Monthly Archives: February 2016

Learning About a Saint: St. Gerasimos of the Jordan (Commemorated on March 4)

St. Gerasimos was born in Lycia, in southwestern modern day Turkey. His parents were wealthy, and he grew up living the life of a merchant. He traveled to Egypt, and began to spend time with Egyptian hermits whom he met along the way. When he was still very young, St. Gerasimos came to love God so much that he did not care much at all for the worldly things that his peers seemed to find important. When he was grown, he moved to Egypt and began a monastery near the Jordan river.

The monastery quickly grew to be about 70 monks who all loved God and wanted to live a life devoted to Him. The monks lived and worked alone in cave-like cells most of the week, only coming together on the weekends for Divine Liturgy and a hot meal. When they would gather, they’d give St. Gerasimos the items they had made with their hands during the week, and those items were later sold to sustain the monastery.

The monastery is located in a very dry part of Egypt, so the monks had to fetch water from the Jordan River to bring to the monastery. The water was heavy, so they loaded jugs on the back of a donkey, and the donkey carried the water for them. One day, St. Gerasimos took the donkey to the Jordan to fetch the water. When they got to the river, there was a lion there, roaring in pain!

St. Gerasimos bravely walked up to the lion to see what was wrong. It had a thorn stuck in its paw, and the injury was getting infected! St. Gerasimos pulled the thorn out of the lion’s paw, then cleaned and bandaged it. When he and the donkey had filled the water jugs and were on their way back to the monastery, the lion followed them. It began to follow St. Gerasimos everywhere, just like a puppy. It was happy to eat only bread and vegetables. It even helped with the water-fetching chore! Once it knew the routine, the saint would send the lion and the donkey to fetch the water by themselves. St. Gerasimos did not even have to go along! The lion would take the donkey’s harness in his mouth and lead the donkey to the water. The donkey would step into the river and allow the water jugs on its back to fill with water, then he would climb out of the river, the lion would take the harness in his mouth again, and they would go back to the monastery.

One day when St. Gerasimos sent the lion and the donkey to fetch the water for the monastery, the lion fell asleep while the donkey was in the river filling the water jugs on its back. The lion never even saw the merchants passing by who thought the donkey had been abandoned, so they took him to add to their caravan! When the lion woke up, he looked everywhere for the donkey, but, of course, he couldn’t find him. He returned to the monastery with his head hung low in shame.

St. Gerasimos and the monks thought that the lion had eaten the donkey. They punished him by making him do the donkey’s work: he had to carry the water jugs and fetch the water himself. The lion loved St. Gerasimos, so he obeyed. One day, when the lion was fetching the water, that same group of merchants passed by the lion again while he was at the Jordan river! The lion recognized the donkey, who was still with the caravan. He roared loudly and frightened the merchants away. The lion once again took the donkey’s harness in his mouth and led the donkey (and the camels in the caravan followed) back to the monastery.

St. Gerasimos and the monks were very surprised to see their donkey again! They were also very sorry for accusing the lion of eating the donkey when they did not know the whole story. (Don’t worry: the merchants followed their caravan all the way to the monastery, where the monks very kindly gave everything back to the merchants – well, everything except for the donkey, who belonged to the monks in the first place!)

After the donkey’s return to the monastery, St. Gerasimos told the lion that he did not have to stay and keep working. He was free to leave. The lion did leave the monastery, but came back to the monastery every few days to visit his friend St. Gerasimos.

St. Gerasimos departed this life on March 4th, 475 AD. At the time of his passing, the lion was out on one of his adventures, so he was not at the monastery. He returned soon after the saint had departed this life, and searched all over the monastery for his friend. Of course, St. Gerasimos was nowhere to be found. One of the monks finally took the lion to see the saint’s grave. When he saw the grave, the lion finally understood where St. Gerasimos was. The lion was very sad, and died right there at his friend’s grave.

