Monthly Archives: July 2015

Ideas for Classroom Decorations, Part 1: General Classroom Decor Information

Prepare your Sunday Church School classroom by dressing its walls with bulletin boards and/or displays. These can act as teaching aids to help your students focus on what they are learning in class. The displays can be very simple or ornate: it depends on your time and abilities, as well as your students’ needs. This mini-series will offer ideas of ways to decorate your classroom with decor which is useful, yet will also enhance the learning environment.

This first blog post in the series will focus broadly, on general displays for the classroom. In forthcoming posts, look for ideas for scripture-related displays and saint-related ones. Most of the display ideas featured will be bulletin board displays. Consider reducing the ideas to poster-sized (if you have a small or mobile SCS space) or enlarging them to cover an entire wall, if you have that much space!

1. Find or make a display area. Here are ideas of ways to make a display area:

  1. Begin to build the display with a background covering. Here are ideas of basic coverings for that display area:
  1. Unless you are super neat and can make perfect edges around your display area, finish off the edges of the display with other edging. Here are ideas of edgings for your display area:
  1. Add words to the display. Here are lettering ideas for your display:

Here are ideas for basic displays that can be included in a Sunday Church School classroom:

As you can see, it is up to you what you do to decorate your Sunday Church School classroom. Even the smallest of meeting areas can contain regular decor to personalize your space and enhance the environment while helping the class learn. May this series inspire your creativity and enable you to find ways to make your classroom more beautiful and a better learning environment!

The following links offer more ideas for classroom displays:


Find a variety of DIY bulletin board making ideas here:


Make a fabric-covered bulletin board as demonstrated here:


Although these ideas are geared to a general classroom, some of them could be tweaked for a Sunday Church School classroom as well:


See a gallery of photos of Christian-themed bulletin boards that feature using a variety of spaces, bulletin board covers, and edging ideas here:


Find ideas for Sunday Church School bulletin boards, including many that the children can help to create, here:


Find general ideas for bulletin boards in this blog:


On Organizing a Sunday Church School Classroom

We are nearly at the beginning of a new Church year once again. This is a good time for Sunday Church School teachers to take a moment to look at the Sunday Church School classroom and see if there are any improvements that can be made to the way in which the classroom is organized. Those of us in the northern hemisphere whose parishes have taken the summer off from Sunday Church School may have a little more time in our schedules right now to do so. Regardless of which part of the world you live in or what season it is, take a moment to tour your classroom, evaluate it, and see what can be done to better organize the room so that you can more effectively serve your students.

Walk into the classroom and look around, and consider the following:

1. Look at the students’ sitting space in the classroom. Is there an inviting working space with a place to sit down for the children? Since the children have just come from (or will be going to) Divine Liturgy where they were/will be standing, it is important that they be able to sit comfortably in the classroom if they want to, and/or it works with what you are doing together as a class. If you do not yet have comfortable seating, consider purchasing a rug, large floor pillows, or even making hand-cushioned crates for seating in your gathering area. Perhaps the classroom already has a table with chairs, or desks, or comfortable mats for them to sit on. If it does, and that is what works best for your students, then you are in good shape!

2. Look at the focus area of the classroom. Is there a whiteboard or chalkboard? This is often the focal point of the classroom, since many times we write questions, illustrate points, or have students write answers on a board like this. The board is a quick way to easily show the whole class something at the same time. If the room does not yet have a whiteboard or chalkboard, purchase one. You could also paint part of the wall with chalkboard paint and write on that space.

3. Look around at the walls/partitions that surround your room. Are you effectively using the display space in your room? Sunday Church School rooms do not need to look glamorous or elaborate, but a little thoughtful decoration will go a long way to enhance the learning environment.

Consider including the following on your classroom wall:

  • a calendar – This can highlight the Church year, remind your class when the parish has special services, display students’ birthdays or name days, and/or be a place to commemorate the saints
  • a bulletin board (or more than one) – This can be a display that goes up at the beginning of the year and stays all year (ie: self-portraits labeled “Our Sunday Church School Class Family”); a bulletin board that changes to illustrate what you are studying; an interactive learning center featuring activities for children to work at if they arrive early or finish something else before everyone else does; etc. The possibilities are endless.
  • a display area for student artwork/papers – This could be as simple as taping or pinning up their work right onto the wall; it could be bulletin board strips with pins to hold the work; it could consist of clothespins hung on a line on the wall; or it could be made of empty frames hung on the wall where the students’ work can be inserted.

