st-porphyrios-illlustration

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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On the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov. 21 or Dec. 4)

On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:

Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.

When Mary was three years old, and finally weaned, Joachim and Anna did not forget their promise to God. They gathered young ladies with candles to walk with them, and all together walked to the Temple so that they could present Mary to God and give her back to Him. Many family and friends came along, as well, all carrying lit candles.

When they arrived at the Temple, Joachim and Anna lifted Mary up onto the first of the 15 steps that led up into the temple. As soon as she was on that step, she ran all the way up the rest of them. The High Priest at the time was Zachariah (who later became the father of St. John the Forerunner). Zachariah greeted Mary at the top of the steps, took her by the hand, and led her into the Temple. The Holy Spirit directed him as he led her not just into the Temple, but into the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred part of the Temple (which was so holy that only the High Priest could go in there; and he could only go in once a year after much preparation and prayer!)!

The Most-holy Virgin lived in the Temple for many years. The angels fed her in the Holy of Holies. As long as they lived, Joachim and Anna came regularly to the Temple to visit their daughter. When they departed this life, she stayed on in the Temple until she was betrothed to Joseph.

The holiness that she acquired while in the Temple, along with her own piety and desire to follow God, prepared the Most-holy Virgin to become the new Temple, in which God Himself dwelt. Her willingness to come to the Temple with such joy is a notable part of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

Most Holy Theotokos, intercede for our salvation!

Here are some resources and ideas for learning about the feast together as a Sunday Church School class:
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Find a lesson plan (Lesson 2 in this series on the Theotokos) for any age group about the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos/

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Make a copy of this pdf (http://stabcc.org/files/bulletins/Bulletin-Insert-11.17.2013.pdf) for each of your middle years Sunday Church School students. Read it together, and talk about the feast.

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Find a variety of printable pdfs (previous years’ children’s bulletins) that contain information and/or activities related to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Childrens-Word-144.pdf, http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Childrens-Word-92.pdf,

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Provide the icon of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple for your older Sunday Church School students to look at. Ask them to tell what they know about the icon: what does it depict? How is it teaching us? Then share additional information as presented here https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple/ and talk about it.

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Encourage your older Sunday Church School students to look up each of the Old Testament scriptures listed here: http://www.stpaulorthodoxcathedral.org/attachments/article/4/SPC%20bulletin%2025%20Pentecost%20Tone%208.2.pdf. Have each student select one, look it up, and then read it to the class. Together discuss how this scripture relates to the Theotokos. How is she the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies?

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With your Sunday Church School students, sing the exapostilarion of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (ie: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/exapost-1121-entry_of_theotokos.pdf). Then look together at the words of the hymn. What do they mean? To what does it compare the Theotokos? The book “Heaven Meets Earth: Celebrating Pascha and the Twelve Feasts” by John Skinas makes a beautiful connection between the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant and the Theotokos, some of which is alluded to in this hymn. The Ark of the Covenant contained God’s words, the 10 commandments, written on the stone tables; manna from heaven; and Aaron’s miraculously budding rod. The new Ark (the Theotokos) went on to contain the Word of God in the flesh; the Bread of Life; and “the Seedless Flower… from the Root of Jesse.” (p. 16) If you have the book, be sure to share this part with your students and discuss the type of the Ark of the Covenant and its fulfillment in the Theotokos. Then talk together about why it was so important for her to spend so many years of her life in the Temple; specifically in the Holy of Holies. (The answer is on page 15 of that book!) Find the book here if you do not yet have it: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

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Print this foldable centerpiece about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple onto cardstock for each student. After teaching about the feast, allow your students to decorate and assemble it. Send it home with them right away so that they can set it as the centerpiece of their dining room table, add it to their icon corner, or set it up in their room where they will see it often and remember the feast. http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/cacb8660b29bdc97f8e8283ff567634e.pdf

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Nikolai Velimirovich (March 5/18)

On December 23, 1880, Dragomir and Katarina Velirnirovich gave birth to their first child, a son. He was born in the town of Lelich, among the Povlen Mountains of western Serbia. When he was born, he was so weak that they had him baptized soon after birth. He was named Nikola, after the family’s patron saint, St. Nicholas of Myra. As Nikola grew up, he grew stronger. (Dragomir and Katarina had 8 other children after Nikola, but unfortunately all of them passed away during WWII.)

Nikola’s parents were hardworking farmers who loved God and His Church so much that they always stopped their work when it was time for prayers. They kept the fasts and lived their life by the liturgical cycle of the Church. Katarina was a very holy mother, and she taught her children about God, the saints, and the holy days of the Church year. She also would take Nikola to the Chelije Monastery for Communion, even though it was a three miles walk to get there. When he got older, Nikola remembered his mother’s commitment to taking him to church, and he was grateful.

It was in that same monastery where Nikola first started school. His spiritual father, Father Andrew, taught Nikola to read, to write, to do math, and he also taught him about his culture. Father Andrew also taught Nikola the Scriptures and the teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Church. Nikola loved to learn. Even during summer vacation, Nikola would sneak away to the monastery church’s bell tower and hide there all day so that he could read and pray!

After Nikola had finished 6th grade, he wanted to enter the Military Academy. He was not accepted to the school, though, because he was too small to do everything that military cadets needed to do. Since he could not go to military school, Nikola applied to the Seminary of St. Sava in Belgrade. He was accepted to the school, and he began the life of a seminarian. He did not just study the normal things seminarians study, though: he also read the important writings of famous writers in Europe (like Shakespeare, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, and Marx to name a few). He especially liked Peter Njegosh’s writing, and gave a speech about him for his final big project when he was finishing at the seminary in 1902. Everyone who heard this speech was amazed: they could tell that Nikolai was very, very smart.

