The Theotokos


Introduction (Ages 13-17)

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 13-17)

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Overview

Mary's connection to humanity and God's love - Mary's connection to humanity and God's love
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Objectives

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

  • Describe the significance of the Birth of the Theotokos
  • Contrast the co-operation of Mary as the "New Eve" with Eve's disobedient refusal to co-operate with God in the Garden of Eden
  • Enumerate similarities between the icon of Mary's Nativity and the icon of the Lord's Nativity
  • Describe Mary based on the words of hymns about her
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Materials

  • Bible: Genesis, Chapters 2 and 3.
  • Icons 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 all these icons from The Icon Book 
  • Background on the Icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos found in the Description Section of the Icon Resource.
  • Liturgical Texts of the Feast
  • 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.

Ask the class to think of people they know about whose faith has been severely tested. Might these people have been tempted to abandon their faith, or to question God? Tell the class you are going to read about a couple whose faith was really tested over many years--Joachim and Anna, the parents of Mary, the Theotokos.


2

Story of the Nativity of the Theotokos

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

After reading the story, discuss these questions:

  • Could Joachim, after being humiliated when he went to make his offering, have been tempted to be angry at God? Could both Joachim and Anna, after praying and hoping for so long to have a child, have been tempted to give up on God?
  • What are some ways Joachim and Anna might have kept themselves and each other from giving up? (Prayer, mutual loving support, consciously trying to live a good life in trust that God would not abandon them, etc.)

3

Scripture

Old Testament references

Put on the chalkboard these 3 Old Testament passages:

  • I Samuel 1: 9-20 (answer: Samuel)
  • Judges 13: 1-3 and 21-24 (answer: Samson)
  • Genesis 21: 1-3 (answer: Isaac)

Let students look up the passages and find the names of the children who were born to their parents late in life, and who each had something very important to do for God.


4

Mary: The New Eve

Mary: The "New Eve" - Tell the class that Mary the Theotokos is often called the "New Eve," and ask students their ideas about why this is so. After they have given their thoughts, bring the candle and holder to a spot where everyone can see it as you talk together. Light the candle, and tell the class that this will help in understanding what the "first Eve" and Adam did. Read Genesis 3: 1-14 together. (Note to the teacher: The next several paragraphs are intended merely to guide you in discussion with the class. But if it would help you to read portions aloud to the class, feel free to do so.) A little child is fascinated by the beauty of flame. A loving parent wants the child to enjoy the beauty. But the parent also knows that the child is not ready to get really close to the flame. This is because the child does not know that flames can also burn us. Adam and Eve were like little children. In paradise, God gave them beauty to enjoy, and they knew only that beauty. It was God's intention to teach them more about the world when they were ready ; He did not intend to withhold understanding from them forever. But they wanted to know all about the world right away, not waiting till God deemed them ready to deal with it, and to have the "knowledge of good and evil" as Genesis puts it. So, despite God's warning, Adam and Eve used the free will He had given them to disobey Him and turn from Him. Genesis uses the serpent as the teller of a great lie-the lie that claims we don't have to listen to God and obey Him because we can "handle" everything in the world, good or bad, without Him. The "first Eve" believed this. She and Adam represent all of us who disobey God and separate ourselves from Him. All human beings are tempted to believe that we can do everything on our own. Then we find, like Adam and Eve, that without Him everything falls apart. Read Genesis 3: 13-14 again together. Note that God does not curse Eve or Adam. God curses the serpent that led them to disobey and abandon Him, and lied about His warning to them. God continued to love Adam and Eve, though they had spoiled the close, loving relationship they'd once had with Him. (You see this relationship in Genesis 8:1. God is portrayed as walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, like a companion or a loving father. But now they hide from Him.) God's love would continue to the time of the birth of Mary the Theotokos. She is the one who would obey His will and do as He asked. Like the first Eve, she had a choice to say "yes" or "no" to God. Mary would make the free choice to say "yes." We honor her as the "New Eve" because her choice made it possible for Jesus Christ, the "Light of the World," to be born and to save us. (Extinguish the candle.)

5

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.

6

Hymnography of the Theotokos

Look together at the Troparion, Kontakion, and Hymn texts for this session. (The Troparion is in the opening prayer section, the Kontakion is in the closing prayer section and all the hymns are in the click-on Session Resources*. )

Hymn to the Theotokos:
Virginity is foreign to mothers;
Childbearing is strange for virgins,
But in you, O Theotokos,
Both were accomplished!
For this, all the earthly nations unceasingly magnify you!

