Category Archives: faithfulness

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 https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cross-and-the-stag-the-incredible-adventures-of-st-eustathius/

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:

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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. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday/sep_20_-_great_martyr_eustathius_placidas_and_his_family

Find the story of St. Eustathius’ life, along with many icons which have been written to help us remember him, here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-eustathius-eustace-placidas-great.html

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: https://pravoslavie.ru/74099.html

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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.
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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?
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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.

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: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/on-the-theotokos-as-mother/

And the second offers a story that may be a helpful tool as you talk with young children about her Dormition: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

 

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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“…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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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” . . . 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
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Gleanings from a Book: “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky, Illustrated by S. Violette Palumbo

Author’s note: Most Sundays, a young friend from church comes to sit with me during coffee hour. He wants to tell about his week, what dinosaurs he learned about, what he and his brothers built with Legos, what games they invented, etc. A few months ago, when he discovered that I have Ms. Mishriky’s “Philo” books loaded into my phone, he (and sometimes a brother or two) began to also ask for a story. I happily comply whenever I can. Imagine my joy when I learned that a new “Philo” book was coming out! I looked forward to reading it myself, but I especially looked forward to reading it to my young friend! On Sunday I finally had a chance to read it to him, and we both enjoyed the story and were challenged to faithfulness through it. I was glad to share this book with him, and now I get to share it with you as well!

“Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky is an enjoyable story, just as I anticipated that it would be. But it is more than just a nice picture book. As she did in the other books in the “Philo” series, Ms. Mishriky braces her story with underlying truth, which she presents in a child-friendly and clearly understandable package: that is, in the story of a young Coptic Orthodox boy trying to learn how to juggle his Faith and his daily life.

Philo is an ordinary modern-day boy who meets common modern-day struggles head-on, and learns how to face them in a godly way, with the help of the “SuperHolies” (the fruit of the Spirit, each embodied as a superhero). In “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, Philo finds himself at boy scout camp for the first time. He struggles to live out the Faith while in such close proximity to other boys who are not Orthodox Christians. The Faithfulness SuperHoly helps Philo choose to continue to live the Faith, even in a tent with other boys.

Violette Palumbo’s illustrations visually bring Philo to life for the young reader. They are appropriately detailed without overwhelming the eyes. Previous friends of Philo will recognize him right away and anticipate “meeting” another of the SuperHolies, “up close up and personal”. Palumbo adds appropriate touches of humor to the story, as well (i.e.: have a look at Philo’s dad’s face as he helps Philo pack; or the illustration of Philo imagining himself as an old man, telling his grandchildren of his experience). The illustrations add to the story, strengthening it.

Children who read “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” will find themselves mirrored in Philo in some way or another. They will understand his hesitancy to pray and read scripture in the presence of others who do not believe what they believe. They will be challenged to make the sign of the cross to activate the SuperHolies in their own life when they run into such difficulties. God willing, they will also begin to listen to the Spirit whispering in their ear as He tells them what is right to do, just as Philo “hears” the SuperHolies; and hopefully they will act accordingly. And if the adults in the room are truly listening to the story, they will find themselves beginning to be mindful of these things, as well.

I hope my young friend wants to hear “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” again. Chances are, he will. And when he asks, I’ll gladly read it to him, not just for the story: but also for the Faithfulness it will inspire in each of us.
The AODCE thanks author Mireille Mishriky for allowing us to see an advanced electronic copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” so that we could write this review.

To purchase your own copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky (or any of the previous Philo books, some of which are available in French and Spanish), you will find it here: https://www.mireillemishriky.com/shop

Here are a few gleanings from “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, as well as a few related resources that can help you and your students grow in faithfulness:

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“‘Always remember to activate your SuperHolies, Philo, not only when you are scared, but also when you can’t make a decision. Always let the Holy Spirit guide you, especially during your camping trip next week,’ advised grandpa.” (p. 7, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“‘I won’t need my Bible, Daddy. I won’t have time to read it at night…’ said Philo.
‘There is always time to pray and read your Bible, Philo. Jesus comes first. Everything else comes second,’ said Philo’s father as he placed the Bible inside the bag.” (p. 10, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“Philo felt sad. He remembered what his mother often told him. ‘Not everyone loves Jesus, but Jesus loves everyone. Not everyone wants to hear about Jesus, but never stop speaking about His love. You might change someone’s heart without knowing it.’” (p. 13, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“Before going to sleep, Philo hesitated. He wanted to pray and read his Bible but he was embarrassed and worried that Tom and the other boys would make fun of him. The tent frame looked like a cross, reminding Philo to activate his SuperHolies.” (p.18, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“…the Faithfulness SuperHoly was chosen to help Philo, and she started whispering into Philo’s heart. ‘…You are an example to your friends. Your love for Jesus might make your friends curious about Him. You could be the reason your friends decide to visit a Church or learn more about our Lord.’” (pp. 20-21, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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Before sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school class, consider setting up your classroom with a “campfire” for storytelling. Import some rocks for the rock ring, stack a handful of wood pieces for the “fire”, stuff a few yellow/orange/red tissue paper “flames” amidst the wood, and insert a flickering light source (perhaps several battery-operated candles?) in the midst of it all, for atmosphere. When the class enters the room, encourage them to sit around the campfire so that you can share stories. Begin with “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly.” Ask the students some questions about the story, to check their understanding and learning. Be sure to include questions like, “How did Philo’s actions earlier in the evening influence Tom?”; “Have you ever seen your faithfulness to God, demonstrated by your actions, affecting others? How?”; “How would you have handled Philo’s dilemma in the tent?”; and “Have you ever experienced something like Philo’s situation?”

This book is perfect for storytelling, so, while you’re still around the “campfire”, invite them to share their own stories. They can tell a Bible story they know that exhibits faithfulness (besides Daniel and the Lion’s Den, since that one is already taken, in the book!). They can tell of a time when they were able to exhibit faithfulness to God, whether or not it had a happy result like Philo’s. They can tell the story of a saint that they admire for their faithfulness. Each student can choose which type of story to share: but, if possible, they should all share a story, or at least have the opportunity to share one.

If you’d like, you could end the class by having them draw or write about their favorite story of faithfulness.

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If you have not yet “met” Philo and the SuperHolies, we introduced them (with a few other resources that had just become available) here:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/08/17/a-handful-of-resources-summer-2018/

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Learn more about the virtue of faithfulness, including quotes from the scriptures and from the Church fathers, here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/on-pursuing-virtue-faithfulness/
Perhaps some of the insights into this virtue will be helpful as you approach reading “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school students.

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After sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school class, if it seems that your class needs to continue to grow in faithfulness, check out the lesson ideas suggested here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/06/29/on-pursuing-virtue-faithfulness/

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Learning About a Saint: St. Artemius of Verkova (June 23/July 6 and October 20/Nov. 2)

In 1532, Cosmas “The Lesser” and his wife Apollinaria, pious peasants in the Russian village of Dvina Verkola, had a son. They named him Artemius. Cosmas and Apollinaria raised their son to love and honor God with his life. Even from an early age, Artemius lived a virtuous Christian life. Some sources say that by the time he was five, Artemius didn’t want to do what other kids his age did. Instead, he loved to work and tried to help his parents however he could with the household chores. He happily obeyed his parents, and any free time he had left when chores were finished, he spent in church. If he couldn’t be in church, he’d sneak away to where no one could see him, and pray.

One day, when he was twelve, Artemius and Cosmas were working together on their farm work. They were out tilling their fields when a thunderstorm suddenly appeared overhead. Artemius couldn’t even run for cover before a lightning bolt struck him and killed him. It was June 23, 1545.

At that time, many people in the region were superstitious, and they believed that a sudden death like Artemius’ was a terrible thing. They thought that he died suddenly because God was judging Artemius for something bad that he had done. Because of this, the people wouldn’t bury him or even give him a proper funeral! Instead, his body was taken to a meadow, where a wooden shell was placed over it, and a fence was built around it.

