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Publisher's Summary

How do we, as orthodox parents, keep our children in the church throughout their lives? It all begins with involving them in the life of the church from birth onward - in the parish and also at home. Blueprints for the Little Church provides practical ideas and encouragement - without judgment - for incorporating the primary practices of orthodox spirituality into your family life at every stage of its growth and throughout the church year.

©2016 Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker (P)2020 Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker

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Just what my Little Church Needed

In full disclosure, for my honest opinion on Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, I was given a free audio copy of the book.

Christ is Risen!

It’s hard to say if I’d appreciate this book as much as I do right now, under these unusual circumstances. It’s a very Orthodox Quarantine in our home. And this book finding us, in quarantine, could not have come at a better time.

Everything revolves around the home. We have a stay-at-home order, and we’ve done our best to abide by this, with, I’ll admit, few indiscretions. Nonetheless, for the most part, we spend our time in this home. So listening to this book was a blessing.

As converts, we have been slow to pick up the specifics of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Those are the three essential components, the building blocks, for the Orthodox church. And, as I said, it’s been slow for us. We converted 9 years ago. And since then we’ve moved 4 times, had 3 children, changed jobs 6 times, and changed churches 3 times. It’s been a bit of a blur. Between nursing, diapers, meals, dishes, laundry, an internationally traveling husband, and homeschooling, the building blocks of the church haven’t always been our focus.

So, to listen to Blueprints for the Little Church during laundry folding sessions in the morning/ afternoon has been like having a dear grandma, loving and true, walk me through the importance of each step. It could be Elissa Bjeletich’s voice too. Love and tenderness exude from each word.

My grandma was Roman Catholic, and while she certainly had a love for God and the sacraments, she died before I started my family, so I never got that opportunity to talk to her about “How do you get the kids to cooperate during prayers?” or “How can fasting become more palatable for the little children?” or “What’s your favorite almsgiving opportunity with little children?”

Neither my husband or I grew up in homes that centered their lives around the Orthodox Faith’s practices, so, it’s helped those fragmented pieces of advice over the past 9 years fall into place.

And the blessings have been palpable.

We are fasting together, as a family, today’s a fish day, hurray!

We pray together as a family in the morning and evening. I was use a piece of discarded wood and a wooden spoon to create my own Talanton (an ancient call to prayer). The children have a sip of holy water, a piece of antidoron, and put their cross necklaces on after those morning prayers. We have holy oils at the ready for nights when we feel anxious and upset.

We have limited the amount of screen times that the children and the adults indulge in. That has been one of the greatest “break throughs” I’ve had concerning screens. For years my intuition said that screens and the enticement of entertainments hurt me. I didn’t have a TV for all of my college years and my adult life before children. I just really disliked them. And I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why I did until I was listening to this audiobook.

Elissa and Caleb explain, “The safest road to hell is to be gently lulled into thinking about anything except God. Entertainments need not be spectacularly wicked or even particularly interesting; if they keep us from prayer and from building loving community in our homes, then they’ve succeeded in damaging our spiritual lives. The Psalmist writes, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 45[46]:11); but where will we find stillness we we keep busy with mind-numbing distractions?” (p. 140)

I took facebook and instagram off my phone. And I felt affirmed in this choice because this morning I read in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings for Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, “Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, and meek, and kind, then this is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility” (p. 63).

That part at the end “whirlpool of thoughts” hit me in the gut this morning. Oh, how social media is full of those right now. And not just social media, even messages from family and friends can be strange and full of that “whirlpool”. I refuse to get sucked in. And I believe it’s the prayers, fasting, and almsgiving, that is giving me the strength to focus on loving Christ, His Church, myself, my husband, my children, and our home together.

Anyways, I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who recently converted to Orthodoxy or who needs a refresher in the basics. I ended up purchasing a hard copy from my church bookstore so that I could refer to more easily throughout the year.

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Blueprints for the Little Church

An excellent book. Perfect not only for the new convert but for all Orthodox parents. I wish I had this book when my children were young. Elissa has a very pleasant, cheerful voice which makes the book very easy to listen to. The book is full of practical advice and wonderful suggestions. I particularly loved the appendix where she walks you thorough the church liturgical year with easy family activities and projects for the children to participate in each feast day. She also includes recipes for those without a yiayia (grandmother) to help. I highly recommend this book.

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A great book for families entering Orthodoxy

As a Protestant who has just discovered Orthodoxy, I have been looking for ways to incorporate Orthodox practices into our family life. Orthodoxy can seem foreign and intimidating at first. It is hard to know where and how to begin. This book is the perfect guide. Beginning with the Orthodox view of the family as a “Little Church”, the authors help the reader see how each element of life, even the most mundane tasks, can be brought into their relationship with God. The authors include the readings and prayers from Orthodox wedding and baptism services, which are beautiful and profound, as well as the wisdom of the saints on marriage and family. They give instruction on how to set up an icon corner and steps to center family life around prayer. They offer strategies for preparing children at home for the liturgy, guidelines for regular fasting, and suggestions for almsgiving. There is a lengthy appendix that works its way through the liturgical year with resources and activities to engage children in the celebrations and remembrances. The authors include many excerpts from regular Orthodox moms and dads who give a candid view of their struggles and successes with spiritual disciplines in the home. I found this to be refreshing and encouraging. This book does not give a list of strict rules that must be observed in every home. The reader is advised to seek the wisdom of their priest and take things slowly.

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Excellent, engaging and practical!

Having had the opportunity to meet the Elissa previously at a women's retreat, so hearing her voice made me feel transported back to that special day!

It was so easy to get caught up in all that she was sharing. What Elissa and Caleb have done so fluidly is weave Orthodox theology, with a variety of traditions and advice on how to apply it in your home, while acknowledging that every home will be a little different and find it's own unique application. Therefore her advice is neither too rigid that it feels unattainable, nor too vague that you are left uncertain where to begin. As a busy parent I really appreciate feeling like every bit of time listening to this audiobook was time well spent. She also intersperses with humorous anecdotes so that even if my kids overhear the recording they find themselves charmed into listening too!

As an adult convert, I often feel like there is just SO MUCH that I don't know, about our rich theology and traditions, it is daunting to know how to begin instructing my kids when I still have so very much to learn. This book has really helped give me so many ideas and tools for ensuring that I not only live my faith on a daily basis for my own spiritual growth, but so that I am doing all I can to raise my children to have a deep faith and personal relationship with God.

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Timely Advice

As many of us retreat to our homes and face the daunting task of journeying through Great Lent and Holy Week, only to celebrate the Feast or Feasts and the Paschal season in our own icon corners, the book Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home, by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker is especially timely. Not only is it available in print, but you can also download the audiobook instantly from Audible.com. For those familiar with another of Elissa’s projects, the podcast Tending the Garden of Our Hearts, her voice will be a welcome guide. This time she coaches parents through the process of building up a prayer life and a home that reflects their love of God, which will enable them to raise children that will number among His saints.

Though converts would find this book particularly informative, it is valuable for cradle Orthodox Christians as well. Those who grew up in a single jurisdiction may delight in learning about others. For instance, I enjoyed hearing the details of Slavas, the Serbian tradition of honoring a family saint and offering hospitality on that feast day. Similarly, the activities suggested for each feast are especially welcome for those of us enduring stay at home orders. Many of the suggestions are new ideas that only require items found in the home, and would make the feasts come alive for children and teens.

Consider spending a few hours listening to Blueprints. It is sure to strengthen and encourage you as you prepare to greet the unique challenge of celebrating Pascha apart from your church family.