and a ruler. Ask each group to make a chart showing three things from Hannah’s hymn that are similar to the Magnificat. Let them make their charts colorful, with words written large enough to be easy to read. (Groups can divide their papers down the middle using rulers, and head one side “Hannah’s Song” and the other side “Mary’s Magnificat.”) When the groups have finished, they can compare their charts to see how many of the same similarities they came up with. Plan to display the charts in the room. Point out to the class that Hannah rejoiced over the birth of her son Samuel, who would become a great leader of the Hebrew people. Samuel was a human being like all of us. But of course the greatest event ever to take place was the birth of Mary’s Son, because it was a miracle and He was the divine Son of God. That’s why the Church calls His birth by the special title of “the Incarnation.” Discuss the word INCARNATION with the class. The prefix “in” is familiar to all of us. “Carn” refers to flesh. Ask students to think of some words including “carn.” (Carnivore, carnal, carnival and carnation are some examples. A “carnival” is a celebration of fleshly enjoyments. The flower “carnation” is so named because it is flesh-colored.) The suffix “ation” means being or becoming. Put the word on the chalkboard in syllables: IN-CARN-ATION. To become flesh—this is what God did for us. Tell the class that Mary, as the mother of Our Lord, had a very special place in His life always. Write these three phrases on the board:
  • Jesus Christ praises His mother.
  • Jesus Christ does as His mother asks.
  • Jesus Christ sees to it that His mother will be cared for after His death.
Ask the students, still in their groups, to read (on their own) three passages: Mark 3: 31-35, John 19: 25-27, and John 2: 1-11. Then let them discuss as groups and identify which sentence (above) describes each passage. They can raise their hands to offer the answers their groups came up with. Discuss the answers, following, with the whole class together: In Mark 3: 31-35, Jesus praises His mother. He does so by expanding on the idea that His mother is merely the one who bore and raised Him. He points her out as an example of one who “does the will of God.” That is exactly what we celebrate at the Feast of the Annunciation. In John 19: 25-27 Jesus sees to it that His mother will be taken care of. Even in His agony on the cross He is concerned for her, and tells His disciple John to care for her by being her son and caring for her as his mother. In John 2: 1-11, Jesus does as His mother asks. He first tells her that His “hour has not yet come.” In other words, it isn’t time yet for Him to reveal His divine power. But He still does as she asks. This is why we can ask the Theotokos to intercede for us with Christ. We have the example of her doing so here.

4

Icon of the Annunciation

Look at the icon of the Feast of the Annunciation together, noting details. Use The Icon Book to enhance your discussion

5

Closing Prayer

Kontakion of the feast  (sing together).
O victorious leader of triumphant hosts!
We, your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos! As you possess invincible might set us free from every calamity
So that we may sing: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.

Notice that the hymn tells us that Mary “possesses invincible might.” This reminds us of her willingness and ability to pray for us and intercede, as she did at the wedding in Cana. It also reminds us, once again, that she is not a passive or weak person but a strong one who loves us and will pray for us.


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The Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15) (Ages 10-12)

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Overview

Our Salvation and Christ's perfect love - Our Salvation and Christ's perfect love
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Objectives

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

  • Retell the story of the Dormition of the Theotokos
  • Explain why we say that the Theotokos fell asleep not into death but into life
  • Recognize the words “Assumption” and “Repose” as other, related, names for this feast
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the icon of the feast
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Materials

  • Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos, and description from The Icon Book
  • Liturgical Hymns
  • Scissors
  • Various colors of construction paper
  • Thin-point markers and thick-point markers in various colors
  • Tape
  •  Stapler for students to make large paper flowers.
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Resources


Required Resources Optional Resources
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Troparion of the Dormition - Tone 1

In giving birth you preserved your virginity!
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos!
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
and by your prayers you deliver our souls from Death!


Tell the class that today you will be talking about the Feast of the Dormition, or Falling Asleep, of the Theotokos. Tell them that they may also have heard this feast referred to as the Assumption. Go over the meaning of the word “translated” in the troparion. Ask the class what the word means to them. (They will probably say that it means changing a word from one language to another.) Tell them that in this case it means that the Theotokos was changed from one state of being into another. After she died, she was taken from death into life in the Kingdom of God. She is there with God, and is already taking part in the wonderful life of His Kingdom that we all hope to enjoy some day. Mary did not and does not lie in the grave, like other people who have died. Rather, she is with her Son, Jesus Christ. Ask the class to keep the following questions in mind as you read the story of the Dormition of the Theotokos together: What was special about the death of the Theotokos? Why do we refer to it as “Dormition” or “Falling Asleep”?


