Family Gospel Lessons

With us everything should be secondary compared to our concern with children, and their upbringing in the instruction and teaching of the Lord.

- St. John Chrysostom

Each and every day our hectic lives pull us in a million different directions. We are all overbooked, overcommitted, and overwhelmed - and so are our families. We spend less time playing together, talking together, eating together. In general, we spend less time being together. We also spend less time with God. We rarely see Him as the center of our family and our home. We have compartmentalized our lives so that we see God at church on Sunday and leave Him there when we drive home. After all, we have "important" things to tend to at home. Or do we?

Of all the "important" things in our lives, the single most important one is God. The most essential thing we can do for our children is to lead their hearts and minds to the knowledge and love of Him. They need to know that He created them and loves them infinitely. He wants them to know the true happiness that comes from living for and serving Him. If our children know these things, they will experience joy greater than that which comes from accomplishing anything else.

We offer Family Gospel Lessons as an aid and inspiration to your family and especially to help direct your children's hearts and minds toward God. This resource is meant to guide your family through the church year according to the Sunday Gospels. It is our hope that through this resource families will make reading the Gospel a priority in their preparation for the Divine Liturgy. As each family and each person is at a different place in their spiritual understanding, this tool strives to meet all of your family members where they are in their divine journey.

Below, we have offered some suggestions and resources to help you get started. Speak with your priest for further guidance in this endeavor. We pray you enjoy the time you spend together as a family learning to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).

Prayer

A home is blessed when everyday tasks are accomplished with prayer. Food cooked with love and prayer is a blessing for all who partake of it. When someone is dressing, he can pray: "Clothe me in your righteousness, O Lord." When leaving or entering the house, one can pray: "Lord, bless my coming in and my going out." One can use other such prayers for other tasks.

- Sister Magdalen, from Children in the Church Today

We have been created with both body and soul. As food feeds the body, prayer feeds the soul. Thus, prayer is necessary for our survival. When we pray, we enter into a conversation with God. We ask Him for forgiveness, guidance, and strength. We thank Him for His many blessings. We ask Him to take care of those who are in need. We bring our prayers to life through our worship in the church and in the home, both as a family and as individuals.

When you gather together to read the Gospel, always begin with prayer. We have provided suggested opening prayers below. The first is the familiar Trisagion prayer, which is a regular part of our worship services in the Orthodox Church. The second is the prayer a priest recites during the Divine Liturgy before reading the Gospel. Teach your children where they can find these prayers in the services of the church. This will enable them to become active participants in the liturgical life of the church. The closing prayer in each lesson complements the reading. We have also included general intercessory petitions that would be a good addition to the closing prayer offered in the lesson.

To begin, stand in front of an icon and light a candle if you like. Take a moment to focus your attention on God. The goal here is not just to say the prayers but to pray them with great deliberation. Take time before beginning to make sure everyone understands the prayer. If need be, simplify the words for very young children. Make copies of the prayers so you can all pray together with one voice. If you have children who cannot read, take one line at a time and have them repeat after you. Very young children can experience family prayers from the arms of their parents, soaking up the words being offered up to the Lord. If the prayer offered is a hymn, learn how to chant it as a family. Make prayer a central part of your family life. Inspire and support your children in developing their own personal prayer lives. Below are some resources to assist you in developing a regular prayer life for your family.

Reading the Gospel

Our purpose is to awaken in the child a consciousness of the presence of God, of His action in our lives, of our relationship with God. Bible stories are a reflection of precisely this reality, the reality of an encounter with God. The stories are inspired, vivid, simple, having a real artistry of language.

- Sophie Koulomzin, from Our Children and Our Church

When you love someone, you want to know all about them. The more you learn, the deeper your connection grows. We come to know God through prayer and through the study of His Word. The more we read the Bible, the more we understand God and His divine plan for our lives. The goal of any Bible study is to deepen our relationship with the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

After praying, read the Gospel passage as a family. We have provided the actual text for your convenience. However, we suggest you take the time to have your children look up the passage so they can become familiar with the Bible. There is still a great lesson to be learned in the observation of your actions if your children are too young to look up the passages themselves. If your children are very young, consider investing in a children's Bible (see recommendations following) to increase both their attention and comprehension.

Once the passage is read, discuss it as a family. Discussing the passage reinforces our understanding and helps us apply the lessons to our lives. We have provided questions to guide discussion as well as some brief information about the passage. The Bible has many riches for us, but there will also be numerous questions that will arise in its study. You are not expected to have all the answers, but you need to be willing to search out the answers together as a family. There are resources listed at the end to aid you in this effort. May your family discover the peace, joy, and treasures that come from studying the Word of our Lord.

Conclusion

Parenting is a joy, but not one that comes without great effort. From the moment our children enter this world, we work hard to give them what they need to develop into healthy, happy, and productive members of society. Again we must ask, we feed their bodies but do we feed their souls? Our children need us to help them develop into active members of the Body of Christ. We need to teach them to pray. We need to teach them to read the Bible and follow its lessons. But most importantly, we need to teach them to love the Lord with all their heart, mind, and soul.

How do we, as parents, do this? How do we teach our children to learn something that we ourselves are still learning?

