Thanks to Anna, our Lent was enriched by the wonderful idea of feast day learning boxes. The box is a collection of items that symbolize the theology behind a feast or day in the liturgical cycle. The goal is to create a tangible explanation of a spiritual lesson. Another layer of meaning.
We brought the boxes with us to church on the appointed days, listening for the symbols in the hymns and readings or finding them in the icons. Hilary’s face would light up when she made the connection. I am nearly constantly amazed at how much Hilary does soak up from the services. Even when it appears that she is not listening. The Truth is so strong that the point is undeniable (except to adults with too much logic and baggage!). However, there are many days when all she really wants to know is whether or not it’s a Liturgy, so she can get her hands on some antidoron bread and get out of there.
In Orthodoxy, we do not water down the Faith for our children. From their first days, they are part of the community. They pray and worship alongside the rest of us in unity. However, I believe there is a benefit in making allowances for a child’s point of view. The learning boxes incorporate both theology and child appeal. They are not a diversion, but rather a tool of instruction.
The boxes were a huge success for us during Holy Week. The making of the boxes was a fun and bonding creative activity for Jared, my soon to be teenage son, and I. Hilary enjoyed exploring with the boxes during church. We would listen for the Gospel about the sheep and the goats, for example, and she would hold up the sheep and goat figures in her box with a smile. She would sing the troparion for the day from her own copy in the box. The boxes were a great discussion starter, giving me a jumping off point to further opportunities for sharing the nuances of the Faith. Rather that asking if she remembered a line from the Gospel and being met with a blank stare, I was able to hold up the symbol from her box and engage in a discussion with her. Kids are visual. It’s always beneficial to meet them where they are in the visual world.
I’m trying to continue the learning boxes throughout the church year. This week, we celebrated Pentecost. The familiar making of the box was a welcome return. I’ll admit, making a box for every day from Lazarus Saturday to Pascha was quite an endeavor. The crafting lost a bit of its luster. The newness and excitement was back, though, as Jared and I wandered the aisles of the craft store looking for inspiration.
The Pentecost box contains:
* Jared’s rendition of a rushing wind
* a tongue of fire
* a dove to represent the Holy Spirit
* the strange and new doctrine of the Holy Trinity written in English, Greek, Russian and Hebrew
* water (snow globe style) to represent Baptism and oil for Chrismation, reminding Hilary of when we receive the Holy Spirit. This oil is very special to me. St. Mary of Egypt is my patron saint. Living a life of fast times, St. Mary arrived in Jerusalem one day and experienced a great conversion with the aid of an icon of the Mother of God. That icon still exists, and this oil comes from the lampada that hangs in front of it. It was a gift from a friend who visited Jerusalem.
* The words to “O Heavenly King”, the prayer to the Holy Spirit that we have not sung since Pascha, awaiting this joyous day of the gift of the Comforter.
When I make the boxes, I think most about next year and the year after that. I look forward to taking out this Pentecost box repeatedly as Hilary ages and really taking advantage of the layering. A little meaning here and little more meaning there, all adding to the foundation of spiritual education. Orthodoxy is not a book-based Faith. We live our Faith in a vibrant, dynamic, relational way. With God’s mercy, these boxes will be another tool of relationship building for Hilary and our whole family.