Thirty-two years later, a deacon named Agafonik was out gathering berries when he saw a bright light shining right up into the air. As Agafonik came closer to the light, he saw the body of Artemius, covered with tree branches, lying in a clearing. The light was shining up into the air right above the boy’s body. The body was incorrupt – he had not decayed at all – in fact it looked to Agafonik like he was just sleeping there! The deacon ran to get the priest and the other villagers. Because his body was incorrupt after all of those years, the whole village knew that Artemius was very holy, so they brought his body back to the courtyard in front of St. Nicholas’ church. They placed it in a coffin covered in birch bark, and kept it in the courtyard of the church.

At that time, there was a terrible flu that was going through the village of Verkola, and many people were dying from it. One man, Kallinik, had a son who had this flu. Kallinik was afraid that his son would also die. He went to the church of St. Nicholas and prayed. He begged Christ to heal his son. He also asked the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and even Artemius to pray for his son. Then he took a piece of birch bark from Artemius’ coffin back to his home, and placed it on his son’s chest. His son was immediately healed! Kallinik told others in the village what happened. Other villagers who took pieces of the bark from Artemius’ coffin to the sick people in their homes found that their loved ones were all healed, as well!

In the years since his incorrupt body was discovered, there have been other times when St.Artemius has healed people. Sometimes he appears to the people that he heals, and talks with them. For example, once there was a man from Kholmogor named Hilarion who went blind. He was very sad and didn’t feel like doing anything anymore because he couldn’t see. But on the feast of St. Nicholas, St. Artemius came to him. Artemius was holding a staff in his left hand and a cross in his right hand, and he told Hilarion, “Arise, Christ heals you by the hand of His servant Artemius. Go to Verkola, bow down before his coffin, and relate everything to the priest and the peasants.” As soon as St. Artemius finished speaking, Hilarion could see again!

In 1584, people who were grateful for St. Artemius’ help and prayers built a side chapel for him. They moved his body into that chapel from the courtyard where it had been ever since it was found. Years later, St. Artemius healed a military commander’s son. The commander was so thankful that he built a whole church dedicated to the saint! In 1619, St. Artemius’ relics were moved to that church. The church burned down thirty years later, but St. Artemius’ relics were found.

In 1648, more than a hundred years after Artemius died, Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich of Russia ordered that a monastery was built and named for St. Artemius, and placed under his protection. His relics were taken to the monastery with his name so that people could continue to venerate them and ask for his prayers. Over the centuries many miracles were attributed to these relics by people who have approached them with true faith in Christ. Besides healing people from illnesses and blindness, God has also healed lame and deaf people through the prayers of St. Artemius. He has interceded for men and women, old people and young people; and there are so many miracles that God has worked through this saint that one source said it would be impossible to write them all down. Glory to God for His work through this holy child saint!

In the summer of 1918, as the Bolsheviks began to terribly persecute the Orthodox Christian Church, St. Artemius’ relics were among those that were destroyed. Even though his earthly relics have been destroyed, we know that this holy saint is still alive with God, and that he continues to pray for those who ask him to do so! And he has not stopped appearing to people in visions.

An American iconographer, Philip Zimmerman, who was living near Johnstown, PA, had a waking vision of a child saint. The child saint asked him to “paint what he saw for the children at the Village.” Mr. Zimmerman pondered the vision and prayed about it, and finally about 5 years later, he painted what he had seen, the holy saint Artemius. After that, St. Artemius appeared to Mr. Zimmerman additional times, confirming what he had seen in the dream about the saint’s hagiography. At that time, Fr. John Namie was directing Antiochian Village. He coordinated the selection of a site and the building of a rock shrine for the icon on that site. The icon stands there in its shrine to this day, to the right of the entrance to the St. Ignatius Church, in the midst of Antiochian Village Camp. St. Artemius’ shrine stands watch over the huge fields of Antiochian Village, even as the saint watches over – and prays for – the children and adults who spend time there.

