st-nina-illustration

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!

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Saints of Recent Decades: Ideas for Biographical Storytelling

We have reached the end of our series entitled “Saints of Recent Decades.” We know that we have barely scratched the surface of all the Saints from recent decades, but we hope to have introduced you to a few new friends along the way! There are so many others whose lives we could have studied, but we were limited by time. Who did we miss that we should all know about? Comment below to help add more options of recent Saints (we chose to define “recent” as those within the last few hundred years; especially ones of whom we have photographs as well as icons) for the community to learn together about.

With the exception of the very first post in the series, we gave you only the story of the Saint’s life, and did not always offer a way for you to share their story with your class. The purpose of this blog post is to do that: offer suggestions of ways to tell biographical stories. After reading this, we hope that as you share these stories (or the stories of other Saints) with your Sunday Church School students, you have ideas of ways to do so.

Holy Saints, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are some ideas of ways to tell the stories of the lives of the Saints:

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Some Saints’ icons have a main icon written in the center and smaller ones around that tell more of their story. If you can find one of these icons of the Saint whose life story you are planning to tell, you are set! Show your students the icon and tell the stories connected to each one around the outside edge until they’ve heard the entire life story of the Saint. (Here is an example, icons of St. Maria of Paris: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/3509929913/.)

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As we have suggested for the Bible story presentations (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/bible-story-grab-bags-old-testament/ for example), you can make “Saint Story Grab-bags.” To tell the story of the life of a saint, fill a bag with items that represent each part of the saint’s life. For example, see the items (listed in parenthesis) at the beginning of each paragraph of the story of St. Herman as we noted it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/saints-of-recent-decades-st-herman-of-alaska-december-13-or-25/ Pull each item from the bag in order, as you tell the saint’s story. You can do this with any Saint’s story. The hardest part of this storytelling method is dividing the Saint’s story up into smaller sections and then thinking of a representative item to put in the bag for that section. The retelling is infinitely easier, because you have the items to jog your memory of what happened at that point in the Saint’s life. (Note: we recommend that you still keep your story/script nearby in case you forget which item comes next!)

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You can also use “Saint Story Grab-bags” as a review! Over a period of time, as you tell each Saint’s story, save one representative item from each Saint’s life and put it in a “Saint Story Grab-bag.” For example, a small toy trash can that reminds you of the Parisian children that St. Maria of Paris saved by using the trash system in the city; a pair of binoculars representing St. Porphyrios’ miraculous long-distance vision; a small towel to represent St. Herman of Alaska’s miraculous healing; etc. After you have told all of the Saint stories you plan to tell, take some review time to pull the item(s) out of the bag and see what the children remember about them. This can take as much as a whole class period near the end of the year, or as little as “okay, we have five minutes of class time left. Who wants to reach in the Saint Story Grab-bag and choose a Saint-story-review piece?” Either way, have the students tell as much of the story as they can remember on their own!
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Create a photo album of the Saint’s life. Collect actual pictures if they are available and put them together in a powerpoint presentation or in a scrapbook. If no pictures are available, find other related photos from the era (ie: a photo of some of the Jews inside of the Velodrome d’Hiver, taken around the same time that St. Maria of Paris was rescuing children) and put those in your album. Then flip through the powerpoint or album as you share the story of the Saint’s life with your students. (Note: if you enjoy scrapbooking, you may want to design your scrapbook online. There are many free templates available, and here’s a great tutorial of how to layer a digital scrapbook page: http://www.sweetshoppedesigns.com/tutorials/index.php/2011/12/using-templates/!)

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Create a timeline of the Saint’s life and use it to share their story. This can be done in many ways. Here are a few:

  1. You can line up representative photos or items across the front of the Sunday Church School classroom (or down the middle of the table if your class meets around a huge table) in the order in which they occurred in the Saint’s life. Work your way down the line as you tell the story.
  2. Hang a rope or bulletin board strip on a wall in your classroom. Use clothespins or thumbtacks to attach photos or items in the order that they are needed to tell the Saint’s life story. (This creates a “retelling rope” of sorts similar to this one: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/bb/53/bd/bb53bdcfe25ce87cfc64cc39f6abbdbb.jpg)
  3. Tie items (or photos) together in the order that they occurred in the Saint’s life; then tuck them all into a big basket or bag and pull on the yarn/string to pull out one item at a time as you tell the story.
  4. Break down the Saint’s life story into smaller parts and think of an item that your students can easily draw that represents each part of the story. Number the items. Write each number and item pair on index cards. At the beginning of class, give each child a piece of paper and an index card with a number-item pair written on it. Have them draw the item and number listed on their index card on their paper. As you tell the story, call out the numbers (in order) and have each student hold up their illustration when their number is called.

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Come to class dressed as the Saint, and tell their story in first person. The costume does not have to be fancy, just enough to give the idea that you are not “you” at that time. “Many times, a simple costume made with a sheet or bathrobe, towels, and belt(s) will do the trick. Finding a prop or two (a cross? a wheel? a platter?) …to carry will add to the final effect. (The icon of the saint can often offer ideas of something …to hold. The story of the Saint’s life can do the same.) The costume does not have to be elaborate to be effective.” (from our blog post https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/dressed-like-a-saint/)

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Bring props and costumes that can make it possible for your Sunday Church School students to act out the story of the saint’s life as you tell it. Or tell the story in such a way that they can do some actions/motions or say parts of the story along with you as you speak. This is modeled in this video about storytelling (specifically the section beginning at 1:29) : http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/reading.html

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To tell the life story of a Saint, create stick puppets with photos of the saint and other important people in his/her life. Use the puppets to tell the story of the Saint’s life. A backdrop is optional but could be created out of an enlarged picture(s) of the place(s) where the Saint lived. For a simple way to make stick puppets, see http://www.auntannie.com/FridayFun/ClipArtPuppet/. An alternative to making stick puppets with photos from the Saint’s life would be to create the “characters” needed to retell their life story. If you do not feel comfortable drawing them yourself, you could make some from these paper dolls (https://makingfriends.com/paper-doll-friends/) and attach them to popsicle sticks to create “puppets.” An alternative to stick puppets would be to “act out” the Saint’s story using Lego or Playmobil people (if you have access to them) as the Saint and the others in his/her life.

