NEW – Interactive online activities!
As we are going through the COVID-19 crisis, our parish Sunday School has closed down indefinitely. In general, we feel that we should be placing a stronger emphasis on human connection, so we don’t really enjoy using a lot of technology in our classrooms. Nevertheless, under the current circumstances, we are trying to figure out how to teach our lessons online in the following weeks, using virtual meeting applications and other online teaching tools.
In this spirit, we have been experimenting with creating online games and activities that we can share with our students, and we are very happy with the results.
We are super excited to be able to offer you a variety of such games to explore! Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.
The Annunciation (Evangelismos in Greek) of the Theotokos is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church. It is third in the list of Great Feasts, after the Nativity of the Lord and Holy Theophany. On the new calendar, it is celebrated on March 25, which always falls during Great Lent.
The word Evangelismos (Ευαγγελισμός) means the announcement of the Good News of the salvation of humankind by the Lord our God. This salvation was made possible by the consent of the most pure, most humble, and most faithful human being in the history of mankind: the young maiden Mary, or Mariam – the God-sent daughter of the old, faithful and barren couple, Joachim and Anna. According to Orthodox teaching, She is “the most honorable than the Cherubim and the most glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim” – Cherubim and Seraphim being the two highest ranks of angels who stand constantly in the presence of God.
Orthodox Christians don’t call the Virgin Mary by her name, as it is considered disrespectful. In the Orthodox tradition, she is called the Theotokos, which literally means “She who gave birth to God”, or in short, “the Mother of God”. Greeks also call her Panayia (pronounced: Pa-na-YEE-ah), the All-Holy one, and most affectionately invoke her intercessions to our Lord in every instance of need.
- The Theotokos is the most pure, most humble, and most faithful human being in the history of mankind.
- The Archangel Gabriel was sent to tell her that, because of that, she was chosen to become the Mother of the Incarnate God.
- On the Feast of the Annunciation, we celebrate two things:
1) The divine initiative of God: He took on flesh from the Theotokos for our salvation.
2) The Theotokos’ consent: she freely accepted the vocation offered to her.
- In our own lives, we are called to imitate the Theotokos’ example; God wants us to freely accept and follow His Will.
PLANNING THE LESSON
At the end of the lesson, younger children should be able to:
- Pronounce the names of the Theotokos, Archangel Gabriel, and the feast of the Annunciation.
- Explain that “Theotokos” means “Mother of God“.
- Explain that “Annunciation” or “Evangelismos” means “announcement of the good news“.
- Point to the Theotokos and the angel in the icon.
- Briefly retell the story of the angel’s appearance to the Theotokos using the icon as visual aid.
In addition to the above, older children should also be able to:
- Spell the words “Theotokos” and “Annunciation”.
- Explain that the angel’s good news was that God would come down to Earth as a man in order to save us from sin and death.
- Point out additional details in the icon:
– God’s Grace coming down to the Theotokos as a ray of light.
– The color of the Theotokos’ garments: Red on the outside, blue on the inside.
– Three stars on the Theotokos: one on her forehead, one on each shoulder.
– The angel holding a staff as God’s messenger.
– The red cloth over the buildings signifying that the event took place inside.
- Explain the Theotokos’ part in God’s Plan: Even though she was afraid, and found it hard to believe, she freely obeyed God’s Divine will. If she hadn’t obeyed, God’s Plan wouldn’t have materialized.
- Discuss the importance of obedience in our own lives. God always gives us the option to say “no” to His will, but, when we choose to do so, we move away from Him.
- With the help of the teacher, and from their own experience, come up with examples of obedience and disobedience, and explain what God would want us to do in each situation.
Possible lesson outline
Using our material, a lesson on the Annunciation could go as follows:
- Present the story using our paper puppets – details can be found in the printable packet.
- Explain the icon. The paper puppets can be useful again, as they include all the details we want the children to observe in the icon.
- Discuss the Theotokos’ reaction to the angel’s message and the importance of obedience with examples from real life.
- Do some reinforcement work utilizing our printable packet and/or our interactive activities.
PRINTABLE ACTIVITY OPTIONS
Our printable packet contains a variety of activities for different ages. They are:
- Icon worksheets, for younger and older children.
- A cut-and-glue activity to work on the Theotokos’ answer.
- A crossword puzzle on basic concepts of the lesson.
- Coloring page based on the icon.
- A cut-and-glue scene based on the icon.
- Two more elaborate crafts that are detailed below.
CRAFT #1: Glass magnet
Our printables can be used to make large glass button magnets (diameter: 5cm). We are including links to the products we used to make this craft, but you can use any similar products you might already have or are able to find. *Please note: We are not receiving any kind of financial compensation for mentioning the specific products. We are only including them to share our experience in case it is helpful to our readers.*
- Printed page from our packet.
- 5 cm round dome cabochons.
- Round disc magnets – we used magnets that also included peel-and-stick adhesive dots, but any similarly sized magnet will work and can be glued using a drop of glue.
- Water based glaze/glue. The particular brand we used produced excellent results – it is super clear, dries fast, and forms a very strong bond.
Cut out the printed circles. Spread a thin layer of glue on the flat side of each cabochon. Glue the printed circle on the cabochon, so that the image shows through the glass dome. Let dry for a few minutes. Glue the magnet on the back and let dry completely. Ready!
CRAFT #2: Sun catcher icon scene
This craft can become simpler or more elaborate, depending on the desire of the crafter. For children who like detailed work, the paper pieces can be cut quite small, and the children can spend a substantial amount of time carefully gluing them to fit the design, making this a great stay-at-home quiet activity.