Unfortunately, during his years at seminary, Nikola got sick. He was not eating well, and the housing at the seminary was not good, so he was sick when he graduated. Nikola’s doctor told him to spend time on the sea coast. So after graduation, Nikola taught in a few villages during the school year, but spent his summer break on the seashore. As he rested at the shore, Nikola wrote. He wrote the life of Bokel the Montenegrin and Dalmatin; and he started a Christian newspaper that contained some of his first published writings.

In 1905, Nikola was chosen to study abroad. He went to Switzerland, Germany, England, and Russia during this time of his life, and he studied very hard. In 1908, he received his Doctorate in Theology. The very next year, 1909, Nikola worked for (and got) his Doctorate in Philosophy, this time in Oxford, England. He was so smart and could learn quickly: not many people have two doctorate degrees at age 28!

That fall, Nikola became very sick. He was in the hospital for more than two months. While he was there, Nikola prayed and told God that if He saved him from this illness he would serve God and His Church. God healed him, and brilliant Dr. Nikola laid his possibilities for greatness aside and became a simple monk. Monk Nikolai was tonsured and ordained to the priesthood on the same day, Dec. 20, 1909. The Hieromonk Nikolai served God with all of his heart and mind, and was soon elevated to Archimandrite.

Archimandrite Nikolai was sent to Belgrade to teach at the seminary there. However, before he could teach, he needed to take a test (because the people at the seminary discovered that he had never taken 7th and 8th grades). The test was an oral test: he had to stand before the examiners and answer questions that they asked him. Everyone who heard him speak at that test could not believe how well he spoke. No one could even ask him a question about his answers. So, of course he passed the test! But before he was allowed to teach, the people at the seminary thought it would be good for him to spend some time in Russia. So he went to Russia for a year. While he was there, Archimandrite Nikolai wrote “The Religion of Njegosh,” his first great work.

Back in Belgrade, he went on to write many others, including a collection of homilies that he called “Sermons at the Foot of the Mount” (he said he called it this because “Christ spoke on the Mount, but I dare to speak only at the foot of the Mount.”) He also wrote “Beyond Sin and Death,” which was a very deep book written in a way that ordinary people could understand. Besides his writing, he taught at the seminary, and many of his students went on to become monks, theologians, and clergy because they had been so inspired by Archimandrite Nikolai. He taught philosophy, logic, history, and foreign languages; and his writing made him well known on around the world.

And then World War 1 began. In the summer of 1914, Archimandrite Nikolai was asked to go to England to find help for his Serbian people. Because he had a doctorate degree from Oxford, he was welcomed by the British, who not only agreed to support the Serbian people, but also awarded him a Doctorate of Divinity from Cambridge University while he was there!

In the summer of 1915, Archimandrite Nikolai was sent out again. This time, he was sent to New York City to gather help from the (now American) emigrants. 20,000 volunteers came back with him to help protect their homeland from the Austrians; and many sent money to help their suffering brothers and sisters back home. During this trip to America, Nikolai had a dream in which an Angel of the Lord told him that he would come back to America to begin the American Serbian Diocese. (That dream later came true.)

At the beginning of 1916, Archimandrite Nikolai went back to England, where he wrote more books and articles. He stayed in England until the end of the war. Again, the British liked his work, and he was given another Honorary Doctorate of Divinity. This one was in 1919, from the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Nikolai was chosen to be the new Bishop of Zhicha. On March 12, 1919, when he was only 38, Nikolai was installed as the bishop. He cried happy tears during the consecration service: he had spent years trying to get help for the Serbian people whom he loved so much, and now he would actually be able to help them himself, as their bishop! He spent two years helping the Serbs in Zhicha as well as throughout Yugoslavia. Like Christ, he healed the sick, set spiritual captives free, and preached. In 1921 he was transferred to the Diocese of Ochrid and Bitola. Everywhere he went, Bishop Nikolai worked to help people be united peacefully. And all the while he worked, he wrote more books. One of those books, Prayers By the Lake, is full of prayers that are useful to Orthodox Christians today.

In 1924, Bishop Nikolai was sent to the United States, arriving in New York City again. This time he went around speaking about the situation in Europe, thanking the American Serbs for their help, and beginning to gather the Serbian parishes in America into an Archdiocese.

Six months later, he went back to Belgrade to report on the church in America. He was nominated to become the Bishop of the American Serbs, but not everyone in his homeland was ready to give him up. This made it hard for the Bishop, so he went on a pilgrimage retreat in 1922 to the Holy Land and then to Mt. Athos. He needed this time away to be refreshed and to receive counsel from God. When he returned, Bishop Nikolai nominated another bishop to be the first bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America. The synod agreed with that nominee, who then went to America. This meant that Bishop Nikolai could stay and continue writing. He wrote many books that helped people become closer to God and the Faith. He also encouraged people to pray, which they did, and it started a new dedication to prayer that helped to strengthen the Serbian Orthodox Church. In the next few years, he paid another visit to the United States (in 1927) stopping in London on his way back home to Serbia. During this trip, he challenged people to repent, warning that something terrible would soon happen in Europe. Back in Ochrid, he wrote several more books, including The Prologue of Ochrid, which has become a spiritual classic.

Early in 1930, the bishop went to Vatopedi Monastery, on Mt. Athos. A Pan-Orthodox conference was taking place, and while he was there, he was able to lead the Orthodox faithful of different nationalities in a way that helped them show that the Orthodox Church is united as the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” After that conference, Bishop Nikolai returned home and continued writing until war began in 1941.