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Through the Eyes of a Young Reader: “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks

You may remember the blog post we published about the recently-published Orthodox children’s book, “Queen Abigail the Wise,” by Grace Brooks. Our blog post was published in May 2015. (If you did not get a chance to read the blog before, find it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/

We are in the new calendar year, which means that Great Lent is not too far off. The entire story of “Queen Abigail the Wise” takes place during Great Lent. We are revisiting the book in this blog post for two reasons. First and foremost refers to my statement in the first blog post about the book, “I must share this book with my 10-year-old goddaughter.” I did exactly that, and gave my then-10-year-old goddaughter Hope her own copy to read. After she read the book, we got together and talked about it. I thought you may be interested to hear Hope’s perspective on the book, not just mine, so here it is! (Mind you, there are spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t say we didn’t warn you about them!)

When Hope and I got together to discuss this book, I came with a series of questions for her. I tried to think of questions that would help “grownups” have a sense of how relative and enjoyable the book is for a young Orthodox Christian. (As you may have read in the prior blog post, the book is geared to children, but I found it to be uplifting even though I am an adult. I thought it was a great book, and I was pretty sure that Hope would like it. The older I get, though, the more I realize that what I think is nice for a person of a certain age may not necessarily sit as well with them as I thought it would. So I wanted to test this in-my-opinion-wonderful book with Hope to get her opinion of it. Here it is.)

The first question I asked Hope was whether or not she liked “Queen Abigail the Wise.” I was rewarded with the anticipated resounding “Yes!” and a huge smile on her face. Curious, I asked why, and she said, “I liked how [Abigail] had to do something to get something.” and “I like that she figured out that the young priest was the the iconographer by the end of the story.” (Remember, I already warned you that there are spoilers!)

I went on to ask Hope if there were parts of the book that she could relate to, and she said “Yes…” So I asked her which parts of the story she could relate to. She said, “Well, sometimes I get bored in church, too…” and went on to explain that she can understand how that felt to Abigail. She also said that she could relate to Abigail’s feelings at Pascha, when Abigail felt hot and cramped. Hope said that, like Abigail, she’s also not a crowd person and also, she is not hungry when she’s tired — just like Abigail.

Hope named Abigail as her favorite character in the book when asked, because, “I liked how she didn’t want to give up; and she felt bummed about missing church. I do that too sometimes. I also liked how she was willing to work hard and help others because she wanted the icon so badly.”

I couldn’t just ask about a favorite character, so I wondered aloud if Hope had a least favorite character? She said, “Well, at the beginning probably Vanessa because she seems snobby but I changed my opinion at the end. I could also say baby Jacob but he did play an important role.” (Again, spoilers! Well, almost…)

Although “Queen Abigail the Wise” is a chapter book, it contain a few illustrations. I am a visual person and love pictures, so I was delighted with the sketches: I found them charming. But, as mentioned above, I wondered if my personal theory fit with the actual practice and thus, how the illustrations would sit with a young lady of her age. So, I asked Hope if the illustrations added to the story. She said, “Yes, I like to have visuals!” (Like godmother, like goddaughter, I suppose!) But she mentioned that she wished for color, not just blackline illustrations. (I suggested that since the book is her very own, she could go through and color any illustrations that she wanted to, if she wished. A few weeks later, she came to church with her book and showed me that she had colored part of it with colored pencils! It was beautiful.)

I then asked an all-encompassing question about the theme of the book. I wondered what Hope thinks that the author, Grace Brooks, was trying to say with this story. What does Hope think is the book’s message? She give me two excellent answers: “If you set your mind to something and if you work hard you can achieve it… And no matter how much you dislike something or someone, in the end you may find that you actually love them.” Both answers were insightful. Sage words, coming from a 10-year-old.

I asked Hope if she had a favorite part of “Queen Abigail the Wise.” She answered, “The end, when Abigail gets her icon… And the way she describes the icon was pretty, too.”  I asked her if she would recommend this story to others, and she answered,”Yes!” She went on to say, “I would recommend it especially to those new to the Orthodox faith.”

Hope could not think of any part of the story that she did not like. Rather, she liked the book so much that sometimes she stayed up reading it past her bedtime! She was reading it in summer, so she could lie in bed reading until it got too dark outside to read by the snatches of light shining through her window. She got in trouble for doing so (oops!), but she really liked the book, and that’s what she does when she likes a book. (Again, like godmother, like goddaughter!)

So, as I had expected, Hope liked the book. She could relate to the characters and enjoyed learning along with them. Her experience with the story was similar to mine, and I am glad. But you’ll recall that I mentioned two reasons for this blog post, and you may be wondering about the second.

Well, the second reason I am posting about this book right now is all about timing. In a matter of weeks we will be in Great Lent again! You may want to get this book to share with an Orthodox youngster of your own, so that he/she can read it during Great Lent this year! Or perhaps you personally want to follow the related blog posts as the weeks go by: they are very challenging and encouraging for Orthodox Christians of any age! Or maybe you just want to read the book yourself, for your own growth. We’re sharing this blog post now because both Hope and I want to give you plenty of time so that you can do any (or all!) of the above!

Taking one final glimpse at my interview with Hope, my final question for her was whether or not she would be willing to read a sequel when it comes out? She answered with a resounding, “YES!.” So now there are TWO of us eagerly anticipating the second book in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club!” Our guess is that if you and/or your young Orthodox friends get a chance to read “Queen Abigail the Wise,” you will feel the same way. We certainly hope so!

Here are some important links related to the book:

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Purchase “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks, either for yourself or for young friends, here: https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/  
There is also an ebook available. (But you can’t color in the illustrations of an ebook with colored pencil!)

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Meet all the girls in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club” at the Queen Abigail website: http://queenabigail.com/

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According to this blog post by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, http://queenabigail.com/2016/11/27/december-news-with-queen-abigail/, the second book in the series will be available soon! This one is called “Vanessa the Wonderworker!”

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Follow along on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QueenAbigailtheWise/ for a variety of interesting posts including fresh creations by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, new blog posts that she writes, and other interesting things that she finds online and shares which are enjoyable to children and adults alike!