4. Turn your attention to the supplies that you use during class. Is there an easy way to access and store these items? Perhaps there is a closet, cabinet, cart, or set of drawers in which you can keep supplies. If you do not yet have any storage space, find or create some. Then look at the supplies themselves, and consider how they are being stored in that space. Are they easy to access and put away? Is there a better way they could be stored that will make them easier for students to use and/or put it away?

5. Before you leave your Sunday Church School room, look at the room as a whole. Does it look inviting? If not, consider what could be done to make the room feel more friendly. Does your classroom communicate to all who enter it that the learning that happens in Sunday Church School is important enough to warrant a welcoming classroom? If not, how can you improve?
Do not feel discouraged if your tour of your Sunday Church School classroom generated a long list of things you ought to change. Instead of being overwhelmed, look at the list as an opportunity! Think about ways to enhance the Sunday Church School experience for your students by making their environment more conducive to learning. Then prioritize your “to-do” list and get started. Do a little at a time until you’ve improved all that you can. Organizing your students’ study area (and thereby minimizing distractions from the environment) can go a long way to keeping the focus on the reason your class meets together every Sunday: to learn more about God and His Church!

Here are links to websites that can give you ideas of how to better organize your classroom:


This link shows how to use inexpensive plastic bins for organizing your classroom, demonstrates the use of plastic crates with stuffed fabric “tops” for stools; etc:


Purchase a “let the little children come unto me” oval rug featuring a colorful world map surrounded by  international children:


If seeing other classrooms inspires you with ideas, check out this page of pictures of many different classrooms. The bottom of the page includes links to online classroom setup planners, as well:


See what one teacher did with her Sunday School classroom here:


Here is one storage idea that features using fabric bins in metal cubbies:


Find a list of brilliant DIY ideas for organizing a classroom on a very low budget here:


Consider painting a wall or door with chalkboard paint for prayer requests, scriptures, etc. as demonstrated here:


Find a variety of great ideas for Sunday Church School classroom renovation/organization here:


Here’s a blog about important things to keep in mind when organizing a Sunday Church School classroom that will include special needs students:


If you choose to set up your classroom with learning centers in addition to or instead of traditional lecture and response classtime, here are some ideas:

On the Mercy of God


Author’s note: I am in need of mercy. I need to better receive it from God. I also need to grow in extending it to my fellow Christians. So, dear community, forgive me: this note is for me. I’m sharing it in case it can help you in any way, too. Lord have mercy on us all!

One morning a few days ago, I noticed a rose blooming in my garden. I’ve had only a few roses this summer, and I love them. So I intended to go out, cut it, and bring it into the house for us all to enjoy. Unfortunately this is such a busy week for our family that I didn’t actually get to it until the next morning. To my dismay, when I approached the rose, I found that it was already widely opened and also that it was full of holes. Apparently the prior day’s heat and a couple of voracious Japanese beetles nearly did the rose in before I got to it. My immediate thought was, “I won’t bother with this one. It’s too far gone.”

But then I thought about how precious this rose is: I’ve had so few roses in my garden this summer, it is one of only a handful! Then I smelled it, and the glorious aroma that can only come from a home-grown rose filled my lungs. So I cut it after all, put it in a favorite little vase, and brought it inside.

As I prepared to write this note on the mercy of God I thought again about my rose, and I began to see a parallel between the story of me and my little shredded rose and the mercy of God. Think about it with me, if you will: How often do we intend to do something and not get around to it until much later? How often do we meet a person or arrive at a situation only to discover that he/she/it is nearly too far gone and/or full of “holes;” imperfect or not to our liking? How often are we tempted to turn away from a task or an individual because it seems that it is/they are impossible or not “worth” our time? How often do we refuse to show mercy, love, acceptance of, and forgiveness to the people and/or opportunities that God sets before us?

Glory to God who does not give up on US for being so lacking in mercy. Instead, He abundantly gives us His grace repeatedly: through His Church, through the sacraments, through the Holy Scriptures, through fellow Christians, through the saints – I could go on and on listing all the ways in which God grants us mercy. His mercy is always there, whether or not we can (or choose to) see it.

But instead of “not bothering with us because we are too far gone,” God sees our preciousness. After all, He created us in His image and loves us with perfect Love. He sees what we experience; He knows what has put the “holes” in our souls, whether things we have chosen for ourselves or things that have happened to us; and yet He continues to love us and extend His mercy to us.

St. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15) I don’t know about you, but, left to my own devices, my life is anything but fragrant, as I tend to choose smelly attitudes and the stench of my own selfishness. But St. Paul’s letter says that, to God, that is, in His eyes, in His estimation, we are “the fragrance of Christ!” Wow! Only God’s mercy can make it possible for us to contain His aroma. Only through His compassionate grace can we feebly offer His fragrance to the world. But apparently it is right here inside each of us. (Incidentally, that means His fragrance is in others, too: but we must approach them despite whatever may deter us, to truly smell it.)

Just as I cut my imperfect rose and brought it into my home, by the mercy of God He has cut us from our sinful passions and brought us into His holy house. He has placed us in the right “container,” the Church, and filled it with what we need for nourishment. His aroma flows through us and can bring great joy to all around us if we allow it to,  and if we encourage others to approach us despite our flaws. Similarly, as we draw near to others and extend His mercy despite their flaws, we will be blessed with the beauty of Christ’s aroma wafting into our lives through them!
By the way, in case you wondered, that rose is now sitting on our family’s prayer table. It is a perfect reminder for whatever days it has left, of God’s mercy towards us despite our imperfections. My shredded rose sits in our little holy space offering what it has, its glorious aroma, to all who pass by. May we do the same, by the grace and mercy of God.


”And now, O Master, let Thy hand shelter me, and let Thy mercy come upon me; for my soul is troubled and in distress at its departure from my wretched and defiled body. May the evil counsel of the adversary never overtake it and bind it in darkness through the sins which I have committed in this life, whether in knowledge or in ignorance. Be merciful unto me, O Master, and let not my soul see the dark forms of the evil demons, but may Thy bright and shining Angels receive it. Give glory to Thy holy name, and by Thy might lead me unto Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being judged, may the hand of the prince of this world not seize me and snatch me, a sinner, into the depths of hades; but do Thou stand by me, and be unto me a Savior and Helper, for these present bodily torments are a joy to Thy servants.”

— Prayer of St. Eustratius, Saturday Midnight Office

For even more on mercy, read Fr. Anthony Coniaris’ article here before teaching your Sunday Church School students about it:

The following are ideas of ways to help children learn about mercy. Note: while these are not specifically Orthodox, they are easily adaptable to be used in an Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School lesson:


Here is an excellent, hands-on object lesson that can help your Sunday Church School students begin to grasp the greatness of God’s mercy:


With your Sunday Church School students, discuss the beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Here’s a game that you can play to aid the discussion:


Here’s a suggestion for using flowers (of all things!) to talk about God’s mercy with children:


Find a lesson plan about showing mercy and forgiving others as Christ discusses in Matthew 18:21-33, here:

Share this resource of ideas for family activities and discussion on mercy with the parents of your Sunday Church School students. (Note: this not an Orthodox resource, but can easily be adapted and used by Orthodox Christian families!)


Learning About a Saint: St. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn (commemorated on Feb. 27 and the first Saturday of November)

Note: 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of St. Raphael of Brooklyn’s repose in the Lord. Parish Life Conference attendees in the Antiochian Archdiocese will notice that the creative arts festival theme this year is based on the life of St. Raphael. As a result, many of the children in that archdiocese have already studied his life so that they could complete their projects. Here is a brief synopsis of his life, courtesy of the Antiochian Village Camp’s website, for anyone not yet familiar with this saint.

Our holy Father Raphael was born in Syria in 1860 with the name Rafia. The exact date of Raphael’s birth is not known, but he estimated it to be on or near his Name Day, the Synaxis of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, November 8.

St. Raphael attended elementary school, where he did very well, but in 1874 it appeared that his father would no longer be able to afford his son’s tuition. Fortunately, help came from Deacon Athanasios Atallah (later Metropolitan of Homs), who recommended to Patriarch Hierotheos of Antioch that Rafia be accepted as a student of the Patriarchate in preparation for the priesthood.

Since the Balamand Seminary had been closed in 1840, Patriarch Joachim III of Constantinople invited the Patiarch of Antioch to send at least one deserving student to study on scholarship at the School of Theology at Halki, and Saint Raphael was the one who was selected to go.

