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Joy Retreat

Joy Retreat

Title:  Joy Retreat Session 1

Subject:  Defining and Experiencing Joy

Age:  13+ years

Materials for the Lesson:

For each participant give a Passport to Joy.  In it have the handouts, notes, presentations, worksheets for each stage of the retreat.  Ask that each person keep notes and build their passports.

Study Bibles

The Lesson Plan:

Begin with a prayer, and then perhaps have the class participate in ice breakers.  Continue with an introduction and welcome, introducing your self and ask the participants to introduce their selves.  Next introduce the theme of this retreat, joy. 

"To begin let's start with an exercise: defining and describing joy."  Hand out the Passport to Joy to each participant, saying, "We have a document for you to take home that we will be working on today.  We will be returning to it a few times throughout our sessions.  Why a passport?"  Explain that a passport is a document for travel and admittance.  It can also describe where you've been and in a way tell others where you are going and if you plan to stay (a visa).

Tell the participants not to page forward!  It is important they do not. 

Exercise 1:  Defining Joy

Continue with, "We have an initial exercise that you will have some time to work on before returning to the group with your thoughts.  Please answer the following:

  • What is joy?  The reason for asking this question is that it is the theme of our retreat, but mostly I don't have an answer.  I speculate that there may be more than one answer, so it is asked to you.  JOY is a simple three letter word, yet it is a fairly complex concept.  Your answers can be a definition, a story, a description or two, a list.
  • What do you know about joy?
  • At the bottom of the page please list people you believe are joyous.

Invite the participants to take some time to reflect on their answers, give three to five minutes.  Come back together and ask the class to share their answers. 

Exercise 2:  Finding Another Way of Defining Joy

Continue with, "Before we start this exercise I want you to think about what you are plugged into and where you find meaning or get direction."  Discuss the origins of meaning.  If no one has offered the answer of the Bible, offer it yourself and continue the exercise.  "The Bible is an origin of meaning.  There are Biblical answers/quotes to that address the question of joy.  Search your Bibles on your own and find statements, stories, verses, and people." 

Ask, "Scripturally and from your experience of the Saints, who is joyous?  Describe them."  Ask the group to share, and compare and contrast the Joy statements; both personal and Biblical.  Review what has been said to this point about joy, reflecting on the first and second exercises, being sure to explore the similarities and differences.  Decide on a list to keep for the next session.

For the next exercise, the participants may divide into groups, work individually, or work in pairs, in order to work on their own list to share with the rest of the group.

Exercise 3:  My Joy

In order to create a list that defines joy, ask, "What describes and defines joy best?"  Come up with a list of favorite quotes, stories, etc, then review these ideas and quotes.  The participants may once again divide into groups, work individually or in pairs.  Once these lists are made, regroup and share the results.


If participants find a joy quote or story they like, they might decorate a planter with those quotes.


Joy Retreat

Title:  Joy Retreat Session 2

Subject:  Do I have joy in my life?  Confession, Commandments and Prayer

Age:  13+ years

Materials for the Lesson:

Each participant should have a Passport to Joy.  Ask that each person keep notes and build their passports.

Study Bibles

The Lesson Plan:

Begin the second session by reviewing or summarizing the first session. 

Exercise 1:  Reflections

Read John 5:1-15, the passage of Jesus healing the man by the pool, asking "Do you want to be made well?"  This passage lends to the question, "Do I really want to be joyful?"  Offer quiet time for the participants to reflect and write their responses. 

Next ask the participants to reflect on the question, "Do I have joy in my life?"  Allow time for them to write their response.  The next question for reflection is, "Where does joy exist in my life?"  Again, allow time for reflection.

Ask the participants to come together, and those who are willing may share their responses.

Exercise 2:  Deciding for Joy

Recall the story of the paralytic.  "In your Passport to Joy on page 7, you have an opportunity of committing to up to three things."  Allow time for everyone to reflect and write their responses.  Once they are completed with the exercise, invite everyone to make a joy bracelet.  Say, "We have these colors, please take your list and put a color next to each."  Allow time for the participants to make embroidery thread bracelets.  Then invite everyone to choose a partner to put their own bracelets on and decide how they can be accountable to one another in achieving their goals in Deciding for Joy.   

Exercise 3:  Making a Plan

Ask each participant to reflect on the question, "How am I going to make a change?"  It is time to get creative and figure out a plan.  Continue with, "In order to do this we have to try and recognize our pattern(s) and our narrative(s), of how we live.  We also have to choose where we are going to get our information and who is going to support and challenge us to execute our plan to be more joyful."  Ask each participant to pair up and emphasize the importance of having another to help in making and sticking to a plan.  Have each pair discuss who they will be accountable to one another, whether via phone, email, meetings, etc. 

Allow time for the class to write down in their Passport to Joy (page 8, "Making a Plan"), a list of at least three changes they can commit to making in their lives to become more joyful. 

Exercise 4:  Spiritual Laws of Joy

Develop a spiritual life and wage spiritual warfare.  You must decide to fight, to struggle against the passion.  Essentially, one can not decide to do nothing.  Be clear about the existence of heaven, hell, angels, and demons, and the reality of spiritual warfare.  Then if we have decided in the affirmative with points one and two we must then determine how much we want to fight, how much of a fight is in us.  This decision will help us and our spiritual father if we have one to determine what tools we want to use and how deep and intense we want to go.  If we do not have a spiritual father we can work on this by ourselves.  We can start small, and with obedience and discipline we can add to what we do to help us overcome the Evil One. Essentially if God sees that we desire to grow and we are in earnest and have integrity, He will respond and provide.

