Monthly Archives: October 2016

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:

***

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

***

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/

***

Here is an icon of Abbess Sophia of Kiev:

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

***
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.

***

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.

***

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.

Advertisements

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:
***
Find a more detailed biography of St.Tikhon of Moscow’s life here: http://www.antiochian.org/Bishops/tikhon.htm

***

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

***

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

***

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.

***

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

***
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/

***

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

***

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

 

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Arsenios the Cappadocian (Nov. 10/23)

St. Arsenios the Cappadocian was born around 1840 in the village of Kephalochori in the Farasa region of Cappadocia, Turkey. At that time, Kephalochori was one of 6 Christian villages in the region. His parents named him Theodore at birth. Theodore had a brother named Vlasios, and parents that were very kind and good.

While the boys were still young, they were orphaned, and their aunt (their mother’s sister) then took care of them. One time St. George miraculously saved Theodore and it had such an impact on both boys that they dedicated their lives to God’s service. Vlasios became a Byzantine Music teacher and Theodore eventually became a monk. Before he was a monk, though, Theodore studied in Nigde and then Smyrna.
When Theodore turned 20 years old he went to the Holy Monastery of the Precious Forerunner Flavianon. Later he was tonsured a Monk, and was given the name Arsenios. At that time, there were not enough teachers in Turkey, so instead of living the quiet and prayerful life that often is the life of a monk, Arsenios was ordained to the diaconate by Metropolitan Paisios II, who then sent him to Farasa so that he could teach the children there how to read. This had to be done in secret, though, because the Turks did not want Christianity to spread through their country. Ten years later, when he was 30, Arsenios was ordained to the priesthood in Cesarea.

Fr. Arsenios wanted to be the best Christian that he could possibly become, so he began to do all that he could work toward that end. Through him, God began to heal people’s souls and also their bodies. Even though at that time, Christians were being hurt and repressed by the Turks, Fr. Arsenios’ love for God helped him to love and help everyone, whether they were Christians or Turks. It made no difference to the Saint: he saw each person as the icon of God, created with much love. God’s grace was on Fr. Arsenios because of this, and he was given the ability to work miracles. When he prayed for them, women who had been barren had children. He read the Gospel over people who were blind, mute, lame, paralyzed, and even demon-possessed: and they were healed by the time he finished the reading. God healed so many people through Fr. Arsenios, but he would never accept any money or other help for the work he did to heal people. When they would offer to pay him, he would simply answer, “Our faith is not for sale”… (In later years, the people of Farasa said that they didn’t even know what a doctor was until they got to Greece. They always just went to Fr. Arsenios for healing. They did not realize this was unusual.)
Fr. Arsenios lived in a simple cell. He locked himself in that cell on Wednesdays and Fridays so that he could pray. On those days he would spend hours on his knees praying for the people whom God had placed in his care. Those two prayer days every week blessed the work that he did on other days of the week. While praying, often he would pray from the Psalms. He especially turned to the book of Psalms if he needed a prayer for a specific situation or if he wanted to pray a blessing. He noted that each Psalm has a theme that is appropriate to pray for certain circumstances. He compiled those themes into a book called “The Psalter of St. Arsenios.”

Fr. Arsenios’ love for what God made extended to animals as well. He never harmed any animal.  He never even rode on an animal because he didn’t want the animal to bear a load he that could carry himself. Instead, he would walk, and he preferred to walk barefoot.He was always trying to live like Christ, who only ever sat on an animal once. When Fr. Arsenios was asked about this, he said, “I who am worse than the donkey, how could I sit on it?”
Fr. Arsenios chose to hide his virtuous life from others so no one would praise him. In order to successfully pull that off, he would often pretend to be strict, angry, grouchy, and unfair, especially to the women who tried to help him. For example, because of their love for and gratitude to him, sometimes women would cook for him or send him food. Instead of thanking them, he would say something like this: “If I had wished to be served by women, I would have become a married priest and my wife would serve me. The monk who is served by women, is not a monk”…
God allowed Fr. Arsenios to also have the gift of prophecy. God showed him that he would leave for Greece because of a population exchange, and this actually happened on August 14th, 1924. Before this happened, St. Arsenios hurried to baptize all the unbaptized children. (When he baptized one of them, he asked the parents to name the child Arsenios instead of Christos, which is the name of the child’s grandfather. When they asked why he wanted to name the child Arsenios, he said: “You want to leave a child at the grandfather’s foot, don’t I want to leave a monk at my foot?”)