 

Through the prayers of St. Artemius the Righteous Child Wonderworker, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

 

Here are some related links that may be helpful as you prepare a Sunday Church School lesson about St. Artemius:

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This blog shares St. Artemius of Verkova’s story in detail, and includes several different icons of him. https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/10/saint-artemius-of-verkola-righteous.html

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Together with your class, listen to St. Artemius’ story in Ancient Faith Radio’s podcast, “Tending the Garden of our Hearts”, and then answer the questions and discussion at the end of the podcast. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden/st_artemius
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Your students may find it interesting to look at this list of wonderworking saints who are known to pray for specific needs: http://www.saintbarbara.org/growing_in_christ/praying_to_the_saints

If you share the list with your class, challenge them to find St. Artemius of Verkova in the list. Then recall the miracles that God has worked through him, and encourage the class to think of what other categories he could be listed under. What other saints on the list do they know? Could these saints be listed in any other categories? If so, which ones? What does this cross-listing tell us about the Saints and how God chooses to work through their prayers?

***

How did St. Artemius of Verkova live his life? What made him a saint? Make a list on the board (or, better yet, have each student make their own list) of lifestyle choices that St. Artemius made which allowed him to become so holy. Together, watch this video about how we are ALL called to be saints. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgocWG9AG7s

Then look back at your list. Which of the choices that St. Artemius made are you also living out in a godly way? Which ones do you need to keep working on/improving in? Take some time to pray and ask St. Artemius to pray for you, that you will be healed (especially if you are ill) and that you will be saved.

***

If you teach your students about St. Artemius of Verkova, you may want to also teach them his troparion. They can sing it on one of his commemoration days, whenever they think of him and want to ask him to pray for them, or whenever there’s a thunderstorm!

Troparion (tone 2)

By the command of the Most High, the sky was darkened with rain clouds,

lightning flashed, threat’ning thunder clashed,

and you gave up your soul into the hands of the Lord, O Artemius most wise.

Now as you stand before the Throne of the Lord of All,

you grant healing unfailingly to those who come to you with faith and love,

and you pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

***

There are so many amazing things that happened to St. Artemius the Righteous Child Wonderworker, both in this life, and after he departed this life. You may wish to give your students the chance to illustrate his story. Print out his story, cut it into sections, and give each student part of the story to illustrate. You can make a class book with the results, or post all of the illustrations, together with their part of the story, in your classroom or on a bulletin board where your whole parish can see and read about this little-known wonderworking saint.

***

Iconographer Philip Zimmerman is still writing icons, and he even leads iconography classes! Check out his website here: https://www.philzicons.com/

Gleanings from a Book: A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short, by Creative Orthodox

There are very few Orthodox Christian graphic novels. Presumably this is due to the fact that it takes so much time and energy to create one, especially if one wishes to accurately share the life of a saint. St. John the Short was no ordinary person, and therefore this is no ordinary graphic novel. I am grateful that Creative Orthodox* spent so many years researching St. John’s life and painstakingly creating this book. Presenting the story of St. John the Short through the use of this storytelling medium makes his story accessible to people of so many different ages. Young and old alike will enjoy this book and learn so much about (and from!) St. John’s life. As they read, they will be strengthened in their faith. This graphic novel effectively brings to life St. John the Short’s wisdom and insights.

“A Forest in the Desert” shares the life of St. John the Short. It begins with his first youthful attempt to go into the desert and become a monk, follows through his actual monastic calling, and continues all the way through his monastic life. The book offers a glimpse into monastic life as it was in his lifetime. The stories about St. John are intertwined with glimpses into his wisdom, expressed here in his own words. There are also accounts of miracles which God wrought through him, including the healing of a leper and that of a demon-possessed woman; an amazing encounter with the three Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace in Babylon; and more.

The book closes with an epilogue which allows the reader further insights into some of the saints mentioned in St. John’s story. There follow pages of interesting notes, with additional details about some of the events and/or illustrations on previous pages. Each note is clearly labeled with its corresponding page number and adds depth to the book as a whole. Following the notes are illustrations of several of St. John’s sayings.

Creative Orthodox has beautifully utilized the medium of the graphic novel, finding just the right words while also knowing when it is better to communicate with an illustration instead. Many times the drawings say more than words could, thus communicating ideas and events in a way that is easily (and quickly!) understandable. The drawings, done with pen and ink, are simple enough to appreciate at a glance, but detailed enough to convey what they are meant to illustrate. And, while they are not icons, the illustrations (and this book as a whole) point the reader to Christ through the life of this wonderful saint, St. John the Short.

