A Mother’s Ministry

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus
Luke 16:19-31


Following is my latest article from The Handmaiden, the Summer 2009 issue: Our Ministry to the Poor and Homeless.

A MOTHER’S MINISTRY

As the time draws near for Ace to enter Kindergarten I find myself on a roller coaster of emotions. Excitement. Nervousness. Fear. However, the most prominent emotion, by far, is the overwhelming sense of responsibility that I feel. Have I adequately prepared him?

For the past couple years we’ve spent countless hours practicing letters, numbers, sight words and more. Every weeknight when supper and chores are finished we work in workbooks and flip through flash cards. I breathe a sigh of relief as he recites the alphabet and writes his name complete with all 17 letters. I am gaining confidence in his preparedness to begin his lifelong journey of learning.

Why then do I feel like I am forgetting somethinglike I’m running out of time?

“Beloved Christians, you and your children shall give account to the just Judge. He will not ask whether you have taught your children the arts or whether you have taught them to speak French, German or Italian, but whether you have taught them to live as Christians.” ~St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Am I teaching my children to live a Christian life? Do I find time to help those less fortunate? Where have I set the standard, in regards to charity, in my home? Am I teaching them how to follow one of the greatest commandments? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)

Giving a few dollars to a person on the corner or cleaning a few items out of my jam-packed closet and donating them to Goodwill is many times the extent of my charity. Oftentimes I want to do more, wish I could do more to make a difference in someone’s life, but I am at a loss at where to begin.

Being the mother of two young children leaves me with very limited spare time. Which means, I need projects that can either be done from home or with my children underfoot. Now and again I find myself feeling useless to the outside world. I oftentimes wish that I were able to help in the same ways I did before becoming a mother. It’s a very frustrating feeling! On days like this I try and remind myself that the greatest thing I can do for others is to teach my children how to serve those less fortunate. Children grow like weeds and the time will inevitably come when they will be grown and I will have that time to minister to others more intimately again. However, for now my God-given privilege is to build my home.

“Wise women build their houses but those without discernment destroy them with their own hands.” (Proverbs 14:1) The lessons that are learned and the atmosphere I create within these four walls is the most important mission I will ever undertake—a ministry to my family.

Recently Ace and I sat down and tried to think of several family-friendly ways that we could help those less fortunate. You might want to consider choosing one for your household as well. None of them require large amounts of time or money and all of them can be done as a family. Here’s what we came up with:

1. 01. Soup Kitchens-Many Orthodox churches hold soup kitchens on a weekly or monthly basis. If you cannot locate one in your area this means there is a need—there are hungry people everywhere. Consider starting one yourself. Contact your parish priest and ask if he’d be interested in hosting such an event at your church hall. Then visit local supermarkets and restaurants and ask for donations of food that is ready to expire; you’ll be surprised what they throw out. Next recruit family, friends and other church members by word-of-mouth and advertisements. Start small and see what happens!

02. St. Seraphim Prison Ministry-This is an ongoing project that serves inmates on death row at Florida State Prison. Seraphim Blackstock, the founder of the organization visits and teaches them about Christ and the Orthodox Faith. Through the Grace of God and the work of the volunteers many have been converted to Orthodoxy. There is a constant need for volunteers to write letters of faith and encouragement to the inmates. You can also help by donating Bibles, prayer ropes, Orthodox magazines or by making monetary donations to purchase these and other items that are distributed in the prison. To learn more log on to www.stseraphim.webs.com.

3. 03. IOCC Project Kits- International Orthodox Christian Charities is an organization that has administered more than $300 million in humanitarian relief to over 33 countries worldwide. Ninety-Two cents of every dollar you donate goes directly to their aid efforts. IOCC works in conjunction with CWS, Church World Services to distribute school kits for children in countries who do not even have access to pencils. Each kit only costs around $3.00 when the supplies are purchased during Back to School sales. They have several other kits you can create such as Kid Kits, New Baby Kits, Health Kits and more. Be sure to check out the Kid’s Page on www.iocc.org for more details.

4. 04. Start a Food Drive-This is a very simple project and a great blessing to those who are hungry. The only requirement is to ask family and friends to donate canned or dry goods. You could also put an ad in your church bulletin asking fellow church members to participate. After you’ve collected enough food items, drop them off at a local food bank. (Be sure to call before collecting items to ask if they have any restrictions, etc)

05. Prayer- St. Macarius of Optina says that, “Spiritual almsgiving is greater than material almsgiving.” I believe some of the simplest lessons taught at home, like praying for those less fortunate, leave some of the strongest impressions. I also believe it is the greatest gift we can give someone. Asking God to bless someone, to keep them safe and healthy and to give them that which is unto salvation, is greater than any material item we could ever offer them.

