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Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to study ideas from the book with your Sunday Church School students:

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about bees with these interesting hands-on activities: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/explore-world-honeybees/

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This short video can introduce your students to bees and some of the amazing facts about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta154f5Rp5Y

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In “In the Candle’s Glow,” Sister Irene treasured the bees’ work and used some of their beeswax to make candles. Bees work together with monks in this American monastery, too, providing the monks with honey and a little income (the monks take the bees to places that need extra bees for pollination at certain times of the year) in exchange for a hive and plenty of flowers from which they can drink. Read more here: http://dowoca.org/news_140326_1.html. After reading, talk with your Sunday Church School students about the idea: how do the bees help the monks? How do the monks help the bees? In what ways are bees and monks the same? How do we benefit from both?

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” talk with your students about beeswax. Show them a piece of honeycomb (and let them taste it, if they want to!) and talk about how the wax is made for storing the honey and the baby bees. Then talk about the process of turning honeycomb into beeswax candles. Help them to dip their own tiny beeswax candles, just like Sister Irene did in “In the Candle’s Glow.” To do so, have a small (perhaps a potpourri-simmering-size) pot of melted beeswax already heated when they come into class. Also before class, cover the table and floor with newspaper layers taped together to catch any wax drips and cut one or two 12” lengths of candlewick for each student. Fold each length of candlewick in half over a pencil and tape it in place. When you’re ready to begin the candle making process, show your students how to slowly dip their candlewick in the small pot of wax, then pull it out, allow it to cool for a while, then straighten it with their fingers. Allow each student to dip theirs, cool it a bit, and straighten it, then repeat the process. Depending on the temperature of the room, it will take anywhere from 10 to 15 dips to make a slender taper candle. While you take turns with the dipping process is a good time to talk about how peaceful and meditative this work is. Sometimes monks and nuns make candles like this, praying as they work. Perhaps the class can pray the Jesus Prayer together or sing a favorite troparion as you slowly take turns with the dipping process. Once the candles have reached your preferred width, the students can pull the tape off of their pencil and free their pair(s) of taper candles. Show the students how to cut the wick so that the two candles are separated. (You may also want to trim the bottom of each candle flat with a sharp knife on a thick piece of cardboard “cutting board” so that the students can more easily stand their candles upright in a candle stand or a candle holder.) Talk about how deep the wax needs to be, to make a long candle like the ones we light when we go into church. That would take a lot of melted wax! Talk about how long it takes someone to make the pile of candles waiting at church to be burned. In gratitude for that person’s hard work, encourage your students to consider saying a prayer for the person who made their candle, every time they light a candle at church. Gather your candles together and pray the prayer of blessing of the candles, found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” Then allow the students to take their candles along home to use at their family prayer table, or encourage them to light them at church the next time they attend a service.

16682022_10210696526521083_1762604804850405088_nA heat-free beeswax candle-making option (better for younger students) would be to roll your own beeswax candles. Here’s a tutorial: http://playfullearning.net/2013/03/diy-hand-rolled-beeswax-candles/

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Why do we light candles when we pray? If you have older students, engage them in that question for a bit, then compare their answers to those of St. Symeon of Thessaloniki and St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as recorded here (under the same question, near the bottom of the page): http://www.stjohnsmayfield.org/what-is-orthodoxy-2/. Encourage them to talk about the answers of those two saints, comparing them to each other and to their own previous answers. Then, encourage your students and yourself to remember, as the page says, “For all these reasons cited by our Holy Fathers, let us often light our candles and make sure as much as possible that they be pure candles. We should abstain from all corruption and uncleanness, so that all of the above symbolism is made real in our Christian lives.”

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Allow your students to respond to the book “In the Candle’s Glow” with an art project. On dark paper, have them draw a candle (here’s one way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGOFC6ahnVw) with chalk, oil pastels, gel pens, white or metallic pencils: any medium that shows up nicely on the black paper. Then have your students smudge the candle’s “glow” around its flame. Inside that glow, encourage them to write a prayer; the names of people for whom they want to pray; or a drawing of the people’s faces for whom they are praying.