The Troparion mentions a "curse." Remind students that this curse, which is separation from God, is not placed on Adam and Eve. Rather, it is the condition of separation from God in which they and all of us live as a result of our sin and disobedience. The verses also remind us that Christ "annulled," or did away with, this curse. We no longer need to be separated from God, and death no longer has final power over us. Go over the idea of 3 groups of people who are "freed" according to the words of the Kontakion. Joachim and Anna are freed from the shame of barrenness, another word for childlessness. Adam and Eve are freed from their estrangement from God. And we are freed from the final power of death. In the Hymn for the Theotokos, we are reminded of God's great power. He can, if He wishes, make a virgin a mother, and a mother a virgin. This is not because He disdains the process of procreation or sexual intercourse between men and women. But it is a sign of His coming into the world--a miracle beyond any other, marked by the fact that it took place without a human father. Yet the birth of Mary, like the birth of Jesus Christ, was a real human birth. Make this clear to students by looking at the two Nativity icons (of Jesus Christ's birth and of Mary's) and noting the human characteristics of each. You might want to use some of the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, provided in the Notes to the Teacher above, to discuss this with the class.

7

Closing Prayer

Kontakion of the feast

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."

 

Take a few minutes to tell the class that starting with the next session, a brief period for journaling will be part of each session. Tell them that you have notebooks for them.


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The Entrance of the Theotokos (November 21) (Ages 13-17)

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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:

  • At the end of the session students should be able to Describe the events of Mary's entrance into the Temple
  • Explain how Mary's freely given co-operation with God was an essential part of our salvation
  • Retell the stories of other Biblical women who were called to important service by God
  • Demonstrate the way the liturgical hymns for the feast reflect the words of Psalm 45
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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
  • Teacher Backgound Info
  • Journaling Handout
  • Journals
  • Pens or Pencils
  • Paper
  • Markers for a chart
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

Troparion of the Entrance of the Theotokos - 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

Scripture Reading

Psalm verses

Read Psalm 45, verses 13-17, together.
Ask students to keep the words in mind as you go on to read the story of the feast.


3

Story of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

Read the story of The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (found in the Resource Section) together.

After reading the story, 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.

4

Scripture Reading/Discussion

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

5

Scripture Review

 

As a review, have students make a chart based on Psalm 45, verses 13-17. The chart should have three columns. In the first column, put words from the Psalm. In the second, describe an event from the story of the feast.   In the third, where applicable, put a phrase from the troparion or the kontakion of the feast. Have students choose a title to put on the chart, and display it in the room.

Point out that Jesus Christ was also presented to the Temple, as a fulfillment of the Old Testament law. Let students look at and compare the icons of the two feasts.

                                                  


6

Journaling - Mary as a "living temple"

Review the Journaling Handout found in the Resource Section.

Mary as a "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.  

 

Emphasize to students that Mary's choice to become the Mother of God was made freely and without any coercion. She could have said "no" to God. But we honor her for her choice because by saying "yes" she put into motion God's plan for the salvation of all of us human beings.

Give students their journals, and ask them to take a few minutes to think about how WE can become "living temples" of God. They should write their ideas in their journals


7

Closing Prayer

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 13-17)

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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:

  • Describe the events of the Annunciation and the Virgin Mary’s meeting with her cousin Elizabeth
  • Describe the poem of Hannah in I Samuel as being a “preview” of the Magnificat of Mary
  • Contrast Mary’s attitude toward Gabriel’s announcement with that of Zachariah
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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
  • 3 large sheets of paper for charts
  • Rulers 
  • Markers/Crayons
  • Tape
  • Journals
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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

Discuss some points about the words of the hymn:

  • 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 to the class or, better still, have students, one or more, read it aloud (found in the Resource Section).

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

  • What other good news does Gabriel give Mary? (He tells her that her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who has wanted a child, is going to have one.)
  • 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.)
  • What title does Elizabeth give Mary? (She calls Mary “the mother of my Lord.”)
  • 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

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.


4

Hymnography

Read together Luke 1: 5-20. Then look together at the verses of the Apostikha for the Feast of the Conception of St. John the Baptist, to see how the Church has written them based on the Biblical account.  (Gabriel has told the priest Zachariah that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son, John the Baptizer or Forerunner. The following verses are Zachariah’s response)

Apostikha for the Feast of the Conception of John the Baptist
Tell me clearly, how will I know this?
Answered the blessed elder [Zachariah]
For as you see I am full of days and Elizabeth is barren.
How do you utter words beyond nature?
I am amazed and now suspect, O man, that you speak not the truth.
Depart, for I ask the salvation of the people,
And not to acquire a son;
Such a thing cannot be believed!