Shortly before he fell asleep in the Lord, the Theotokos appeared to him and took him all around Mt. Athos. It had always been a dream of his to see the churches there, but he was unable to do so until the day that she took him. She told him that in three days he would depart this life, and it happened just as she said, on November 10, 1924.

During his lifetime, Fr. Arsenios was the spiritual father to the family of St. Paisios. After Fr. Arsenios’ passing, St. Paisios wrote Fr. Arsenios’ biography, which includes both his life story and many of the miracles which he performed. The book is called “St. Arsenios the Cappadocian.”
St. Arsenios’ relics are housed at the church dedicated to him at the Monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti, a monastery that St. Arsenios founded. His relics continue to work many miracles.

Apolytikion of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia in the Third Tone
You strived to live a life truly inspired by God, you became a holy vessel of the Paraclete, bearer of God, Arsenios, and you were given the grace to perform miracles, offering to everyone your quick help, our holy Father, we plead you, pray to Jesus Christ our Lord to grant us His grand mercy.

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

Thanks to https://ypseni.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/st-arsenios-the-righteous-of-cappadocia/, which was a helpful resource for the writing above.

***

Before you tell your Sunday Church School students about the life of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian, be sure to read the stories that are found in these three articles. You may want to print the articles, highlight all the stories you wish to tell your students, and then read them. Or cut the copies apart, number them in order, mix the pieces up, and hand them out to your students to read to their classmates. There are so many interesting tidbits about his life in these articles!: http://pemptousia.com/search/?s_str=The+life+of+Saint+Arsenios+the+Cappadocian
***
Find an icon of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/b18df-_.jpg

See pictures of his tomb and some of his relics (and St. Paisios standing before St. Arsenios’ skull) here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/11/tomb-of-saint-arsenios-of-cappadocia.html

***

“Father Arsenios proclaimed true Orthodoxy with his Orthodox life.  He mortified his flesh in asceticism from his ardent love of God, and modified souls with the Grace of God. He believed deeply and healed many, believers and non-believers. Few words, many miracles. He experienced much and hid much. Within his hard outer shell, he concealed his sweet, spiritual fruit. A very harsh father to himself, but also a very loving father to his children. He never beat them with the law.… As minister of the Most High, he did not tread the earth, and as co-administrant of the sacraments he shone upon the world.”—Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain
***

Offer this quote from St. Arsenios the Cappadocian to your students. Discuss together what he meant by it. Ask your students what it means for us as Orthodox Christians today: how can we live in this way? http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_arsenios_cappadocian_our_faith.pdf

***

After teaching younger Sunday Church School students about St. Arsenios the Cappadocian’s life, focus on his ability to see everyone as the icon of Christ. Talk together about icons. What are they doing in our home and at our church? How do we treat the icons, and why do we treat them in that way? Talk about how St. Arsenios treated others, seeing them as the icon of Christ regardless of who they were. Work together to compile a list of ways to treat others as what they truly are: the icon of Christ. To help them practice carrying that out, challenge your students with scenarios such as these: 1. Your brother has just eaten the last cookie in the house, and you are hungry for a cookie. How do you respond to your brother that shows that you see him as the icon of Christ?; 2. There’s a big kid on the playground that always says mean words to you. One day, you both arrive at a swing at the same time, hoping to take a ride. What do you want to do in this situation? How should you respond to show that kid that you see the icon of Christ in her?; etc. With construction paper, have each student create a frame on which they write “here is the icon of Christ”. Encourage them to hold it up in their line of vision as they look at the other children in their class, their family members, etc. As they do, they should remind themselves that the person they see “inside” the frame is, indeed, the icon of Christ, and they need to treat that icon accordingly! Encourage them to hang the frame somewhere where they will see it often and be reminded to treat others as who they are: the icon of Christ!