When the Germans occupied Yugoslavia that same year, Bishop Nikolai was arrested. He was sentenced to prison in Dachau, the famous prison camp in Germany. Bishop Nikolai spent two years imprisoned in Dachau. While he was there, he saw (and suffered) some of the most terrible tortures against humans that the world has ever known. Even in prison, he wrote. He wrote a prayer to the Theotokos (he said later that her protection is the reason he survived Dachau) and a sort of diary about his time in the prison camp. An American division of the Allied Forces got Bishop Nikolai his freedom on May 8, 1945, and, after a brief stop in London, he moved back to the USA.

He took a little time to recover (his back and leg were giving him trouble after his imprisonment) and then began to lecture again. Just a little over a year after his release from Dachau, Bishop Nikolai was given another Doctorate: this one, a Doctorate of Sacred Theology, was from Columbia University.

For the next few years, Bishop Nikolai taught at St. Sava Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois, and wrote books, some of them in English! In 1951,the bishop moved to St. Tikhons Russian Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, to serve as a professor (then dean, and even rector) of the seminary there. During his years at St. Tikhons, Bishop Nikolai wrote books and articles in a variety of languages (he could read, write, and speak seven languages fluently) so that Orthodox people of various backgrounds could read things in their own language. He also lectured in different seminaries and monasteries on the east coast of the United States. He often lectured and gave his homilies in English so that more Americans could understand what he was saying.

And then, one night (between the 17th and 18th of March, 1956), Bishop Nikolai fell asleep in the Lord. He was 76 years old, and praying in his cell at St. Tikhons when he fell asleep. There were many services held for him, beginning at St. Tikhon’s, then in New York City and finally in Libertyville, IL, where he was buried on March 27, 1956. Twenty-five years later, his body was returned to Serbia and laid to rest behind the church of the Chelije Monastery, right in his hometown of Lelich, where he used to hide during summer vacations to read and pray.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich, please pray for us and for our salvation!

Loving thy homeland thou didst sojourn as a patriot to secure aid for God’s suffering children,
And as a new Chrysostom thou didst preach to those in darkness
The rediscovery of the Foundational Rock, Christ the Lord,
In the Eternal Homeland of God’s Kingdom.
Thy pastoral love for all, O Confessor Nikolai, was purified in captivity by the godless,
Demonstrating thy commitment to the truth and thy people;
Therefore, O  venerable Bishop, thou hast attained the crown of eternal life.

Here are additional resources and ideas to help you prepare to share the life of St. Nikolai Velimirovich with your Sunday Church School students:

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Find more information about St. Nicholai Velimirovich’s life, including a few pictures and his icon here: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/stnikolai.aspx

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Read some of St. Nikolai Velimirovich’s letters to dignitaries, fellow clergy, and others here: http://www.babamim.com/st_bishop_nikolai__his_letters (Don’t worry, the letters in other languages have been translated to English!)

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Consider praying some of the prayers that St. Nikolai Velimirovich wrote in “Prayers By the Lake.” You can find the prayers here: http://www.sv-luka.org/praylake/

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Pray this prayer for your Sunday Church School students. The prayer is for children, and was written by St. Nikolai Velimirovich: http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2014/06/a-prayer-for-children-by-saint-nikolai.html

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St. Nicholai Velimirovich once said that similar things happen when we receive Holy Communion and when we give to those in need. In both cases, we receive Christ. Ask your Sunday Church School students what they think about that. What could he mean? Then share this story that he told: https://orthodoxchurchquotes.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/st-nikolai-reflection-on-giving-alms-to-the-poor/ After you share the story, talk together about how you can live in a way that reflects this. Consider ideas of things you could do together as a class and/or as a parish to better receive Christ when He appears as the poor in your community and around the world. Plan a hands-on project that you can work on together, and then prepare and do it! Give each student a copy of this part of the quote: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_nicholai_velimirovich_in_holy_communion.pdf Have them decorate it in a way that reminds them of your plan, so that they can bring/do whatever it is that you decide to do as a group to help.

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Talk with your middle-to-older students about suffering. Did St. Nicholai Velimirovich suffer? Who do you know that is suffering? Do your students ever suffer? What do they think about suffering? Do they like it?
Read this quote from St. Nicholai to your students: “Every sin, however small, would inevitably bring death if Mercy were not to allow suffering in order to sober men up from the inebriation of sin; for the healing that comes through suffering is brought about by the grace filled power of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit.” (The oldest students will want to ponder the entire quote, found here: https://orthodoxchurchquotes.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/st-nikolai-velimirovich-only-the-foolish-think-that-suffering-is-evil/.) Talk together about how this perspective can (and should!) change our opinion of suffering.

With older students, you may want to follow up with a discussion of this related quote: https://orthodoxchurchquotes.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/st-nikolai-velimirovich-blessed-is-the-man-who-uses-his-sufferings-knowing-that-all-suffering-in-this-brief-life-is-loosed-on-men-by-god-in-his-love/

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Print these quotes from St. Nikolai Velimirovich. Cut them into individual quotes and place them all in a basket. Invite older students to pull them one at a time from the basket and discuss them: https://orthodoxchurchquotes.wordpress.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-nikolai-velimirovich/page/5/

 

st-maria-of-paris

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Maria of Paris (July 20 or August 2)

In 1891, in Riga, Latvia, a baby girl named Elizabeta (“Liza,” to her family) was born to the Pilenko family. The Pilenkos were Orthodox Christians, and raised Liza in the faith. When she was 14, Liza’s father died, and Liza was so upset that she gave up her Faith. When the family moved to St. Petersburg, instead of going to church, Liza began to hang out with radical people who, like her, liked to read and wanted to make the world better. They would spend hours talking about revolution and about theology, but (in Liza’s words) they “seemed to do nothing but talk.” She wanted to actually DO something to make a change. Years passed, and Liza slowly came back to her faith.