Ask the class:

  • “What kind of person does Zachariah seem to be?” (Point out that he is certainly a person with his own agenda, not willing to accept what Gabriel tells him. Use the points made in “Teacher Notes " in the Resource Section to enhance the discussion.)

  • “Why does Gabriel react so negatively to Zachariah?” (Stress the difference between his attitude and that of the Virgin Mary when Gabriel visits her. Though she is confident and strong enough to question the angel in a sensible way, she does not do so with cynicism or doubtfulness. She is a person of faith but also of humility, as described above in the story for the feast of the Annunciation. She is willing to let God be in charge, not blocking His access to her life as Zachariah does. Her attitude is an example of what Christians mean when they talk about humility.)

5

Journaling

Give students their journals.
Ask them to think and write about “humility.” What does it mean to them? Could humility be the “invincible might” of the Theotokos?

6

Closing Prayer

Kontakion of the Feast - Tone 8

 

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 13-17)

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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 as a joyful, not sorrowful, event
  • 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
  • Flowers for the Theotokos Activity
  • Journals
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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

Flowers for the Theotokos

Have the students complete the Flowers for the Theotokos activity found in the Resource Section.

4

Discussion about Grief

Have the class “brainstorm” for a few minutes about funerals they have attended. Was the tone joyful or sorrowful? Was the attention centered on God and His Kingdom, or on the grieving people? Let students give their ideas about why the Dormition of the Theotokos is seen by the Church as a joyful event. (They can use the story for ideas, if need be.)

5

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 His Mother to the heavenly Kingdom rather than leaving her to lie in the grave. No other human being has shared this special destiny of Mary. Yet we know that we, too, have been promised eternal life if we live according to God’s will as Mary did.)

6

Journaling

Give students their journals. Ask them to write about why this feast, even though it centers on a death, has been described by some spiritual writers as having “no sadness, only light and joy.” Let them write their own reactions to this idea.

7

Closing Prayer

Kontakion of the Dormition - 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!

Note that both the troparion and kontakion emphasize Mary’s ever-virginity. Use the Teacher Notes in the Resource Section to lead a discussion on what this means. Remind students that in Orthodox teaching, a husband and wife are given the gift of sexual intercourse to enjoy, not just to procreate. Close with the kontakion of the feast as your prayer.


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Icons of the Theotokos (Ages 13-17)

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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:

  • Demonstrate a recognition of various iconographic images of the Theotokos
  • Compare the different iconographic representations of the Theotokos
  • Describe the emotions each icon portrays
  • Retell main points of the story of the Tikhvin Icon
  • 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
  • Any available icons of the Theotokos, on cards, in books or photographs, etc.
  • Laminated copies of the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir or the Tikhvin Icon or any of the others (particularly the Loving Kindness icons), one for each student
  • Copies of the Hymn to the Theotokos printed the same size as the icon
  • Card stock or heavy construction paper, slightly larger than the icon and prayer when folded over, to be a "frame" for an icon mounted on the right and the prayer next to it on the left
Note: Put up the icons so that they are visible to everyone.
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Procedure

1

Opening Prayer

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." In this prayer we use "magnify" to mean to glorify or praise.

 


2

The Theotokos in Scripture and Hymnography

Print out and complete the Activity: The Theotokos in Scripture and Hymnography found in the Resource Section.

3

Icons of the Theotokos

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. 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 some people today don’t understand them. The Orthodox Church teaches 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. Many people have a number of icons in their home, 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 the appropriate page (page 2) from The Icon Book . Here are some additional types of icons of the Theotokos. What differences do you see in the different 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.


4

Journaling

Have the students take out their journals and spend a few minutes writing about who the people are in our lives who “point the way” and how we “point the way” for others.

5

Story of the Tikhvin Icon

For many years this icon was in North America for safekeeping. Read The Story of the Tikhvin Mother of God Icon found in the Resouce Section.

Discuss the value of this icon for the Russian Orthodox people. If possible visit the www.oca.org site to see the photos and description of the return of the icon. Especially note the huge crowds that greeted the icon on her return to Russia.


6

Closing 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!


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