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On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

For a few weeks of every year, our culture is inundated with love. Everywhere we go we see hearts, roses, chocolates, Cupid and his arrows, and Valentine’s Day cards. The world is a swirl of pink and red. Then Valentine’s Day comes, and we can definitely feel the love! But what about February 15th? Or the 22nd? Or March 19? Do we still feel the love then? Even more importantly, are we still sharing our love then?

It is easy to focus on making sure that our Sunday Church School students feel loved on that one special day, Valentine’s Day. It is appropriate for us to celebrate our loved ones and declare our love for them! But why stop at just Valentine’s Day? These precious people should be at the top of our “I want you to know that I love you” list: not just on February 14, but all year long!

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage each of us to continue to let our students know that we love them, even on “ordinary” days. We searched and found many ideas of ways to do just that. We are sharing a few of the ideas in hopes that some will strike a chord and ignite in us a new determination to warm our students with our love. If we do so, even when all the roses have wilted, the chocolates have been eaten, and the Valentine’s Day cards have been read, these important people in our life will get the message: “I love you, and I always will.”

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

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Find lots of ideas of ways to use sticky notes to send messages of love and encouragement to your students here: http://www.kirstenskaboodle.com/positive-messages-for-students/

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Help your students create some scripture-based love notes to share with their friends and family! Here are some free printable ones for starters: http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/gods-love-notes/

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One way you can show your students that you love them is to create your own secret greeting with each of them. Need inspiration? Check out this school teacher’s individual student greetings: http://people.com/human-interest/north-carolina-teacher-personalized-handshakes-students/

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Find some ideas of ways to love the more-difficult-to-love students here: http://childrensministry.com/articles/discipline-sos/

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“Caring about your students doesn’t necessarily mean having a constant gushy feeling about them. Caring means commitment …feelings come and go. True love stays, in spite of annoyances. Love is a commitment you make to your kids.” Read more in this article:  http://www.christianitycove.com/sunday-school-teaching-what-caring-about-your-students-really-means/

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Find 10 simple ways to show love to your Sunday Church School students here: http://childrensministryleader.com/10-ways-show-love-kids/

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Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

(Author’s note: This book is written for parents. We have chosen to include it in this blog anyway, because of how involved we as Sunday Church School teachers are in our students’ lives. Many of the principles of this book can be applied in the Sunday Church School room as well as in the home.)

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

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“…children are not problems to be solved but persons to be loved and guided.” (p. 13)

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“The only way to learn patience and self-control is to live or interact with someone who tries your patience and tempts you to react. The spiritual life is a struggle to learn how to lvoe as Christ loves, with Christ’s love.” (p. 89)

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“For children who struggle the most, let’s say with boredom in church, cleaning their room, or being patient, it is unfair to compare their behavior with others who don’t struggle in those areas. If our goal is to have children learn the struggle, then we must recognize their efforts as much as the outcome.” (p. 107)

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“The key to setting good limits is to be clear, consistent, firm, and matter of fact.” (p. 157)

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“Stay focused on effort or the virtues you are trying to instill. When children see that we are not mad at them for struggling, they learn that our love is unconditional and our expectations real.” (p. 206)

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“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

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On Overcoming the Winter Blues

The beginning of February marks the middle of winter for the northern hemisphere. For many people, winter can a dreary and depressing time. Why is this the case? Are children also thus affected by winter, or is the sense of gloom limited to adults? Can anything be done to help those of us who feel discouraged during the winter months?