On December 8, 1885 he was ordained to the diaconate at the school chapel. Patriarch Gerasimos of Antioch was impressed with Deacon Raphael and often took him along on his pastoral visitations of his parishes. When His Beatitude could not be present, Deacon Raphael was asked to preach the Word of God to the people.

The Patriarch gave his blessing, and Deacon Raphael was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy in Kiev.

When Patriarch Gerasimos resigned in order to accept the See of Jerusalem, Archmandrite Raphael regarded this as an opportunity to free the Church of Antioch from its domination by foreign hierarchs. In November 1891 Metropolitan Spyridon, a Greek Cypriot, was elected as Patriarch of Antioch. Many Arabs believed that he had purchased the election by distributing 10,000 liras to several notable people in Damascus. Archmandrite Raphael refused to commemorate the new Patriarch during services at the Representation Church. As a result, he was suspended from his priestly functions by Patriarch Spyridon. Saint Raphael accepted his suspension, but continued to write articles in Russian newspapers in defense of the Antiochian cause. The Patriarchs of Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria and Jerusalem successfully petitioned the Tsar to forbid Russian newspapers from publishing his articles. With this door closed to him, Saint Raphael began to publish his writings in book form. Eventually, Patriarch Spyridon wrote to the Assistant Oberprocurator of Russia, a friend of Saint Raphael’s, asking him to persuade Father Raphael to ask for the Patriarch’s forgiveness. He did so, and the suspension was lifted. Saint Raphael was allowed to transfer from the jurisdiction of Antioch to the Church of Russia, and to remain there. He went to Kazan, taking a position as instructor in Arabic studies at the theological academy. He remained there until 1895 when he was invited by the Syrian Orthodox Benevolent Society of New York to come to that city to be the pastor of the Arab Orthodox community.

Archmandrite Raphael arrived in New York on November 2, 1895 and was welcomed by a delegation of Arab Christians who were awaiting their leader from Russia. On November 5, his first Sunday in America, he assisted Bishop Nicholas in serving the Divine Liturgy at the Russian Church in New York City. Less than two weeks after his arrival, Archmandrite Raphael found a suitable place in lower Manhattan to set up a chapel, and furnished it with ecclesiastical items that he had brought with him from Russia. Bishop Nicholas blessed the new chapel, which was dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra.

In the summer of 1896, Saint Raphael undertook the first of several pastoral journeys across the continent. He visited thirty cities between New York and San Francisco, seeking out the Master’s lost sheep in cities, towns, and on isolated farms. He fed the spiritually hungry people with the word of God in each place where he stopped. He performed marriages and baptisms, heard confessions, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the homes of the faithful where there was no church building. In other words, he zealously fulfilled his ministry as a preacher of the Gospel, enduring many hardships and afflictions, and he was watchful in all things concerning the care of his flock (2 Timothy 4:5).

In 1898, with the blessing of Bishop Nicholas, Saint Raphael produced his first book in the New World – an Arabic language service book titled The Book of True Consolation in the Divine Prayers. This book of liturgical services and prayers was very useful to priests in celebrating the divine services, and also to the people in their personal prayer life. The English version published by Archimandrite Seraphim Nassar is still being used today.

In March 1899, Saint Raphael received permission from Bishop Tikhon to start collecting funds for a cemetery, and for building a new church to replace the chapel, which was located in an old building on a dirty street. In the spring he left on another pastoral tour of 43 cities and towns. In Johnstown, PA, he reconciled those whose personal enmity threatened to divide the Arabic community. Although civil courts had been unable to make peace, Saint Raphael restored calm and put an end to the bitter feud. While in Johnstown, he received a telegram informing him that Metropolitan Melotios (Doumani) had been elected Patriarch of Antioch. With great joy, Saint Raphael told his people that for the first time in 168 years, a native Arab had been chosen as Primate of the Antiochian Church.

After the new Patriarch had been installed, Archimandrite Raphael was proposed to succeed Meletios as Metropolitan of Latakia. The Patriarch, however, stated that the Holy Synod could not elect Father Raphael because of his important work in America. In 1901, Metropolitan Gabriel of Beirut wrote to Archimandrite Raphael asking him to be his auxiliary bishop, but he declined saying he could not leave his American flock. First, he wanted to build a permanent church and to acquire a parish cemetery. The latter goal was achieved in August 1901, when Fr. Raphael purchased a section of Mt. Olivet cemetery on Long Island.