When she was only 18, Liza got married. Three years later, she left her husband and moved back to the house where she grew up. While she was there, she gave birth to her daughter Gaiana. Three years after Gaiana’s birth, Liza was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy of The Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. She was the very first woman to study there! For a while in 1918, Liza was the mayor of her town. This was during the time that the Bolsheviks were taking over Russia, and she was accused of being part of their Red Army. She was arrested and taken to trial. Her judge, Daniel Skobstova, said she was innocent, and he had her released instead of executed. After she was free, she went to find him to thank him. They quickly became friends and were married only a few days later!

Right after the wedding, as the Bolsheviks got stronger in Russia, Liza and her whole family left the country. They didn’t want to be part of all the horrible things that happen during a revolution. They traveled through Tblisi and other parts of the country of Georgia; through Istanbul, Turkey; and through parts of Yugoslavia. They ended up in Paris, France, where they settled down to live. In the time that they moved around, Liza gave birth to two other children: her son Yura and her daughter Anastasia. Once the family settled in Paris, Liza made dolls and painted silk scarves to help provide for all of them. She also began to work with the Christian Student Movement to help other Russian refugees who lived there. Many of them had a much harder life than she did. But her bad things still happened to her family: unfortunately, in the winter of 1926, Liza’s whole family got the flu. Little Anastasia died from it. But this time, a death in her family did not drive Liza away from the Faith: instead, it made her faith stronger! She began to work even harder to help the refugees. She wanted to live a more real, more pure Christian life than ever. Sadly, all of this work was hard on her marriage to Daniel, and she left him, moved into her mother’s house, and continued her work.

In 1932, Metropolitan Evlogy tonsured her a nun and encouraged her to develop a new kind of monasticism: the life of a nun living in the city and serving the needy people there instead of living out alone in the countryside. So Liza, now “Mother Maria,” began her work of sharing her life with the poor and homeless.
She started with a small empty house, sleeping her first night on the floor under the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. Others came to join her as she served the Russian refugees, and soon her room in the house was needed for others, so instead, she slept in the basement by the boiler. An upstairs room became the chapel, and Mother Maria wrote the icons on the icon screen. Before too long, she was able to set up a home at 77 Rue de Lourmel (77 Lourmel Street) in Paris that was larger and had much more space. In this new space, she and the others serving with her began to prepare dinner for those who needed food. They served up to 120 every night! Sometimes they would turn the dining room into a hall where Orthodox leaders would come to teach about the Faith. At this house, the stables out back became a chapel, and again Mother Maria contributed many of the icons, some of them were icons that she embroidered. Mother Maria rented other buildings around Paris that she then shared with the poor so that needy families would have a place to live. She started a hospital for people sick with tuberculosis. She began schools for children. She visited mental hospitals just so she could look for Russian refugees. Because these people were so poor and didn’t speak French well, they had been labeled as mentally ill and put in mental hospitals – even if they were in their right minds! Mother Maria would rescue them from the mental hospital and help them.

She also helped to start an organization called “Orthodox Action,” which provided safe places for travelers or for the elderly to stay. The people in the Orthodox Action group also helped people who did not have a job, worked in hospitals, aided elderly people, and published books and pamphlets. Mother Maria was living up to her youthful dream of DOING something for change, not just talking about it!

When the Holocaust began and edged closer to Paris, of course Mother Maria did all that she could to help save the Jewish people who reached out for help. Her priest, Fr. Dimitri Klepinin, would make baptismal certificates for any Jewish person who asked for one. (Any Jew that had a certificate saying they had converted to Christianity and were no longer Jewish was in less danger.) Mother Maria, her son Yura, and Fr. Dimitri would then plan escape routes for the Jewish people who asked them for help. In 1942, Mother Maria somehow got into the Velodrome d’Hiver. This winter stadium was where many of the Jews in Paris were being kept before they were taken to Nazi death camps. While Mother Maria was in the Velodrome, she did whatever she could to help the Jewish people that she met in there. One way that she helped was by sneaking Jewish children out of the Velodrome to safety! She made arrangements with some of Paris’ trash haulers, who helped her take the children out of the Velodrome inside trash cans, and then drove them in trash trucks to Mother Maria’s house, where she would help to arrange for their escape from Paris.

Mother Maria was finally caught by the Nazis in 1943. They arrested her for helping the Jewish people and took her to Ravensbruck, one of the concentration camps. Even while she was a prisoner in that Nazi camp, Mother Maria was helping people. One survivor talked about her later and said she was adored by everyone, but especially the young prisoners. They had been separated from their families, but Mother Maria became their family and cared for them. She was known to give her “meal” (piece of bread) to anyone that she thought needed it more than she did. She lived this way until she died. On April 30, 1945, Mother Maria was killed in a gas chamber. We are not sure if she was selected to die that day or if she volunteered to take the place of someone else who was. Either way, she died because of the way she lived her faith.

Mother Maria once said, “At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.” And she lived exactly that way. But she went beyond just feeding, clothing, visiting, and helping the others in her care: she actually saw everyone she met as “the very icon of God incarnate in the world,” and she treated them as such. She may even have died in the place of one of those “icons of God,” walking out the Faith to the very last moment of her earthly life.

You became a bride of Christ, O venerable Mother,

And offered your body and soul to Him as a living sacrifice.

You exposed the evil side of humanity’s ways

By allowing the light of the Resurrection to shine forth from you.

We celebrate your memory in love.

O Martyr and Confessor Maria

Pray to Christ our God that He may save our souls.

St. Maria of Paris, intercede for our salvation!