We did a little research into the above questions, and learned a few things which we will share with you. We learned that there are multiple reasons why winter can drag down our emotions, especially because of the reduced light and/or sunshine that people living in wintery climates experience. The combination of less daylight and colder outdoor temperatures also discourages people from getting fresh air and exercise (two other possible remedies for combating gloom). We learned that children are affected by these struggles in a similar way as adults are affected. We found many suggestions of things to do to combat the so-called “winter blues” including the idea of getting out of the house within 2 hours of waking up, and exercising (outside, if possible). (Author’s note: my teen son invited me to try this out, so this morning we got up a few minutes earlier than usual, threw on our coats, and briskly walked around the block before beginning our regular morning routine. It was an invigorating and sweet way to begin this dreary, gloomy winter day! We will do it again.)

Below you will find links to a few favorite articles we encountered in our research which address  the above questions. We hope that the next time you experience mid-winter (whether right now or in a few months, depending on where in the world you live), you will find some of this information and these ideas helpful. Together, let us take steps to combat the gloomy feeling that winter can so easily invite in our own life and in the lives of our Sunday Church School students!

“If there were no tribulation, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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Teachers who may be facing the Winter Blues may benefit from some of the ideas found in this article: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/adding-spring-beat-winter-blues-nick-provenzano

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Help your Sunday Church School students chase their blues away with ideas such as these: http://share.ctainc.com/2017/01/03/111852/

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Sunday Church School students who are feeling weary of winter may benefit from some version of one of these classroom Winter-Blues-beating ideas: http://www.teachhub.com/baby-its-cold-outside-surviving-winter-blues (Note: these are for a regular classroom, but we thought some of the ideas could inspire a Sunday Church School teacher to help their students face the blues!)

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Younger students can benefit from more physically active curriculum in wintertime, according to this blog post: https://earlyeducationplantation.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/6-tips-for-beating-winter-blues-in-early-ed/

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This pdf offers ideas of ways to help young children (either at home or at school) to overcome the Winter Blues: http://www.pakeys.org/uploadedcontent/docs/ECMH/Focus_ECMH_Winter_Blues_1031110.pdf

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Older Sunday Church School students may enjoy a winter-inspired change in the Sunday Church School routine such as the “snowball (review) fight” suggested here: http://teacherpop.org/2015/02/6-classroom-activities-to-beat-the-winter-blues/

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Learning About the Saints: The Three Holy Hierarchs (Jan. 30/Feb. 12)

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs with a special feast every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.

Hundreds of years after these hierarchs departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to which of these three men was the greatest. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites. The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder of this. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 (Feb. 12) as the day to celebrate all three of them.

Read more about the Three Holy Hierarchs, and find a personal challenge for each of us from their lives, in this blog post about them: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The three most great luminaries of the Three-Sun Divinity have illumined all of the world with the rays of doctrines divine and true; they are the sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom, who with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams: The great and sacred Basil, and the Theologian, wise Gregory, together with the renowned John, the famed Chrysostom of golden speech. Let us all who love their divinely-wise words come together, honoring them with hymns; for ceaselessly they offer entreaty for us to the Trinity.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you teach your Sunday Church School students about the Three Holy Hierarchs:

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Share this book about the Three Holy Hierarchs with younger children: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/20-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Three-Hierarchs/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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Color this icon or use it in a feast-related craft project: http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Three-Holy-Hierarchs-line-border.gif

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Teach younger children about the Three Holy Hierarchs with this printable lesson and activity pages: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/011-EN-ed02_Three-Hierarchs.pdf

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Help older children think about the division that was beginning in the Orthodox Church as people favored one of the Three Holy Hierarchs over the other with this hands-on lesson: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/01/fathers-fruits.html

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“In Greece, the Three Hierarchs are the patron saints of learning. The Greek churches celebrate the Greek alphabet on the same day that they celebrate the Three Hierarchs. Not only were these saints protectors of the purity of the Orthodox Faith, but they also were promoters of the importance of education. On this day, it is customary to give school children books. Another idea is to give awards for excellence.” ~ http://myocn.net/three-holy-hierarchs-st-basil-great-st-gregory-theologian-st-john-chrysostom/

