Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lazarus Saturday to Pascha: A compilation of activities to guide your little ones through Holy Week

This upcoming Saturday marks the official end of Lent and on the next day Palm Sunday ushers in Holy Week. So, we will be very busy very soon! I am posting all my ideas to carry you through Holy Week at once so that you can spend this week getting prepared.

Lazarus Saturday

This Saturday we will commemorate the miracle of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead. We witness His power over death and see it as a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. We celebrate this day and the following before entering into the most solemn week of the year.

Readings: Hebrews 12:28-13:8; John 11:1-45

For the little ones: Most churches have a clean-up day following the morning liturgy on Holy Saturday. Be sure to participate! Help other parents participate by volunteering to watch their children. Have the children assist in folding the Palm crosses for the Palm Sunday service.

Palm Sunday

This is a joyous feast! On this day we celebrate Christ as our King and our Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Readings: Philippians 4:4-9; John 12:1-18

For the little Ones: Everyone will receive palm crosses at church today. Bring those crosses home, place them on your family altar and say a prayer together as a family. Today is a feast day...celebrate as such! As part of the celebration, play pin the tail on the donkey with the little ones. For food, you may follow a few different cultural traditions: Greeks usually feast on fish on Palm Sunday; the English on figs (they also refer to it as Fig Sunday); and in Wales they call it Flowering Sunday in reference to the fig tree and serve Split Pea soup or 'Pease Porridge' to symbolize the humility of humanity.

The Bridegroom Services

These services held on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evening are actually the matins services for the following day. They are referred to as the Bridegroom services in reference to the parable of the 10 Virgins. We pray in expectation of He who is coming. We wait in watchfulness and readiness.

Readings: Holy Monday – Matthew 21:18-43; Holy Tuesday – Matthew 22:15-46, 23:1-39; and Holy Wednesday – John 12:17-50).

For the Little Ones: What better way to show the children that we're being 'watchful' than by making a special Holy Week clock? Instead of having the usual hours of the day, mark the clock with the different days of Holy Week. At the beginning of each day, have the children change the hand on the clock.

Holy Unction (Wednesday)

At this service, you are anointed with oil and the grace of God is called upon to heal the soul and the body.

Readings: There are seven sets of readings for this day.
James 5:10-16; Luke: 10:25-37
Romans 15:1-7; Luke 19:1-10
I Corinthians 12:27-31;13:1-8; Matthew 10:1,5-8
II Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1; Matthew 8:14-23
II Corinthians 1:8-11; Matthew 25:1-13
Galatians 5:22-6:2; Matthew 15:21-28
I Thessalonians 5:14-23; Matthew 9:9-13

For the little ones: In honor of my husband's part Swedish heritage, let us follow an old Swedish custom! It is not necessarily religious but we can twist it up a bit. (: It is traditional on Maundy/holy Thursday for kids to dress up like hags and pay visits to the neighbors leaving specially decorated Easter letters/cards, hoping for a coin or a sweet in return. I am not asking you to dress up your children as hags! However, why not write some kind notes to your neighbors (or, if your children are old enough, have them write some letters) and have the little ones decorate the cards. Then, tomorrow on Holy Thursday, the children can take the Easter letters to the neighbors (if you are feeling generous, you can always send a bottle of wine and/or a loaf of bread with the cards in remembrance of the Last Supper).

Holy Thursday

Tonight we remember the washing of the disciples feet, the Last Supper, Garden of Gethsemane and Judas' betrayal.

Exodus 19:10-18; Job 38:1-21, 42:1-5; Isaiah 50:4-11; I Corinthians 11:23-32; and Matthew 26:2-20; John 13:3-17; Matthew 26:21-39; Luke 22:43-45; Matthew 26:40-27:2.

For the little ones: Remember to drop off your Easter cards! Then have your own 'last supper'. Have dad wash the feet of the family members before a supper of bread and wine/grape juice. During the supper, read the story of the Last Supper from a children's bible or tell it in your own special way.

Good Friday

Today we commemorate the death of Christ on the cross.

John 13:31–18:1, John 18:1-29, Matthew 26:57-75, John 18:28 - 19:16, Matthew 27:3-32, Mark 15:16-32, Matthew 27:33-54, Luke 23:32-49, John 19:38-42, Mark 15:43-47, John 19:38-42, Matthew 27:62-66

For the little ones: Moms: make Hot Cross buns for breakfast. You can make a dairy free dough and mix powdered sugar with lemon juice if you are following the vegan fast. Dress in black today. Prepare your Easter eggs as well. Have the children help you dye hard-boiled or hollowed eggs red. The egg symbolizes life and the red symbolizes the blood of Christ. Make plenty!!! Bring some to church for Holy Pascha and set aside the rest for an Easter egg hunt and to give to neighbors.