Sources:

http://myocn.net/st-maria-of-paris/

http://www.pravmir.com/the-challenge-of-a-20th-century-saint-maria-skobtsova/

http://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/saint-of-the-open-door/

http://incommunion.org/st-maria-skobtsova-resources/

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your students learn more about St. Maria of Paris:

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Find a few pictures of St. Maria of Paris in this article about her life:

http://www.pravmir.com/the-challenge-of-a-20th-century-saint-maria-skobtsova/

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Find several icons of St. Maria of Paris here: https://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/icons/

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Younger children will enjoy learning about St. Maria of Paris through the picture book, “Silent As a Stone,” by Jim Forest. It tells the story of when she snuck Jewish kids out of captivity in trash cans. Find it here: http://www.svspress.com/silent-as-a-stone/  Before Sunday Church School begins, roll a big (clean, wheeled) outdoor trash can into the middle of your classroom and have it sitting there at the beginning of class. The students will be curious about it, and you can tell them it makes you think of faith and how to live as a true Christian. Entertain their ideas and suggestions of why that is. Then, share the book about St. Maria with them, and then talk together again about the trash can. Can they now tell you why a trash can reminds you of faith and how to live as a true follower of Christ? Give each of student a turn to “be” one of the children being saved from the velodrome while you act the part of St. Maria or one of the Parisian trash workers. Help them into the trash can, close the lid, and push it around a little, then help them out. After whoever wants one has a turn, talk about how it must have felt for the Jewish children in Paris to be in the trash. Their people were being treated as (less than) trash, but St. Maria knew that because they are people made in the image of God, they are not trash but treasures, and she therefore rescued as many as she was able before being caught. Talk together as a class: how can WE see the people around US as treasures, not trash, and rescue them when they need help? Invite the students to draw, tell, or write a plan of how they can do that. Encourage them to look out for those around them who may feel like trash, and be ready to help however they can. (In future weeks, remember to offer the opportunity for students to share any times that they were able by God’s grace to help someone who needed it.)

st-maria-hauls-treasure

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Because St. Maria loved to read and write, we have many of her quotes. Discuss this one with your Sunday Church School students: “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.” If that is true, how should we treat each person? Describe different types of people to your students (some wonderful, some terrible) and invite them to tell how they should treat each person described as an icon of Christ. Give each student their own copy of the quote: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_maria_of_paris_each_person.pdf and invite them to draw or write their responses to the quote around the edge of the quote itself.

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With older Sunday Church School students, listen to this podcast about St. Maria: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/socialjustice/mother_maria_skobtsova Talk together about the saint’s life and the challenge that the podcaster, Mariam Youssef, extends to the listeners as a result of St. Maria’s life.

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With teens, discuss this section of Bev Cooke’s article about St. Maria of Paris (found here: http://myocn.net/st-maria-of-paris/) “It wasn’t enough to just feed the hungry. ‘I should say that we should not give away a single piece of bread unless the recipient means something as a person for us,’ she wrote. And she meant it. Late at night, she would travel to the Parisian market, Les Halles, to a restaurant that stayed open all night. For the price of a single glass of wine, anyone could sit (and sleep) there. It wasn’t unusual for St. Maria to bring several people home from the place, or to tell them, while collecting the food that the merchants in the market donated to her, to come to her house for dinner that night. She would often skip liturgy, or leave it early in order to begin preparing a meal for up to 120 guests. 

“Her legacy to us is clear: we need to help each other, and look upon everyone – every single human being with whom we interact, whether our family, our friends, or a stranger on the street – not only as a brother or a sister in Christ, but as the very icon of God in the world. For, as she pointed out, ‘About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person, the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . It fills me with awe.’ ”

How did St. Maria live that demonstrated that? How can WE live like that? What can we do as a parish, a Sunday Church School class, as individuals to show that we know that Christ is every hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned person?

abbess-sophia-of-kiev-illustration

Saints of Recent Decades: Abbess Sophia of Kiev (March 22/April 4)

 

In 1873, in the Tula and Kaluga region of Russia (just south of Moscow) a wealthy landowner had a daughter and named her Sophia Grineva. Sophia was raised in the countryside. When her lawyer father died, Sophia and her brothers and sisters went to stayed for a while in a convent in Belev (their hometown) because the abbess there was their old governess. The children also often visited the Optina Monastery, where they would play “monastery” together and Sophia would be the “abbess.” When Sophia was 12, Elder Anatole of Optina called her “abbess,” which came true when she was older. Sophia grew, and when she became a young lady, she had a very beautiful singing voice. She was sent to a music school (called a conservatory) so that she could become an opera singer.  This is not really what she wanted to do, though: she wanted to become a monastic.

Near the Grineva family’s estate, there was another wealthy family, the Znamenskys. They had a daughter named Anna who, like Sophia, was now grown up and had finished all of her years of school. Instead of following the wealthy lifestyle she could have had, Anna chose to live in a way that allowed her to spend more time in prayer and service to God. She began to teach in the village school. Because of how much Anna loved God, she would gather people together and give spiritual talks and then they would sing akathists together. Hundreds of people came to those gatherings, and Sophia Grineva was one of them. Anna and Sophia came to be very close friends. One night after one of their gatherings, Sophia was on her way home. It was late at night, and it was dark. She was very frightened when she suddenly came upon a wolf. There was no one nearby to help her, and she thought she would die! In those days, the wolves were hungry, and they had already killed some large animals like cattle, and one had even recently killed an armed officer. As Sophia faced what she thought was her last moment, she prayed and asked God to save her. She promised to become a nun if He did. Then, she made the sign of the cross over the wolf. Immediately the wolf turned and ran away into the woods! She was saved!
Not long after that, Sophia got sick. She had a kind of diphtheria that made her lose her voice. She was not just sick: she was also very upset because her voice was gone, so the doctors suggested that she should go to Switzerland to recover. But her friend Anna had recently begun a monastery on a piece of her family’s land, and she invited Sophia to stay with her and the other sisters at the monastery until she was well enough to travel to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Sophia got sicker while she was staying there. It got to the point once when the sisters called the elder who was serving at the monastery. He came to give Sophia her last confession and communion. Since she could not speak, Sophia just cried on the comforting elder, who then gave her communion. After she communed, Sophia fell asleep.


