Transfiguration Feast Day Learning Box

Here’s how our learning box for Transfiguration turned out.  It contains:

*  Hilary’s rendition of Peter, James & John (she swears she can tell the difference!)

*  Icons of Moses and Elijah

*  Hilary’s clay version of Mt. Tabor

*  A cloud with the words: “This is my Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased”

*  A ray of light

*  The troparion for the Feast:

“You were Transfigured on the Mount, O Christ our God,

Revealing Your Glory to Your Disciples,

As much as they were able to bear.

Let Your everlasting Light, shine on us sinners,

Through the intercessions of the Birthgiver of God,

O Giver of Light, Glory to You!”

Instead of painting the box this time, I decoupaged it with tissue paper.  I love the leathery effect it gave the finish.

As is our custom, we went on pilgrimage to the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA to celebrate their feast day.  The weather was perfect—not blazing hot like it has been this summer.  As we drove east to Pennsylvania early in the morning, we repeatedly saw the sun shining down through the clouds in shifting columns of heavenly light.  I instantly thought of the line from the Akathist Glory to God for All Things: “Why is it that on a Feast Day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles?”  Yes, the earth was smiling and bathed in the Light of Christ.

The Liturgy was beautiful, and we stayed on into the afternoon for the service of Holy Unction.  I adore Unction at the monastery with so many priests.  Seeing the faithful scurry in every direction to kneel in front of the closest priest as the Gospels are read touches my heart.  We all need healing…even if it isn’t obvious.  Healing of body and soul.  To humble ourselves and fall to the ground before God in unity…magnificent!

I love Transfiguration.  The darkness is everywhere.  Sometimes there seems to be no light.  But there is always Light.  We, too, can be transfigured by the Light of God.  Shining in heavenly rays…blinding, brilliant, warm, glowing, and true.  O Lord, let us receive light from Your Light!

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Pentecost Learning Box

Learning Boxes for Annunciation, Holy Monday, Palm Sunday, and Lazarus Saturday

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.