Holy Saturday

Today we remember the burial of Christ and his descent into hell. We celebrate the liturgy of St. Basil in the morning, focusing on Christ's grave.

"He (Christ) gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the Cross ... He loosed the bonds of death" (Liturgy of St. Basil).

I Corinthians 5:6-8 and Matthew 27:62-66.

For the little ones: On a side note, make sure everyone gets good naps today because tonight is going to be a long night. This will be a busy day for mom. It is time to prepare all the foods you will be taking in your Easter basket to church tonight. Fill the basket with favorite foods your family has been fasting from. Let the children each pick one of their favorite foods they have been missing. Let them help you make these foods or (if you prefer to have them out of the way!) have dad help the kids make a banner to hang for Pascha. Have the banner say "Christ is risen!"


And now we come to what we have all been waiting for: we come to celebrate that CHRIST IS RISEN!!! For those of you unfamiliar with the Easter Rite Orthodox Pascha celebration, check this out. It is going be a long day, starting at 10 p.m. or so the night before!!! We celebrate into the wee hours of the morning and then return to church again around noon for Agape Vespers. At the Agape service, we read the gospel in as many languages as can be represented by parishioners.

Readings: Acts 1:1-8 and John 1:1-17

For the little ones: It is traditional to wear new clothing to the Holy Feast of Pascha. The new clothing represents the new life brought by the resurrection of Christ. After the service, break the fast and celebrate the resurrection of Christ with your brothers and sisters in Christ for as long as you can handle (and still drive home safely (:)!

On Easter Sunday, everyone has various family traditions. We will be having an Easter egg hunt for our girls and will be giving them Easter baskets with their first bibles, some candy and a small cross. We will also all play the silly egg roll game (think, the stone being rolled from the tomb!). We will then feast with some friends on grilled lamb, Easter bread and other various side-dishes and desserts. Before the meal, we will greet one another with our red eggs, cracking them while exchanging the Paschal greeting ("Christ is Risen!" "Truly he is risen!") and then enjoy them with our meal.

For the next 40 days, light a white candle at the dinner table and sing the Easter hymn: "Christ is risen from the dead and by his death has trampled death and to those in the tombs he has granted life."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Annunciation of the Theotokos

Too busy following the normal progression of Lent, I nearly missed the fact that this Sunday, the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt is trumped by the Annunciation of the Theotokos! Whoops!

Apolytikion (Fourth Tone):
Today marks the crowning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery before all ages. For the Son of God becomes the son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaims the grace. Wherefore, we also cry out with him, "Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you."

Readings: Hebrews 2:11-18; Luke 1:24-38

For the little ones: The dove serves as a symbol of the Holy Spirit and is used often in paintings of the Annunciation to represent Mary conceiving a child by the Holy Spirit. Combine this with some Russian tradition and we have a fun project!

In Russian tradition, believers would release birds from cages to signify freeing oneself from the power of sin in order to pave a way to heaven. So, here is our project for the Annunciation: pick up white, helium filled balloons for each member of the family. Help your kids to color bird faces on them and tape wings to the sides of the balloon. Then, take your family outside and release the 'doves' into the air while reading the gospel passage of the day. With your older children, follow up with a discussion on the significance of the Annunciation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

It goes without saying that one of the main themes of Lent is repentance. We return to that theme again this upcoming Sunday with remembering St. Mary of Egypt. She serves as a model of repentance: there is no burden of sin too great for God to forgive.

Readings: Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 10:32-45

For the Little Ones: This is a little activity I remember doing back in grade school. The beauty of it is that it is an activity that toddlers and older children can equally enjoy (and it is really easy)! For toddlers, draw a heart and color the heart with crayons (use a variety of colors). Then color over the entire heart with a black crayon (color heavily). Give the blackened heart to your toddler and a coin or paperclip (straightened so they can use the point) and show them how they can scratch off the black crayon to reveal the beautiful colors beneath. Older children can do the entire activity by themselves. Talk to your children about how there is no sin too great for God to forgive. God can enlighten the most darkened heart.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sunday of Saint John Climacus