In December 1901, Archimandrite Raphael was elected as Bishop of Zahleh. Patriarch Meletios sent a telegram congratulating him and asking him to return. Father Raphael thanked the Patriarch, but again declined the higher office. He said that he wished to complete the project of building a temple for the Syrian community of New York. The following year, he bought an existing church building on Pacific Street in Brooklyn, and had it remodeled for Orthodox worship. Bishop Tikhon consecrated the church to the great joy of the faithful in attendance. Thus, Saint Raphael’s second major project was finished.

Since the number of parishes with the Diocese of North America was growing, Bishop Tikhon found it impossible to visit all of them. The Diocese had to be reorganized in order to administer it more efficiently. Therefore, Bishop Tikhon submitted a plan to the Russian Holy Synod which would transfer the See from San Francisco to New York because most parishes and individuals were concentrated in the East. Since various ethnic groups required special attention and pastoral leadership, Bishop Tikhon proposed that Archimandrite Raphael be made his second vicar bishop, with the Bishop of Alaska his first.

In 1903, the Holy Synod of Russia unanimously elected Archimandrite Raphael to be the Bishop of Brooklyn, while retaining him as head of the Syro-Arab Orthodox Mission in North America. The Holy Synod announced the election to Patriarch Meletios, who was pleased by their decision. Bishop Tikhon wrote to Saint Raphael to inform him of his election, and Father Raphael sent him a letter of acceptance. Meanwhile, Father Innocent Pustynsky was consecrated at Saint Tikhon’s first auxiliary bishop at St. Petersburg’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

On the third Sunday of Great Lent 1904, Saint Raphael became the first Orthodox to be consecrated on American soil. Bishops Tikhon and Innocent performed the consecration at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn. The new bishop’s vestments were a gift from Tsar Nicholas II. After his consecration, Bishop Raphael continued his pastoral labors, ordained priests, and assigned them to parishes, and helped Bishop Tikhon in the administration of the diocese.

At the end of 1904, Bishop Raphael announced his intention to publish a magazine called Al-Kalimat (The Word) as the official publication of the Syro-Arab Mission. Bishop Raphael knew that he could not visit all Orthodox Christians across North America in person, but through the ministry of the printed word he could preach the word of salvation even to people he would never meet.

In July 1905, Bishop Raphael consecrated the grounds for Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and blessed the orphanage at South Canaan, PA. Three days later, he presided at a conference of diocesan clergy at Old Forge, PA, because Archbishop Tikhon was in San Francisco. Among the clergy in attendance were three who would be numbered among the saints: Fathers Alexis Toth, Alexander Hotovitzky, and John Kochurov. (The last two would die as martyrs in Russia.)

For the next ten years, Bishop Raphael tended his growing flock. With the growth of his New York community came an increase in the number of children, and he was concerned about their future. He wanted to establish an evening school to educate them in a Christian atmosphere because the future of the Church in this country depended on the instruction of the youth. Children who did not speak Arabic were already going to non-Orthodox churches, where Sunday School classes were conducted in English. Bishop Raphael saw the absolute necessity for using English in worship and in education for the future progress of the Syro-Arab Mission.

Taking heed of Saint Paul’s words to pray in language that people understood (1 Corinthians 14:15-19), Saint Raphael recommended the use of the Service Book of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church, translated by Isabel Hapgood, in all of his parishes.

In March 1907, Saint Tikhon returned to Russia and was replaced by Archbishop Platon. Once again, Saint Raphael was considered for Episcopal office in Syria, having been nominated to succeed Patriarch Gregory as Metropolitan of Tripoli in 1908. The Holy Synod of Antioch removed Bishop Raphael’s name from the list of candidates, citing various canons forbidding a bishop being transferred from one city to another.

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1911, Bishop Raphael was honored for his fifteen years of pastoral ministry in America. Archbishop Platon presented him with a silver covered icon of Christ and praised him for his work. In his humility, Bishop Raphael could not understand why he should be honored merely for doing his duty (Luke 17:10). He considered himself an “unworthy servant,” yet he did perfectly the work that fell to him (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians).

Toward the end of 1912, Bishop Raphael became ill while working in his office. Doctors diagnosed him with a heart ailment that eventually caused his death. After two weeks he felt strong enough to celebrate the Liturgy in his cathedral. In 1913-1914, this missionary bishop continued to make pastoral visitations to various cities. In 1915, he fell ill again and spent two months at home, bearing his illness with patience. At 12:40 am on February 27, he rested from his labors.