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Consider reading your way through “Queen Abigail the Wise” bit by bit, meditating on these wonderful blog posts by author Grace Brooks. http://queenabigail.com/2016/07/20/reading-through-queen-abigail-with-me/ Perhaps you can do this with a young friend, or even an entire Sunday Church School Class, throughout the course of Great Lent. Consider using these “Abigail” notebooks to document your learning along the way: http://www.cafepress.com/+queen_abigail_the_wise_journal,1908228623!

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On the Feast of the Nativity (Dec. 25/Jan. 7)

On December 25/January 7 every year, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This day is an important one for humankind. For on this day the eternal God, who had deigned to take on human flesh in order to save us from the power of Death, is born into time and space. On this day we celebrate His birth to the Theotokos in a cave. We recognize Joseph’s obedience to God’s messengers in the midst of doubt. We remember the shepherds who were the first to know the Good News of HIs birth when the Angels of God announced it to them. Thus, “the least of these” were granted great mercy. We remember the Magi whose love for and intense study of creation revealed the Good News to them in a manner so convincing that they acted on it and traveled to a foreign land to pay homage to a King they’d never even heard of before. In them, “the wealthy” and “the foreigners” were granted great mercy as well. We recall how nature (for example, the star and the animals in the cave) proclaimed and honored His birth. We observe that Life can come from the depths of the earth, for in a cave our Lord was born, and again later, in a cave, humanity is born into life eternal when He conquers Death and rises from the dead.

It is likely that our Sunday Church School students are already familiar with the story of this feast. Let us be sure that they know where to find it in the Scriptures, in Luke chapter 2. Read this passage aloud together. As you do so, find opportunities to discuss the things mentioned above. Then take a look at the icon of the feast. Challenge your students to identify as many different parts of the scripture passage as they are able to find in the icon. Then talk about the feast and its importance. Establish the importance of the day, and take some time to discuss what Orthodox Christians should do on the day of the feast so that our actions focus on celebrating the feast itself, and do not just bend to societal trends and expectations. This can be difficult, especially if families have established many other Christmas lower-case-t-traditions. Encourage your students to help their family think about the importance of the feast and act accordingly. Even a little step towards celebrating the feast will be a step in the right direction, and will be worth the effort!

The feast will be upon us soon. Let us prepare and celebrate as we should. Blessed Nativity to you, your family, and your Sunday Church School students!

Here are additional ideas of ways to teach your students about the Nativity Feast:

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Find descriptions of the icon of the Nativity at these links:
Click on parts of the icon  to read about them here: http://www.antiochian.org/icons-explained-nativity

See the icon and descriptions about each part of it here: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/70/62/e2/7062e21a4c0a4cc5358ffe18586bf7fb.jpg

Create some pretty icon ornaments together such as these: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-orthodox-craft-ornaments.html

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Ask your students if their family has a Christmas tree. Many of them probably do. Talk about how some of the Christmas tree’s symbolisms can point us to the true meaning of the Nativity Feast. Read the feast’s pages in the book “Heaven Meets Earth.” The Nativity Feast’s section explains the many symbols of the Christmas tree. For example, “God’s light, symbolized by the lights sparkling all around the tree, reaches into the deepest, darkest crevices of our being.” (p. 20) Talk with your students about these symbols and how they fit with the celebration of the feast. Invite students to create their own (paper) Christmas trees and including some of these symbols. Teach each student to accordian-fold a large green paper circle to make a “tree” shape. Then allow them to decorate it with markers, tiny paper icon “ornaments,” etc. Add two star stickers (back to back) at the top of the “tree.” Use a hole punch to punch holes from the fold side of each of the accordian folds of the tree. Set the tree over an led votive (many dollar stores sell them two to a pack) so that the tree can “light up.” Before sending the trees home with your students, review again the symbolisms mentioned in the book, so that they can share them with their family when they get home.

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Keeping our focus (and our students’ focus) on Christ during the Nativity “season” is not always easy in today’s world. Find resources to help in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Find pins to many Nativity ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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This zine can help us teach our students ages 12 and up about the Nativity of our Lord. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/zines/nativityzine. You can also get a teachers’ guide to use with the zine. (See the objectives here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/midhightextobjectives#For to Us) It also has a free parent guide that could be sent to the parents of our Sunday Church School students. The parent guide features ways to use the zine with children of different age levels; ideas for celebrating the twelve days of Christmas; and information about Christmas celebrations around the world, as well! http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/christmas_guide

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With older children, we can take time before the Nativity Feast’s vesperal service/Royal Hours to discuss the verses we will hear and/or chant. For example this one:

O Christ what shall we offer You;
for our sake You appeared on earth as man?
Every creature made by You offers thanks to You.
The angels offer You a hymn; the heavens, a star;
the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger:
and we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.
Find the rest of the vesperal service here: http://lit.royaldoors.net/

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Paisios (July 12/June 29)

On July 25, 1924, the Evlambia and Prodromos Eznepidis welcomed a new son into their devout family. The family’s spiritual father at that time was Fr. Arsenios (now called St. Arsenios of Cappadocia). Soon after the baby was born, Fr. Arsenios came, baptized him, and gave him the name “Arsenios.” He also prophesied that young Arsenios would become a monk. A few weeks later, all of the Orthodox Christians in the region were forced to leave. The Eznepidis family followed Fr. Arsenios, who led them to Konitsa in Epiros, which is in northwestern Greece. Forty days after they settled there, Fr. Arsenios reposed in the Lord, fulfilling another of his prophecies.

When Arsenios Eznepidis was a boy, he spent a lot of time in the quiet of nature. He prayed outside for hours when he was not in school. After he finished elementary school, Arsenios learned to work as a carpenter. He did that work until his term in the Greek military. He bravely served as a radio operator during World War II. During the years of his service, Arsenios cared more for others than himself and often risked his own life so that others (especially those who had a wife and children back home) would be safe. He would volunteer to go on missions in their stead, to keep them safe. When he was finished with his military service, Arsenios wanted to become a monk. But he knew that his unmarried sisters needed someone to provide for them, so he worked to make money so that they would have what they needed. By 1950, he had made enough money to provide for his sisters, so he was able to become a monk. He went to Mount Athos, where he was a novice for four years. He was tonsure as the monk Averkios in 1954, and worked diligently to complete his obediences while maintaining silence so he could continue to grow in prayer. He also read a lot during this time from the Lives of the Saints, the Gerontikon, and the Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian.