I am truly grateful that Creative Orthodox was kind enough to share the ebook version of this extraordinary graphic novel so that I could read it and share it with you. I have already read it more than once, and have gleaned more from the life of this inspiring saint with each reading.

 

*Note: Michael Elgamal created “Creative Orthodox” so that his work would not be about him. Follow Creative Orthodox’s work through the social media links found here: https://creativeorthodox.com/

Order your copy of this graphic novel here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/creativeorthodox/shop/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few suggestions of how to use the book to teach your Sunday Church School students about the life of St. John the Short:

***

Bring seeds, a small sapling, and a piece of a branch of a tree (with leaves and seeds, if possible) into class. Place them where the students can see them, to arouse curiosity. When you share this quote from “A Forest in the Desert”, you’ll have props to help your students understand what you’re talking about.

“Saintly life is like a tree. It starts with a seed sown by Christ, that grows through attention and care to spiritual life into a fruitful tree, not only strengthening and nurturing itself, but also giving rise to countless other trees.” (pp. 7-10, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

***

If you are able, take your students outside before sharing the life of St. John the Short with them. Before Church School, stick a stick in the ground somewhere outside the church. When you bring your students outside, show them the stick. Ask them if it is likely to grow. If you have time (and water access), have each student take their turn to get water from a source (preferably a ways away from the stick) and carry it over, to water the stick. Ask again if it is likely to grow. Ask students if they’d water this old stick every day if someone asked them to, and why (or why not).

Then share the story of Elder Amoi’s test of St. John the Short with them. “One day, the Elder Amoi was inspired. He took a piece of dry wood and called John. He asked him to fill a bucket with water and follow. They walked for hours… Abba Amoi planted the stick firmly into the ground. ‘I want you to walk to the well daily, fill up a bucket with water, and come here to water the stick.’ …John understood that watering a dry stick wouldn’t bring it to life, but he quietly obeyed out of love for his abba. And this was how John’s biggest trial started. It wasn’t a one-time test of endurance. It was a daily test of love, perseverance, and obedience… John continued to water the stick every single day for three consecutive years. And the stick into a beautiful tree. Abba Amoi took the fruit of the tree, gathered the monks, and gave it to the elders, saying, ‘Take, eat from the fruit of obedience.’” (pp. 65-70, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

Talk about obedience and how it can be fruitful. What examples can your students share of times when they were obedient, and were blessed to see the fruit of their obedience?

***

Older students will be able to engage in a conversation about this quote:“The saints of God are like a fine tree full of lush green leaves and glorious fruit that are planted in Paradise. Trees that are decorated with all beauties, adorned with glory and placed in a spring – a spiritual spring of life that is the Holy Spirit that waters all of our hearts. Likewise, if a kernel of wheat has to die in order to give fruit, and Christ had to give His life on the Cross in order to give us life, the saints too have to present their lives in sacrifice in order to bear fruit.” ~ St. John the Short (pp. 118-120, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

To discuss: What other examples from the natural world can you give (besides a tree and a kernel of wheat) that can help us to understand what Christ and the saints have done, in order to bear fruit? What examples from your own life can you share? How have you “died” to yourself, and seen God work in you/seen fruit come from that “death”?

***

Near the beginning of a fast, you could share this quote from St. John the Short. Before you do so, however, you may wish to plant several bricks in your classroom and pose the question, “How is fasting like a brick wall?” Field answers, then share this analogy from St. John the Short.

 

“…you frequently find yourselves asking, ‘Why do we fast so often?’ I’ll tell you why. When a king seeks to conquer a city, he surrounds the city walls and blocks access to its water well, spoiling the city’s food supplies. The defending city will soon give in to hunger and thirst and will fall to the attacking army. This is exactly like fasting. When you abstain from eating, you control yourself and guard your soul to rule over evil.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 126, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

 

Ask your class what they think about the analogy. In what ways does it hold well? Are there any ways that it doesn’t? Consider giving each student a brick and allowing them to write/draw (with oil pens or permanent markers) on their brick all the ways in which fasting will help them to control themselves and guard their soul against evil. Either stack these bricks as a monument in your classroom, to remind all of you of the reason for the fast for its duration, or send each student’s brick home with them to place where they can be reminded of the reasons for fasting (especially when they’re tempted to complain about it).