After compiling this list Ace and I both chose the project we thought would be the best to undertake at the present time. I decided I’d like to write to an inmate from the St. Seraphim Prison Ministry. He decided on IOCC’s School Kits since we were preparing for school he thought it would be appropriate to help other children prepare as well.

We headed to Wal-Mart and filled our buggy with enough crayons, scissors, notebooks and rulers for as many kits as I could afford. That evening we got right to work putting the kits together. As we packed each bag we said a prayer asking God to bless the child who would receive it along with the people who would be delivering them. As we finished up Ace asked,

“Can we buy more stuff tomorrow?”

“No, I’m sorry but we spent all the extra money we had. We still need to get you a new backpack and the rest of the stuff on your list.” I responded.

“I still like my alligator backpack you know.” He said glancing at me.

I nodded in acknowledgment but kept silent, curious to discover where he was going with this conversation.

“Do you think maybe I don’t need a new one and we could spend that money on more supplies?”

Two days later we headed back to Wal-Mart for more supplies and twenty-two days later Ace headed off to his first day of Kindergarten. He looked so much bigger than even just the night before. Those shoulders that used to hunch up against my chest as a baby now looked so big and proud as he carried his worn and slightly tattered, green alligator backpack to school.

“For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36,40)

For those of you who haven’t heard, this is the last issue of The Handmaiden. Due to monetary constraints Conciliar Press will no longer be printing this publication. We are, however, hoping to get the same great content published online in the Conciliar Press Reading Room. You can purchase back issues and keep updated by checking out Conciliar’s website.

Raising Orthodox Christians: Teaching Our Children To Pray

RAISING ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS:
TEACHING OUR CHILDREN TO PRAY


I used to have this image of what I thought my children would look like during prayer. They’d be knelt down with their hands neatly folded, eyes closed with a tranquil look upon their faces as they conversed with our Heavenly Father. Something resembling a Precious Moment figurine or like the pictures I’d seen in children’s prayer books.

Reality, however, painted a somewhat different picture. One where they’re knelt down picking at the carpet, the eye closest to me squeezed shut with the other one wide open, as one child pinches the other causing him to scream and cry. I never imagined I’d have to bribe them into praying with us; if you say prayers with us like good boys, we’ll read an extra story tonight, etc. I also never realized that once I had children I would never hear all the words of the Divine Liturgy again. I would be too busy hushing them during the Gospel reading or fishing “quiet” toys out of my backpack during the petitions or pointing out every object inside the church to buy myself an extra 10 minutes of silence. And those are on the good days when I’m not stuck outside or in the narthex. Sometimes my most prayerful moments are when I’m praying for them to stay quiet.

I know that even though they’re not “participating” in the services, their little souls are partaking in the Divine Grace that permeates each and every service. I also understand that their attending church and partaking in the mysteries is pivotal in their upbringing but I still had the overwhelming feeling that I was somehow missing the boat. While I don’t wish these days away, knowing full well my boys will be grown and gone before I know it, I do wish I knew a way to get through it a little less, well, frenzied.

What am I doing wrong? I ask myself as they sprawl out on the floor during Compline or after reminding them half a dozen times to venerate the icon before leaving the house. I couldn’t figure out what exactly I was doing wrong. I was making a serious effort to do all of the things I’d heard parents were supposed to do: Making sure they stood and prayed with us; Reading them the Gospel lessons; Coloring icon pages and reading the story of each saint; Continuously explaining to them the importance of our faith and traditions.

As I searched my mind to figure it out, I remembered that in the back of the book Wounded By Love by Elder Porphyrios, there was a fantastic section on the upbringing of children. I opened the book to that section and that is when I read this,

“Pray and then speak. That’s what to do with your children. If you are constantly lecturing them, you’ll become tiresome and when they grow up they’ll feel a kind of oppression. Prefer prayer and speak to them through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts. That is, you shouldn’t give guidance to your children with a voice that they hear with their ears. You may do this too, but above all you should speak to God about your children. Say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, give Your light to my children. I entrust them to You. You gave them to me, but I am weak and unable to guide them, so, please, illuminate them.’ And God will speak to them and they will say to themselves, ‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t have upset Mummy by doing that!’ And with the grace of God this will come from their heart.” He also said, “It is not sufficient for the parents to be devout. They mustn’t oppress the children to make them good by force. We may repel our children from Christ when we pursue the things of our religion with egotism.”

You know the saying “the truth hurts”? Well, I’m sure in some cases it does but in this case it never felt so good. Did you ever have one of those moments when you read something you’re sure was written especially for you? This was one of those moments. It’s funny how you could read something over and over again but totally miss the point. I read through the entire section, taking notes. Then I began to read every other book on Orthodox parenting I owned and did the same.

St. John Chrysostom said, “The example of the parents is everything in Christian parenting.” So basically I’d “discovered” that first and foremost I need to become more prayerful and a much better example. But how exactly do I do that?

