Tuesday, May 29, 2007

All Saints Day

John 12:24 "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

In the Orthodox Tradition, All Saints Day is not celebrated the day after Halloween, but the Sunday after Pentecost. I'm honestly not sure exactly why this particular date was chosen, but it does preempt the Western Christian date of Nov. 1st. It brings a beautiful close to the Easter season, a reminder of the purpose of Christ's life.

Readings: Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30,Hebrews 11:33-12:2

For the Little Ones: Traditionally, the Orthodox bring Kaliva (a boiled wheat dish) to commemoration services for the dead. Have your little ones help you make it at home and have a special memorial service for the dead that evening. Pray particularly for family members and friends you know who have passed away. You can find a recipe for Kaliva here.

***A quick bit of history found here. Phyllis Onest explains that the origin of this tradition: "On the first Saturday of the Great Fast we remember the miracle of St. Theodore of Tyre in 362 AD with koliva. The Emperor, Julian the Apostate, had the food in the market sprinkled with the blood of animals sacrificed to pagan gods in order to defile the first week of the Great Fast. Patriarch Aphdoxios of Constantinople appeared to the saint in a dream warning him of the emperor's scheme. St. Theodore told the people to cook the wheat they had at home rather than grinding all of it into flour. Thus, they did not buy anything in the market and avoided the tainted food."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pentecost-Trinity Sunday

On Sunday, May 27th, we celebrate Pentecost, also called Trinity Sunday. It is the church's birthday, everyone! Pentecost is celebrated every year, 50 days after Pascha. On this day we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. This event occurred on a Jewish feast called Pentecost and is seen as fulfilling the revelation of the Trinity.

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; John 7:37-52, 8:12

For the Little Ones: Parents, it's time to throw a birthday party. The Eastern Rite Orthodox Liturgical colors for Pentecost are green, the symbolic color of the Holy Spirit, life and the wood of the cross(Western churches wear red on Pentecost). It is an old custom to decorate the churches (and homes) with lots and lots of greenery.

Now there are many rich symbols that can be utilized on this day and explained more and more in depth as your children grow. In some Catholic churches, a dove (real or a model) would literally be lowered down as trumpets sounded or choirs mimicked the sound of rustling wind, and as the dove descended, red rose petals would be strewn to symbolize the tongues of flame. In your party decorations, try to include some of these aspects. I like the idea of suspending a carved wooden dove over the dining table, but you can also cut out paper doves and hang those. Also, scatter some rose petals on the table and light some candles. And maybe, if you have such music, play some trumpet music in the background.

And what else? Bake a birthday cake!!! Use fruit filling or bake a fruit pie to represent the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Read the story of Pentecost in Acts prior to cutting the cake and sing "God grant you many years" to the church.

Finally, no birthday party is complete without presents. But these presents have a special twist. Give your children tiny gifts to symbolize the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I would suggest picking one fruit (or two) each year to focus on. For example, you might pick 'Generosity' and give your children little packets with things to give to a homeless person (like a hygiene kit). Or you might, for older children, choose self-control. Give them a favorite candy and if they can manage not to eat it for a week, then tell them they will get another candy. The gifts can be more light-hearted and fun too! You might give your child a gift and explain that it is for a kindness they performed earlier in the week, or for their patience during a certain event. Regardless, use this as an opportunity to explain some of the virtues/fruits of the Holy Spirit.

***Note: With all of these ideas I present for activities to commemorate feasts and fasts throughout the church year, the idea is for these activities to be used to teach your children about the feasts, the fasts, etc...about God!!! The activities are a tool to engage your child so that they might learn about the Truth in a fun and creative way.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Holy Ascension

The 40 day Paschal celebration will come to a close this next Thursday, May 17th, with the feast of the Holy Ascension. This feast marks Christ's ascent into heaven after the 40 days he spent with the disciples demonstrating his Resurrection.

Readings: Luke 24:36-53 and Acts of the Apostles 1:1-12

For the Little Ones: There are two fun Western customs associated with Ascension Thursday. The first is that it is common to eat some sort of bird on this day since Christ "flew" into heaven. I think I'll stick with chicken or a Cornish hen...but you may be more bold if you wish. Maybe some Peking Duck? Anyhow, I digress. It is also a popular custom to take a hike up hills or Mountains on Ascension Day to commemorate Christ and the Disciples climbing up Mt. Olives. The Swedes have a tradition of getting up very early in the morning and going to a forest glen to hear birds singing at sunrise. Dependent on when the sun rises in your city, you might want to try some variation of this. Maybe start a morning hike at sunrise and end on top of a hill with a picnic breakfast.

In the Catholic Church, there is recorded an English custom of a processional involving a banner bearing a lion at the head and a dragon at the rear to symbolize Christ's triumph in his ascension over the evil one. So, the project for Ascension Day is to make a Banner of Triumph. Here are two links for paper plate lion and dragon crafts. You can draw the faces and let your toddlers color them in before attaching them to a banner. Then, at the end of the day before extinguishing the Paschal candle, make a processional around the house during prayer time singing the hymn "Christ is Risen from the dead" one last time. Then, hang the banner on the wall until Pentecost (remove the Christ is Risen banner) and extinguish the Paschal candle together before bedtime.