The life of St. Gerasimos is a great example to all of us for many reasons. Here are a few of them: He exemplified loving God above all earthly things, even from a young age. His life teaches us the value of living simply. He modeled how the very creation (in his case, a lion) is at peace with us when we are living and loving all as God intended – just as it was in the Garden of Eden, before sin entered the world. And when St. Gerasimos made a mistake (as when he and the other monks misjudged the lion regarding the disappearance of the donkey), he made it right (by giving the lion a choice to go back to its freedom). These are a few of the ways in which St. Gerasimos exemplified the Christian life for us. May we learn from his example, and live our lives in such a way that we, too, glorify God!

You proved to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker,

O Gerasimos, our God-bearing Father.

By fasting, vigil, and prayer you obtained heavenly gifts,

and you heal the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to you with faith.

Glory to Him that has given you strength.

Glory to him that has crowned you.

Glory to Him that works healings for all through you.

This picture book is an excellent way to introduce children to the life of St. Gerasimos of the Jordan: Children will be fascinated by the saint’s friend, who was a lion! Here is another picture book that illustrates the saint’s life:

St. Gerasimos of the Jordan, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are some ways that we can help our Sunday Church School students learn about St. Gerasimos of the Jordan’s life:

Before teaching your Sunday Church School students about St. Gerasimos, read more about his life. Two places to start are here: and here:

A section of the brand new activity book, “Saints and the Animals That Served Them” is dedicated to St. Gerasimos. Pages 35 – 41 contain a printable (and colorable!) icon of the saint, a retelling of his life, the Troparion and Kontakion to him, journaling prompts, a map activity page related to his life, and several other activity pages to further our learning about the saint. Print your own copy of this activity book from the OCA’s Department of Christian Education website:

Show your Sunday Church School students these pictures of the St. Gerasimos monastery, which is still in existence: also has pictures from the monastery.  After you look at the pictures, think together about how the monastery has changed since the time of St. Gerasimos. Try to figure out if anything has remained the same.You can find out more about the monastery, including who is the current abbot and how many monks and novices are there, at the patriarchate’s page: (Click on “Administrative Structure,” then “Holy Monasteries and Churches outside Jerusalem” to find the monastery’s current information.)

After studying the life of St. Gerasimos of the Jordan, invite your students to act out the part of his life which included the lion. One person can play the part of St. Gerasimos, someone else can be the donkey, another person the lion, and the rest can be members of the caravan (people, camels, etc.) If you decide to costume your characters, you’ll need to create a lion, a donkey, and a camel (or more) costume. Find a gathering of lion craft ideas here:; donkey craft ideas here:; and camel craft ideas here:

St. Gerasimos of the Jordan and the other monks in his monastery concluded that the lion had eaten the donkey when he returned to the monastery alone. Was that really what had happened? After a lesson on St. Gerasimos’ life, talk with your students about this situation. Discuss ways to apply what the monks learned to your own life. Have you ever come to a logical conclusion and judged someone’s actions, only to discover later that you were wrong? Is there anyone that you need to make things right with because of a situation like this? This episode of “Be the Bee” helps us to think about judging others (or why not to!) and introduces additional lessons from Christ Himself, and from another monk (not St. Gerasimos) who also was from the Egyptian desert. This vlog can be a great addition to your discussion on judging other people:
St. Gerasimos of the Jordan is still interceding for all of us, and God continues to work miracles through his prayers. Read the July 2013 interview with Archimandrite Chrysostom, the abbot of the St. Gerasimos Monastery, which includes accounts of modern-day miracles performed by St. Gerasimos: This blog includes accounts of the same miracles, and more: Talk about these miracles with your students, and think together as a class of examples of times when you need help that you could ask St. Gerasimos to intercede for you! Invite the students to write or draw what they are asking him to pray about.


Gleanings from a Book: “When God Made You” by Jane G. Meyer

Jane G. Meyer’s new book, “When God Made You” invites readers of all ages to look at each person in the world and consider what God was thinking when He made them. Every spread of this gleefully-worded book introduces a child from a different part of the world, and suggests what God had in mind when He created that child. Each “person recipe” in the book, just as in real life, is completely unique and brimming with the love and enthusiasm of our Creator.

