I remember jumping off the front porch steps in excitement as I hurried into the car to get to the church as quickly as possible to find out which group I was in.Every year the Junior Choir of Archangel Michael Church in Campbell, Ohio split into groups and went to all the Orthodox homes in town to sing the kalanta, or carols.We did this three times a year, at Christmas, St. Basil’s Day, and Lazarus Saturday.I can still see the smiles on the faces of the parishioners we sang for and the lingering aroma of the freshly baked cookies many of the yiayias baked and stuffed into our pockets.We’d collect money for the church in our neatly decorated coffee cans.Afterwards, we drove to the church hall where we handed in our earnings and were spoiled with a delicious pancake breakfast.When we were finished, we visited my grandmother’s house to bake Lazarakia, little loaves of bread that look like St. Lazarus. My great-grandmother read the story of Lazarus from the Bible, being sure to point out at the end that he went on to become the first bishop of Cyprus.As we folded arms across his chest, cut two legs and put cloves in for eyes, we all sang:
Lazarus was in the tomb four days,
when Jesus came and to the Father prayed.
‘Lazarus, come forth!’ he said,
The Lord whom the five thousand fed.
Then Lazarus arose and many were in fear.
Let everyone with ears now hear.
As an adult, there are many traditions I’m just not willing to part with.Our Lazarus Saturday tradition is one of them.So every year on the last Saturday before Holy Week I gather my children and godson into the kitchen and we continue that tradition (except so far I’m the only one singing).As they color the icon of the feast, I read the story from the Bible and we talk about things the people who witnessed this miracle might have been thinking and what we might have thought if we were there.Then we put on our aprons and bake the Lazarakia.While the children knead and shape their dough I sing the kalanta, remembering all the spring afternoons I spent jumping over the crooked sidewalks of my small hometown while celebrating this awesome miracle of Christ.I think about all of the girls I caroled with and pray that St. Lazarus blesses them on his blessed feast.
While I make every effort to teach my children the how’s and why’s of our Faith, I take special care to express the importance of traditions to them.St. Paul tells us, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).I think that should apply not only to Church life but to family life as well.Many people think that if their grandmother or mother didn’t hand something down, it’s not a tradition.Or if your children are older, it’s too late.This simply isn’t true; anyone can start a tradition and it is never too late.Remember, a tradition doesn’t have to mean creating something tangible. It can be something as simple as reading the Bible as a family every night or saying a special prayer together.
Here are five simple activities that I hope you will find encouraging as you create new traditions for your family this Lenten season.
- Bake Lazarus Bread and sing the kalanta.This is sure to become a favorite tradition in your home.You’re sure to feel the blessing of St. Lazarus by honoring his memory on his feast!The recipe can be foundhere.
- Decorate a Pascha basket.Some churches bless the baskets after the Resurrection Liturgy, but if yours doesn’t, that’s ok.It’s still fun to decorate and fill with eggs, cheeses, and breads for after church.Give each child a job (i.e. arrange items in basket, help wrap them, etc).
- Read the Gospel lesson.Go to www.orthodoxchildrensbooks.com or www.orthodoxonline.com and print out the coloring page for each Sunday during Lent and let your child color while you read. Make it fun; bake some Lenten cookies to enjoy while doing this.
- Make a Pascha candle.You can purchase a large candle (some churches sell them) and use ribbons and puffy paint to decorate it.Some people cut out little paper icons and glue them to the candle.To help the icon stay on, add a puffy paint border to it.
- Bake Resurrection cookies. This is so much fun and is very educational.Each ingredient has a corresponding scripture verse to the story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.I was amazed at how much my son remembered from this activity! recipe can be found here.
Having family traditions that incorporate our Orthodox faith assists us in teaching our children that Orthodoxy is a way of life, not just something we take part in during services or sacraments.It combines the two most important elements in life- Faith and family. Faith-related traditions help children feel like Orthodoxy is everywhere, not just at Church, and help them develop a closer relationship to Christ and His saints as well.
The older I get the more important traditions become to me.I become more appreciative of the traditions that have been passed on to me, to us, by our holy saints and martyrs who have preserved them through much blood and many tears.May we give thanks to God for making us mothers of a family and giving us the opportunity to pass on His traditions.
Through the prayers of St. Lazarus, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us.