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/