Wednesday, December 2, 2009

celebrating St. John of Damascus

This coming weekend is a very full schedule, so I'm posting a bit early about Ian's nameday. So far, we haven't really done much to celebrate it. He was a bit young to get the point, and I wasn't sure how to make it stand out among the other festivities leading up to Christmas. (The reality of life, much as I would personally rather wait until Christmas actually gets here to start the celebration.) This year, he's working on his St. George medal for Cub Scouts, and one of the requirements in the book is to know about his patron saint and when his nameday is celebrated.

So I figure we ought to do something; the question is, what? I mean, how do you celebrate a monastic scholar meaningfully for a six-year-old? Here's what I've come up with so far:
  • Read the life of St. John. This one's pretty obvious, and since we'll be busy, we actually already did it last night.
  • Let Ian pick the meal Thursday evening. I'm just starting him on fasting, so for this season he's only restricted on Wednesdays and Fridays. He'll be able to pick anything he wants, including eating out. In the future, it will be a fasting meal, but it can still be something nice.
  • Listen to the eight funeral hymns. Not the most exciting stuff at his age, but I figure we can have it playing while we're doing something else.
  • Draw a red line around his wrist. For his writing against iconoclasm, the emperor framed St. John and got the caliph to cut off his hand (among other penalties). John prayed, and the hand was restored, but he retained a red scar as a reminder of the miracle.
  • Read some of St. John's hymns. Given the season, the second Nativity canon seems like a good choice. Also, Ian's been into poetry lately, so he might appreciate the poetic translations of selected hymns by John Mason Neale (1862).
  • Try some icon writing. At this point, I think we'll call it good enough to color a preprinted icon for his St. George medal requirement. As he gets older, we might try something requiring a little more skill.
  • Sing the troparion to St. John. Another no-brainer. We usually sing one to start off bedtime prayers anyway, and St. John has been in the rotation for quite a while.
  • Pray before bed. There's an evening prayer, "O Master, Lover of mankind, is this bed to be my coffin . . . ," that's attributed to St. John. It would be good to incorporate it Thursday evening.
  • Clean toilets. When St. John entered the monastery of St. Sava, he ended up with a very strict elder. He was supposed to do only what the elder told him to, but when one of the monks begged him to write for his deceased brother's funeral, he consented. His elder banished him, but was later persuaded to let him come back if he would fulfill a difficult task. The task was to clean all the chamber pots and latrines in the monastery with his bare hands. St. John completed it with joy and was restored. I don't know if I'll be able to get Ian excited about this one, but he might embrace it as something he's never done before. Plus, he's at that age where gross things are appealing, at least to talk about.
  • Wear his skeleton shirt. I was looking back to see if I'd ever written anything about Ian's patron saint on my old blog and came across a post about his beloved skeleton. Now he has a skeleton shirt, which might be a good link to the hymn cited there.
A couple of ideas for the future, since I didn't think of them in time to prepare:
  • Give him icons as gifts. Since St. John is well-known for his defense of icons, this would be an especially good occasion to give Ian an icon.
  • Write Christmas cards. St. John was framed for what he wrote against iconoclasm. He was charged with writing a letter to the emperor, conspiring against the caliph, for which his hand was cut off. When his hand was restored, the Theotokos exhorted him to continue writing. So I figure writing something by hand is a fitting way to honor his day. Since it is about that time anyway, writing Christmas cards would be a good way to do something useful.
When he gets older, we could also read some of St. John's theological writings, but I'm pretty sure they'd be over his head for now. Any other ideas?