“When God Made You” celebrates each person’s extraordinary qualities, looks, talents, and interests, recognizing each facet as a gift that has been poured into that person’s life by God Himself. The book also demonstrates to the reader that God does not just give those qualities to us to enjoy, but because He wants them to be used and shared. Every child in the book, upon being created, is issued a command: to plant, to sing, to paint, to lead… The book brings to life the reality that from the moment we are created, God has in His mind the work that He has set for us to do.

Throughout the book, Megan Elizabeth Gilbert’s whimsical illustrations bring to life the individual being described. Readers can see Makani, Hikaru, Bridgid, Carmelo, and all the others in their home environment, savoring their surroundings and beginning to act on the command that God has given for them to fulfill.The illustrator has carefully captured cultural details (down to the very fabric of the traditional clothing), and uses these characteristics to effectively embellish each spread. The reader can sense the joy God has in creating each person through the charming illustrations in this book.

The book both begins and ends with this important question: “What beautiful things was God thinking when He made you?” This question – actually, the book as a whole – naturally lends itself to a class discussion on individual uniqueness. God’s plan for each person, His delight in each of us, and His love for each person are clearly demonstrated in the pages of this book. This book will be an invaluable addition to any Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School library.

Here is more about the book itself:

Take a sneak peek into the book by taking a look at the trailer: or by flipping through a few digital pages here:

Check out the “When God Made You” facebook page:

To add this book to your classroom collection, purchase a copy here:

Here are some activities that you can do with your Sunday Church School class after reading this book:

Consider taking this challenge from “When God Made You” author Jane G. Meyer herself: “…If your kids are interested in either writing a profile about themselves, or drawing their own portrait, with your permission we’ll be collecting these images to post on the When God Made You facebook page,and maybe on a page here on my own website. And it doesn’t just have to be kids! Feel free to send me your own writing or illustration as well!!!” She posted that challenge in this blog about her book:

Encourage each student to celebrate someone else in their life. Allow time for them to write their version of God’s recipe for that person. What did God think of when He made the other person? Invite the students to write their version of the “recipe” on a recipe card such as this, printed on cardstock: After everyone has finished, read the recipes together and talk about what you’ve written, celebrating the great people who God has created and placed in your lives!

Help young children think about how uniquely God made them with these printable pages:

Find a suggested lesson plan on celebrating each person’s God-given uniqueness here:

Create silhouettes of your students’ heads, which they will fill with words or sketches of what makes them unique, as suggested here; then hang them on the walls of your classroom:

Older students can respond to the book “When God Made You” with an artistic poster or journal page. Begin by having each student create a list: “I am” or “Me,” followed by all the things that God poured into them when He created them. The list should include things they can do well, things they enjoy, things about them that are unique. The students can then create a collage using these words (mounting them on colorful pieces of pictures cut from magazines, or some other background, if desired). Here is an example:

Look at what the Scriptures have to say about God creating us uniquely. For example, read Genesis 1: 27-28, Psalm 118:73-74, Psalm 138:13-16, Job 33:4, Isaiah 64:7, Jeremiah 1:4-5, Jeremiah 36:11, Romans 8:28-30, Romans 12:6-8, and Ephesians 2:10. Select one to focus on as a family and create a piece of wall art together featuring that Scripture. Find Scripture wall art ideas here:

Older children and adults will be encouraged to read this blog post called “What God Says About Me.” The blog tells about the author(who has Down Syndrome)’s search through the scriptures and how learning what God says about His people brought her comfort. Read the blog at

On Learning the Scriptures by Creating a Scripture Journal

In our last few blogs, we have looked at the importance of memorizing the Scriptures and helping our Sunday Church School students to do the same. This blog post will offer another way to meditate on (and even memorize) the Scriptures: Scripture journaling. As you maintain a Scripture journal, you meditate on and/or memorize the Scriptures by creating an artistic illustration of a different Scripture passage on each page of the journal. There are many ways to do so, and you do not need to be an artist to create a Scripture journal. If you can write or if you can doodle, you can create one of these journals. Even young students can make a Scripture journal! It is a fun, creative way to delve into the scriptures, and can add an artistic dimension to our Sunday Church School classes.