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The Three Holy Hierarchs are excellent role models for both educators and students: “If we were to summarize the precepts of the three great hierarchs, we might say that they advise young people of any era: ‘Go on, ever forwards and ever upwards. Really want to be educated. Throw yourselves into your studies. Hunger to do something great and heroic. Learn to ignore yourselves and submit to the service of others. Do you dream of a better society? Work for it. Arm yourselves with vitality and persistence and live the love of Christ powerfully and ardently, until the end.’” ~ from http://pemptousia.com/2015/01/the-three-hierarchs-and-education/

 

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Gleanings from a Book: “Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God’s Creation” By Marie Eliades

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting – Cultivating God’s Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Themes include:

“The Bigger Picture” (addresses why the book’s content is important)

“Marriage and New Beginnings” (sets the foundation for a new Orthodox family, and offers Orthodox perspectives on infertility/pregnancy/childbirth/adoption/loss of a child)

“Raising our Children” (speaks to childrearing from early childhood through youth)

“In the House of the Lord” (offers the basics of Orthodox family life at Church and at home)

“Adolescence and Growing Up” (talks about the issues and challenges that older children and their related adults face)

“So, They’re Leaving Home” (suggestions for launching a young adult)

We found many encouraging and challenging quotes throughout the book, and will share a few of them with you. This book will be of great benefit to any Orthodox Christians who marry, raise children, and/or teach children about the Faith. We recommend that people in those categories consider reading the book because of its insights into what the Church has taught about raising and teaching children of all ages.

Find the book here: http://www.shop.zoepress.us/Orthodox-Christian-Parenting-Cultivating-Gods-Creation-978-0-9851915-0-4.htm

Here are a few quotes from the book:

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“Saint John [Chrysostom] says that the souls of children are soft and delicate like wax. If right teachings are impressed upon them from the beginning, then with time these impressions harden as in the case of a waxen seal. None will be able to undo this good impression… There is no more wonderful material with which to work than the souls of children. Parents create ensouled icons of God, living statues.” (p. 24)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:
“Teach the children to seek God’s help. The great secret for children’s progress is humility. Trust in God gives perfect security. God is everything. No one can say that I am everything. That cultivates egotism. God desires us to lead children to humility. Without humility neither we nor our children will achieve anything. You need to be careful when you encourage children. You shouldn’t say to a child, ‘You’ll succeed, you’re great, you’re young, your fearless, you’re perfect!’ This is not good for the child. You can tell the child and say, ‘The talents you have, have been given to you by God. Pray and God will give you strength to cultivate them and in that way you will succeed. God will give you His grace.’ That is the best way. Children should learn to seek God’s help in everything.” (p. 86)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:
“Young people these days say, ‘You need to understand us!’ But we mustn’t conform to their ideas. On the contrary, we need to pray for them, to say what is right, to live by what is right, and proclaim what is right, and not conform ourselves to their way of thinking. We mustn’t compromise the magnificence of our faith… We need to remain the people that we are and proclaim the truth and the light. The children will learn from the holy Fathers. The teaching of the Fathers will instruct our children about Confession, about the passions, about evils and about how the saints conquered their evil selves. And we will pray that God will enter into them.” (p. 90)

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“The Orthodox educator does not project himself as superior because he sees his own self as more sinful than everyone. His students teach him. He cooperates harmoniously with his colleagues; he bases the success of his work on prayer. He educates himself daily in order to be able to educate his little brothers in Christ. How different is this model of educator from that of the various educated people of our age who often, ignoring the education of the Three Hierarchs, set out with a  luciferian egotism of knowledge, of projection, of worldly wisdom and often more based on their individual net worth. In fact, the Three Hierarchs as brilliant stars can serve to enlighten the darkness of our age, to cast light on the facts of ‘education’ of which our purported leaders of education are entirely unaware.” (p. 135)

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“Orthodox holy Tradition teaches us humility, obedience, repentance and love. Tradition can only be passed on by example. ‘Youth ministers’ will not be able to communicate much about Orthodox spirituality unless the young ones are actually seeing this happen in the home or at least in the homes of other church members. SOMEBODY actually has to start living Tradition in order for it to be conveyed. It is no wonder that the Greek word for Tradition, ‘paradosis,’ means to pass along or hand down something that is living and active.” (p. 160)

