The Sunday preceding the start of the Triodion is the Sunday of Zacchaeus, the fifth Sunday before Great Lent. The Triodion, in its turn, is the preparatory period before Pascha, during which the Triodion liturgical book is used at the church services. The Triodion starts on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee (the tenth week before Pascha), extends through Great Lent and Holy Week, and concludes with the Midnight Pascha Service of Holy Saturday.
On Zacchaeus Sunday, we get to reflect on repentance, the main theme of the whole preparatory journey of the Triodion. The story of Zacchaeus is a very well-known Christian topic, and resources for teaching about it abound. However, in this page, we are offering a uniquely Orthodox approach to this very popular Christian theme.
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Triodion Parables Learning Set
We have created a FABRIC LEARNING SET covering the parables of the Publican and the Pharisee and of the Prodigal Son, to help teach these topics in a hands-on way. It can be used together with our free material during the period of the Triodion.
TEACHING THE STORY OF ZACCHAEUS
At the end of the lesson the children should be able to:
- Point to our Lord and St. Zacchaeus on the icon.
- Briefly retell the story.
- Explain that Zacchaeus loved Jesus Christ so much, he did whatever he could to meet him, without worrying if people might be making fun of him.
- Explain how the meeting with Jesus helped Zacchaeus have a change of heart.
- Give some examples of courageously following Jesus and of repentance from their own lives.
In addition to the above, older children should also be able to:
- Say and write the words “Zacchaeus”, “repentance” and “confession” and explain what each word means.
- Elaborate on how Zacchaeus had committed sin and what people felt about him.
- Discuss how Zacchaeus was determined to overcome all obstacles in order to meet with Jesus.
- Explain how sinful behavior can be turned into a virtuous one in examples of real-life situations suggested by the teacher.
- Mention that Zacchaeus eventually became an Apostle and followed St. Peter, was ordained Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, and is a Saint of the Church.
Planning the lesson
- Introducing the topic: Our paper puppets could be used to inroduce the topic. We are also including more suggestions at the “External Resources” section below.
- Present the story in more detail. Following the introduction, we read the story either from the Bible itself (it is quite easy to understand) or from an Orthodox source such as “Let Us Attend” (see below).
- The icons: We conclude the presentation of the story by exploring the icons, pointing out the characters and their actions, and explaining the hidden meanings and symbolisms.
- Discussion follows. We explore the concept of repentance discussing real-life examples from the students’ life.
- Reinforcement work. Depending on the time we have left and the age of the children, we use some of our printable activities to reinforce what was taught. We sometimes also use some of the additional activities suggested below.
CRAFT: St. Zacchaeus icon with leaf frame
The following craft can be made using our printable packet. Here, we are including two different versions of how to use the leaf template to make a leaf frame, but you can also come up with your own. You could alternatively use real leaves collected from outside or fake decorative leaves.
- A printout of the relevant page from our printable packet
- A piece of sturdy paper, large enough to fit the St. Zacchaeus icon image with a generous border all around. The size of the border depends on the type of leaf frame you want to make.
- Scissors, glue and additional crafting materials depending on the way you choose to make your frame.
Version 1: Paper leaf frame
Cut out the icon image and the leaf template. Glue the icon image on the large piece of paper. Fold strips of colored paper in half and use the template to cut out leaves as shown in the photo. Glue the leaves all around the icon image. An easy and clean way to do it is to use double-sided tape: tape a long piece of tape on the paper border, then press the leaves one by one onto the tape.
Version 2: Stamped leaf frame
Cut out the icon image and the leaf template. For this craft, it is best if the background paper is pretty large to start with. Place the icon image on the background paper and mark all around with a pencil. Remove the icon image.
Fold strips of sturdy paper in half and use the template to cut out leaves. You don’t need that many. Instead of gluing the leaves on the icon border, use the cutouts to stamp out a leaf frame on the border as shown in the photo, utilizing liquid paint and sponge pieces. It is better to use a few different colors, mixing them directly onto the sponge. A cheap way to acquire liquid paint of great intensity in various colors is to buy color samples from a hardware store such as Home Depot instead of buying paint at an art store.
After the stamped leaves are completely dry, glue the icon image in place and cut the frame out all around.
The calling of Zacchaeus is a very popular Christian catechism topic, so we have found a lot of useful teaching material and ideas available online, both from Orthodox and non-Orthodox sources. We thought it might be helpful to include some of them here.
Note: When exploring non-Orthodox sources, please be mindful that what you choose to use is in line with the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Sometimes a phrase or a word may be enough to divert the whole text from the Orthodox context. When in doubt, it is best to check with an Orthodox priest.
There are many children’s books on the story of Zacchaeus, but here are a couple of favorite ones.
