Monthly Archives: August 2019

Gleanings from a Book: “The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson

Author’s note: Because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, I was privileged to see a few spreads of this book more than a year before its publication. Although they were but sketches when I saw them, I was struck by their quality and the images gripped me. And my first reading of the (now full-color) book has confirmed what I suspected even then: this book is a treasure. 

“The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson tells the true story of Placidas the soldier, who, amidst his worldly successes and earthly means, was lovingly faithful to his wife and sons, while also being very generous to those in need outside of his home. Perhaps you have never heard of Placidas the Soldier? He was given the name Eustathius at baptism. If you are not familiar with St. Eustathius, either, his story is one that you will do well to learn. There is much that each of us can learn from this saint: through his responses to both misfortunes and pleasant experiences, and through his faithfulness to God. Eustathius already had a good life when he first met Christ, and he served Our Lord fervently after his conversion.

Just like many saints who had gone on before him, Eustathius’ life did not continue to be “good” – well, at least by worldly standards. However, also like those saints, he remained faithful to Christ for his entire life. Like St. Paul, Eustathius had a powerful visitation from Christ which became a conversion experience for him and his household (although his wife had been mysteriously forewarned in a dream, so she was ready!). Like Righteous Job the Longsuffering, bit by bit Eustathius’ status, wealth, and finally even his family were taken from him. Like Righteous Joseph the Patriarch, his faithfulness in his work eventually brought Eustathius honor (and miraculously his loved ones were restored to him once again, as well). And finally, like the Three Holy Youths, the family faced a fiery entrapment with faith and grace.

Throughout the book, Gabriel Wilson has thoughtfully paired his images and text in a way which seamlessly tells the story while also allowing the reader to read between the lines when necessary. The illustrations are masterfully created, simultaneously communicating actions and emotions in a way that is both tasteful and effective. What a gift it is to have an artist of this caliber offer his work to the Orthodox Christian world in a way that makes a saint’s story so appealingly accessible to people of all ages!

Following St. Eustathius’ story in the book, readers will find the troparion and kontakion for St. Eustathius. There is also a spread featuring a variety of icons of him which have been written. The book concludes with a few historical notes from the author.

St. Eustathius’ story is gripping! I sat down to just begin the book but ended up reading the whole thing in one great gulp. Mystery, suspense, loss, love: all are found on the pages of this beautiful work of art. I know that I’ll read it again, and I suspect that I will not be the only one. There’s something here for everyone. St. Eustathius’ story and the lessons that his life teaches us will be treasured by each individual who reads this book.

To purchase a copy of this book, visit

Here are a few gleanings from the book (this time, we are sharing the  quotes in the context of their images), as well as additional information about St. Eustathius, and a few suggestions of how to use this book in a class of older Sunday Church school students:










Here are three additional ways you can share the life of St. Eustathius with your students:

Here is a short podcast about St. Eustathius and his family. On Sept. 20, we commemorate them.

Find the story of St. Eustathius’ life, along with many icons which have been written to help us remember him, here:

There’s even more of the story of St. Eustathius (including backstory of his family’s experiences that your students will likely find interesting) in this detailed description of his life:


After reading “The Cross and the Stag” to/with your Sunday Church school class, encourage your students to look carefully at the cover art. Why do you suppose that Gabriel Wilson chose the images that he did? What do the images tell you about the book and about St. Eustathius’ life? Encourage them to create a similarly-symbolic “graphic novel cover” for a saint that they love or want to emulate. Give them enough time to come up with an idea and sketch it out, then share their work (and the reasons behind it) with the class.

Challenge your students to consider St. Eustathius’ answer to Emperor Hadrian on p. 36 of “The Cross and the Stag”. He said, “I am a Christian and I glorify and give thanks to [God]…I owe my life to Him.” Ask if any of your students have ever been challenged with what they believe. How have they answered? How can St. Eustathius’ answer help them in the future?

In the historical notes at the end of “The Cross and the Stag,” we read that “St. Eustathius is the patron saint of hunters, firefighters, and those who face adversity.” Author Gabriel Wilson also notes that people request St. Eustathius’ prayers when they’re traveling over rivers and seas. Encourage any of your students who are facing adverse times (or traveling, hunting, or firefighting) to remember this, and ask for his prayers.