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From a section by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov:

“We very much pity those Orthodox Christians who think that the best rest for their exhausted soul is to watch television news. This isn’t a bad thing, perhaps, but it’s a dead thing. You may spend all of the earthly time you have been allotted with such distractions, but you will never be at peace. If you want to calm your mind and ease your heart, try calling instead on the most holy name of Jesus Christ, without haste and with only one intent: to attract His attention and repent of your sins.

“Try taking a walk for ten minutes as you invoke his miracle-working name, and you will see spiritual profit. Begin in a simple, humble manner, ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ You may even do this somewhat mechanically, knowing that this tradition has been sanctified by generations of saints, but as you walk and pray, try not to think of anything else. Just walk in the presence of God.

“In these ten minutes you will find that your fevered mind is soothed, that the noisy bazaar of your thoughts has become light, clear, and direct…” (p. 201)

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Learning from the Saints: St. Nina (January 14/27)

Late in the 3rd century, in Cappadocia (central modern-day Turkey), a young girl was born to a Roman army chief named Zabulon, and his wife Sosana (who was the sister of Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem). This girl was named Nina (or Nino, as she is called in the Republic of Georgia). Nina and her parents were well off, but decided to sell everything when Nina was 12 and go to Jerusalem to live in the Holy City. Soon after they arrived there, Zabulon was tonsured a monk and went to live in a monastery in the desert, Sosana became a deaconess and helped her brother the patriarch serve the poor of Jerusalem. Nina went to live with a godly woman named Nianfora, who continued to teach her to love and follow God through His Church.

When Nina was 14, she began to wonder about Our Lord’s robe and whatever happened to it. She asked Nianfora how something so precious could just be lost for hundreds of years? Nianfora answered that it was somewhere in Iberia (now Georgia) because it had traveled there after the soldier won the robe with the dice toss at the cross. Nina was very pious and thought that this holy item that had belonged to Our Lord should not be lost and forgotten, so she began to pray, asking the Mother of God to make a way for her to go. One night she had a dream in which the Theotokos blessed her with a cross made of grapevines tied together with hair. The Theotokos told Nina that the cross would be her protection as she traveled to Iberia. When Nina woke up, she was still holding the cross in her hand! She kept that grapevine cross with her for the rest of her life. Soon after this dream, Nina set out to find Christ’s robe with the blessing of her uncle, the patriarch.

Nina traveled first to Rome. While she was there, she met Princess Ripsimia and her teacher Gaiana, and let them to the Faith. The emperor at that time was Diocletian, who was persecuting Christians. Diocletian wanted to marry Princess Ripsimia because she was so beautiful, but she and Gaiana and Nina (and 50 other young ladies) ran away to spare their lives because they were Christians. They escaped safely to Armenia. Unfortunately, Diocletian was so angry he had sent soldiers to follow the young ladies (and to warn King Tiridat of Armenia about them). When the now-warned King Tiridat saw the beautiful Princess Ripsimia, he wanted to marry her! When she refused, he killed her, Gaiana, and the other 50 young ladies with them. Nina narrowly escaped this martyrdom by hiding in some rosebushes.

Alone, Nina continued her journey to Iberia. When she first arrived in Iberia, she befriended some shepherds who gave her food and helped her know where to go to find their capital city of Mtskheta. Along the way, Nina was very discouraged. She began to wonder why she was doing what she was doing. One night as she slept, she had a dream. In her dream, a heavenly visitor appeared to her and gave her a scroll. When she woke up, Nina still had the scroll in her hand. She could even read the scroll: it was written in Greek! It was full of scripture verses which encouraged her to continue on her journey so that she could help others learn more about Christ and His Church. This gave Nina the strength that she needed to continue her journey, and she made it to Mtskheta.