Soon after he was tonsured, the Monk Averkios went to the Philotheou Monastery. His uncle was a monk there. In 1956, Averkios was given the Small Schema, along with a new name, Paisios. Fr. Paisios continued in his asceticism and was a good monk, working hard, praying, and struggling to become more like God. In 1958 Fr. Paisios spent some time near his home village, Konitsa, helping the faithful to retain their Orthodoxy and rebuilding the monastery there that had been ruined during WWII. He helped orphans and the poor during this time. When the monastery was restored in 1962, Fr. Paisios went to Sinai and visited there for two years. The Bedouins loved Fr. Paisios because of how he cared for them. He helped them spiritually, but also physically (he carved things out of wood and sold them to buy food to give to the Bedouins).

In 1964, Fr. Paisios returned to Mount Athos and finally got to live in asceticism in the desert, as he had longed to do his entire life. Unfortunately, he was only able to live there for a few years, as his health began to fail. Because of his declining health, in 1966 he had part of his lungs removed in surgery. During the operation he needed a lot of blood, which novices from the nearby sisterhood of St. John the Theologian donated to save his life. When he recovered, he was so grateful for their gift to him that he did everything he could to help them build their monastery and grow spiritually.

In 1968 he went to the Monastery of Stavronikita to help to renovate it. While he was there, he came to know Elder Tikhon. He served as the elder’s disciple and the elder clothed him in the Great Schema. After Elder Tikhon reposed in the Lord, Fr. Paisios stayed on in his hermitage until 1979. That was the year that Fr. Paisios moved to his final home: the hermitage Panagouda, on the Holy Mountain.

During his 14 years at Panagouda, Elder Paisios received many visitors. Most of them were people with struggles, but he also was visited by Christ Himself, the Theotokos, and other saints. The sick and suffering would come to him in the day, and at night he would pray and keep vigil. He was left with only a few hours to rest each night (maybe 2 or 3), and all of this ascetic labor made his body weak so he would easily get sick. He continued to have problems with his lungs and breathing, and also developed a hernia that was very painful. Even when he was off of the Holy Mountain (usually to recover from illness) he would continue to receive guests, although it meant physical challenges that left him pale and exhausted. He did not complain, though, because he trusted that God knows what is best for us. He also believed that it blesses God when someone who is suffering doesn’t complain but instead uses what energy he has to pray for others.

Elder Paisios also suffered from blood loss which always made him very week, and the last few weeks that he was on the Holy Mountain, he often fainted. On October 5, 1993, Elder Paisios left the Holy Mountain to go into Thessaloniki for a few days. He never returned to the Holy Mountain, however, because in Thessaloniki they discovered that he had cancer and needed an immediate operation. After a little time in the hospital, recovering, Elder Paisios went to the monastery at Souroti. Even though he was weak and very much recovering, he continued to welcome visitors so he could listen to their stories and counsel them.

He wanted so much to go back to Mount Athos, but his health would not allow it. After much suffering, on July 11, 1994, Elder Paisios received Holy Communion one last time and the next day, he departed this life. He wanted to be buried at the monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti, so that is where his body was placed.

Thousands of people visit his grave every year, to receive his blessing. The monastery has welcomed the visitors and worked to organize his writings and publish them in books that can continue to help those who read them.

On January 13, 2015, Elder Paisios was elevated to sainthood, confirming what the thousands of people who have been touched by his life and his prayers knew all along. He is a man of God, and his prayers have brought healing to many people.

Holy Saint Paisios, intercede for our salvation!

 

Resources:

http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/elder_paisios_mount_athos.htm
https://orthodoxwiki.org/Paisios_of_Mount_Athos

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Show your students pictures from St. Paisios’ life such as the ones found in this blog post: http://pemptousia.com/2016/07/a-brief-life-of-saint-paisios/

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Find hymns, including an akathist hymn, to St. Paisios here: http://www.orthodoxroad.com/saint-paisios-a-clairvoyant-elder-of-our-times/   

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Share this book about St. Paisios with younger Sunday Church School students: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-31-37-NEW/37-Paterikon-for-Kids-Saint-Paisios-the-Hagiorite/flypage-ask.tpl.html

This book would also be a good one to share with a Sunday Church School class: http://www.stnectariospress.com/elder-paisios-the-hagiorite-the-friend-of-children/ 

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With older children, watch this 40 minute video of St. Paisios’ life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVX1HOxrDcw

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This video features the voice of St. Paisios as he gives a speech. The speech is accompanied by photos from his life and includes English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o08x3qDL0K8

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Your Sunday Church School students will want to learn of the miracles that have taken place through St. Paisios’ intercessions. For example, here is the first-person account of a miracle that St. Paisios wrought for a child: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/07/elder-paisios-heals-child.html. Here is the account of a miracle that took place in Florida recently: http://stpeterorthodoxchurch.com/a-miracle-by-elder-paisios/

And here is a video of a monk who knew St. Paisios (and is named after him) telling stories of his miracles (in Greek, with subtitles): http://pemptousia.com/video/sanctity-and-miracles-of-blessed-paisios-the-athonite/

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Any Sunday Church School students will benefit from hearing this teaching from St. Paisios about bees and flies. Read this to your class (http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2009/12/flies-and-bees-advice-from-elder.html) and talk together about it. Resolve together to be bees, not flies. If you have younger students, you could enhance this discussion by including the senses. Provide smelly bags – a bag containing something stinky and another with a scented flower for the students to smell as you are reading the part about the fly and the bee. Bring honeycomb and/or honey sticks so the students can taste the sweet results of “being the bee.” If you’re feeling crafty, create a pompom bee such as this one http://mollymoocrafts.com/pom-pom-craft-bee/ or this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEDkzxJU1QY with each student. They can keep the bee in their pocket or on a keychain attached to their coat zipper or backpack: somewhere that they will see it and be reminded to “be the bee!”