A Gathering of Ideas for Preparing for a New School Year

It is nearly the beginning of a new Sunday Church school year for many of our community who live in the northern hemisphere. We have come across some interesting ideas that we thought could perhaps be helpful to you, and have compiled them to share here. We hope that you will find something useful and helpful for your classroom and for beginning the year with your students.

As you begin a new Church school year, may the Lord bless your transition! May He provide for, guide, and strengthen both you and your students as you learn. May this school year be a year of growth and great learning for everyone!

Here are some of the links that we found. What additional ideas do you have? What have you found helpful at the beginning of a school year? Please share it with the community!


If your Sunday Church school year does not begin for a few more weeks, there’s still plenty to do to prepare yourself and your classroom for the new Church school year. If you have not yet read Gerry Clonaris’ article “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever”, you’ll want to check out the excerpts we shared here, and then link through to the article itself:


Planning for a new school year should include making a plan in the event of the unlikely chance that you will not be able to teach some Sunday. If you have not yet prepared a substitute teacher folder for your classroom, we encourage you to do so! It is better for children to have some continuity in their learning experience, and anyone filling in for you at the last minute will be grateful for this detailed description of how your class works, as well as your having planned ahead. Read more about preparing a sub folder here:


You’ll find a few simple suggestions of ways to prepare yourself and your classroom for a good Sunday Church school year in this blog:


There are a host of ideas for beginning the school year here, which could be easily adapted for use in a Sunday Church school classroom. Older students will enjoy these getting-to-know-you activities, and you as a teacher will find some helpful ideas of ways to help communicate your expectations of the class.


The two fun “getting to know you” activities in this post will help your students get to know each other better, while also helping you to learn more about each of them:


If you’re really interested in learning to know your students, consider inviting them to write you a letter titled “I wish my teacher knew…” They’ll include three things they’d like you to know about them, and you’ll read the letter privately, not share it with the class. Knowing three things you wouldn’t otherwise know about your students, right from the start of the Sunday Church school year, will help you know how to pray for them and how to best plan lessons that they will enjoy and understand.

Creating Portable Reminders to Pray

St. Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) is simultaneously necessary and difficult. It may be easy for us to read, nod our heads in agreement, and desire to work towards that end in our own life. But how hard it is to actually work out! And it is not any easier for our children, who face many struggles and distractions of their own. We thought perhaps it would be helpful to offer a few ideas of things that you can create which can be carried in a pocket or tucked into a lunchbox, purse, or backpack, or kept in a desk drawer or locker, where they can remind you (and/or your children) to pray. Perhaps one or more of them will help you to pray without ceasing.
The first idea is a printable handful of prayers which can be laminated and tucked into the car or a bag; or attached to a desk or locker with magnets.
The second idea is a pocket prayer corner. This can be made very simply with paper, contact paper, and adhesive hook and loop fastener. Or it could be created with fabric, clear vinyl, and sewable hook and loop fastener. Either way, the icons and prayer inside the pocket prayer corner can be customized according to the needs of the person who will be praying the prayers. When it’s opened up, the pocket prayer corner can help to turn any space into a prayerful place.
The third idea is a tiny diptych with an icon and a prayer (created from a recycled mints tin) which can be kept in a pocket, purse, or backpack; or by adding a magnet to the back, can be kept in a locker or on a fridge.
These items can be very helpful for our own life, but we could also help our students make one or more of them for their own spiritual growth.

Here are the details for creating each of these items, as well as a few related pages. May the Lord guide each of us and strengthen us as we continue to learn to pray without ceasing!



Find a printable document featuring prayers which may be helpful for children to pray here. (You may wish to select and print other favorite prayers instead.) Print the prayers you want to carry with you, then cut them out and glue them to colorful paper or cardstock.


Coat both sides with clear contact paper to seal them.


Tuck the cards into your car, purse, or backpack. Add adhesive magnets to the back if you wish to display them to a filing cabinet or locker.