Soon after her arrival in Mtskheta, Nina was saddened to watch a ceremony where the people of Iberia were gathered to worship idols covered in metal. The people shook before the idols as their priests prepared sacrifices for the ceremony. Nina was so sad that she began to pray hard and loudly for the people, that God would enlighten them and show them that He is the true God. Suddenly, a storm came up and all the people had to take cover! Lightning destroyed the idols, crumbling them to nothing. The rain washed away the crumbled pieces. Nina had taken cover in the cleft of a rock, so she was safe, but she saw the whole thing happen. After the idols were washed away, the sun shone once again, and the people came looking for their idols. Of course they found no trace of them. This made the Iberian king wonder if there is another God greater than the gods that they worshiped.

Nina was welcomed into the palace garden by the gardener and his wife, who allowed her to live in a corner of the garden (some sources say in a hut; others say under a bramble). The couple was unable to have children, but Nina prayed for them, and God blessed them with many children after that! They became Christians, and so did many others in the land, as Nina prayed for them and told them about Christ. She became well known because of her godliness and her kindness. God worked other miracles through her prayers as well. For example, once a mother was carrying her dying son through the city, begging for help so that he would not die. St. Nina took the boy, laid him down on her leaf bed, and prayed for him. As she prayed, she touched him with her grapevine cross, and he was healed!

Nina preached even to the Jewish people of Iberia. Interestingly enough, it was through the Iberian Jewish High Priest (who converted to Christianity as well through the teaching of Nina) that she learned about the one thing that she had come to Iberia to find in the first place: the robe of Christ! He told her the story of his great-grandfather Elioz, who had gone to Jerusalem to witness Christ’s death (His death was considered by the Jewish people to be a victory for their nation, so invitations were sent out prior to its happening). Elioz’s mother had warned him not to ally himself with those who killed Christ, because she knew that He was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies! Elioz went to Jerusalem and was present at the crucifixion, and managed to get Christ’s robe from the soldier who had won it. He brought it back to Mtskheta, where he found out that his mother had died around the time that Christ did (after feeling in her heart the pounding of the nails as they were pounded into Our Lord and proclaiming that she sensed that He had been killed). Elioz’s sister Sidonia took the robe of Christ when she saw it in his hands, and began to venerate it with kisses. She hugged it to herself and immediately died! Elioz tried to pull the robe from her grasp but was completely unable to do so. He felt afraid about what could happen to the robe at that point, so he secretly buried her, still clinging to the robe, in an undisclosed location. Some say it was in the middle of the palace garden in Mtskheta, where a cedar tree suddenly grew, but no one knows for sure.

When Nina learned this, she was still uncertain of the actual location of the robe of Christ, but began to pray at that cedar tree in the middle of the royal garden in case the robe was truly under there. One night after her prayers, Nina saw many black birds perch in the cedar’s branches. They flew from there to the river, bathed, and came back as white as snow! The now-white birds sat in the cedars branches and sang beautifully. God revealed to Nina that this was to help her to realize that the people of Iberia would come to know Him, be baptized, and continue their lives cleansed of sins. It encouraged her to keep telling all the people around her about Christ, and to pray for them and for their salvation.

The queen of Iberia, Queen Nana, who did not like Christians and worshiped false gods like the Roman goddess Venus, became sick around this time. She went to doctors, but just got worse and worse. It looked like she would die. Although she did not like Christians, Queen Nana had heard that Nina could heal people through her prayers. She commanded that Nina be brought to her. Nina replied that if she wanted to be healed, the Queen would need to come to her humble dwelling instead. The queen was desperate and so she humbled herself and they carried her to Nina’s little living space, where her servants laid the queen on Nina’s bed of leaves. Nina prayed for her, and touched her head, feet, and shoulders with the grapevine cross. As soon as Nina finished making the sign of the cross over Queen Nana in this way, the queen was completely well. She was so grateful to be healed that she stopped worshipping idols and became a Christian instead. Queen Nana and Nina became close friends.