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Middle-years Sunday Church School teachers can gear a lesson around St. Paisios’ life and focus on one of his quotes in this way: Before class, write words or phrases that indicate a good or bad thought (ie: God loves me; I’m so angry; I like what I have; I want that; No one likes me; etc.), each on a different sheet of paper. Fold each sheet into a paper airplane in such a way that you can’t see the word/phrase. Set the airplanes where the students will see them when they enter the room. Use tape to mark a landing area on the floor. When your students arrive, share St. Paisios’ life with them. Afterwards, talk with your students about this quote: “Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. If you ignore them, there is no problem. If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside your head and permit them to land!” Ask your students what kind of thoughts they think St. Paisios allowed to “land” in his head. Discuss what thoughts are “good airplanes” that should be allowed to land and which ones should not be given landing space in an Orthodox Christian’s mind. Drive the idea home with this activity: give each student one of your paper airplanes and offer them the opportunity to throw it at the landing area. After all of the students have had a turn, one at a time, open all of the planes that landed in the landing area. Read each word or phrase and ask the students if it was a good one to keep in the landing area: is it something an Orthodox Christian should have in their mind? Repeat with the ones that did not land in the landing area. Then talk about how thoughts and phrases constantly come to mind and how we must always be ready to welcome or turn away those “thought planes” to keep our minds pure as they should be. Then give each student a copy of the quote: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_paisios_thoughts_are_like_airplanes.pdf so that they can share it with their family and put it where they’ll see it and be reminded to be diligent in their “thought traffic control.”


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With older Sunday Church School students, spend time looking at the wisdom of St. Paisios. Jump start the conversation with this two-minute video of twelve of his sayings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycxr6D74q-Y.  Find other quotes of his in this blog: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/lessons-from-the-fathers-elder-paisios-of-the-holy-mountain/. (You could also consider doing a book study over a period of several weeks on the book “Talks with Father Paisios” by Athanasios Rakovalis, which is available here http://www.saintnicodemos.org/products/talkswithpaisios.php), slowly working your way through the stories and his teachings. When you finish your discussions, have each student select one of his quotes that resonates with the student and invite them to create a poster or wall hanging featuring that quote. They could create it on a computer; draw/write it on paper with a variety of tools; or paint it on large canvas. When they finish, post these quotes around your Sunday Church School room and invite others from the parish to come see what St. Paisios said.

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Share with your Sunday Church School students some (or all!) of these miracles that have happened through the prayers of St. Paisios: http://amphilochios.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-elder-ephraim-of-vatopedi-monastery.html

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Porphyrios (Nov. 19/Dec.2)

On February 7, 1906, in a small village called St. John Karystia, on the second largest island of Greece (Evia), a baby boy was born. The boy’s father was a farmer named Leonidas, and his mother’s name was Eleni. This boy, the fourth of five children born to the Bairaktaris family, was named “Evangelos” when he was baptized. The whole family loved God and served Him to the best of their ability. Leonidas was the village cantor, so the family often attended church, and they lived out their faith at home, too.

Evangelos went to school in his village, but the teacher was sick a lot and the students didn’t learn very much. So, after only two years of school, he left and worked instead on the farm. He loved to take care of the animals on the farm. During this time, his father taught him many things about the Orthodox Faith, including the Paraklesis service to the Mother of God. Evangelos was a very serious boy who worked hard at all that he did. One of the things he worked hard at was reading the story of St. John the Hut-dweller. It was hard for Evangelos to read because he only had two years of school, but he loved the saint and kept reading until he had read the whole story. When he finished, he knew that he wanted to love God like that, too, so he wanted to imitate St. John’s life.

Evangelos looked much older than he really was. When he was only 8 years old, he started shaving. That was the year that he got his first job away from home. He worked in a coal mine to make more money for his family. Later he got a job in a grocery store. Throughout the years that he worked to make money for his family, Evangelos remembered St. John the Hut-Dweller and wanted to go live on Mt. Athos just like St. John. Finally, when he was a very young teen, Evangelos was able to go to Mt. Athos. On the ferry boat between Thessaloniki and Mt. Athos, Evangelos met Fr. Panteleimon, who immediately began to look after Evangelos, helped him settle in on the Mountain, and eventually became his spiritual father.

Evangelos did not stop being serious or working hard when he finally made it to the Holy Mountain. In fact, he worked even harder! Sometimes he wished that his elders would ask him to do more. He began to work on his asceticism. He walked around barefoot (the Mountain is covered in rocks and sometimes in snow!), and didn’t sleep much (but when he did, he slept on the floor with the window open and only used one blanket), and he did many prostrations. His daytime work varied from cutting down big trees to carving wood to preparing the ground around his hut for a garden. While he worked, Evangelos prayed and repeated the services/hymns/Gospel to himself until he had them in his heart. He no longer had bad thoughts because he was always focusing his mind on the things of God. Probably the most special thing about this time in Evangelos’ life is that he chose to love his elder, and submit to and obey him because of that love. The way that he humbled himself in submission to his elder made this part of his life so special. During this time, he was tonsured a monk and named Nikitas.

Nikitas’ great love for his elder, for the Church, and for God opened the door for him to experience God’s blessings in new ways. Here is how it began: one morning Nikitas went early to the main church. The door was still locked. An 90-year-old monk (also a saint) named Dimas came to the church. He looked to make sure no one was there to watch, missing Nikitas’ presence, and began to make full prostrations and praying in front of the church doors. The grace of God poured out of Dimas and touched Nikitas in such a special way that even after liturgy, after receiving Holy Communion, he was still basking in it. When he returned to his hut, he stopped, raised his hands, and shouted, “Glory to You, O God! Glory to You, O God! Glory to you, O God!”

That touch of God’s grace in Nikitas’ life changed him. God began to give him special abilities that he did not have before. The first thing that happened was that Nikitas could see his elders, who had traveled far away, coming back while they were still far away. No one else could see them, but he could. His sense of sight was very good. His other senses became very strong, too. Nikitas’ hearing was so good that he could recognize different animal voices and could understand what they were saying. His sense of smell was so strong that he could recognize different smells that were far away. He could see anything from the deep part of the earth to faraway space. He could see past time, as well, seeing things that happened hundreds of years before. He could communicate with rocks and learn about the ascetics who had visited them before, as they worked on their asceticism. He could heal people just by looking at them or touching them. Nikitas used these gifts only to bless and help others, not himself. He didn’t even ask for God to heal his own sicknesses! All of these special gifts were from God and Nikitas was quick to say that it was God’s grace that made them happen: not anything that he had done!