Through the sacrament of Confession, we can repent our sins and get rid of them.  If I leave my sins in place what will happen?  Some possibilities are depression, spiritually speaking, which is a result of un-repented sin.  It should be noted that this addresses sin not recognized and turned away from, as opposed to simply identifying our sin.  Receiving forgiveness once a month seems to be a decent amount of time.  One must leave confession in freedom, this is the benefit.  You have to be able to identify the actual sin to become free.

Continue with, "One has to face the sin.  In your own study of self, through reading, you have an opportunity to get in touch with the actual sin and those motivating them, the mother of the particular sin.  Just the identification of a sin begins to free you, if you desire freedom. 

Time, effort, and education needed to make confession real takes real time.  You must identify a sin by name.  You must be honest.  You must be in touch with the names of sin.  There are lists available, which may help you to realize what actions and thoughts are sins.  One never masters this process but you grow and progress.  Through confession you will be free of depression and despondency, which comes from sin that has not been identified and sins that have not been repented.  Depression manifests itself also as, but not limited to: anger, sleeplessness, indigestion, resentful, quarrelsome, suppression of your spirit, suppression of your immune system, noticing that you are not alive inside.  Real life seems to allude you and especially the power and grace of the sacraments.  There has to be an exertion of force to find the sin (you really have to go after it), especially if one is entrenched by sin for a long period.

The Cross: The Way of Life

"If I avoid suffering and the cross, what will happen?"  You will not be able to experience the Resurrection and you will be constantly on the run, hiding, and avoiding sin and staying the same, stuck.  In order to overcome a passion one must struggle: The Cross.  To struggle is to apply force of equal strength to the attacking force (passion) and victory is achieved in accordance with the inclination of one's heart: the Ladder of Divine Ascent.  Often the problem is we haven't realized or decided if there is a heaven, a hell, demons, angels, and thus spiritual warfare.  This must be something we are clear about and accept.  "Working on it," is one phrase that means we haven't decided the above is true.

At this time, read CS Lewis, "The Great Divorce."  Then read Genesis 3.12. 

There are commandments we must follow in life, not necessarily just the Ten Commandments, but a life lived in obedience to Christ's commandments, as found within the New Testament.  The following are passages in the Gospel of St. John that discuss commandments.

  • "If you love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever--The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you."  John 14.15-17
  • "He who has My commandments and keeps them, is he who loves Me.  And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him."  John 14.21
  • "Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him."  John 14.23
  • "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love."  John 15.9-10

Exercise 5:  Following the Commandments

The one who wishes to engage in spiritual warfare should pick five commandments of Christ, and these first five should be the ones you need the most, the ones that will most directly battle your greatest passions.   If five are too many you could start with a smaller number.  Once the commandments are chosen then one should work on following them strictly for three months.  If one is successful then you can add two more.  At the point in which these seven (at least seven) are second nature to you, you can add two or three more to obtain a total of ten.  Once these ten are in place and are second nature to you, you can strive to stay at this level and slowly over time, study one commandment more at a time.

Exercise 6:  Enhancing Your Prayer Life

In order to grow in our prayer life, we must be in the vicinity of God.  We must become mindful of God and keep Him close.  Often we must devise something that will trigger this remembrance, such as a watch that beeps on the hour, etc.  This prayer life and remembrance of God is something we must be very disciplined and obedient with day-to-day.  Once we establish a prayer life, however, small and meager it is (we may decide ten minutes is all we can handle) then we add to it as we grow and as we display obedience.

Exercise 7:  Self Accusation

Through self-accusation, you are identifying your sin, repenting of it.  It is not self hatred, self annihilation, or self rejection, but it is based on the principle that you have a part in every sin, your own and those of others.  In every situation, you look for your sin in the situation; you face yourself.  In order to avoid self hatred, you must identify a sin and go after it.  Follow the commandments, and life gets easier and things start to flow.  You can't practice self accusation if you don't also take up Christian life by following the commandments.  It is also advised that you don't take the glory for yourself, then you won't take as many falls and end up hating yourself.

In order to identify your part in a sin, one must merciless and completely honest with one's self.  This does not mean harming oneself but trying to get free.  If you are accurate you become free.  This is what we battle: the idea that we are not really responsible for what is going on.  This is a key element in spiritual life.  If you don't do this then you can't grow spiritually or grow to Christ.  This helps us to feel an affinity for heaven and divine life.

Getting into heaven is a matter of the soul resembling heaven!  As well as a matter of the wedding garment; the wedding garment is a mystical invisible garment that is weaved throughout one's life, and the threads of this garment are the virtues.  These virtues are identified by the commandments given by Christ in the Gospels.  If you have this garment, these virtues, you "slip" into heaven.

Everything occurs under Divine Providence.  There are two types:  what God allows (or does not allow) and what is God's will.  Both are used for God's salvation.  If you believe everything is providential than you don't walk away from things, there are no mistakes.  There are things that, when they occur, you don't walk away no matter how hard it gets:  The Cross.  You stay on the cross long enough to be resurrected.  It is a crucial element in an Orthodox mind.  You can't fight unseen warfare unless you see everything as providential.  And Resurrection is the end result of our spiritual work.

Also discuss briefly the concepts and practices of fasting, charity, the Eucharist, trusting God, and releasing judgment.

Allow time for discussion, then complete the retreat with a closing prayer.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas


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