***

Teachers of younger children who wish to share the life of St. John the Short will wish to read “A Forest in the Desert” before class, and select which portions of his life would be best shared with their students. They can then read (or retell) those stories in class, and then offer the students St John the Short favorite part, which will allow the students to respond with their favorite part of his life.

***
Teachers of older students may want several copies of “A Forest in the Desert” so that the class can read it together. Depending on the length of class, you may need to break St. John the Short’s story into segments, reading and discussing each in a separate Sunday Church School class period. After having read and discussed the entire book, encourage your students to illustrate their favorite quote from St. John the Short. Or, push them to think of another saint whose graphic novel life story they’d love to read, and offer them this printable so that they can share part of that saint’s life in their own mini-version. (If you do this, consider making copies of the students’ mini-stories and putting all of them together into a class “book” which tells parts of the lives of many different saints!

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas

 

This is the fourth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On this second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory of Palamas’ successful defense of the Orthodox belief that humans can both know and experience God. He asserted that we can know with our minds that God exists, and we can also experience Him through His uncreated energies. This flew in the face of the teachings of Baraam, a critic of St. Gregory’s and of hesychasm in general.

St. Gregory was born in 1296 to a prominent family in Constantinople. His father died when Gregory was still young. The youth was so bright and hardworking that the emperor himself took interest in Gregory, helping to raise and educate him in the hopes that he would one day hold a high government position.

But Gregory left all of the glamor of Constantinople’s elite behind when he departed for Mount Athos at age 20 to become a monk. (And he was not the only member of his family to do this. Shortly thereafter, His mother and sisters also became monastics.) As a monk on Mt. Athos, Gregory learned about “Hesychasm,” a very calm, still way to pray. He mastered this prayer of the heart, and thus we know him as a “hesychast.”

In 1326, Gregory went to Thessalonica and was ordained to the priesthood. He lived the life of a hermit on weekdays, silently praying alone and away from the world. On the weekends, he would celebrate the holy services in his parish and he would preach so beautifully that his sermons brought his listeners to tears.

When Barlaam, a bright and studious monk, came to Mt. Athos and heard about hesychasm, he proclaimed it to be heresy. He insisted that it is not possible for humans to know God’s essence or to experience His energies such as uncreated light. His dissent caused quite a stir, and Gregory was called to debate with Barlaam about this. Gregory’s studies in the world and his experience as a hesychast put him in the perfect position for this debate.

Gregory first tried to speak to Barlaam about all of this, but speaking did not seem to make any progress, so he began to write prolifically about the prayer of the heart and its validity. Although Gregory was writing a lot, they continued to meet and debate in person as well. One of these debates was before the 1341 Council of Constantinople, which took place in Hagia Sophia. This time, they were arguing about the Transfiguration. Gregory stood by the Orthodox belief that God revealed Himself to the disciples on Mt. Tabor, by using His Divine Energies. Barlaam said theirs was not an actual experience of God: just a helpful gift to the disciples, who couldn’t really experience God because they are humans.

The members of the Council upheld Gregory’s position as the truly Orthodox position. They agreed that God, Whose Essence we cannot approach, chooses to reveal Himself through His Energies. Humans can see those Energies, such as the light that the disciples could see on Mt. Tabor. After the Council ruled that Barlaam’s teachings were heresy, Barlaam fled to Calabria.

In spite of the ruling, some people still argued against Gregory, even locking him up in prison for 4 years at one point. However, the very next patriarch released him and made him Archbishop of Thessalonica. In his later years, God gave Gregory the gift to perform miracles, including healing the sick, and he was granted a vision of St. John Chrysostom on the night before he died. His last words were, “To the heights! To the heights!”

Thanks to St. Gregory Palamas, the Church has maintained the truth that we humans are able to experience God through His uncreated energies. St. Gregory’s life of dedication to God and His Church, as well as his willingness to stand for truth set him apart as a wonderful example to all of us. Sometimes people refer to the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas as “The Sunday of Orthodoxy Part Two”, since his defense saved the Orthodox Church when it was under a second major attack.

The Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Lent is the story of the paralytic whose four friends lowered him through the roof of the place where Christ was so that he could be healed by Him. Our Lord not only healed his legs, making him able to walk again, but also healed his sins, telling him, “Your sins are forgiven you.” How beautiful it is for us to be reminded, right here near the beginning of Great Lent that the truth of our Faith is worth standing up for, as did St. Gregory; at the same time receiving the reassurance that Christ is waiting for us to come to Him so that He can heal both our soul and our body.

St. Gregory of Palamas, please intercede for us and for our salvation.

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about St. Gregory of Palamas:

***

Here are printable bulletins for children that talk about today’s Gospel reading and offer a short look at St. Gregory of Palamas. Although they are not dated for this year, they could help in a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas (and/or the Gospel reading of the day). http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Childrens-Word-163.pdf

http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Childrens-Word-213.pdf

***

Find lessons on St. Gregory of Palamas, at every level, here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/6-9-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/middle-school/church-established-st-gregory-palamas-and-st-john-climacus

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/high-school/church-established-st-gregory-palamas-and-st-john-climacus

***

This episode of the “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” podcast tells about St. Gregory of Palamas, and is worded in a way that young children can understand. http://audio.ancientfaith.com/specials/tendinggarden/ttg_2018-03-04-a.mp3?fbclid=IwAR2Fmeq4DCbcwU9Fc-qgO9DZ29f9jcVoKamJ3fz-URQCOtUqPYjXW8ZNV70

***

Find a “Jesus Prayer” craft idea that can be a natural response to a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas here: https://craftycontemplative.com/2012/03/13/a-childs-lesson-on-st-gregory-palamas/

***

Can we know God? This episode of “Be the Bee” tackles this question, which Barlaam and St. Gregory disagreed about all those years ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpJYSII4NFU
Teachers of middle-years students may want to watch this with their students as part of a discussion of the life of St. Gregory Palamas, then discuss it together.

***

Teachers of older church school students may wish to take in one of the resources mentioned here, along with their class, as part of a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/lenten-learning-st-gregory-of-palamas/

After watching or reading one of these resources about his life, talk together about St. Gregory’s holiness, including a discussion of hesychasm. What is hesychasm, anyway? What can it look like for us? How can we ask God to enlighten our darkness, as did St. Gregory? What will happen if we ask Him to do that? Will it make any difference in our life? (An aside that the students may find very interesting is a quick look at uncreated light, as it appears in some pictures or videos wherein God chooses to illumine people in a way that perhaps no one can see at the time, but it shows in the photos. There’s a video posted by a priest about uncreated light that shows three different times/ways this has happened. https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/uncreated6-2/)

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Raising Them Right” by St. Theophan the Recluse

St. Theophan the Recluse may have lived a reclusive life, but his was a life of prayer and asceticism, and that closeness to God granted him much wisdom. His writings and teachings have been recorded, preserved, and translated from the Russian so that we are able to read them and learn from them. “Raising them Right” is a collection of his writings and teachings for and about young people, intended for youth and those who raise or teach them. It is a small but powerful collection of teachings.

“Raising them Right” begins with a few pages telling about the life of St. Theophan the Recluse. That is followed by 7 chapters of his teachings: “The Christian Adult”, “Baptism: the Adult and the Child”, “The Developing Child”, “Forming Attitudes”, “The Years of Youth”, “Understanding a Young Person”, and finally “Preserving God’s Grace”. Each chapter contains timeless wisdom. Even though St. Theophan was born more than 200 years ago, his words are applicable to adults and children today.

This book is small but wise. We recommend that parents and teachers alike read it, ponder its words, and allow St. Theophan to help us in our task of training children. As we learn, may we truly raise the next generation of Orthodox Christians right.

St. Theophan, please pray for us and for our students!

 

Purchase “Raising Them Right” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/raising-them-right-a-saints-advice-on-raising-children/. The ebook and audiobook will soon be available, as well.