LET GO AND LET GOD

In order for parents to give their children Christian training, they themselves must first of all be pious and God-fearing; they themselves must love to pray. If the mother does not have faith and piety, if she does not find-because she does not seek-joy and consolation in prayer, she will not succeed in teaching her children to be pious.

-Bishop Irenaius-On the Upbringing of Children

This is something I need to keep in mind at all times. It’s so easy for me to forget how closely children observe their parents. If I expect them to treat all people and situations around them in a manner befitting an Orthodox Christian, than I first must do this.

In order for our children to become pious Orthodox Christians, it is our responsibility to teach them to pray. Here are things that have been helping me with this task and I hope you’ll be encouraged as well.

Be Consistent. Create a schedule. This doesn’t mean at 8:00 a.m. on the dot we need to wake them if they’re still sleeping. It simply means that as soon as they awaken, change their clothes and wash up, we need to say our morning prayers and then sit down for breakfast. If possible, choose a time when the whole family can pray together.

Lead by Example. Children do as they see, which means they need to see us praying. Not just reading the services but sincerely praying to God from our hearts. Let them see you giving thanks to God and praying for others. Let them see and hear you praying in times of fear or trouble. What a blessing it is to have our children turn to God first in the midst of trouble!

Make them feel involved. During prayer times let them hold a candle or an icon. If they’re old enough to cense the icons, let them. Explain to them at what point they should make the sign of the cross or a prostration; allow them to sing the alleluia’s or Lord have mercy’s. Another simple, yet powerful thing to do is teach them the Jesus Prayer; even the smallest of children can utter the sweet name of Jesus!

Send them off with prayer. Before they leave for school or in the car if you drive them, say a prayer with them asking Christ, the Panagia, their Guardian Angel and/or patron saint to guide and protect them. Pray for their teacher and classmates. Give them the opportunity to pray for their activities of the day, any special tests or other concerns they may have. This will make them comfortable and get them into the habit of including God in all aspects of their life as well as learning to pray, and ultimately love, all the people around them. Read the Akathist to the Theotokos, Nurturer of Children. This service takes 15 minutes and contains the most powerful prayers I have ever read for a mother and child.

Make a prayer box or journal. If your children are older and able to write well, you can start a prayer journal. I have always kept a journal for each of my boys with all of their firsts and other memorable moments. Ace loves to snuggle up and read from “his book”. I started to notice that in many of my entries I was praying for things and he noticed as well because he began to ask, “Did Christouli do what you asked for?” It created the perfect situation for me to explain to him how God answers all of our prayers, though sometimes differently than we expected, but always to the benefit of our souls. A prayer journal is also a nice way to list the people or situations you need to pray for. For smaller children, I’ve found keeping a little “prayer box” works just as well. I include photos of people if I have one or just their name. I like to include visuals if possible, for example, a tiny, plastic green soldier for our armed forces or a tiny plastic baby for a child who might be ill.

And so I begin my journey to try and instruct my beloved children, not through force or egotism but through love and example. As I continue, I hope to gain a clearer understanding of the importance of my job as an Orthodox mother.

Though I have a very, very long way to go, I am already beginning to see the fruits, not of my labor but of my attempt to follow the wise instruction of our holy saints and elders, who have left us with the answers on exactly how to raise true Orthodox Christians.


The above article is from the Spring 2009 issue of The Handmaiden, The Truth about Heaven and Hell.

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Traditions: Remembering St. Lazarus

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Calling All Orthodox Homemakers!

I am very excited about one of the upcoming themes for The Handmaiden magazine! It will be a Home edition! Can you believe there will be a Home magazine for Orthodox women?

I’m anxious to start collecting article ideas for my column, the Orthodox Home and I couldn’t think of a better place to start than with all of you. I’m looking for any kind of home tips, decoration ideas, photos, etc that you have. All tips and/or photos will of course be accredited to you.

The first photo that came to mind was this one from roosje (little rose)‘s blog.

I love this picture! It just makes her table look so warm and inviting–essential elements in an Orthodox home…

I haven’t figured out exactly how I’m going to lay this article out but I really want to feature all of you! I plan to mention your blogs, if applicable, along with your name and tip, photo, etc.

I’m very excited about this issue and you should be too! It will arrive in mailboxes starting in November. I can’t promise to use every tip I receive but will do my best. Even if you’re not sure it’s something I can use please send it anyway!

This is going to be a super fun issue so if you’re not already subscribed to The Handmaiden, be sure to sign up–there’s no better time than now!

Please e-mail submissions to OrthodoxMama{at}gmail{dot}com! Feel free to comment on this post but please don’t leave submissions here! Thank you so much in advance!!

A Gift to Remember

Here is my article from The Orthodox Home column of the The Handmaiden (Fall 2008 isssue) I hope you enjoy it!