Monk Nikitas kept on working on his asceticism. He wanted to live out in the hut, but his body was so worn down from his hard work that he was sick. His elders sent him back to live in a monastery until he was well again. Then he went back to his hut. Again he got sick. His elders had to send him back to a monastery. This time, they sent him to the Monastery Lefkon of St. Charalambos. He lived as ascetically as his health would allow in that monastery. Monk Nikitas was 19 years old when he moved to that monastery.

When he was only 21, Archbishop Porphyrios III noticed God’s hand on Monk Nikitas’ life. He ordained the monk to the diaconate, and the next day, to the priesthood. He gave him the name Porphyrios.

One of Fr. Porphyrios’ jobs was to hear confessions. He learned from St. Basil that he needed to handle each confession individually and not be upset if they take a long time. Fr. Porphyrios would spend hours every day, sometimes without a break, hearing people’s confessions. The special gifts he had from God helped him to better help the people who came to him for confession.

When the monastery became a convent, Fr. Porphyrios was reassigned. He was sent instead to a church in the village of Tsakayi. Not long after, he was sent on, to the chapel of St. Gerasimos in Athens, at the Athens Polyclinic. World War II had begun, and Fr. Porphyrios wanted to be near the people that he loved who were suffering, so he asked for this work. He worked at the Polyclinic for 30 years, then (because he loved his spiritual children) he stayed on as a volunteer for three more years. All of those years, he received very little money for that work. So he had to work another job as well, to pay the bills. To help pay the bills, Fr. Porphyrios worked on organizing a poultry farm and then a weaving shop. In later years, he rented the monastery of St. Nicholas in Kallisia and worked the land, planted trees, and built an irrigation system. He worked and worked, and did not let himself rest. When he finished his 35th year as a priest, he left the Polyclinic (but kept visiting after that, as mentioned before, because of all the spiritual children that he had there, whom he loved). Finally, in 1973, he left the Polyclinic and went to live at the monastery of St. Nicholas, where he continued to receive guests, hear their confessions, and pray for them.

By this time, Fr. Porphyrios had many physical struggles. He had kidney trouble, and had worked his body so hard that he needed an operation. He asked that they wait to do the operation because it was Holy Week and he wanted to celebrate the services. They did, but he ended up in a coma and doctors thought he would die. He also had a fractured leg and a hernia which both gave him trouble. And then on August 29, 1978, he had a heart attack and had to stay in the hospital for 20 days. Later he had an operation on his left eye. Sadly, the doctor made a mistake and Fr. Porphyrios completely lost his vision in that eye. (That doctor also gave him a shot that Elder Porphyrios’ body couldn’t handle, and it caused a stomach hemorrhage that he struggled with for the rest of his life, leaving him unable to eat regular food!) All of this made him very weak and tired. But God kept him alive!

But Elder Porphyrios loved God and His people. He kept receiving the people who come to him for advice and help. Although he had to reduce the number of hours that he could help people, he could still pray for them with love! And he did.

Elder Porphyrios had wanted for a long time to build a convent for some of his spiritual daughters. He got the blessing of the church and looked long and hard for a place to build it. Finally he found some land and the “Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior” was started. His great love for people made him want to guide them in the joy of being transfigured (changed) to be like Christ. That’s how the name came to be.

He moved onto the property in 1980, and construction (which he supervised closely) began. Elder Porphyrios and his friends had been saving up for this monastery for a long time. Because of that, they had the money to build on the property. His prayers supported the work, and the building went smoothly, by the grace of God.

But in his heart, Elder Porphyrios really wanted to go back to Mt. Athos. In 1984 he was given the hut on the Mountain where he had lived when he first took his monastic vows. He sent disciples to live there over the years, but he wanted to go himself, to die in the place where he took his vows 60 years earlier.

Finally, in 1991, on the night before the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Elder Porphyrios left for his hut on Mt. Athos. On his way, he had visited Athens to give his confession and receive absolution. When he arrived on Mt. Athos, Elder Porphyrios settled into his hut and waited to depart this life.

He asked that a deep grave be dug for him. Then he told someone what to write, and wrote a letter for his spiritual children. In the letter he gave some advice and asked them to forgive him for the things that he did wrong in his life. He was ready to depart this life, but his spiritual children kept contacting him for advice and help. Two times he had to go back to the Convent in Athens. He didn’t want to, but his spiritual children needed him, so he went. He always left only a few days after arriving at the Convent, so that he could get back to Mt. Athos as quickly as possible.

God was merciful and allowed Elder Porphyrios to be on the Mountain when he departed this life. The evening that he passed away, he went to confession and then spent some time praying. His disciples read some Psalms and prayed the Jesus Prayer to help him finish his prayer rule one last time. He continued to whisper prayers, until finally he said only one word, “Come!” and departed this life. It was 4:31 am, Dec. 2, 1991.

The fathers at the monastery kept vigil all day and night, and buried him at dawn on Dec. 3. They had not announced his passing to the rest of the world, just as Elder Paisios instructed. After he was buried, everyone else found out that he had departed this life.

Elder Porphyrios continues his work of love for others and prays for all of us. He has appeared to those who needed his help, and prayed successfully for God to heal many people. Because of his life and these after-departing-this-life miracles, the elder was elevated to sainthood on Nov. 27, 2013.

 

Through the prayers of St. Porphyrios, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sources:

http://www.abbamoses.com/porphyriosbio.html

http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/Orthodox_Elders/Greek/Fr._Porphyrios/

http://pemptousia.com/2014/01/saint-porphyrios-of-kafsokalyvia-part-i/

Here are additional helpful links and ideas that can help you teach your Sunday Church School students about St. Porphyrios:

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Share this little book about St. Porphyrios’ life with your Sunday Church School students: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/…/58…/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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To learn more about St. Porphyrios, listen to this recorded telling of his life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrjzhH1pHjU
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You and your students can hear the voice of St. Porphyrios, as he speaks about Christ and our life in Christ in this (subtitled with English) video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhkoQ2T0azA

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Talk with your young Sunday Church School students about saints. What makes some people special so that we call them saints? How do we become holy? Share with them the story of one of the Saints: the life of St. Porphyrios. As you tell his story, be sure to point out how often his life exemplified love. Talk together about love and how/why it is so important. Then share this quote of St. Porphyrios’ with your students: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_porphyrios_you_dont_become_holy.pdf. Discuss the meaning of the quote together, and tie together your previous discussion about sainthood/holiness and love. Give each student a copy of the quote and allow them to decorate it in a way that will remind them to love, and thereby become holy.