We teach them with our actions! They learn to pray by watching us pray and praying with us. They learn to read the Bible by watching us read and reading with us. They learn to live a Christian life by watching us live a Christian life. They learn to love God by seeing our love for Him. "If your heart over flows with faith and love for God, you will find a thousand and two ways to pass on these feelings to your child" (Bishop Irenaius, from On the Upbringing of Children). We pray that your family has many years of health and happiness living as active members of the family of God.

O Lord, Heavenly Father, You have blessed us with the gift of children and have entrusted us with their spiritual upbringing. You commanded that we should teach our children about You in our lives: when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise. Guide us, O Lord, every moment of the day as we work toward this awesome task.

Let the words of Christ dwell in us, so that we may teach and guide our family, through our words and deeds, to the saving knowledge of Your everlasting kingdom. Help us, O Lord, be compassionate, kind, and patient throughout our day. If one of us has a complaint against another, help us to forgive each other as You have forgiven us. Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Above all, help us to remember to put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

We thank You, O Lord, for the many blessings and mercies You continually bestow on us. In everything we do, in word or deed, may we always do so in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through His Holy Spirit. Amen.

- Prayer for Parents

Prayers

Opening Prayer: Trisagion

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to You, our God, glory to You!

Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, present in all places and filling all things, the treasury of blessings and Giver of life: come and abide in us. Cleanse us from all impurity, and save our souls, gracious Lord.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (3 times)

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, forgive our sins. Master, pardon our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for the glory of Your name.

Lord, have mercy. (3 times)

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Opening Prayer: Before Reading the Gospel

Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of your Gospel. Instill in us also reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit now and forever. Amen.

Closing Prayer: Intercessory Prayers

Lord, we pray for peace in the world.

Lord, have mercy.

For all the faithful and Orthodox Christians.

Lord, have mercy.

For our Archbishop (name) and all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Lord, have mercy.

For our country, our president, and all those in public service.

Lord, have mercy.

For our parents, our brothers and sisters, our children, our relatives and friends, and all people.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who hate us and those who love us.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who work with us and those who serve us.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who have asked us, unworthy as we are, to pray for them.

Lord, have mercy.

For travelers by land, sea, and air.

Lord, have mercy.

For prisoners and captives.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who are hungry, those who are suffering, and those who are sick.

Lord, have mercy.

For those departed from this life in the hope of the resurrection.

Lord, have mercy.

(At this time have each member of the family add their own petitions)

Lord, have mercy.

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Resources for Prayer

Prayer Books

Children's Orthodox Prayer Book by All Saints of Russia Orthodox Church. Published by Metropolitan Philaret Press; Denver, Colorado.

Table Top Prayer Guide. Published by Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Center for Family Care; Garrison, New York.

My Daily Orthodox Prayer Book edited by Anthony M. Coniaris. Published by Light and Life Publishing; Minneapolis, Minnesota.

My Orthodox Prayer Book edited by the Department of Religious Education. Published by Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education; Brookline, Massachusetts.

Prayers for Children by Fr. John Maharas. Published by Deisis Publishing House.

Daily Prayers for Orthodox Christians edited by N. Michael Vaporis. Published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press; Brookline, Massachusetts.

Books

Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. Published by Paulist Press; Ramsey, New Jersey.

Family Worship Folio. Published by Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Center for Family Care; Garrison, New York.

The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo. Published by Faber and Faber; London, England.

Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way by Matthew the Poor. Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press; Crestwood, New York.        

The Way of a Pilgrim. Published by New Sarov Press; Blanco, Texas.

On Prayer by Archmandrite Sophrony. Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press; Crestwood, New York.

Websites

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Online Chapel (prayers, hymns and many other resources)

                 www.onlinechapel.goarch.org

Center For Family Care (Table Top Prayer Guide and Family Worship Folio)

                 family.goarch.org

Learn Byzantine Chant (online chanting instruction)

                 www.chant.hchc.edu

Resources for Studying the Bible

Bibles

Orthodox Study Bible. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee. New Testament in the New King James translation and Old Testament in the Saint Athanasius Academy Septuagint translation with study notes and a concordance.

Children's Bible Reader. Published by American Bible Society.

The Bible for Young People by Zoe Kanavas. Published by Narthex Press; Northridge, California. Beautifully illustrated stories from both the Old and New Testament for young readers.

Come Receive the Light. Published by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education; Brookline, Massachusetts. New Testament in Today's English Version with Bible studies and commentary from the Church Fathers. This translation may be easier for children.

Books

Gems from the Sunday Gospels in the Orthodox Church Volumes I & II by Anthony Coniaris. Published by Light and Life Publishing; Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Orthodox New Testament Volumes I & II Published by Holy Apostles Convent; Buena Vista, Colorado.

The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox edited by Johanna Manley. Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press; Crestwood, New York.

Growing Faithful Families by Rebecca Myerly. Published by Light and Life Publishing; Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Year of Grace of the Lord by A Monk of the Eastern Church. Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press; Crestwood, New York.

The Explanation of the Gospels Volume I–IV. Published by Chrysostom Press; House Springs, Missouri.

Bread for Life: Reading the Bible by Theodore Stylianopoulos. Published by Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education; Brookline, Massachusetts.

Websites

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (daily Scripture readings)

           www.goarch.org

Bible Gateway (various translations and concordance)

           www.biblegateway.com

Antiochian Gospel Program (age-appropriate Gospel text)

http://www.antiochian.org/node/1448

For resources about raising an Orthodox family, visit the Web site of the Center for Family Care (family.goarch.org). Resources include books, articles, and activities as well as information on Orthodox distributors.

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