Although the book is about raising children, quite a lot of it pertains to teachers and young people. Here are a few quotes from the book which we thought would be helpful to our teaching community, either as a challenge/encouragement to teachers, or to be used in a discussion with older students:

***

“One may ask, how does one reach the point where the desire is born to walk toward God on the path of Christ? What does one do so that the law will imprint itself on the heart, and the sowing and development of the Christian life are different in essence from the sowing and development of natural life, owing to the special character of the Christian life and its relation to our nature. A man is not born a Christian, but becomes such after birth. The seed of Christ falls on the soil of a heart that is already beating.” (p. 13, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“One of the first tricks of the enemy against us is the idea of trusting in oneself: that is, if not renouncing, then at least not feeling the need for the help of grace. The enemy as it were says: ‘Do not go to the light where they wish to give you some kind of new powers. You are good just the way you are!’ And a man gives himself over to repose. But in the meantime the enemy is throwing a rock (some kind of unpleasantness) at one; others he is leading into a slippery place (the deception of the passions); for yet others he is strewing with flowers a closed noose (deceptively good conditions). Without looking around, a man strives to go further and further, and does not guess that he is falling down lower and lower until finally he goes to the very depths of evil, to the threshold of hell itself.” (p. 24, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The Lord gives grace freely. But He asks that a man seek it and receive it with desire, dedicating himself entirely to God.” (p. 27, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“…so, let the child be surrounded by sacred forms, objects of all kinds, and let everything that can corrupt in examples, depictions, or things be put away. But later, and for all the time that follows, one must keep the same order. It is well known how powerfully corrupt images act upon the soul, no matter in what form they might touch it! How unfortunate is the child who, closing his eyes, or being left alone and going within himself, is stifled by a multitude of improper images—vain, tempting, breathing of the passions. This is the same thing for
the soul as smoke is for the head.” (pp 46-47, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The most effective means for the education of true taste in the heart is a church-centered life, in which all children in their upbringing must be unfailingly kept. Sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in its midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive in worldly vanity—all this cannot better be imprinted in the heart (than by a church-centered life). The church building, church singing, icons—these are the first objects of fine art in content and power.” (p.54, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“And this is the chief aim of a Christian upbringing: that a man as a result of this might say within himself that he is a Christian. And if, when he comes to full awareness of himself he will say, ‘I am a Christian, obliged by my Savior and God to live in such a way so as to be vouchsafed the blessed communion with Him and with His chosen ones in the future life,’ then in the very midst of his independent existence or the unique, rational ordering of his life, he will place for himself as his first and essential duty to preserve in an independent way
and to warm the spirit of piety in which he previously walked under the guidance of others.” (p.60, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“A young blossom planted in a place where the wind blows on it from all sides only endures a little and then dries up; grass on which people frequently walk does not grow; a part of the body which is subjected to friction for a long time becomes numb. The same thing happens to the heart and to the good dispositions in it if one is given over to day-dreams or to empty reading or to enjoyments.” (p.69, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“It goes without saying that good naturally strives towards good and avoids the evil; there is a certain taste for this in the heart. But again, how often it happens that simplicity of heart is enticed by cunning. Thus, every young person is rightly advised to be careful in the choice of a friend. It is good not to conclude friendship
until the friend has been tested.” (p.72, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The educator should go through all the degrees of Christian perfection in order later to know how to behave in the midst of action, to be capable of noticing which way the students are going, and then to act upon them with patience, successfully, powerfully, and fruitfully. This should be a group of the most pure, God-chosen, and holy people. Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” (pp. 83-84, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“But the chief form of moral perfection which belongs to one who has preserved himself whole in the years of youth is a certain unshakability in virtue for his whole life. Samuel remained firm in the presence of all the temptations that scandalized in the house of Eli and in the midst of the agitations of the people in society. Joseph in the midst of his evil brothers, in the house of Potiphar, in prison and in glory, equally preserved his soul inviolate… A right outlook is converted, as it were, into nature, and if sometimes it is a little violated, soon it returns to its original state. Therefore in the lives of saints we find for the most part those who have preserved their moral purity and the grace of baptism in youth.” (pp. 86-87, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“God is pleased most of all by what is offered first: the first fruits, the firstborn of men and animals, and therefore also by the first years of youth. An immaculate youth is a pure sacrifice.” (p.87 , “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)