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Continue to encourage your Sunday Church School students to work towards being a saint. “Be the Bee” episode #11 uses the life of St. Porphyrios to encourage its viewers to work on sainthood from an early age. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgocWG9AG7s

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Mending a coat with newspaper? Flying cars? Speaking to people of other languages without an interpreter? A miraculous intervention in spacetime? Share these miracles of St. Porphyrios (that sound like they could be movie clips!) with your Sunday Church School class: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/10/saint-porphyrios-and-flying-car.html; http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/12/saint-porphyrios-and-gift-of.html; and http://www.bio-orthodoxy.com/2015/04/saint-porphyrios-of-kavsokalyva-patron.html (by the way, today it would take about 50 minutes to travel from Migara to Milesi, but the nuns made the trip in a taxi slowed by traffic in only 15 minutes, with St. Porphyrios’ blessing.)
And then there was this time when St. Porphyrios appeared to high school students and healed one of the students’ mother through his prayers: (told from the father/husband’s perspective) http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-wondrous-appearing-and-healing-of-st.html
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Before class with your middle-years Sunday Church School students, gather some items to have in the room when they arrive to pique their interest in the life of St. Porphyrios. Perhaps a pair of binoculars to represent his incredible long-distance vision, a wood carving to represent the carvings he made, a rock to represent the rocks he could communicate with about the ascetics who had visited them before, etc. Keep these items visible in the room and share the life of St. Porphyrios. Challenge your students to identify each item and how it relates to St. Porphyrios’ life. Then talk about some of the special gifts that God gave to him so that he could use the gifts to help others get closer to God. Make a list on the board of the different kinds of gifts he had. Share this video that demonstrates one of them (knowing what happened in someone’s life so that they are encouraged to make things right with God): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2Tie7qFdBs. After watching this together, discuss it. What happened in this story? How did St. Porphyrios know about the taxi driver’s sin? WHY did he know about it? Who else knew what had happened? Talk together about how God knows EVERYTHING that happens, and encourage your students to live accordingly (and to go to confession if they need forgiveness!).

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Talk about what you and your Sunday Church School students (middle grades or higher) think is the most important thing to you. If you knew that you would soon depart this life, what would you write down to leave with your loved ones? God told St. Porphyrios when he was getting ready to depart this life. Because of this, St. Porphyrios wrote a letter to his spiritual children before he died, so that he could say final words to them. Read the translation of the letter here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/88352.htm. Read the letter to your students and talk about what St. Porphyrios had to say in the letter. What was most important to him when he knew that he would soon depart this life? How does that compare to what you talked about as important words you would leave for your loved ones?

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Print or copy these quotes from St. Porphyrios onto notecards. Put the notecards in a basket and allow older Sunday Church School students to select one, read it, and share it with the class. Discuss each quote – how does it apply to our life? http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-porphyrios/

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With older children, watch this video of 12 sayings of St. Porphyrios. Pause after each and talk about what it says and what it means. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycxr6D74q-Y Before class, copy each of the sayings onto its own piece of paper, large enough that the whole class can see it. As the saying appears in the video and you discuss it, put the paper containing it out on the table or up on the wall for your students to see. By the end of the video, you will have 12 sayings displayed. Encourage each student to select their favorite, then take time to have each student share their favorite quote and why they like it so much. (If there’s not time, just have each student share with someone near them.)

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Teens or adults will benefit from a book study on this book full of the wisdom of St. Porphyrios: https://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Love-Wisdom-Saint-Porphyrios/dp/9607120191/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Sophia of Kleisoura (May 6 or 19)


In 1883, a baby girl was born to Amanatiou and Maria Saoulidi. The Saoulidi family lived in Trebizond in Asia Minor (which is now called Turkey). They named their little girl Sophia. Sophia grew up in Trebizond with much love for God and His Holy Church. In 1907, Sophia married a young man named Jordan Hortokoridou. After almost 7 years of marriage, they had a son (some sources say they had a second child as well). Sophia loved her husband and her son. Sadly, soon after her son was born, Jordan was enlisted into the army and soon after that, he mysteriously disappeared and never returned. To make matters worse, a short time later their son died as well. (Both children, according to the sources that list two.) Sophia was very sad. Sophia took her sadness to God. She went up on top of a nearby mountain every day and spent hours praying. She chose to focus more on God than on her circumstances. On that mountaintop, Sophia began her ascetic life.

One day on the mountaintop, St. George appeared to Sophia. He warned her that the villagers should leave their village to escape a coming persecution. So it was that Sophia and her village left Trebizond in 1919, just before the Christians in Turkey were forced to leave. Sophia and the other villagers headed to Greece in a ship named after St. Nicholas. As they traveled, a terrible storm came up. The sea was wild, but they survived. When it was over, the captain of the ship declared that someone very holy must have been aboard his ship, since they all survived. When the captain said this, all the passengers looked at Sophia. She had spent the entire storm praying in a corner of the ship. (Years later when she herself told this story, she said that she could see the angels all over the waves of the sea, keeping them safe!) So Sophia and her villagers made it safely to Greece.

When Sophia arrived in Greece, she lived with her brother for a while. She was not happy in the world, and after a few years, the Theotokos appeared to her. She said, “Come to my house!” Sophia asked her where she was and where her house was, and the Theotokos replied, “I am in Kleisoura.” Sophia went to Kleisoura and found the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos. She lived with the community of the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos for the rest of her life.

For most of her years there, Sophia did not have a room at the monastery. Instead, she slept in the monastery’s kitchen fireplace. The fireplace was used for cooking, but when the cooking was finished, Sophia could sleep there. It was cold in the winter, because the cold wind would blow down the chimney; and when it rained, rain would drip on her while she slept. Sometimes she would light a little fire to warm herself, but not always. And she only slept for a few hours every night. She spent the rest of her time kneeling in prayer by the window, lit by the candle she used to light the icon of the Theotokos which was kept there. Sophia ate little and wore rags. The local people called her “Crazy Sophia,” but people would come from all around, just to see her. When people came to see her, before they would even tell her their names, Sophia would greet them by name and talk with them about their problems, which God revealed to her without the people needing to tell her anything!

Sophia did not care much about how she looked. She wore ragged clothes and a black scarf. Her blanket and sandals had holes. Sometimes the people who came to see Sophia would give her gifts of new clothing. She would immediately give the clothes to someone poor who needed them more. Sometimes people would give her money. She would hide the money until she met someone that needed it, when she would go get the money and give it to them. She did not wash herself or her food. She fasted strictly and ate only as much as she had to to survive. She cared much more for her soul than for her body. She chose to cover her holiness with foolishness so that no one would know how holy she was. She said, “Cover things, so that God will cover you.”

In 1967 Sophia got sick. She had sore spots on her stomach that were open and smelled bad. It hurt a lot. But she did not complain. She said, “The Panagia will come to take away my pain. She promised me.” And she did just that! Sophia remembers a vision she had in which the Theotokos, the Archangel Gabriel, other saints, and St. George came to her side. The Archangel told her they were going to cut the bad parts out of her stomach. She told him that she was a sinner and needed confession and to receive Holy Communion before the surgery so she would be prepared in case she died. The Archangel assured her that she was not going to die, and then he cut her open. Immediately she was healed and normal, left with a tiny, perfectly-healed scar at the place where the Archangel Gabriel cut her open. She would sometimes show this scar to those who came to see her, so that they could see the proof of the miracle God worked in her life. People who saw the scar said it looked as though it had been the work of a very skilled surgeon.

In her years at the monastery, Sophia had many animal friends. Several snakes slept with her in her fireplace bed. She was not afraid of them, and encouraged others to not be afraid of them, either. She befriended a bear who was very gentle with Sophia. She once saved its life: someone thought the bear was a threat to the community and nearly shot it, but Sophia stopped him from killing the bear. She called birds “the Birds of God” and would sit down on the ground to feed them as they settled all over her. The birds would sometimes even go chirping along into the church with her to pray with her! Sophia said the birds have been sent to us from the Panagia and Christ to console us and to give us company.

Sophia departed this life on May 6, 1974. She was buried on the east side of the monastery church’s altar. In 1982, her relics were exhumed. Her bones were clean and shining like light, and the casket was full of holy myrrh. In 2011, she was elevated to sainthood.
To this day, St. Sophia of Kleisoura is working miracles through the power of God. For example, before she died, she gave her kerchief to someone so that they could remember her. In 1995 that kerchief began to smell fragrant. It has brought healing to many women who have contact with it. (Those who can’t have children but have the sign of the cross made over them with the kerchief soon get pregnant; and those who are pregnant give birth easily through the prayers of St. Sophia.)

St. Sophia became very wise (so we call her an eldress) and she prayed and fasted a lot (so we call her an ascetic). She prays for all of us, but especially for the poor, those in need, and those who are sad because they have lost a loved one. We can ask her to to pray for us, as well.

St. Sophia of Kleisoura, intercede for us and for our salvation.

You became a treasury of Divine wisdom and all-consuming fear [of God], O mother Sophia; through your motherly intercessions, O blessed one, you offer to all the richness of grace.

Sources: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-sophia-righteous-ascetic-of-panagia.html, http://www.stgregoryoc.org/st-sophia-the-righteous/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYVGneiWpg, and http://www.pravoslavie.ru/50197.html.

Here are additional links to ways you can learn more and teach your Sunday Church School children about St. Sophia of Kleisoura:
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Read more about the life of St. Sophia of Kleisoura, see her photo, and ponder some of her quotes as collected here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/06/eldress-sophia-ascetic-of-panagia.html.

Read stories of some of her miracles here:

http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/05/some-miracles-of-saint-sophia-of.html

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Share this book about St. Sophia of Kleisoura, published by Potomatis Publishing, with younger Sunday Church School students. Read it aloud to them yourself, or play Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading from her podcast “Under the Grapevine”: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/saint_sophia_of_kleisoura

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This 7-minute video tells about St. Sophia of Kleisoura, showing pictures from her life as well as icons of her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2jnWvuYBEA

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St. Sophia of Kleisoura loved animals. She had special friends who were snakes, birds, and even a bear. Read about some of them here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/05/the-love-of-st-sophia-of-kleisoura-for.html. Bring a (stuffed unless you have access to real ones!) bird, snake, and bear into your middle-years Sunday Church School classroom as a discussion starter. After introducing your students to the life of St. Sophia, talk about how she treated the animals and how they responded to that treatment. Ask the students what her treatment of animals shows her respect for God and His creation. Challenge the class to think of how they can treat animals with the kindness and respect that St. Sophia gave to the creatures that God shares with us.

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St. Sophia said many wise things. Print these quotes (http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-few-quotes-of-st-sophia-of-kleisoura.html and http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-sophia-righteous-ascetic-of-panagia.html) and cut the printed page to separate each quote. Before your older Sunday Church School students come to class, tape one quote to the bottom of each chair. After discussing the life of St. Sophia, have each student find and share the quote under their seat. Discuss the quotes together. How do you see each played out in St. Sophia’s life? How can we continue to live in a way that is shaped by St. Sophia’s wisdom in each quote? Talk about how the Jesus Prayer helped St. Sophia through many of her most difficult challenges. She encourages us to pray the prayer as well! Hand each student a copy of this quote http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_sophia_kleisoura_wherever_you_walk.pdf. Discuss it together, then allow them to decorate it and take it home to place where it will remind them of her and the wisdom of this saying.

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Teens and/or adults will be challenged by this talk by Fr. Panagiotes Carras about holy fools. The talk encourages each listener to work to become different from the world, as is necessary for Orthodox Christians to do if we want to live truly Godly lives. It focuses on St. Sophia of Kleisoura and includes a video about the life of the saint (from 31:00-1:18:00). That video includes photos from her life and even recordings of her speaking (with translation to English). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYVGneiWpg

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