68530641_10217668948747281_2051609532592816128_n   67890268_10217668950507325_4412182223432712192_n

Here are the directions for creating a paper pocket prayer corner:


  1. Print this pattern and cut it out.
  2. Trace the outside of the pattern on the plain side of a piece of decorative paper or cardstock. 67900294_10217668947667254_4456868038137872384_nRepeat on a second piece, cut them out, and glue the two together.
  3. Collect small paper copies of the three icons you wish to include in your pocket prayer corner.67699272_10217668947867259_771138807943659520_n
  4. Select a prayer to include. (Perhaps one of these would work.)
  5. Find a cross sticker or print a cross picture for the center of your pocket prayer corner.
  6. Glue an icon in the middle of the top section and in each side section of your pocket prayer corner.68241950_10217668948867284_6567055199456722944_n
  7. Glue the cross in the middle section of the pocket prayer corner.
  8. Glue the prayer on the bottom section of your pocket prayer corner, in the upper portion of it, near the middle section.
  9. If desired, cover the front and back of the pocket prayer corner with clear contact paper, and cut it out.
  10. Fold the sides and top of your pocket prayer corner towards the center, overlapping each other. 67696597_10217668949107290_4196027132289220608_n
  11. Fold the bottom of the pocket prayer corner up over all of these. Bend its extra length over the top, enclosing the whole pocket prayer corner.68530641_10217668948747281_2051609532592816128_n
  12. Use adhesive hook and loop fastener on this extra length to create a way to close your pocket prayer corner. 67890268_10217668950507325_4412182223432712192_n
  13. Carry your pocket prayer corner with you, taking it out and opening it when you are ready to pray!


67769354_10217668951587352_983780791932682240_n   68682900_10217668951707355_3767189907802423296_n

Here you can find directions for creating a fabric pocket prayer corner:

  1. Print this pattern and cut it out. 68285307_10217668950347321_3822436596116881408_nTrace the outside of the pattern, adding an extra ½” all the way around for a seam allowance, on the wrong side of two pieces of fabric (or stack both pieces, right or wrong sides together). Cut the fabric.
  2. Collect small paper copies of the three icons you wish to include in your pocket prayer corner.
  3. Select a prayer to include. (Perhaps one of these would work.)
  4. Choose a cross pendant or fabric adhesive cross for the center of your pocket prayer corner. (If you use an iron-on adhesive, be sure to adhere it in place at this point! After this, ironing it will likely melt the vinyl and create a mess.) 67921985_10217668951627353_5445823990784327680_n
  5. Cut pieces of clear vinyl that are ¼” larger at the sides and bottom than each icon and the prayer. 67769097_10217668964067664_470299305459056640_n
  6. Sew the sides and bottom of each piece of vinyl to the interior piece of fabric, using a topstitch that is ⅛” from the edge of the vinyl.
  7. Sew one piece of the hook and loop fastener beneath the vinyl pocket for the prayer on the inside of the cross. 67769354_10217668951587352_983780791932682240_n
  8. Fold the sides and top of the outside of the cross down, towards the middle. Fold the long bottom side up to cover the folded-down top. Turn the cross over so that you can see where the extra fabric at the bottom will meet the back. Pin the other piece of hook and loop fastener here, where it will match with its mate when the two crosses are sewn together.
  9. Sew this piece of hook and loop fastener to the outside of the cross.
  10. Pin the right sides of your two pieces of fabric together. 67788046_10217668950427323_5534486937705906176_n
  11. Sew them together, using a ½” seam, and leaving a stretch of the bottom of the cross open so that you can turn it right-side-out.67789037_10217668950387322_6368491697357193216_n
  12. Clip the fabric off of the outer corners and make one cut toward each inner corner. With these clippings, be careful not to clip the seam at any point.
  13. Turn the cross right-side-out.68500949_10217668951867359_1194176181608382464_n
  14. Hand-sew (or topstitch) the opening at the bottom of the cross, to close it.
  15. Slip the icons into the vinyl pockets at the top and sides of your pocket prayer corner.
  16. Hand-sew the cross in place, in the middle (unless you are using an iron-on adhesive and have previously attached it).
  17. Slip the prayer into the bottom vinyl pocket.68682900_10217668951707355_3767189907802423296_n
  18. Fold the sides and top of your pocket prayer corner towards the center, overlapping each other.
  19. Fold the bottom of the pocket prayer corner up to cover all of these. Bend the extra length over the top, matching the hook and loop fasteners to close the pocket prayer corner.
  20. Carry your pocket prayer corner with you, taking it out and opening it when you are ready to pray!