A GIFT TO REMEMBER


As I pulled the scissors up the last shiny ribbon of the treat bags, my son, Ace glanced at me and asked, “Mommy, if I’m the birthday boy why do all the other kids get these presents?”

Now I know that’s not a peculiar question coming from a five year-old, but I try very hard to teach my children to embrace simplicity and be cheerful givers. I always try to make a big deal out of picking out the little trinkets and candies that go into these cellophane bags of fun while trying to downplay the array of presents that will soon spill over the picnic table.

I often fear that my children will get lost in the selfishness and self-pleasing practices of today’s society and forget how important it is to love their neighbor, or worse how important it is to love their Lord and Savior. So I have to admit I was a little disappointed as I explained to Ace again that, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Whenever nostalgia strikes and I think back to all the wonderful memories of my childhood, I am always surprised that the moments I remember the most fondly are the very moments I paid little attention to. My parents always relished in the simple things life had to offer and were careful not to fall into the snares of materialism and vanity, a trap I myself often fall victim to. No matter how busy or difficult life became our home was always a safe haven of love, security, and faith.

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to savor each of those moments, but of course I cannot. So instead I concentrate on making my house the home God intends it to be. I try to do this by taking time out of my infinite list of to-do’s to spend quality time with my children. I try to put aside any frustrations from my day and help carry some of the burden placed on my husband by working two jobs so that I can stay at home. I try to teach my children to pray, to love, and to give.

Every year during Advent I do a project with my children in hopes of teaching them how important it is to give to others. This is something that I think should be emphasized year-round, but it is especially important during the holidays when many people feel lonely or forgotten. I also think that it’s important for children to understand that you don’t need money to give. I remind them of the story of the widow and the mite-how she had the least but gave the most.

One of the most anticipated traditions in our home is making cookie clay ornaments. It’s a small project but my children are small too and I pray that as they grow so will their love of giving.

Throughout the year we take special care to notice people that we see on a regular basis that may need a little sunshine in their lives. Ace likes to pretend he’s on a secret mission when he’s looking for someone that deserves a little special attention. When we notice someone, we write their name or where they work down in my datebook. When we make our ornaments we pull out the list and decide whom we should give them to.

Last year we gave one to a woman who worked at the library and had lost a grandson who would have been around Ace’s age. When we gave her the ornament, we told her it was to thank her for the kind help she offers us every time we visit. Now whenever she sees us, she goes out of her way to tell us that she keeps it hung on one of her kitchen cupboards and that it makes her smile every time she looks at it.

Whoever the recipient is, they are always so grateful for such a small act of kindness. Ace always gets a smile from ear to ear, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I see him finding joy in showing love to others. It is in moments like these that I begin to understand why Christ said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 19:14) It’s the innocence of a child, the love of a child, a love that knows no race or circumstance, which gives them ownership to Christ’s kingdom.

What a responsibility that places on us mothers! We are the ones that have been given these dear, little children of God to teach to live in the ways of the Lord. We do this not just through our instructions, but more importantly, through our example. That is why I not only want to tell my children how wonderful it is to give to others, I want them to share and feel that experience for themselves.

This year I encourage you to start your own cookie ornament tradition. They are so easy and cost-efficient to make, and the memories you make will be priceless. Sharing the experience of giving will be one gift your children will remember, not only next year, but forever.

The other day we were checking out at the supermarket and I noticed that the elderly woman ringing us up seemed very anxious and irritable. She didn’t utter a single word to us and threw our bags in the buggy. I couldn’t help but think how awful it was that she was being so impolite to customers.

I was still thinking about it as I reached the car and began to unload the groceries. My thoughts were interrupted when Ace said, “Hey Mom, do you remember the lady who checked us out?”
Thinking I remembered her more than I should, I answered, “Yes honey, I remember her.”
“Put her on our list. I think she needs an ornament.”

Ashamed of myself, I blinked back tears and in that moment I realized that these children were not given to me simply for my (usually inadequate) training but they were given to me so that I too may learn from them. “For to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.”

COOKIE CLAY ORNAMENTS

INGREDIENTS
2 cups salt
3/4 cup water
1 cup cornstarch
½ cup cold water
medium saucepan
rolling pin
drinking straw
cookie cutters
ribbon
small icons
Elmer’s glue
paint, glitter and other decorative materials
DIRECTIONS
Mix salt with 2/3 cup water in saucepan. Stir and boil. Add cornstarch and ½ cup cold water and stir. If mixture doesn’t get thick, set back on stove. Sprinkle some extra
cornstarch on the table, roll out dough with a rolling pin and cut out with cookie cutters. Use a straw to make a hole at the top for hanging. Put a small amount of glue on the back of the icon and press into center. Let dry overnight. Decorate with paint, glitter and so on. Insert ribbon and tie a knot at top. Recipe yields approx. 4 dz. depending on size. These also make beautiful gift tags.