- The printable coloring page from our packet.
- Tissue paper in various colors.
- Any kind of glue that will dry clear.
- 8.5×11 inch transparency sheets suitable for home printers.
Print out the coloring page on the transparency sheets. Tear or cut the tissue paper into small pieces – we found tearing to be more enjoyable and easier to adapt to the various shapes. Spread a thin layer of glue on the back of a small part of the transparency sheet. Glue on tissue paper pieces to your liking. Continue with the rest of the transparency sheet. When completely dry, place in front of a window and enjoy the transparent colorful design!
Saint Luke is the only one of the Evangelists who records several instances of the life of the Theotokos. The Annunciation is recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke, Chapter 1, verses 26-38.
According to the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church, the young Theotokos had been living in the Temple since she was three years old. When she became a teenager, she was betrothed to Joseph, a faithful and well-respected older man, who was to become her protector after she left the Temple.
One day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared before her, greeted her with reverence, and announced the Divine Will for her: she was chosen to become the Mother of the Incarnate God. The Theotokos was astonished with this news as she was a virgin, and asked how this could happen. The angel explained that the Holy Spirit would cover her with the Grace of God and thus the impossible would be made possible. He gave her as an example her cousin Elisabeth, previously considered barren, who, even though at a very old age, had also conceived a son, the future St. John the Baptist. The Theotokos, in great humbleness and without hesitation obeyed, saying “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word“.
Celebration of the Feast
The Annunciation always falls during Great Lent, a period of self-reflection, repentance, and personal preparation for Pascha. During this somewhat gloomy time, the Church has wisely dedicated special days to honoring the Theotokos (the Annunciation on March 25, and also Great Lent Fridays, when Her Akathist Hymn, a long and beautiful poem of praise and pleading, is chanted).
The Annunciation celebration starts in the evening of March 24, with the service of Great Vespers, followed the next day, March 25, by the Orthros service and the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. On March 26, we celebrate the Apodosis (Leave-taking) of the feast, as well as the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel, as he is the next most important person in the story. On the day of the Feast, and in honor of the Theotokos, the Great Lent fast is relaxed, so oil, wine and fish is permitted, even if it falls on a Wednesday or Friday.
A two-fold feast for the Greek people
Especially for the Greeks, March 25th is a double feast, as it also marks the anniversary of the Greek War of Independence (March 25, 1821), the revolution that led to the establishment of the modern Greek state after 400 years of Ottoman oppression.
Icon of the Feast
In the icon of the Feast, both the Archangel Gabriel and the Theotokos are prominent figures. On the left side, Gabriel is depicted standing as if he just arrived to deliver his divine message. Gabriel’s clothes are in the ancient Greek style, but sometimes he wears a deacon’s vestments. In his left hand he is holding a staff, a sign of his vocation as God’s messenger. His right hand is stretched toward the Theotokos in a sign of greeting and blessing; the position of his legs and wings reveal the urgency of God’s message. Gabriel’s facial expression is serious yet kind, as he greets the Theotokos with the words: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28).
On the right side, the Theotokos is depicted either seated or standing, with her left hand holding a spindle with crimson-colored yarn (according to Tradition, she had the task of weaving the veil of the Temple). She is entirely wrapped in her vestments (blue on the inside, red on the outside), showing only her hands. On her forehead and shoulders, there are three stars: this is a sign of her ever-virginity, before, during, and after the birth of Christ.
The Theotokos is often making a gesture with her right hand, to show her surprise at the heavenly messenger. Her facial expression is serious, yet humbled, as she lowers her head giving her consent to the Divine Will: “Behold the maid-servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
A ray of light coming toward the Theotokos signifies the Grace of God that is bestowed upon her. Sometimes a white dove is depicted within that ray of light, signifying the Holy Spirit Who at the time of her agreement, works in her the miracle of the conception of Christ.
In the background there are light-colored buildings connected with a red canopy to signify that the event is taking place indoors. In some icons we see other objects-symbols to signify that the Theotokos is the one chosen to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies: a fountain with clear water (the Life-giving spring); a vase with white flowers (virginity); a small olive tree (peace, blessing, meekness); a reading table with an open Scripture Book (Old Testament).
Hymns of the Feast
The Troparion – Tone 4
Today marks the crowning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery before all ages. For the Son of God becomes the son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaims the grace. Wherefore, we also cry out with him, ‘Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you.”
The Kontakion – Tone 4 plagal
To you, Theotokos, invincible Defender, having been delivered from peril, I, your city, dedicate the victory festival as a thank offering. In your irresistible might, keep me safe from all trials, that I may call out to you: “Hail, unwedded bride!”
- Children’s Bible Reader Online: in addition to the print book, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has developed this free online Bible for children which also includes games and other activities:
– Go to the second page, select ‘Jesus is born!’
– Select chapter ‘The angel visits Mary’
– The Related Content contains the corresponding Bible passage and an online game
- The Annunciation of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, Orthodox Church in America.
- The Annunciation of the Theotokos, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- +Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Annunciation, podcast with transcript on Ancient Faith Radio
- St. Gregory the Wonderworker, First Homily on the Annunciation, in a poetic form containing the Church’s whole Theology – Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
- Fr. Steven Kostoff, The Annunciation: Announcing the Incarnation
- Be the Beevideo series, Episode 41 – ‘God’s Mother, Our Mother’ – Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.