With the beginning of Great Lent just around the corner, the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Education [DCE] recommends a wide variety of online lessons and activities highlighting lenten and Paschal themes that are ideal for use in Church school classes and adult study groups.
Journey to Pascha features six-lesson units for grades 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 and 9-12. Also available is a six-lesson unit for ages 18 and over which can be used with older teens and adult study groups.
“The lessons for all ages help students understand the elements of lenten and Paschal worship—verses, hymns, icons and readings,” says Matushka Valerie Zahirsky, DCE Chair. “Activities and discussion enable students to engage in lenten worship with more understanding and in ways that relate to their daily lives.”
For grades 4-6 and 7-9, the DCE offers a collection of activities focusing on the Old Testament, titled Activities for Holy Saturday, Pascha and Bright Week. These three activities, explains Matushka Valerie, give students a chance to look into the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming in the writings of Ezekiel and Daniel and to see how the Church uses them liturgically during the Paschal season.
The DCE’s recently released activity book, titled Saints Who Were Physicians And Healers, is ideal in helping students understand Great Lent as a “hospital,” in the sense that our extra efforts to pray and fast during the season can lead to the healing of our souls and increased health for our bodies. The book, which may be downloaded free of charge, provides inspiration through the lives of 12 “healer saints” who are tangible examples of men and women who healed and served in the name of Christ.
“There are many ways to use the book in Church school classes during Great Lent,” Matushka Valerie says. “Teachers could choose one (or more) saint for each class session during the lenten period. The group might read and discuss the story of the saint’s life as part of the session, after which some or all of the accompanying activities (puzzles, maps, journal prompts, iconographic depictions of the saint to color) could be sent home with students, or saved to use as review at the next session. Students might also learn and talk about the hymns for the saints’ feast days, which the book provides.”
Matushka Valerie adds that the lives of the saints in the book relate quite well to issues prominent in today’s society. For example
- Saint Hermione showed the importance of honoring the elderly when she witnessed to Christ even after being badgered and exhausted in her old age by an impertinent ruler.
- Saint Luke of Simferopol developed his ability as a surgeon to such a high degree that he was able to insist on having an icon in the operating room during the height of the Communist oppression of Russia.
- Saint Matrona of Moscow was bullied and lived with great physical impairments, yet she was consulted as a healer and counselor by people from all over Russia.
- Saint Panteleimon spoke truth to power by refusing to betray his faith when a pagan emperor demanded it.
- Saints Philonella and Zenaida proved that women can become prominent physicians, and they displayed the courage to offer healing in Christ’s name, in areas where only male pagan doctors had practiced before.
Finally, on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, the Church honors Saint Mary of Egypt. One of the DCE’s newest resources is her “life icon” and the accompanying text which highlights the major events in her life of repentance.
Clergy, teachers and parents will find many other educational resources for all ages and seasons on the DCE website.