I must confess that when I looked at what this Sunday was, my first thought was, "Who is that?" Well, St. John Climacus is a 6th century saint and is best known for his work, the The Ladder of Divine Ascent (he is also called Saint John of the Ladder). He also is known as the originator of the hesychasm movement (you know, the "Jesus Prayer"). You can google his name and find a plethora of information on his life, and his life itself is the reason why we remember him during Lent. As Fr. Thomas Hopko puts it in :

"The spiritual struggle of the Christian life is a real one, "not against flesh and blood, but against...the rulers of the present darkness...the hosts of wickedness in heavenly places..." (Eph. 6:12) Saint John encourages the faithful in their efforts for, according to the Lord, only "he who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt. 24:13)." [The Orthodox Faith: Volume ii, Worship. pg 82-83)

Readings: Hebrews 6:13-20; Mark 9:17-31

For the Little Ones: Pretzels were invented by a Christian monk as a Lenten bread. The shape of the pretzel mimics the crossing of arms in prayer. The bread was then given to children as rewards for memorizing their prayers. So, this week, work on teaching your children the Jesus Prayer. Then, on Saturday or Sunday make some pretzels(or buy if you must!). Have the family gather together and spend some time in prayer together, focusing on saying the Jesus Prayer. The amount of time will of course depend on the children. I suggest keeping it limited to a few minutes if you have toddlers! Then, enjoy some pretzels together as reward to the children for remembering the prayers.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Sunday of the Holy Cross

This upcoming Sunday we remember our Lord's crucifixion in order that we might strengthen our resolve to fast, pray and repent this Lenten season. It is nearly halfway through lent, the struggle is hard and this Sunday's commemoration serves as an exhortation to all of us in our Lenten struggles. And what does the cross teach us? Christians look upon the cross always with the resurrection in mind. It is that victory that brings joy and hope to our sufferings. We rejoice in the victorious cross!

Readings: Hebrews 4:14-5:6; Mark 8:34-9:1

For the Little Ones: The Holy Cross is often referred to as the tree of life, bringing eternal life. In remembrance of this, go out and buy a small tree to plant in your yard (or, for you apartment replant in pots!). Try to pick a tree that blooms in the spring or bears fruit. If you plan on replanting the tree into a larger pot, have your children help you decorate the pot for the special occasion.

On Sunday, after the liturgy, gather your family together to plant the tree in your garden. After planting the tree, have the head of the household (or possibly an eldest child) read the following:

No longer does the flaming sword guard the gate of Eden, for a marvelous quenching is come upon it, even the Tree of the Cross. The sting has been taken from death, and the victory from Hades. And, You, my Savior, has appeared unto those in Hades saying: Enter again into Paradise.

During the rest of Lent, have your little ones water their 'special' tree and on Good Friday, cut off a branch or two to make a cross to adorn you prayer corner or to hang in your child's room.

Friday, March 2, 2007

A Lenten Resolution

During my catechism, Father Ian made a point to really ingrain in me that the point of fasting isn't simply to abstain for the purpose of abstaining, but to simplify life. We need to simplify life in order to save money and another precious commodity: time. Time to be used in prayer, fellowship and doing good deeds.

As parents, and I think moms especially struggle with this, there seems to be a constant urge to be 'doing' things. Exercise more, read to our kids more, organize more, work more, etc. The problem is, when we are trying to do so many different things, we can't do anything well! Hence why trying to 'perfect' oneself other than through prayer and fasting is such a futile endeavor.

So, every Lent, I make a Lenten resolution. Last year, I admit it was to start jogging to lose all my pregnancy fat...but the other motivating factor was to provide sanity time for myself and my girls. Time outside where the girls could enjoy nature and I could enjoy a quiet time to pray and think about nothing. Seriously, our jogs are one of my favorite activities now simply because my girls like to just sit and stare at everything and I can have guaranteed quiet time (usually, I have anything but that!).

This year, my resolution is to start using my slowcooker. My family tends to eat mostly vegetarian as it is and so I hardly ever use the crockpot because most recipes I find are either meat heavy (and expensive) or are vegetarian stews. (And one can have stew only so many times!) But, cooking every night is very stressful since it is during the hour where my toddlers are tired and cranky and in need of lots of attention. So, my goal is to start using the crockpot in order to give them the love and care they need during the witching hour of weakness for them, and to keep me from getting stressed and angry right before my husband comes home every evening (I'm sure he'll appreciate that!).

I encourage you to also make a Lenten resolution. Simplify your lives!