From his youth, Saint Raphael’s greatest joy was to serve the Church. When he came to America, he found his people scattered abroad, and he called them to unity. He never neglected his flock, but traveled throughout America, Canada, and Mexico in search of them so that he might care for them. He kept them from straying into strange pastures, and he protected them from spiritual harm. During twenty years of faithful ministry, he nurtured them and helped them to grow. At the time of his death, the Syro-Arab Mission had thirty parishes with 25,000 faithful.

Saint Raphael came into contact with all sorts of people, and was a gentle father to them. He gained their love and respect by first loving them, and also through his charming personality and excellent character. He was always kind and merciful with others, but was strict with himself. He accomplished many good things during his earthly life, and now he joins the holy angels in offering ceaseless prayer and praise to God.

Above excerpts taken from The Orthodox Church April/May 2000
(Reprinted with permission from

Rejoice, O Father Raphael, Adornment of the holy Church! Thou art Champion of the True Faith, Seeker of the lost, Consolation of the oppressed, Father to orphans, and Friend of the poor, Peacemaker and Good Shepherd, Joy of all the Orthodox, Son of Antioch, Boast of America; Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor thee.

Read a more in-depth telling of St. Raphael’s life here:

In case you wondered why St. Raphael has two different commemoration days listed, read this:

Here are additional ways to help your students learn about St. Raphael:


Find ideas for teaching children about the life of St. Raphael throughout the Sunday Church School year, here:


Find printable posters about St. Raphael and a few of the churches he founded, here:


Find pictures from the life of St. Raphael here:


Select your students’ grade level and teach them about St. Raphael from the lesson plans and printables found here:


Older students can read about St. Raphael’s life, and then look for the details in the service held in his honor on the first Saturday of November. Find the text for the service here:


After studying the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, students can go online and take this trivia quiz to see how much they know about his life!

Learning About a Saint: St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (commemorated on July 2)

Author’s note: as I read “The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco,” I was especially struck by the life and love of this saint. I began to research further and found online many accounts of his life on earth and of miracles resulting from his prayers both during this life and since his departure from it. What a blessing to be able to learn about such a recent saint! I feel as though I have met a dear (and very holy) old friend. Although his commemoration day has already passed for this year, I’d like to introduce you to my new old friend, so that you can introduce your Sunday Church School students to him as well.

On July 2, we commemorate St. John Maximovitch, the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco. Who is this saint, and why do we commemorate him? This blog will offer a small glimpse into his life, as cited in the book The Life of Saint, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas.

Born in southern Russia on June 4, 1896 to well-off parents, John Maximovitch (baptized “Michael”) was a frail boy who loved to study. Throughout his growing up years, Michael was exposed to true holiness as his family attended church regularly and took him to visit holy icons and the relics of holy people. These experiences had a profound and lasting impact on his life.
He studied in a military school and then got his law degree before his family was forced to leave Russia because of the Russian revolution. When the revolution happened, his family escaped to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where Michael studied theology and got his theological degree in 1925. During these years, he met and was mentored by Archbishop Anthony Khrapovitsky, who tonsured Michael as a monk named John, and ordained him to the diaconate.

John was a very humble man all of his life. For example, when he was summoned to Belgrade to be consecrated as a bishop, he told someone who he met on a streetcar that he had been accidentally summoned to see another monk named John be ordained bishop. The next day, when he met up with the same woman again by chance, he told her that the mistake was even worse than he had originally expected, for they actually wanted to make HIM the bishop, but he felt unworthy of the position!

After his ordination, Bishop John was sent first to Shanghai to look after the many Russians who had fled the Soviets in Russia and ended up in China. While he was there, he tenderly cared for his flock. Besides his pastoral work, he assisted in the completion of a cathedral, improved religious education, and cared for many orphans.

In his extreme humility, the bishop did not care about how he looked. Despite his status in the church, he wore clothing made from inexpensive material and usually walked barefoot. Even when he was told to wear sandals, since the Russian word for “wear” means “carry,” he fulfilled the decree by tucking the sandals under his arm so he was, indeed, “carrying” sandals!