The king of Iberia, King Mirian, was not happy that his queen converted to Christianity. He was ready to have all of the Christians in Iberia killed, even though that meant that his own wife would die. While he was thinking of this plan, he went out hunting on a beautiful day. As he hunted, suddenly a dark cloud came up where he was. It was so dark that the king could not see! Winds began to blow, lightning was all around, and it was all very similar to the frightening storm that hit back when Nina first came to Iberia and the idols had been destroyed. All of the king’s hunting companions left him because they were afraid. Alone, King Mirian cried out to his gods to save him. The storm got worse, and of course the gods did nothing. Finally, King Mirian cried out to the God of Nina, asking Him to save him from this storm and promising to follow God if He did. At that moment, the storm stopped, and the sun shone! King Mirian returned to the city, found Nina and told her of his experience and his promise, which he kept. And that is how the  Light of Christ entered into King Mirian’s life and the lives of his people as well. His joy at his conversion led the king to build many churches to help his people to be better Christians.

After the king’s conversion, Nina continued to preach and teach about Christ to the Iberian people. Her hard work, and the cooperation of the people around her, established Christianity firmly in that part of the world. (Even today, 82 % of the people of the nation of Georgia are practicing Orthodox Christians!)

Nina reposed in the Lord in the early 4th century, in the village of Bodbe, in what is now eastern Georgia. King Mirian had a church built at the site of her repose. Her body is buried there.

O handmaid of the Word of God,

Who in preaching hast equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew,
And hast emulated the other Apostles;
O enlightener of Iberia and reed-pipe of the Holy Spirit,
Holy Nino, equal to the Apostles:
Pray to Christ God to save our souls!
(troparion to St. Nina, in tone 4)

Sources:

http://www.antiochian.org/node/17330

https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/01/14/100191-st-nino-nina-equal-of-the-apostles-and-enlightener-of-georgia

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

http://www.stnina.org/st-nina/life-st-nina-karen-rae-keck

 

Here are additional sources that can help us learn more so that we can teach our Sunday Church School students about St. Nina:

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This picture book is a great way to help younger students learn about the life of St. Nina: http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-life-of-saint-nina-equal-to-the-apostles/

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Share this 8-minute video about the life of St. Nina with middle-years students: http://trisagionfilms.com/project/life-st-nina-enlightener-georgia/

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Older students will benefit from reading the life of St. Nina and studying and/or praying the supplication to her that is found in this book: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/8/313/The_Life_of_St_Nina_Equal-to-the-Apostles_and_Enlightener_of_Georgia.html

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Teens will enjoy reading this Iberian Jewish account of Christ, as it was told to St. Nina, and what happened with His robe:

“Conversing frequently with this Abiathar [the Iberian Jewish high priest], St. Nina heard from him the following tale about the Lord’s Robe:
‘I heard from my parents, and they heard from their fathers and grandfathers, that when Herod ruled in Jerusalem, the Jews living in Mtskheta and all Kartli received the news that Persian kings had come to Jerusalem seeking a newly-born male child of the lineage of David, born of a mother, but having no father, and they called him the King of the Jews. They found Him in the city of David called Bethlehem in a humble cave and brought Him gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. Having worshipped Him, they returned to their own country.
‘Thirty years passed, and then my great-grandfather Elioz received from the high priest in Jerusalem, Annas, a letter which read as follows: “He Whom the Persian kings came to worship and offer their gifts, has reached a mature age and has begun to preach that He the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Come to Jerusalem see His death, to which He will be delivered according to the law Moses.”
‘When Elioz, along with many others, was about to set out for Jerusalem, his mother, a pious old woman of the lineage of the high priest Elias, said to him: “Answer the king’s call, my son, but I beg you, do not ally yourself with the impious against Him, Who they intend to kill; He is the One foretold by the prophets, a Riddle for the wise, s Secret hidden from the beginning of the ages, a Light for the nations and Eternal Life.”
‘Elioz, together with the Karenian Longinus, arrived in Jerusalem and was present at Christ’s Crucifixion. His mother remained in Mtskheta. On the eve of Passover she suddenly felt in her heart something like the strokes of a hammer driving in nails, and she cried out: “Today the kingdom of Israel has perished, because it has condemned to death its Savior and Redeemer; from now on this people will be guilty of the blood of its Creator and Lord. It is my misfortune that I have not died before now, for then I would not have heard these terrifying blows! No more will I see on the earth the glory of Israel!”
‘And uttering these words, she died. Elioz, who was present at Christ’s Crucifixion, obtained the Robe from the Roman soldier to whose lot it had fallen, and brought it to Mtskheta. Elioz’s sister Sidonia, on greeting her brother with his safe return, told him of the wondrous and sudden death of their mother and of the words she had uttered just before she died. Then when Elioz, in confirmation of their mother’s foreboding regarding the crucifying of Christ, showed his sister the Lord’s Robe, Sidonia took it and began to weep and kiss it; then she pressed it to her breast and instantly fell down dead. And no human strength was able to wrest this holy garment from the arms of the dead girl. Elioz committed his sister’s body to the earth and buried her with Christ’s Robe, and he did this in secret so that even to this day no one knows Sidonia’s burial place. Some surmise that it is located in the center of the royal garden, where from that time there grew up of its own accord and still stands a shady cedar. Believers flock to it from all directions, considering it to possess great power; and there beneath the cedar’s roots, according to tradition, is Sidonia’s grave.’
“Having heard about this tradition, St. Nina began to go at night to pray beneath the cedar tree…” ~ from http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

After reading this passage together, discuss it. Possible questions could include: How is this passage the same as what we Christians have heard about this part of Our Lord’s life? Does the Jewish perspective offer us any insights we may not have had before this? How does hearing a Jewish person’s belief about Christ impact our own?

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Talk with your Sunday Church School students about St. Nina’s cross. How did she get the cross in the first place? How did God use it to bless others? Show them a picture of St. Nina’s cross, which is still reverenced by the Georgian people to this day. (You can find photos of it online, or show your students the video footage of the cross being reverently carried into a service at around :24 in this Georgian news story:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3LVGZ8aO0g.) After the discussion, help your students to each create a grapevine cross to remind them of the one that St. Nina had. Before class, you will need to procure some grapevine (from your own plants, or a friend’s plants, or from a craft store or nursery) and some embroidery floss. When it is time to make the crosses, cut sticks of two different lengths for each cross and use strands of embroidery floss “hair” to tie them into a cross. Their cross can be small, made of just two grapevine twigs, or large, crafted from multiple strands of each size: it is up to you! Send the crosses home with your students so that they can put theirs in a place where it will remind them to be faithful to God and to trust Him as St. Nina did. (Here’s a blog post that can give you an idea of how to tie the cross together. The cross in the blog is made with twigs from a tree, but the method would apply to grapevine as well: http://www.gratefulprayerthankfulheart.com/2012/04/little-wooden-cross-from-sticks.html)

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With older students, study the Gospel verses that were written on the scroll miraculously given to St. Nina in her dream when she was feeling most discouraged about her journey. Here they are:

“Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matt.26:13).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28).
“Then said Jesus unto them (the women), Be not afraid: go tell my brethren… (Matt.28:10).
He that receives you receives me, and he that receives me receives him that sent me (Matt.10:40).
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist (Luke 21:15).
“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul… (Matt.10:28).
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt.28:19-20).”

After reading the scriptures together, talk about how these words must have encouraged Nina. Then ask your students: do any of these verses stand out to encourage you? Have each student select one of these verses to copy onto a piece of magnetic sheet (magnetic business cards like these would work well: http://www.staples.com/Avery-reg-Inkjet-Magnetic-Business-Cards/product_461559). Send the magnetic verses with your students so that they can put the verse in their locker at school or on their fridge at home to continually encourage them as they did St. Nina!