67771961_10217668965027688_3140909690938982400_nHere are directions to recycle a mints tin to make a diptych:

  1. Select a pretty paper or cardstock to cover the inside and outside of your tin.67756515_10217668963867659_7702159204034805760_n
  2. Trace the shape of your tin onto the paper and cut four pieces to that shape. 67791382_10217668963947661_1950138151380975616_n
  3. Use mod-podge glue to adhere the paper to the tin.
  4. Select a prayer and a paper icon (or two icons) for your tin. (Perhaps one of these would work.)67728779_10217668963787657_3912977680697393152_n
  5. Cut the prayer and/or icon(s) to size and use mod-podge to glue them into place on the insides of the tin.67738422_10217668963987662_3649369896787116032_n
  6. Coat the outside (and inside, if you wish) paper surfaces with an additional coat of mod-podge glue, to seal them.68371832_10217668965227693_8901369813163573248_n
  7. When the glue is dry, adhere magnets to the back of the diptych if you plan to keep it in a locker or filing cabinet.


These icon flashcards are a nice size to fit in a pocket or locker, to remind you to pray and that you are not alone:

Find additional children’s prayers (including ones for when one of your students or one of their friends is afraid) in this printable prayer booklet:


On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers

As we prepare our hearts for and then commemorate the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, let us take some time to think about Mary, the Theotokos. What can we learn from her love for God and her submission to His will? How did her choices and the way that she lived her earthly life affect ours? How does she continue to impact the world since her dormition?

We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been.

May the Holy Mother of God pray for all of us, that we will be saved and that we will follow God as wholeheartedly as she did!


In case you missed these when they first came out, here are two related posts. The first offers some thoughts – mostly from the scriptures – about the Theotokos as a mother and how parents/teachers can be encouraged to emulate her:

And the second offers a story that may be a helpful tool as you talk with young children about her Dormition:


Here are a few of the things that the Church Fathers had to say about the Mother of Our Lord:


“I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria


“Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is He who shone forth from her!” ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian


“In her manner she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which she was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas


“And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God [John 1:1], and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria


“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” ~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast


“How honored and magnified is mankind through the Holy Virgin Mother of God, for it has been made worthy of renewal and sonship by God; She herself was made worthy by her immeasurable humility and exceedingly great purity and holiness to be the Mother of the God-man!” ~ St. John of Kronstadt


“When God became known to us in the flesh, He neither received the passions of human nature, nor did the Virgin Mary suffer pain, nor was the Holy Spirit diminished in any way, nor was the power of the Most High set aside in any manner, and all this was because all was accomplished by the Holy Spirit. thus the power of the Most High was not abased, and the child was born with no damage whatsoever to the mother’s virginity.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa


“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” ~ St. Ambrose


“…The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.

And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” ~St Irenaeus of Lyon


“The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.” ~ Elder Thaddeus


“When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is, the All-Merciful Mother of the All-Merciful God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all ages by all Christian Churches; she is, indeed, an abyss of mercies and bounties, as is said of her in the canon of Odigitry..” ~ St. John of Kronstadt


“O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, Thou Bride of God and Sovereign Lady, who didst unite the Word of God to mankind through thy most glorious birth giving, and hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly; who art the only hope of the hopeless, and the helper of the struggling, the ever-ready protection of them that hasten unto thee, and the refuge of all Christians: Do not shrink with loathing from me a sinner, defiled, who with polluted thoughts, words, and deeds have made myself utterly unprofitable, and through slothfulness of mind have become a slave to the pleasures of life. But as the Mother of God Who loveth mankind, show thy love for mankind and mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and prodigal, and accept my supplication, which is offered to thee out of my defiled mouth; and making use of thy motherly boldness, entreat thy Son and our Master and Lord that He may be pleased to open for me the bowels of His lovingkindness and graciousness to mankind, and, disregarding my numberless offenses, will turn me back to repentance, and show me to be a tried worker of His precepts. And be thou ever present unto me as merciful, compassionate and well disposed; in the present life be thou a fervent intercessor and helper, repelling the assaults of adversaries and guiding me to salvation, and at the time of my departure taking care of my miserable soul, and driving far away from it the dark countenances of the evil demons; lastly, at the dreadful day of judgment delivering me from torment eternal and showing me to be an heir of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God; all of which may I attain, O my Sovereign Lady, most holy Theotokos, in virtue of thine intercession and protection, through the grace and love to mankind of thine only begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ from the Small Compline: The Supplicatory Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos


“Hail to you forever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.” ~ St. Methodius


” . . . when the Church tells us in Her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.” ~ St. John Maximovich