On June 11, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates a (fairly recent) saint, St. Luke of Crimea. St. Luke lived a faithful Christian life, characterized by kindness and compassion in the midst of difficulties and oppression. In an increasingly materialistic and self-centered society, St. Luke’s example is ever more important to study and emulate. It is important that we teachers learn about this saint, learn from him, and pass on his story and his example to our children.
Here is a summary of his life that can help us learn about him, and be better ready to teach our students about him and his life, when we have opportunity to do so:
St. Luke was born in 1877, in Russia, to a Catholic father and an Orthodox mother. He was baptized with the name “Valentine.” Even though his parents were of differing beliefs, they raised their children to love and serve God by serving others. Although they were not rich, his mother often took food to prisoners and his father (a pharmacist) would prepare medicine for the sick. Being raised in an environment like this had a powerful effect on Valentine.
When Valentine grew up, he love to paint and considered becoming a painter, but decided instead to become a doctor so that he could help more poor people. He overcame his dislike for studying the sciences, and became a promising physician. However, instead of going on to be a professor, as he could have done, he chose instead to serve the peasants as a doctor. When he realized how many of the poor were struggling with blindness, he began studying ophthalmology in Kiev, and caring for patients in his family’s home. He would not accept pay from his patients. While he studied the sciences, he also studied the scriptures.
When war began between Russia and Japan, Valentine traveled by train for a month to the city of Chita, so that he could help to care for the wounded. It was there that he met his future wife, Anna, who was working as a nurse. The two of them married, and God granted them three sons and a daughter. After the war, he worked in different villages and towns, trying to help as many people as he could. During this time, he decided to begin writing a book about the new treatments he was discovering, and so he began to write.
When Valentine was 40, the Bolshevik Revolution began. Life became difficult for Christians in that part of the world. Valentine and his family moved to Tashkent, where he became the surgeon in one of the biggest hospitals in the country. It was a dangerous time for everyone: even the hospital itself had bullet holes, and Valentine often risked his life while he was working to save the lives of others. During this time in Tashkent, Anna became ill with tuberculosis, and passed away. Their children were aged 6 to 12. Valentine prayed that God would provide for the children’s needs, and help him to raise them. God answered by sending a nurse named Sofia, who loved Valentine’s children so much that she became a second mother to them (even raising them and sending them to school in later years, when Valentine was unable to care for them).
Valentine’s deep faith was exhibited by his keeping an icon of the Theotokos in his surgery room. He prayed before every operation, marking the patient with an iodine cross at the location where the operation was to be done. At one point, when the Soviets took control of Tashkent, they removed the icon from Valentine’s surgery. He refused to continue to work without having the icon of the Theotokos present. Within a very short time, one of the military leaders’ wife was in serious condition and needed an operation. They requested that Valentine do it, as he was well known because of the success of his operating skills. He refused to operate on the woman because the icon was gone. Before too long, the icon was put back in its place on the wall of the surgery, and Valentine was able to perform the surgery and successfully save the woman’s life, with the help of the Theotokos.
Soon thereafter, Valentine was urged to become a priest. Although it was a dangerous time to be related in any way to the Church, he agreed, and in 1921, he was ordained to the priesthood. He continued to work as a doctor (considered “the best surgeon in Russia”), while also directing a hospital and teaching anatomy. He dressed as a priest in all of his work, which irritated the authorities in Tashkent.In 1923, Fr. Valentine was secretly ordained a bishop, and was given the name of Luke. Within a month, he was exiled for his role in the Church. Over the next 11 years, Bishop Luke was banished many times, often to Siberia and other difficult places to live, because of his faith. No matter where he was sent, the people were glad to see him. He would serve them as a bishop in whatever spaces they could manage to meet: whether on a riverbank or in a small cottage, he would lead services and encourage people to follow God. He also would help as a doctor whenever possible, healing people’s bodies as well as their souls.One of the most difficult things for Bishop Luke was being so far from his children during this time. They wrote letters to each other, and Bishop Luke prayed for them intensely. God healed the children when they were ill, even though their doctor father was not around, simply through Bishop Luke’s prayers. In the years after these initial exiles, God brought other children into Bishop Luke’s life, as well, for whom he cared as though they were his own. All the young people under his care greatly benefited from their interaction with the bishop, and (among other things) he taught them, “The most important thing in life is to always do good. Even if you cannot do much to help others, strive to do whatever small benefaction you can do.”This teaching was evident time and again in Bishop Luke’s later years. Whether giving his coat to a needy prisoner while himself imprisoned, or working day and night despite his age during World War 2, or serving on Sundays and feast days at a church an hour and a half’s walk over slippery roads away, he did everything that he could to help others. Even at the age of 70, when he was transferred to Simferopol in Crimea, he still wanted to serve others.
There was only one church left in all of Crimea when (by then) Archbishop Luke arrived. There was much famine and poverty, as well. Despite these immense obstacles, Archbishop Luke helped the people by increasing the number of churches to more than 60.
At age 74, Archbishop Luke went completely blind. However, he was able to continue serving. God’s guidance, as well as his years of precision as a surgeon, made him able to be so precise in his service that others who didn’t know he was blind could not tell that he was. Despite this new challenge of blindness, Archbishop Luke continued to serve sick people by praying for them. (For example, a young girl named Galina, who had a brain tumor, was healed by his prayers. She later went on to become a doctor to help others.)
After he became blind, Archbishop Luke’s granddaughter Vera came to help him. She would cook a big pot of food every day in their apartment. The poor, children, and elderly would come to the apartment, looking for the food. Although he ate only once a day, Archbishop Luke would ask each evening if there had been enough for the others who had come for the other meals. He would not allow Vera to purchase new clothes for him. Instead, he always asked her to mend his old ones because “there are many poor people around.” His concern was never for himself, but for others, to the day that he fell asleep in the Lord.
On June 11, 1961, Archbishop Luke departed this life. He was 84 years old, and had blessed the lives of many people in those 84 years. But even departing this life has not stopped him from helping those in need. He continues to bless people who ask for his prayers. Here are two examples: there was a boy whose hip bone developed a disease, whose parents took him to venerate the relics of St. Luke and ask for his prayers. St. Luke visited the boy in the night, blew on the leg, and it was healed. Recently, another boy, a pianist, had fingers cut off when an iron door slammed shut on them. He went to St. Luke’s tomb and asked St. Luke for help. Within days, the fingers grew back (even with nails!), and he is able to play the piano again (better with the healed hand than the uninjured one)!
Through the prayers of Saint Luke of Crimea, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!