Bishop John visited the sick daily, praying for them and doing whatever he could to help them. For example, once a woman who was thrown from her horse. She had her skull crushed but couldn’t be operated on (to remove the skull pieces pressing into her brain) because her pulse was so faint and the doctors knew she would not survive surgery. The bishop visited her and prayed over her for 2 hours. The woman’s pulse returned to normal. The surgery was able to happen, and was a success, through the prayers of the holy bishop. To this day, he cares for the sick and he intercedes for people who ask for his help, whether or not they are Orthodox!

When communism moved into China, (the now Arch)bishop John moved with his people to Tubabao, Philippines. This island, usually regularly buffeted by typhoons, was calm for two years and three months. During that time, Archbishop John walked around in the refugee camp every night, praying for his people and blessing the camp. (His prayers were powerful, for only two months after he and most of his flock left the island, a typhoon came through that flattened the entire camp.)

When the Russian refugees were relocated to the USA and Australia, Archbishop John was assigned to Western Europe. He oversaw the French and Dutch Orthodox Church, and gathered information on saints from that region that were part of Orthodoxy before the Latin Church left. Living in Europe didn’t sway the archbishop’s manner of dress: he continued to dress simply, and as a result, the French called him “St. John the Barefoot.”

Eventually, Archbishop John was sent to San Francisco, California. He worked hard to care for his flock, and also to enable the construction of the cathedral dedicated to the icon of the Theotokos, “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” He had plenty of opportunity for sorrow with that project, as opponents falsely accused him and stood in the way of the building. He patiently continued on with his work, blaming only the devil for the troubles once the cathedral was successfully completed.

During this part of his life, the Archbishop wrote sermons and encouragement to his people. Some of these have been published in English as well as Russian. All are full of his wisdom and contain answers to many questions about the Orthodox Faith.

Throughout his years of ministry, the archbishop always arrived early to church and stayed late. One reason it took him so long to leave was that, each time he left the church, he reverenced the icons as if he were saying goodbye to dear friends. On July 2, 1966, he was visiting St. Nicholas’ Cathedral in Seattle along with the “Kursk” icon of the Mother of God. On this night, he stayed particularly late – 3 hours after the service, to be exact – praying in the cathedral. After he left the cathedral, he went next door to a parish house, and reposed in the Lord.

For 28 years, people visited his remains, which were buried in a chapel below the cathedral in San Francisco. When they visited, people would often ask Archbishop John to pray for them. They would also write petitions on slips of paper and place them beneath his mitre. Archbishop John continued his work after departing this life, and even today he continues praying on behalf of his people. Many miracles have happened because of his prayers. Glory to God for His work through the prayers of His servant!

In 1993, Archbishop John’s relics were discovered to be incorrupt. His relics, along with the way that he lived and the miracles God has performed in response to his prayers both during this life and since his repose, were evidence enough for him to be recognized as a saint of the Holy Orthodox Church. He was glorified as such on July 2, 1994. Today, his relics are housed in a special shrine in the cathedral in San Francisco. His prayers continue on for all who request them.


St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, please intercede for us and for our salvation!

The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco is a book for young people that was compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas. It is available here:,_Wonderworker_of_Shanghai_and_San_Francisco_for_Young_People.html_

Find a dvd about St. John’s life here:

Find the troparion and kontakion to St. John here:

Find the supplication service to St. John here:

The following are additional resources to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about St. John the Wonderworker:


Find wonderful ideas of ways to celebrate St. John Maximovitch’s commemoration together with children here:


Find an easy-to-read life of St. John Maximovitch appropriate for use with younger children, a printable (and colorable) icon, a map of his journeys, and an activity page related to his life on pp. 38-41 of this free downloadable resource:


Print this double-sided brochure-style story of the life of St. John Maximovitch, and study it with older children:


Older children and/or adults will benefit from watching this documentary about St. John the Wonderworker (with English subtitles). It features photos of the saint that were taken throughout his life, as well as stories from his life and interviews with people whom he has helped.


“St. John [the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco] did not isolate himself from the world, but he was not of this world. First and foremost he was a man of prayer. He completely surrendered himself to God, presenting himself as a ‘living sacrifice’ and he became a true vessel of the Holy Spirit. His work as an apostle, missionary and miracle worker continues even now.” ~ from

Discuss this quote with older students: Talk about ideas of how to live like that: not isolated, but also not of this world. Discuss ways to present one’s self as a living sacrifice. Talk also about some of the miracles God has worked through the continuing prayers of St. John. Spend some time praying and asking St. John to pray for each student and the concerns that they may have for their family and/or fellow parishioners.