***

Before you teach your older Sunday Church School students about St. Arsenios the Cappadocian, create a variety of potential situations that they may encounter. Write each situation on a notecard: for example, “You have just planted flowers in your grandmother’s flowerbed to surprise her. What Psalm would St. Arsenios suggest that you pray over the flowers for their growth?”. After teaching your students about his life, read this quote from St. Paisios, St. Arsenios’ spiritual son: “In Farasa and in the whole region, there was no doctor to be found, except Fr. Arsenios himself, who was a teacher and a doctor of souls and bodies. He did not, of course, give medical prescriptions to the sick, but read an appropriate prayer over them and they recovered.” Talk about how he used Psalms as those prayers. Challenge each student to take one of your situation cards and guess how St. Arsenios would have handled that situation Have your students look through this list of Psalms to find the appropriate one, then look it up in the scriptures and read to see why St. Arsenios may have selected that particular Psalm for that circumstance. Encourage them to remember this web address for when they face their own challenges for which they need to pray: http://modeoflife.org/st-arsenios-of-cappadocia-blessing-psalter/

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (July 5 or 18)

Note: There is so much information about St. Elizabeth the New Martyr! We have tried to summarize her life below in a way that children can understand. We recommend that you learn even more about this holy saint’s life before you teach your students about her. We could not include everything, and you know what will be interesting to your particular class!

On Feb. 24, 1864, the Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse  and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (daughter of England’s Queen Victoria) had their second daughter, and named her Elizaveta (they called her Ella). Although they were of noble birth and means, the family lived simply, and the girls did chores at home instead of being waited on. The family gave freely to those in need, and the girls often went along with their parents to visit the ill, the orphans, and the infirm. Princess Ella loved beautiful things: flowers, drawing, and lovely music.

When she was only 14 years old, diphtheria made all of her siblings sick, and her mother caught it too after caring for her children when they were sick. Because of this, Princess Ella’s 4-year-old sister and her mother both died. This changed Princess Ella’s life completely. She began to live as an adult and helped her father with the younger children, since her mother was no longer living.

When she was 20, Princess Ella married the grand prince Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, whom she had known since childhood because he and his family would come for visits. When she married, she became a Grand Duchess, and moved to Russia. The now-Duchess continued to live in a manner similar to the one in which she had been raised: going out and meeting the people in her community, and helping them however she could. Now she had new people to meet, a new culture to learn, and a new language: Russian! She very sad when she saw how the serfs (Russian poor people at that time) lived. She had never seen such poverty before! Duchess Elizabeth found ways to help: she provided a much-needed doctor for their community, and also provided as much education as possible for whomever she could.

The Duchess had been raised with strong (Lutheran) Christian faith. Now that she was living in Russia, she encountered Orthodoxy which she knew very little about before moving there. She wanted to understand her husband(and her new people)’s faith, so she began to read and study it. Over time (and especially during a visit to the Holy Lands in 1888) it became clear to her that she wanted to become Orthodox. She wrote a beautiful letter to her father, explaining that she wanted to become Orthodox (her husband was not forcing her to do so). She sent the letter, hoping for her father’s understanding and blessing. He did not understand or bless her conversion. The Duchess really wanted to be Orthodox, though, so she was chrismated into the Holy Orthodox Church on Lazarus Saturday in 1891. She was so happy that she could commune with her husband at last, that year, on Pascha! Later that same year, Duke Sergei and his beloved Duchess Elizabeth were transferred to Moscow, where he was named governor. The two of them loved being together and did as much together as possible. The Duchess continued to love beauty and nature, so she loved when they paid visits to their summer residence at Ilyinsk, outside of Moscow. The sad part of their lives at this time was that they had no children.

In 1894, Nicholas II, who was married to the Duchess’ little sister Alix (Alexandra), became the new (and, sadly, the last) tsar of Russia. The Duke and Duchess took his niece Marie and nephew Dmitri into their home in 1901 and raised them as their own children.

Then in 1905, the Russians entered into war with the Japanese, and life became more difficult for all Russians, including the Duke and Duchess and their protégés. The Duke was constantly receiving threats from revolutionaries, and the Duchess was doing what work she could (organizing women to gather supplies for the Russian armed forces, and visiting the wounded). On Feb. 18, 1905, a revolutionary threw a bomb into the Duke’s carriage, just outside of their mansion, killing him instantly. The Duchess gathered what pieces she could of her husband, accompanied his remains at a prayer service on his behalf, and then immediately went and visited the gravely wounded carriage driver in the hospital so she could put his mind at ease before he died of his injuries.

The next months were difficult for the Duchess and also for Marie and Dmitiri, but the three of them grew closer to each other as they helped each other. The Duchess threw herself into her work.  