2

Story of the Dormition of the Theotokos

Read the story of the Dormition (found in the Resource Section) together: 

After reading the story, look again at the troparion. Point out to the class that two miracles about the Theotokos are compared. First, she gave birth to a child even though there was no human father—she “preserved her virginity.” Second, though she “fell asleep” or died, she lives in the Kingdom of God. Both of these show us God’s greatness. Ask the class, “What does the troparion tell us that Mary does now, in the Kingdom?” (She prays for us.)


3

Creating Flowers

Group Activity  -  Divide the class into four groups. Tell them that in many Orthodox churches, flowers are blessed at the Feast of the Dormition. Ask them to make large paper “flowers” for the Theotokos to display on the wall of your classroom. Assign each group one of the four feasts you have studied over these four weeks. Have each group design a flower. With the materials you have provided, the students can make petals, each with one of these identifying words or phrases written on it:
  • the name of the feast
  • a line from the tropar or kontakion of the feast that tells something about it
  • the date of the feast (Nativity 10/8; Entrance 11/21; Annunciation 3/25; Dormition 8/15.)
  • one or more names of other people involved in the feast and/or shown in the festal icon
Let the groups design and arrange their flowers in any way they choose. They may want to have several “blank” petals interspersed with those they write on; they may choose to make a round flower or another shape; they may want to decorate their flowers, and use various colors of construction paper. Have them add a stem and leaves and then put the parts of their flowers together using tape and/or staples so that the finished products can be displayed on the classroom wall. Use the completed flowers as a review of the feasts that have been part of this unit of study. Then, have the class members help you decide how to arrange them in a wall display.

4

Icon of the Dormition

Look at the icon of the feast together, using the description in The Icon Book to explain details. Ask students how the icon shows that Mary’s death is a special one. (As the book points out, Jesus is shown taking her to the Kingdom, rather than leaving her to lie in the grave.) Remind students that Mary continues to pray for us. Look at the words of the kontakion of the feast together, and ask students what words tell us this. (The hymn describes the Theotokos as the one who “is constant in prayer and [is] our firm hope in her intercessions.” Make sure students have understood the word “intercessions” to mean praying for another person, or asking on behalf of another person.) Remind students that flowers are often part of the Dormition Feast, and that Mary is the “Mother” to all of us as she was to the apostles. Have students take a few minutes to think of someone who is a mother even to those who are not her own children. Ask them to plan to give flowers to that person.

5

Closing Prayer

Kontakion of the Feast - Tone 2

Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life
By the One who dwelt in her virginal womb!

Make sure students understand that the phrase “Mother of Life” refers to Mary as the mother of Jesus Christ.


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Icons of the Theotokos (Ages 10-12)

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Overview

The Theotokos: compassion and protection
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Objectives

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

  • Compare the different iconographic representations of the Theotokos
  • Compare the different icons to verses of the Akathist which portray similar emotions
  • Recite the Hymn to the Theotokos
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Materials

  • Copies of the feast day icons of the Theotokos that have been studied in previous lessons
  • Copies of the Troparia from the feast days, not titled (available in Sessions 1-4)
  • Copies of the following icons and troparia (not titled):
    • The Tikhvin Icon
    • The Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir:
    • Our Lady of the Sign
    • The Icon of the Protection
  • The Icon Book
Note: Put up the icons so that they are visible to everyone.

 

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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Hymn to the Theotokos

It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos,
ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God.
More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond
compare than the Seraphim,
without defilement you gave birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify you!


Make certain the students understand that the Cherubim and Seraphim are ranks of angels. See the Introduction to the unit for guidance in talking about the word "defilement." "Magnify" means to glorify or praise.

 


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Icons of the Theotokos

Icons of the Theotokos (20 minutes) Tell the class: During the past four sessions we have studied four feasts of the Theotokos. We know, though, that we honor the Theotokos more often than just on these feast days. We can ask the Theotokos to pray for us and remember us to God daily. We also honor her during the services of the Church, and with special hymns and Akathists, praising her and asking for her help. Icons are an important part of the worship of the Orthodox Church. There was a time when people misunderstood the use of icons, and still today some people don’t understand them. Orthodox Christians teach that we do not pray to icons, but in fact pray through them, and that they help us to realize that Christ and the saints are present with us always. They also help us to understand important events in the life of Christ, the Theotokos or the saints. That's why we studied the icons of the feast days of the Theotokos. But there are many other icons of the Theotokos. Ask the class: Can anyone remember where an icon of the Theotokos is in our Church? Many people have a number of icons in their homes, usually in a special place, where they also pray. There are a number of styles or types of icons of the Theotokos. Many churches and individuals have several icons of the Theotokos.

Read together the appropriate page (page 2) from The Icon Book. Say: Here are some additional types of icons of the Theotokos. What differences do you see in the various types of icon? Have the students spend a little time looking at the icons, discussing the facial expressions and the positioning of Christ and the Theotokos.

Read The Icons of the Theotokos - Description from the Resource Section.


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Hymnography and Icons

Read the 8 Troparia from the previous sessions and this one. Then:
  • Discuss any words the students may have difficulty with.
  • If there are only a few students, give them each several of the Troparia and ask them to match each to the icon they believe it goes with.
  • If there are many students, assign numbers to the icons and letters to each Troparion. Give each student a piece of paper and have them match the numbers and letters.
  • After they have completed this, go over the answers. Discuss what the Troparion tells us that helps to identify the icon.

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Story:Miraculous icons

Throughout history, many miracles have occurred in association with icons of the Theotokos. Miracles of all types, especially spiritual and physical healings, have occurred. These icons have become increasingly valuable to the local communities and to the whole Orthodox Church. The Tikhvin Icon and the Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir are two such icons. For many years the Tikhvin Icon was kept in the United States, until the Communist government, which was hostile to the Orthodox Church, fell. Bishop John (Garklavs) and later his son, Fr. Sergei, were guardians of the icon. In July of 2004 it was returned to the Tikhvin Monastery in Russia.

According to tradition, the holy Icon was written by the Evangelist St Luke and sent by him to Antioch. From Antioch the Icon was sent to Jerusalem, and later, in the 5th Century, to Constantinople where a temple was built especially for the Icon in the Blachernae district. Although the Icon disappeared from Constantinople several times, the last time it left the ancient city was in 1383.

The Tikhvin wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos first appeared in the Novgorod region of Russia during the reign of Prince Dimitry Ivanovich (Donskoy). The first people to have seen the miraculous Icon were fishermen on Lake Ladoga, who witnessed an extremely bright light above them. Looking up, they saw the Icon of the Heavenly Queen airborne in the midst of bright rays of light. The Icon came to rest about 30 kilometers from the lake at Smolnova on the Oncha River. The residents built a chapel, and many were cured of ailments.

The Icon moved about from place to place, mysteriously, and in each place the people erected chapels and then temples. The Icon finally came to rest at Tikhvin, on the Tikhvin River in 1510. A wooden temple was built, dedicated to the Feast of the Holy Dormition, and many people came to venerate the Icon and became cured of their ailments. The Icon is especially revered for helping cure children's illnesses. Several times the wooden temple was leveled by fire but the holy Icon remained unharmed.

Through the efforts of Prince Basil Ivanovich (1505-1533) a stone church was built to replace the wooden temple which had burned down. During construction, a section of the arches crumbled, burying 20 workmen. Although everyone was sure the workmen had perished, after three days when the rubble was cleared all 20 were found to be alive through the intercession of the Holy Theotokos.

About 50 years later, a monastery was established at this church and a stone wall was constructed to enclose the temple and the monastic compound. The Tikhvin Monastery was saved from destruction by the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos in 1613 when the Swedish forces invaded the country and besieged the cloister.

The Mother of God "Vladimir" Icon

Tradition holds that the "Vladimir Icon" was written by St Luke the Evangelist. He wrote the Icon on a board from the table on which our Lord Jesus Christ, His Most Holy Mother and the Righteous Joseph ate their meals. In 450, the sacred Icon was taken from Jerusalem to Constantinople. At the beginning of the 12th Century the Icon was transferred from Constantinople to Kiev and installed in the women's monastery of Vyshgorod. Soon the Icon was glorified by producing great miracles.

Prince Andrew Iurievich Bogolubsky, during his travels, saw a miraculous vision of the Mother of God directing him to take her Icon from Kiev (Vyshgorod) to the city of Vladimir. He fulfilled this task with great piety in 1160 and installed the holy Icon in the Church of the Holy Dormition in Vladimir (northeast of Moscow). From that time this icon became known as the 'Vladimir Icon' and was to be the source of many new and great miracles.
The feast of the Icon is celebrated three times during the year: May 21st, the day on which the memory of the Theotokos Vladimir Icon helped to save Russia from the invading Crimean-Mogay Horde of Makhmet-Grey; June 23rd, in memory of the saving of Russia by the miraculous protection of the Mother of God from the Golden Horde's Khan Akhmet in 1480; and on August 26th, to commemorate the Meeting of the Wonder-working Vladimir Icon in 1395, during the invasion of Moscow by the Tatar forces of Tamarlane.
(taken from http://www.oca.org/pages/orth_chri/Feasts-and-Saints/iconsmpoymiracles.html#vladimir )



In memory of the protection rendered by the Most Holy Theotokos and the appearance of the Tikhvin Icon of the Heavenly Protectress, the Holy Church instituted June 26th as a feastday in honor of the Tikhvin Icon.


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Closing Prayer

Select one or more of the Troparia for the closing prayer.

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