When she woke up, Sophia could speak again! The community offered a thanksgiving service right away, and she began to completely recover. After that miracle, Sophia did not want to go back into the world: she wanted to become a nun and serve God for the rest of her life. So she stayed in the convent with Anna and helped the sisters cut down trees, chop firewood, dig a well, and build a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity where they could offer the daily services. It was a hard but good life and the monastery grew quickly! Unfortunately, Matushka Anna was so successful that she was lured away from the true Faith, and fell into spiritism. She left the convent, and some of the other sisters left, too. Sophia went to another convent, St. Nicholas Convent, where Elder Gerasimus of Kaluga was in charge. Fr. Gerasimus’s spiritual son was given the name Gerasimus as well, and he and Sophia developed a spiritual friendship that lasted the rest of their lives.

Sophia and another sister left that convent and started another community on the bank of the Oka River in an abandoned church. The sisters lived in poverty, but offered up daily services and worked hard. The way that they lived inspired others, and before too long a new monastic community began. It was dedicated to the Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos that is called “Comfort and Consolation,” and the people who benefitted from the community’s presence included local factory workers (most of whom used to be prisoners).

Sometime after that, the church leaders asked Abbess Sophia to be in charge of the Protection of the Mother of God convent in Kiev. This was a big move for the abbess, and she would need to leave the community that she had started, but she obeyed and went. Even though she was now in charge of one of the largest convents in Russia, Abbess Sophia still lived simply and purely. It didn’t take long for the sisters in the monastery to love the Abbess. She was kind and generous. If someone needed something and came to her, they got help. She supported everyone. Because of how Abbess Sophia acted, everyone loved her.

It was at this time that the Soviet Revolution began. The government tried to change the Church and the monastery. Several times, Abbess Sophia was arrested and released for various reasons. Finally she and a few sisters and some clergy members, including Fr. Dimitry Ivanov went to live in the Kiev suburbs summer home of Mrs. Barbenko, a wealthy lady who offered her home, near a miracle spring that had just been discovered, to the community. Inside the house where the nuns lived, there was a large hall full of pointings. Every night, they would secretly take down the paintings, replace them with icons, and hold Divine services in the hall. In the morning, they would put the paintings back up so no one knew that this was now a secret church! They even used special language to communicate with those outside about the community. Abbess Sophia called Metropolitan Sergius “Dr. Sergiev;” churches “clinics and drugstores;” and Holy Communion “treatment” in some of her letters to others. Above all, the abbess tried to live a pure Orthodox monastic life. She and some of the clergy continued to be put in and out of prison. Once time, when she and Bishop-Confessor Damascene were both out of prison, he tonsured her in the Great Schema. This was around 1934: we know because there’s a picture of Mother Sophia and her flock, taken then, with the Bishop-Confessor.

And then things got worse for the Orthodox Christians. Mother Sophia’s priest-friend Fr. Dimitry was arrested and beaten many times for his beliefs and for his sermons. Finally, he was sent to live far in the north of Russia, in the city of Archangelsk. His wife went along and was with him when he finally got so weak that he fell down in the middle of a street and died in the home of a Jewish doctor who was trying to help him. Other members of the community were arrested and sent far away, as well.

Abbess Sophia was arrested before the rest of the community, and she was sent from one prison to another. She became sick with asthma and other diseases. But even though she was sick and in prison she kept telling people about her Orthodox Christian faith! One time a lady asked the Abbess to talk to her son, who did not believe in God. The man was an engineer, very smart, and very stubborn. Mother Sophia talked to him about the Orthodox faith, and it was not an easy discussion. But the Abbess prayed for him and kept talking, and a miracle happened: the man’s disbelief was shaken so strongly that he became a believer, left his job, and became a pilgrim, praying the Jesus Prayer!

Abbess Sophia became so sick that they released her from prison so she could go die. On the morning of March 22, 1941, while living with some of her spiritual daughters on a farm near Serpukhov, the Abbess asked to be left alone. She had not eaten for several days and was exhausted, but wanted to read her favorite book, the Gospel. The sisters could hear her coughing and gasping for air for 3 hours, as she read. Then she turned to look at an icon, closed her eyes, and departed this life.

Throughout her life, Abbess Sophia chose to love God and follow Him to the best of her ability. She knew that doing so would get her into trouble with the government, but she did not panic or worry: instead, she happily loved and served God by helping those around her to have what they needed, and to know more about God and His Holy Church.

 

Saint Sophia, Abbess of Kiev, please pray for our salvation!

 

Here are additional resources that can help you as you prepare to teach your Sunday Church School students about Abbess Sophia of Kiev:

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Read more about Abbess Sophia of Kiev’s life here:
http://russiascatacombsaints.blogspot.com/2010/12/23-abbess-sophia-of-kiev.html)

And here: http://www.orthodox.net/russiannm/sophia-abbess-confessor-of-kiev-and-those-with-her.html

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Find Abbess Sophia of Kiev’s story with a few pictures here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2012/11/abbess-sophia-of-kiev-canonized.html

There are more pictures of Abbess Sophia here, but the page is in Russian. (If you do not speak or read the Russian language, allow your computer to translate it for you. Enough of the text will translate for you to be able to get a basic idea of what each picture’s caption says.) http://idrp.ru/igumeniya-sofiya-kievskaya-ispovednica-lib47/

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Here is an icon of Abbess Sophia of Kiev:

http://www.christopherklitou.com/icon_22_march_sophia_grineva_abbess_confessor_of_kiev_1941.htm

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Share Abbess Sophia of Kiev’s life with younger students. You could do so using a series of pictures. For example, find pictures to illustrate the main parts of her life (a map of the Moscow area showing where Tula and Kaluga are; a photograph of a convent and/or children playing “nuns,” a picture of a woman singing opera, a wolf, etc.) and show each pictures as you share her story. When you finish, ask each student to select a photo and retell that part of the abbess’ life.

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Talk with your middle years students about Abbess Sophia of Kiev’s life. Encourage them to think about what life was like for the abbess and her fellow monastics, living under the Soviet Revolution. Provide writing supplies and challenge your students to write a letter. It could be a letter to the Abbess herself; or a letter that she may have written during her life (say, to her friend Anna); or a letter to one of their own friends about your church, using the same “secret medical language” that the abbess and her friends used to communicate when they wrote letters. After they have finished writing, allow time for students to read their letters aloud if they want to do so.

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Before sharing the life of Abbess Sophia of Kiev with older students, encourage them to look for a theme in her life. After telling them her story, ask your students this question: If they could describe the abbess in one word, or short phrase, what would it be? Then offer each of them a copy of this quote about her:

http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/abbess_sophia_kiev_everybody_loved_her.pdf
Talk together about what Abbess Sophia’s life must have been like in order for this to be said of her. Brainstorm together and think of ideas of how each member of your class, in this hostile-to-Christianity culture can live in such a way that this could be said of you. Encourage each student to write or draw as many ways as they can think of to live in that way in the margins around the quote.

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Tikhon of Moscow (March 25/April 7)

On January 19, 1865, Vasily (Basil) Ivanovich Belavin was born to the family of the priest Ioann Belavin. Ioann was the priest in the countryside of Russia, in the Toropetz district of the Pskov diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a child, Vasily spent time with the poor in his town. He loved to be part of the Church from a young age, and was unusually meek and humble. Ioann’s deceased mother once appeared to Ioann in a vision and told him many things that came true. One of the things she told him was that Vasily would grow up to be a great man.

Ioann passed away soon after that, but Vasily began his great work. He began by studying and, he studied hard. From 1878 through 1883, Vasily was a student at the Pskov Theological Seminary. The other students at the seminary liked him because he was so helpful, smart, and holy. They teasingly called Vasily the nicknames “bishop” and “patriarch” and would often ask him for help when they didn’t understand a lesson or when they needed help with their writing.
After he graduated, Vasily returned to the seminary, but this time he was not a student: he was a teacher! He taught Moral and Dogmatic Theology when he was only 23. The seminary and the whole town loved him. He lived a very pure life, in a tiny and simple wooden annex to a house. When he turned 26, he was tonsured as a monk. Vasily, now “Tikhon” (after St. Tikhon of Zadonsk), wanted to spend his whole life serving the Church.
In 1892, he was transferred to the Kholm Theological Seminary, and made an archimandrite. Five years later, Archimandrite Tikhon was consecrated as the bishop of Lublin, and was the Bishop of the Kholm Diocese. His hard work and pure lifestyle made him popular among the all the people in his region, no matter what their nationality.
Bishop Tikhon’s life changed once again in 1898 when he was made the bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, the head of the Orthodox Church in America. At the turn of the century, Bishop Tikhon’s diocese was extended beyond Alaska to all of North America. He was so well loved and respected that the Americans made him an honorary US citizen.

By 1905, the American Mission became an Archdiocese, with Bishop Tikhon leading it in his new role of Archbishop. He was given two bishops under his care to help him with this huge and diverse diocese: Bishop Innocent in Alaska, and Bishop Raphael in Brooklyn. Later that same year,
Archbishop Tikhon gave his blessing for a new monastery to be built. This monastery is named St. Tikhon’s, not after the archbishop who blessed its building, but for the saint for whom he was named: St. Tikhon of Zadonsk.

By just a few years later, in 1907, he had unified the different ethnic groups of Orthodoxy and planned a Council with all of them in February 1907. He didn’t get to go to that meeting, though, because in January he was appointed to Yaroslavl back in Russia, so he returned back to his home country again. In no time at all, he was (once again) well loved by the people now under his care. Although he was an archbishop, he spoke kindly to those beneath him instead of showing off his power. Even when he had to scold someone, he did in a kind way, and sometimes even with a joke, so that the scolding was easier for the other person to take.

In 1913, Archbishop Tikhon was sent to serve in Vilnius, Lithuania. While he was there, he worked hard to get the needed money for the local charities. Once again, the people in his care very quickly loved him because they could feel his love for God and for them. While he was in Vilnius, World War 1 began. When the war began, Archbishop Tikhon did everything that he could to help the poor in the Vilna area. Because of the war, some of these people no longer had a home, and others had no way to make a living, so they came to their archpriest for help.

A few years later, in 1917, Archbishop Tikhon was raised to the role of Metropolitan. He was put in charge of a council whose job it was to make the Russian Orthodox Church work in the way it was supposed to, including by having a patriarch. Three names were considered for the patriarchate, and the name selected from the ballot box was that of Archbishop Tikhon. That is how he came to be Metropolitan Tikhon. But even this new, more important role did not change how the metropolitan interacted with others! Everyone who met him noticed his simple life, his modesty, and how easy it was to be with him. But he could be tough when he had to: he was tough when it came to church matters, especially if he needed to defend the Church. It was a tough time for the Church herself, and it was made even harder by all that was going on in the world. Church property was being taken away by the government, the clergy were being taken to court and being persecuted, and it was difficult for Russian Orthodox Christians all over Russia. Metropolitan Tikhon kept shining the light of Christ and encouraging his fellow Christians to do the same by living godly lives full of repentance. He encouraged the clergy under his rule to stay as far from politics as possible in order to save their people.