The very next year, in 1906, Marie married a Swedish prince and Dmitri went off to school. When she wasn’t working, the Duchess began to learn about and visit Orthodox monasteries. The more she learned about the monastic life, the more she wished to rid herself of her worldly goods. She gave many of her things away, and sold some of them to purchase a Moscow estate that became the Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy. She was tonsured, and became an abbess. The now-Abbess Elizabeth opened the convent on Feb. 9, 1909, less than four years after her husband’s passing. The monastery grew quickly from a handful of nuns to nearly 100, all hard-working and dedicated women who prayed and served their community with fervor. Abbess Elizabeth worked and prayed, and she also applied her love for drawing to iconography. The abbess wrote icons for the sisters.

Because of how much the community trusted and loved Abbess Elizabeth and the mothers and sisters of the Mary and Martha Convent, it was a surprise when Red Army soldiers came in and took the abbess away from her convent during Bright Week of 1918. (They captured her because of who she had been when she lived in the world.) She and a handful of other nobles and members of the royal family were kept as prisoners in a school until July 5(18) of that year. The night of July 5(18) they were taken out into a woods and thrown down an empty mine shaft. As she was thrown in, Abbess Elizabeth quoted Christ, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34). Unlike most of the others, Abbess Elizabeth did not fall all 180+ feet to the bottom of the mine shaft. Instead, she landed on a ledge about 45 feet down. Another member of the royal family landed there as well, and was later found with his injuries bandaged (by either her handkerchief or part of her veil, depending on the version you read), so even in the process of being martyred, Abbess Elizabeth was helping others by using whatever she had! The Abbess and her fellow martyrs were heard singing the Cherubic Hymn and other hymns of the church as their executioners threw grenades into the mine shaft and then left them to die. 

Months later, that region was safe again for a short time, so the bodies of the martyrs could be rescued from the mine shaft and taken away. They were hidden and secretly moved from place to place until they could be properly buried. Abbess Elizabeth’s body was taken all the way to Jerusalem, which is where she wanted to be buried. It took until 1921 (that’s almost 3 years!) for her body to arrive in Jerusalem. Along the way, her casket was opened a few times so people could care for her body. Each time it was opened, her body was incorrupt, as though she lay there asleep.

 

Emulating the Lord’s self-abasement on the earth,
You gave up royal mansions to serve the poor and disdained,
Overflowing with compassion for the suffering.
And taking up a martyr’s cross,
In your meekness
You perfected the Saviour’s image within yourself,
Therefore, with Barbara, entreat Him to save us all, O wise Elizabeth.

 

Additional note: There are many pictures of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. You may want to print a few from different periods of her life, and show them to your students as you tell her story. Find her story with many pictures here: http://life.orthomed.ru/st-elizabeth/pics/efs_e.htm.

***
Find additional information about St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, as well as more photographs at these sites: https://orthodoxwiki.org/Elizabeth_the_New_Martyr, http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/princess_elizabeth.htm, http://www.pravmir.com/a-sacrificing-love-new-martyr-grand-duchess-elizabeth/, and http://romanovdreams.tumblr.com/tagged/Elizabeth-Feodorovna.

***

This picture book tells the story of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr for children ages 7 and up: http://www.stnectariospress.com/holy-new-martyr-elizabeth-grand-duchess-of-russia/

***

This chapter book tells the story of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr for ages 9+: https://www.amazon.com/Ellas-Story-Duchess-Became-Saint/dp/1888212705

***

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr is one of the women saints featured in this book: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/encountering-women-of-faith-i?variant=693862019

***

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr is among the saints featured in these multi-leveled lessons on defending the faith. http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/mini-units/defenders-of-the-faith.pdf

***

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr once said, “I long to give thanks, to give thanks every minute for everything that the Lord has given me. I long to bring Him my insignificant gratitude, serving Him and His suffering children.” After studying her life, use this statement as a starting place for a discussion with older Sunday Church School students. What do you each think about her statement? Why do you think she who had – and then lost – everything can give thanks every minute for everything? How can we apply this statement to our own lives?

***

Talk with your Sunday Church School students about this quote from St. Elizabeth:
http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_elizabeth_new_martyr_we_work_pray_hope.pdf  St. Elizabeth says we need to work, pray, and hope in order to truly experience God’s mercy in our lives. How did St. Elizabeth demonstrate this with her own life? Together create a list (on a board or whiteboard) of ways that each of you can better experience His mercy through work, prayer, and hope. Give each student their own copy of the quote and encourage them to copy ideas from the list around the border of the quote, to remind themselves of how they can better experience God’s mercy.