- The Little man whose Heart Grew Big by Steph Williams. This is a sweet and colorful book especially suited for the youngest children.
- Zacchaeus and Jesus by Dandi Caley Mackall. This book is written in verse. The fun part about it is that it tells the story from two different points of view. If you start on one side, you read the events as they happened from the point of view of our Lord. If you flip the book over and start on the other side, you read the story from the point of view of Zacchaeus.
- Let Us Attend, handouts, audio and a short act-out skit of the story for children by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America – scroll down to Sunday of Zacchaeus.
- Zacchaeus video by Saddleback kids *(non-Orthodox source)*. This is part of an extensive video series on the Bible. We are usually reluctant to use videos from this series as it often introduces non-Orthodox elements, and we also find the tone not reverent enough. However, this specific video doesn’t include any non-Orthodox information and can be useful for grabbing the attention of very young children.
- Zacchaeus meets Jesus, Mission Bible Class website *(non-Orthodox source)*. Scroll down toward the end, where you will find a list of activities that are worth exploring.
Zacchaeus lived in the city of Jericho and he was a chief tax collector, a Jewish official appointed by the Romans to collect the taxes imposed on his fellow Jews. The tax collectors would often charge more money than what the Romans were asking for, and would keep the difference for themselves. They were generally regarded as very sinful people, thieves and traitors to their fellow Jews, so they were outcasts and nobody wanted to be around them.
When Zacchaeus learned that Jesus Christ would pass through Jericho he longed to see Him, but he was too short and he couldn’t see over the crowd; so he decided to climb on a sycamore tree to get a better view. When Jesus reached the tree, He looked up and asked Zacchaeus to come down and take Him to his house. Zacchaeus hurried down the tree and welcomed Jesus into his home. The people then complained that Jesus became the guest of a sinner.
However, Zacchaeus’ heart had changed. He promised to give half of his belongings to the poor, and return four times as much as he stole. Our Lord said, “Today salvation has come to this house. For I came to find and save people who are lost.”
- Jericho was notorious for being a place of sinful living.
- The Fathers of the Church have explained the hidden symbolisms in this story: the crowd symbolizes the passions and worldly affairs that hinder us from approaching God; Zacchaeus’ short stature signifies a lack of faith and virtue; the ascent into the tree shows that, in order to connect with God, one must detach him/herself from all earthly matters; the fact that our Lord was going to Jericho symbolizes that Christ will approach anyone, no matter how sinful they may be, if they sincerely repent.
- Inside the Church, repentance takes place within the Sacrament of Holy Confession.
- After the Ascension of our Lord, St. Zacchaeus accompanied St. Peter on his travels. According to Church tradition, he became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, where he reposed in peace. He is commemorated on April 20.
Kontakion — Tone 4
When He that bowed the Heavens came to save sinners, Zacchaeus, great in zeal, but little of stature, beheld the Tree of Life from in the sycamore; lifted above the earth, he saw Jesus, Who called him: coming down in lowliness, he repenting, received Him; and so salvation came into his house, and he was shown forth a true son of Abraham.
St. Zacchaeus the Apostle of Caesarea is usually depicted vested as a Bishop and holding the Gospel, as is customary for all hierarchs. In other variations of his icon, he is shown holding a branch from the sycamore tree (example here).
On the icons depicting the scene of the meeting of St. Zacchaeus with our Lord, we see the city of Jericho in the background and Christ on one side, followed by the Disciples, with a large crowd surrounding them. On the opposite side, there is the sycamore tree and onto its branches we see St. Zacchaeus looking down to our Lord. Our Lord is looking up at St. Zacchaeus and blessing him. In some icons, there is also a second scene, of our Lord blessing Zacchaeus at his home (a pretty example here).
Note that, as always, our Lord is dressed in blue on top (symbolizing His humanity) and red underneath (symbolizing His divinity), while on His halo we can see the shape of the Cross and the Greek phrase “ο Ων” which means “He Who Is”. Also note that on the icon of the meeting, Zacchaeus is usually not depicted with a halo, as he hadn’t yet repented and entered the Kingdom of God, whereas on the icon of himself as a Saint he naturally has a halo.
- Sunday of Zacchaeus, Orthodox Church in America.
- Zacchaeus, the Apostle of Caesaria, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
- Apostle Zacchaeus, Orthodox Church in America.
- The Generosity of Grace: Homily on Zacchaeus for the 15th Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church by Fr. Philip LeMasters, Ancient Faith Ministries.
- Blessing Others as We Have Been Blessed: Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Luke (“Zacchaeus”) in the Orthodox Church by Fr. Philip LeMasters, Ancient Faith Ministries.
- Zacchaeus up a Tree by Fr. Lawrence Farley, Orthodox Church in America.
- The Power of one Word – Today by Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, Orthodox Christian Network.
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