Then a famine came to the Volga region of Russia in 1921. Patriarch Tikhon asked for help from other Russians and also from people all over the world. He even gave his blessing for donations to be made of valuable things (not used in liturgical services) from churches that could then be used to help the victims. Another group changed this to include all valuables from the church and they said that these items must be confiscated, which was against the 73rd Apostolic Canon. Not only was this against the Canon of the church, but also not all of the money for all of those items taken from churches was given to the victims of the famine. Some of it was kept by those who took the items out of the churches. This led to a uproar that ended in thousands of trials, more than 10,000 people killed, and the Patriarch himself was put into prison for over a year, Throughout this time, the patriarch was faithful to God and His Church. And when it was all finally over and the troublemaking priests and hierarchs repented and came back to the Church they were met with love by Patriarch Tikhon. It made the Patriarch very sad to see all of these troubles in the Church, but through it all, he gave himself completely to the Church and encouraged other church leaders to do the same.

In 1924, the Patriarch began to feel sick. He checked into the hospital, but would not stay always: he would leave on Sundays and Feast Days so he could continue to serve the Liturgies. The last liturgy he served was on Sunday, April 5, 1925. Two days after that, in the evening, one source said that he took took a nap until 11:45. He asked what time it was, and when they told him, he made the Sign of the Cross twice while saying, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” Patriarch Tikhon died before he was able to cross himself the third time. (Our other source said of his death that the patriarch was poisoned and that is why he died, and then the official record of his death was changed to make it look like he died naturally.)
Nearly a million people came to his funeral, so they overflowed from the cathedral, all over the Donskoy Monastery, and out into the square and the streets! The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church glorified the Patriarch to sainthood in 1989. For almost 70 years, the saint’s relics were believed to be lost, but they were found hidden away in the Donskoy Monastery in February of 1992.

Troparion to St. Tikhon:

Let us praise Tikhon, the patriarch of all Russia, / And enlightener of North America / An ardent follower of the Apostolic traditions, / And good pastor of the Church of Christ. / Who was elected by divine providence, / And laid down his life for his sheep. / Let us sing to him with faith and hope, / And ask for his hierarchical intercessions: / Keep the church in Russia in tranquility, / And the church in North America in peace. / Gather her scattered children into one flock, / Bring to repentance those who have renounced the True Faith, / Preserve our lands from civil strife, / And entreat God’s peace for all people!

St. Tikhon of Moscow, intercede for our salvation!

 

Sources: https://oca.org/holy-synod/past-primates/tikhon-belavin and  http://gnisios.narod.ru/tikhonmoscow.html

 

Here are some ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students learn more about St. Tikhon of Moscow:
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Find a more detailed biography of St.Tikhon of Moscow’s life here: http://www.antiochian.org/Bishops/tikhon.htm

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Find photos of St. Tikhon of Moscow, along with an interesting article about him here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86631.htm

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Teachers of younger Sunday Church School children can show their students these icons of St. Tikhon’s life as they tell his story: https://oca.org/media/photos/the-life-of-st.-tikhon-of-moscow

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Tell your Sunday Church School students the story of St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life, emphasizing the ways that he exemplified humility. From his early years, he reached out to those beneath him and became a friend to all. Help your students begin to think about how to apply this humble lifestyle to their own life. Teach your students James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” As Orthodox Christians, our main objective in life is truly to be like God and to live for eternity at peace with Him. We cannot rise to His level, so we need God to descend to ours. Share with your students this quote from St. Tikhon:

http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_tikhon_of_moscow_god_descends.pdf

To whom does St. Tikhon say God descends? To the humble! Talk together about practical ways that we, like St. Tikhon, can live humbly even when we are successful and could become proud. Illustrate St. Tikhon’s quote with this visual: Find a way to illustrate how water flows down a hill. If you have a hill outside of your church, take a bucket of water and go on a field trip to demonstrate and observe. If not, use a cookie sheet “hill” that empties into a plastic bin “valley” to demonstrate. Either way, before you pour the water, ask your students what will happen to it. Will it go fast or slow? Will it stop halfway down and sit there, or keep going as far down as it can? After the demonstration, ask them to think about St. Tikhon’s statement and how this demonstration applies to it. How does God descend to the humble? If we want to be near God, we need to be humble.

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Here is a printable abbreviated version of St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life. Make copies of this version for your older students to read during your lesson: http://saintnicholas-oca.org/files/bltn16/10_9_16.pdf

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After introducing your older Sunday Church School students to St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life, show them a printed copy of this blog post and ask them to underline something they already knew about the saint and circle something new that they just learned from this post. After they’ve had some time to do so, compare notes and discuss their findings. http://orthodoxhistory.org/2015/04/20/who-was-st-tikhon/

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Teachers of teens and adults may want to purchase this recent translation of St. Tikhon’s sermons and writings: https://www.stspress.com/shop/top-25-best-sellers/st-tikhon-of-moscow-instructions-teachings-for-the-american-orthodox-faithful-1898-1907/
And/or this biography of his life: https://www.holytrinitypublications.com/Book/354/Chosen_For_His_People.html

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St. Tikhon of Moscow was instrumental in the establishment of the St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery in Pennsylvania, America’s oldest Orthodox monastery. Learn more about the monastery here: http://sttikhonsmonastery.org/home_about1.html