You will need a blank journal for each student. You will also need pens, pencils, markers, crayons, colored pencils, watercolors; whatever art supplies you wish to work with in the journals. (Note: remember that if you plan to use markers or watercolors in the journaling, you will want to provide each student with a journal with thick pages so that the colors do not bleed through to the next page. It is also important to place extra paper behind each page as you work, to absorb any possible bleed-through.)

Select a verse (or verses) which you want to ponder or memorize. It could be a verse that is a theme for a series of lessons, or a verse specific to the lesson of the week. Present some ideas of methods your students can use to illustrate that passage. Here are a few:

  1. Invite your students to simply write the verse or passage in their own handwriting, thinking about the meaning as they write, and perhaps writing a few of the keywords in a way that emphasizes the words’ meaning. This is a very basic way to Scripture journal, but it achieves the goal of engaging the Scriptures and meditating on each word.12642483_10207488157673867_8623024951684766644_n
  2. Encourage your students to take it a step further and write out the passage, this time adding some color and a few small illustrative pieces to help bring out the meaning.12642438_10207488160473937_5388514980087056108_n
  3. Instead of writing out the words of the passage, have your students create a sketch that helps them to learn its meaning. (You will need to supply a printed version of the verse/passage for this one.) Students can take that printed verse and tape it into their journal on one side of a two-page spread, then create an illustration on the other page that helps them think about and learn the passage.12687886_10207488158513888_8196411813328804874_n
  4. If you are memorizing the passage, one way to do so is to print it out and glue it in the middle of a journal page. Help your students read through the passage several times, and then encourage them to continue to repeat it to themselves as they create a colorful design around it. Zentangle patterns work well for this type of journal piece, and can give your students a variety of ideas for their design. (Here is an excellent printable tutorial on zentangles that offers sample patterns: Repetitive doodling is great for meditation, so, as your students are working, they should continue to repeat the passage to themselves. They will memorize the passage and have a beautiful addition to their journal when they finish!12637047_10207488109072652_1291902815_o
  5. Perhaps the scripture passage will lend itself to a particular idea of how it should be illustrated. If that is the case, your students can create an illustration related to the passage, and then simply glue a copy of the passage in the midst of their piece.12661830_10207488157833871_4236131203418178132_n
  6. Your students could also hand write the passage right in the midst of their illustration.12645135_10207489557348858_4748232972954489753_n

These are only a few of the variety of ways to create a Scripture journal. If this method of Scripture meditation/memorization appeals to you, by all means, try it with your students! Remind them that their final results may not be museum-worthy, but that’s okay. The purpose of the exercise is not to create a stunning work of art for the world to see. The act of Scripture journaling is intended to help each journal-keeper to learn more about the Scriptures, to meditate on their meaning, and to commit them to memory. The final product will always be in their journal to remind them of their work of meditation and memorization.

“And we, too, who do no more than listen to the Scriptures, should devote ourselves to them and meditate on them so constantly that through our persistence a longing for God is impressed upon our hearts [and thereby we shall be amazed to] see how the wisdom of God renders what is difficult easy, so that gradually it deifies man.” ~ Saint Peter of Damaskos


Here are some links that you may find helpful as you begin Scripture journaling with your Sunday Church School students:


Here is a blog post about Scripture journaling. This journaler uses both lined and unlined pages when she creates a piece:

Consider challenging your students to join you as you take this 30 day challenge:

Here’s an excellent blog on doodling that incorporates Scriptures into the doodles:

This artist uses some zentangle techniques in Scripture journaling:

Show your students how to illustrate Scriptures, “smash journal” style:

Need inspiration to draw an illustration for the Scripture passage you are memorizing/pondering? Here are a few beautiful pieces where the artist drew an illustration and incorporated the passage in her own handwriting.

Consider taking this 31-day challenge, along with your students, as you begin Scripture art journaling:

Here are some printable verse cards that can inspire your students’ Scripture journaling: