Category Archives: Monasticism

Saints of Recent Decades: Ideas for Biographical Storytelling

We have reached the end of our series entitled “Saints of Recent Decades.” We know that we have barely scratched the surface of all the Saints from recent decades, but we hope to have introduced you to a few new friends along the way! There are so many others whose lives we could have studied, but we were limited by time. Who did we miss that we should all know about? Comment below to help add more options of recent Saints (we chose to define “recent” as those within the last few hundred years; especially ones of whom we have photographs as well as icons) for the community to learn together about.

With the exception of the very first post in the series, we gave you only the story of the Saint’s life, and did not always offer a way for you to share their story with your class. The purpose of this blog post is to do that: offer suggestions of ways to tell biographical stories. After reading this, we hope that as you share these stories (or the stories of other Saints) with your Sunday Church School students, you have ideas of ways to do so.

Holy Saints, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are some ideas of ways to tell the stories of the lives of the Saints:

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Some Saints’ icons have a main icon written in the center and smaller ones around that tell more of their story. If you can find one of these icons of the Saint whose life story you are planning to tell, you are set! Show your students the icon and tell the stories connected to each one around the outside edge until they’ve heard the entire life story of the Saint. (Here is an example, icons of St. Maria of Paris: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/3509929913/.)

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As we have suggested for the Bible story presentations (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/bible-story-grab-bags-old-testament/ for example), you can make “Saint Story Grab-bags.” To tell the story of the life of a saint, fill a bag with items that represent each part of the saint’s life. For example, see the items (listed in parenthesis) at the beginning of each paragraph of the story of St. Herman as we noted it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/saints-of-recent-decades-st-herman-of-alaska-december-13-or-25/ Pull each item from the bag in order, as you tell the saint’s story. You can do this with any Saint’s story. The hardest part of this storytelling method is dividing the Saint’s story up into smaller sections and then thinking of a representative item to put in the bag for that section. The retelling is infinitely easier, because you have the items to jog your memory of what happened at that point in the Saint’s life. (Note: we recommend that you still keep your story/script nearby in case you forget which item comes next!)

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You can also use “Saint Story Grab-bags” as a review! Over a period of time, as you tell each Saint’s story, save one representative item from each Saint’s life and put it in a “Saint Story Grab-bag.” For example, a small toy trash can that reminds you of the Parisian children that St. Maria of Paris saved by using the trash system in the city; a pair of binoculars representing St. Porphyrios’ miraculous long-distance vision; a small towel to represent St. Herman of Alaska’s miraculous healing; etc. After you have told all of the Saint stories you plan to tell, take some review time to pull the item(s) out of the bag and see what the children remember about them. This can take as much as a whole class period near the end of the year, or as little as “okay, we have five minutes of class time left. Who wants to reach in the Saint Story Grab-bag and choose a Saint-story-review piece?” Either way, have the students tell as much of the story as they can remember on their own!
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Create a photo album of the Saint’s life. Collect actual pictures if they are available and put them together in a powerpoint presentation or in a scrapbook. If no pictures are available, find other related photos from the era (ie: a photo of some of the Jews inside of the Velodrome d’Hiver, taken around the same time that St. Maria of Paris was rescuing children) and put those in your album. Then flip through the powerpoint or album as you share the story of the Saint’s life with your students. (Note: if you enjoy scrapbooking, you may want to design your scrapbook online. There are many free templates available, and here’s a great tutorial of how to layer a digital scrapbook page: http://www.sweetshoppedesigns.com/tutorials/index.php/2011/12/using-templates/!)

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Create a timeline of the Saint’s life and use it to share their story. This can be done in many ways. Here are a few:

  1. You can line up representative photos or items across the front of the Sunday Church School classroom (or down the middle of the table if your class meets around a huge table) in the order in which they occurred in the Saint’s life. Work your way down the line as you tell the story.
  2. Hang a rope or bulletin board strip on a wall in your classroom. Use clothespins or thumbtacks to attach photos or items in the order that they are needed to tell the Saint’s life story. (This creates a “retelling rope” of sorts similar to this one: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/bb/53/bd/bb53bdcfe25ce87cfc64cc39f6abbdbb.jpg)
  3. Tie items (or photos) together in the order that they occurred in the Saint’s life; then tuck them all into a big basket or bag and pull on the yarn/string to pull out one item at a time as you tell the story.
  4. Break down the Saint’s life story into smaller parts and think of an item that your students can easily draw that represents each part of the story. Number the items. Write each number and item pair on index cards. At the beginning of class, give each child a piece of paper and an index card with a number-item pair written on it. Have them draw the item and number listed on their index card on their paper. As you tell the story, call out the numbers (in order) and have each student hold up their illustration when their number is called.

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Come to class dressed as the Saint, and tell their story in first person. The costume does not have to be fancy, just enough to give the idea that you are not “you” at that time. “Many times, a simple costume made with a sheet or bathrobe, towels, and belt(s) will do the trick. Finding a prop or two (a cross? a wheel? a platter?) …to carry will add to the final effect. (The icon of the saint can often offer ideas of something …to hold. The story of the Saint’s life can do the same.) The costume does not have to be elaborate to be effective.” (from our blog post https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/dressed-like-a-saint/)

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Bring props and costumes that can make it possible for your Sunday Church School students to act out the story of the saint’s life as you tell it. Or tell the story in such a way that they can do some actions/motions or say parts of the story along with you as you speak. This is modeled in this video about storytelling (specifically the section beginning at 1:29) : http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/reading.html

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To tell the life story of a Saint, create stick puppets with photos of the saint and other important people in his/her life. Use the puppets to tell the story of the Saint’s life. A backdrop is optional but could be created out of an enlarged picture(s) of the place(s) where the Saint lived. For a simple way to make stick puppets, see http://www.auntannie.com/FridayFun/ClipArtPuppet/. An alternative to making stick puppets with photos from the Saint’s life would be to create the “characters” needed to retell their life story. If you do not feel comfortable drawing them yourself, you could make some from these paper dolls (https://makingfriends.com/paper-doll-friends/) and attach them to popsicle sticks to create “puppets.” An alternative to stick puppets would be to “act out” the Saint’s story using Lego or Playmobil people (if you have access to them) as the Saint and the others in his/her life.

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Paisios (July 12/June 29)

On July 25, 1924, the Evlambia and Prodromos Eznepidis welcomed a new son into their devout family. The family’s spiritual father at that time was Fr. Arsenios (now called St. Arsenios of Cappadocia). Soon after the baby was born, Fr. Arsenios came, baptized him, and gave him the name “Arsenios.” He also prophesied that young Arsenios would become a monk. A few weeks later, all of the Orthodox Christians in the region were forced to leave. The Eznepidis family followed Fr. Arsenios, who led them to Konitsa in Epiros, which is in northwestern Greece. Forty days after they settled there, Fr. Arsenios reposed in the Lord, fulfilling another of his prophecies.

When Arsenios Eznepidis was a boy, he spent a lot of time in the quiet of nature. He prayed outside for hours when he was not in school. After he finished elementary school, Arsenios learned to work as a carpenter. He did that work until his term in the Greek military. He bravely served as a radio operator during World War II. During the years of his service, Arsenios cared more for others than himself and often risked his own life so that others (especially those who had a wife and children back home) would be safe. He would volunteer to go on missions in their stead, to keep them safe. When he was finished with his military service, Arsenios wanted to become a monk. But he knew that his unmarried sisters needed someone to provide for them, so he worked to make money so that they would have what they needed. By 1950, he had made enough money to provide for his sisters, so he was able to become a monk. He went to Mount Athos, where he was a novice for four years. He was tonsure as the monk Averkios in 1954, and worked diligently to complete his obediences while maintaining silence so he could continue to grow in prayer. He also read a lot during this time from the Lives of the Saints, the Gerontikon, and the Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian.

Soon after he was tonsured, the Monk Averkios went to the Philotheou Monastery. His uncle was a monk there. In 1956, Averkios was given the Small Schema, along with a new name, Paisios. Fr. Paisios continued in his asceticism and was a good monk, working hard, praying, and struggling to become more like God. In 1958 Fr. Paisios spent some time near his home village, Konitsa, helping the faithful to retain their Orthodoxy and rebuilding the monastery there that had been ruined during WWII. He helped orphans and the poor during this time. When the monastery was restored in 1962, Fr. Paisios went to Sinai and visited there for two years. The Bedouins loved Fr. Paisios because of how he cared for them. He helped them spiritually, but also physically (he carved things out of wood and sold them to buy food to give to the Bedouins).

In 1964, Fr. Paisios returned to Mount Athos and finally got to live in asceticism in the desert, as he had longed to do his entire life. Unfortunately, he was only able to live there for a few years, as his health began to fail. Because of his declining health, in 1966 he had part of his lungs removed in surgery. During the operation he needed a lot of blood, which novices from the nearby sisterhood of St. John the Theologian donated to save his life. When he recovered, he was so grateful for their gift to him that he did everything he could to help them build their monastery and grow spiritually.

In 1968 he went to the Monastery of Stavronikita to help to renovate it. While he was there, he came to know Elder Tikhon. He served as the elder’s disciple and the elder clothed him in the Great Schema. After Elder Tikhon reposed in the Lord, Fr. Paisios stayed on in his hermitage until 1979. That was the year that Fr. Paisios moved to his final home: the hermitage Panagouda, on the Holy Mountain.

During his 14 years at Panagouda, Elder Paisios received many visitors. Most of them were people with struggles, but he also was visited by Christ Himself, the Theotokos, and other saints. The sick and suffering would come to him in the day, and at night he would pray and keep vigil. He was left with only a few hours to rest each night (maybe 2 or 3), and all of this ascetic labor made his body weak so he would easily get sick. He continued to have problems with his lungs and breathing, and also developed a hernia that was very painful. Even when he was off of the Holy Mountain (usually to recover from illness) he would continue to receive guests, although it meant physical challenges that left him pale and exhausted. He did not complain, though, because he trusted that God knows what is best for us. He also believed that it blesses God when someone who is suffering doesn’t complain but instead uses what energy he has to pray for others.

Elder Paisios also suffered from blood loss which always made him very week, and the last few weeks that he was on the Holy Mountain, he often fainted. On October 5, 1993, Elder Paisios left the Holy Mountain to go into Thessaloniki for a few days. He never returned to the Holy Mountain, however, because in Thessaloniki they discovered that he had cancer and needed an immediate operation. After a little time in the hospital, recovering, Elder Paisios went to the monastery at Souroti. Even though he was weak and very much recovering, he continued to welcome visitors so he could listen to their stories and counsel them.

He wanted so much to go back to Mount Athos, but his health would not allow it. After much suffering, on July 11, 1994, Elder Paisios received Holy Communion one last time and the next day, he departed this life. He wanted to be buried at the monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti, so that is where his body was placed.

Thousands of people visit his grave every year, to receive his blessing. The monastery has welcomed the visitors and worked to organize his writings and publish them in books that can continue to help those who read them.

On January 13, 2015, Elder Paisios was elevated to sainthood, confirming what the thousands of people who have been touched by his life and his prayers knew all along. He is a man of God, and his prayers have brought healing to many people.

Holy Saint Paisios, intercede for our salvation!

 

Resources:

http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/elder_paisios_mount_athos.htm
https://orthodoxwiki.org/Paisios_of_Mount_Athos

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Show your students pictures from St. Paisios’ life such as the ones found in this blog post: http://pemptousia.com/2016/07/a-brief-life-of-saint-paisios/

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Find hymns, including an akathist hymn, to St. Paisios here: http://www.orthodoxroad.com/saint-paisios-a-clairvoyant-elder-of-our-times/   

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Share this book about St. Paisios with younger Sunday Church School students: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-31-37-NEW/37-Paterikon-for-Kids-Saint-Paisios-the-Hagiorite/flypage-ask.tpl.html

This book would also be a good one to share with a Sunday Church School class: http://www.stnectariospress.com/elder-paisios-the-hagiorite-the-friend-of-children/ 

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With older children, watch this 40 minute video of St. Paisios’ life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVX1HOxrDcw

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This video features the voice of St. Paisios as he gives a speech. The speech is accompanied by photos from his life and includes English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o08x3qDL0K8

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Your Sunday Church School students will want to learn of the miracles that have taken place through St. Paisios’ intercessions. For example, here is the first-person account of a miracle that St. Paisios wrought for a child: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/07/elder-paisios-heals-child.html. Here is the account of a miracle that took place in Florida recently: http://stpeterorthodoxchurch.com/a-miracle-by-elder-paisios/

And here is a video of a monk who knew St. Paisios (and is named after him) telling stories of his miracles (in Greek, with subtitles): http://pemptousia.com/video/sanctity-and-miracles-of-blessed-paisios-the-athonite/

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Any Sunday Church School students will benefit from hearing this teaching from St. Paisios about bees and flies. Read this to your class (http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2009/12/flies-and-bees-advice-from-elder.html) and talk together about it. Resolve together to be bees, not flies. If you have younger students, you could enhance this discussion by including the senses. Provide smelly bags – a bag containing something stinky and another with a scented flower for the students to smell as you are reading the part about the fly and the bee. Bring honeycomb and/or honey sticks so the students can taste the sweet results of “being the bee.” If you’re feeling crafty, create a pompom bee such as this one http://mollymoocrafts.com/pom-pom-craft-bee/ or this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEDkzxJU1QY with each student. They can keep the bee in their pocket or on a keychain attached to their coat zipper or backpack: somewhere that they will see it and be reminded to “be the bee!”

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Middle-years Sunday Church School teachers can gear a lesson around St. Paisios’ life and focus on one of his quotes in this way: Before class, write words or phrases that indicate a good or bad thought (ie: God loves me; I’m so angry; I like what I have; I want that; No one likes me; etc.), each on a different sheet of paper. Fold each sheet into a paper airplane in such a way that you can’t see the word/phrase. Set the airplanes where the students will see them when they enter the room. Use tape to mark a landing area on the floor. When your students arrive, share St. Paisios’ life with them. Afterwards, talk with your students about this quote: “Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. If you ignore them, there is no problem. If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside your head and permit them to land!” Ask your students what kind of thoughts they think St. Paisios allowed to “land” in his head. Discuss what thoughts are “good airplanes” that should be allowed to land and which ones should not be given landing space in an Orthodox Christian’s mind. Drive the idea home with this activity: give each student one of your paper airplanes and offer them the opportunity to throw it at the landing area. After all of the students have had a turn, one at a time, open all of the planes that landed in the landing area. Read each word or phrase and ask the students if it was a good one to keep in the landing area: is it something an Orthodox Christian should have in their mind? Repeat with the ones that did not land in the landing area. Then talk about how thoughts and phrases constantly come to mind and how we must always be ready to welcome or turn away those “thought planes” to keep our minds pure as they should be. Then give each student a copy of the quote: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_paisios_thoughts_are_like_airplanes.pdf so that they can share it with their family and put it where they’ll see it and be reminded to be diligent in their “thought traffic control.”


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With older Sunday Church School students, spend time looking at the wisdom of St. Paisios. Jump start the conversation with this two-minute video of twelve of his sayings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycxr6D74q-Y.  Find other quotes of his in this blog: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/lessons-from-the-fathers-elder-paisios-of-the-holy-mountain/. (You could also consider doing a book study over a period of several weeks on the book “Talks with Father Paisios” by Athanasios Rakovalis, which is available here http://www.saintnicodemos.org/products/talkswithpaisios.php), slowly working your way through the stories and his teachings. When you finish your discussions, have each student select one of his quotes that resonates with the student and invite them to create a poster or wall hanging featuring that quote. They could create it on a computer; draw/write it on paper with a variety of tools; or paint it on large canvas. When they finish, post these quotes around your Sunday Church School room and invite others from the parish to come see what St. Paisios said.

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Share with your Sunday Church School students some (or all!) of these miracles that have happened through the prayers of St. Paisios: http://amphilochios.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-elder-ephraim-of-vatopedi-monastery.html

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Porphyrios (Nov. 19/Dec.2)

On February 7, 1906, in a small village called St. John Karystia, on the second largest island of Greece (Evia), a baby boy was born. The boy’s father was a farmer named Leonidas, and his mother’s name was Eleni. This boy, the fourth of five children born to the Bairaktaris family, was named “Evangelos” when he was baptized. The whole family loved God and served Him to the best of their ability. Leonidas was the village cantor, so the family often attended church, and they lived out their faith at home, too.

Evangelos went to school in his village, but the teacher was sick a lot and the students didn’t learn very much. So, after only two years of school, he left and worked instead on the farm. He loved to take care of the animals on the farm. During this time, his father taught him many things about the Orthodox Faith, including the Paraklesis service to the Mother of God. Evangelos was a very serious boy who worked hard at all that he did. One of the things he worked hard at was reading the story of St. John the Hut-dweller. It was hard for Evangelos to read because he only had two years of school, but he loved the saint and kept reading until he had read the whole story. When he finished, he knew that he wanted to love God like that, too, so he wanted to imitate St. John’s life.

Evangelos looked much older than he really was. When he was only 8 years old, he started shaving. That was the year that he got his first job away from home. He worked in a coal mine to make more money for his family. Later he got a job in a grocery store. Throughout the years that he worked to make money for his family, Evangelos remembered St. John the Hut-Dweller and wanted to go live on Mt. Athos just like St. John. Finally, when he was a very young teen, Evangelos was able to go to Mt. Athos. On the ferry boat between Thessaloniki and Mt. Athos, Evangelos met Fr. Panteleimon, who immediately began to look after Evangelos, helped him settle in on the Mountain, and eventually became his spiritual father.

Evangelos did not stop being serious or working hard when he finally made it to the Holy Mountain. In fact, he worked even harder! Sometimes he wished that his elders would ask him to do more. He began to work on his asceticism. He walked around barefoot (the Mountain is covered in rocks and sometimes in snow!), and didn’t sleep much (but when he did, he slept on the floor with the window open and only used one blanket), and he did many prostrations. His daytime work varied from cutting down big trees to carving wood to preparing the ground around his hut for a garden. While he worked, Evangelos prayed and repeated the services/hymns/Gospel to himself until he had them in his heart. He no longer had bad thoughts because he was always focusing his mind on the things of God. Probably the most special thing about this time in Evangelos’ life is that he chose to love his elder, and submit to and obey him because of that love. The way that he humbled himself in submission to his elder made this part of his life so special. During this time, he was tonsured a monk and named Nikitas.

Nikitas’ great love for his elder, for the Church, and for God opened the door for him to experience God’s blessings in new ways. Here is how it began: one morning Nikitas went early to the main church. The door was still locked. An 90-year-old monk (also a saint) named Dimas came to the church. He looked to make sure no one was there to watch, missing Nikitas’ presence, and began to make full prostrations and praying in front of the church doors. The grace of God poured out of Dimas and touched Nikitas in such a special way that even after liturgy, after receiving Holy Communion, he was still basking in it. When he returned to his hut, he stopped, raised his hands, and shouted, “Glory to You, O God! Glory to You, O God! Glory to you, O God!”

That touch of God’s grace in Nikitas’ life changed him. God began to give him special abilities that he did not have before. The first thing that happened was that Nikitas could see his elders, who had traveled far away, coming back while they were still far away. No one else could see them, but he could. His sense of sight was very good. His other senses became very strong, too. Nikitas’ hearing was so good that he could recognize different animal voices and could understand what they were saying. His sense of smell was so strong that he could recognize different smells that were far away. He could see anything from the deep part of the earth to faraway space. He could see past time, as well, seeing things that happened hundreds of years before. He could communicate with rocks and learn about the ascetics who had visited them before, as they worked on their asceticism. He could heal people just by looking at them or touching them. Nikitas used these gifts only to bless and help others, not himself. He didn’t even ask for God to heal his own sicknesses! All of these special gifts were from God and Nikitas was quick to say that it was God’s grace that made them happen: not anything that he had done!

Monk Nikitas kept on working on his asceticism. He wanted to live out in the hut, but his body was so worn down from his hard work that he was sick. His elders sent him back to live in a monastery until he was well again. Then he went back to his hut. Again he got sick. His elders had to send him back to a monastery. This time, they sent him to the Monastery Lefkon of St. Charalambos. He lived as ascetically as his health would allow in that monastery. Monk Nikitas was 19 years old when he moved to that monastery.

When he was only 21, Archbishop Porphyrios III noticed God’s hand on Monk Nikitas’ life. He ordained the monk to the diaconate, and the next day, to the priesthood. He gave him the name Porphyrios.

One of Fr. Porphyrios’ jobs was to hear confessions. He learned from St. Basil that he needed to handle each confession individually and not be upset if they take a long time. Fr. Porphyrios would spend hours every day, sometimes without a break, hearing people’s confessions. The special gifts he had from God helped him to better help the people who came to him for confession.

When the monastery became a convent, Fr. Porphyrios was reassigned. He was sent instead to a church in the village of Tsakayi. Not long after, he was sent on, to the chapel of St. Gerasimos in Athens, at the Athens Polyclinic. World War II had begun, and Fr. Porphyrios wanted to be near the people that he loved who were suffering, so he asked for this work. He worked at the Polyclinic for 30 years, then (because he loved his spiritual children) he stayed on as a volunteer for three more years. All of those years, he received very little money for that work. So he had to work another job as well, to pay the bills. To help pay the bills, Fr. Porphyrios worked on organizing a poultry farm and then a weaving shop. In later years, he rented the monastery of St. Nicholas in Kallisia and worked the land, planted trees, and built an irrigation system. He worked and worked, and did not let himself rest. When he finished his 35th year as a priest, he left the Polyclinic (but kept visiting after that, as mentioned before, because of all the spiritual children that he had there, whom he loved). Finally, in 1973, he left the Polyclinic and went to live at the monastery of St. Nicholas, where he continued to receive guests, hear their confessions, and pray for them.

By this time, Fr. Porphyrios had many physical struggles. He had kidney trouble, and had worked his body so hard that he needed an operation. He asked that they wait to do the operation because it was Holy Week and he wanted to celebrate the services. They did, but he ended up in a coma and doctors thought he would die. He also had a fractured leg and a hernia which both gave him trouble. And then on August 29, 1978, he had a heart attack and had to stay in the hospital for 20 days. Later he had an operation on his left eye. Sadly, the doctor made a mistake and Fr. Porphyrios completely lost his vision in that eye. (That doctor also gave him a shot that Elder Porphyrios’ body couldn’t handle, and it caused a stomach hemorrhage that he struggled with for the rest of his life, leaving him unable to eat regular food!) All of this made him very weak and tired. But God kept him alive!

But Elder Porphyrios loved God and His people. He kept receiving the people who come to him for advice and help. Although he had to reduce the number of hours that he could help people, he could still pray for them with love! And he did.

Elder Porphyrios had wanted for a long time to build a convent for some of his spiritual daughters. He got the blessing of the church and looked long and hard for a place to build it. Finally he found some land and the “Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior” was started. His great love for people made him want to guide them in the joy of being transfigured (changed) to be like Christ. That’s how the name came to be.

He moved onto the property in 1980, and construction (which he supervised closely) began. Elder Porphyrios and his friends had been saving up for this monastery for a long time. Because of that, they had the money to build on the property. His prayers supported the work, and the building went smoothly, by the grace of God.

But in his heart, Elder Porphyrios really wanted to go back to Mt. Athos. In 1984 he was given the hut on the Mountain where he had lived when he first took his monastic vows. He sent disciples to live there over the years, but he wanted to go himself, to die in the place where he took his vows 60 years earlier.

Finally, in 1991, on the night before the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Elder Porphyrios left for his hut on Mt. Athos. On his way, he had visited Athens to give his confession and receive absolution. When he arrived on Mt. Athos, Elder Porphyrios settled into his hut and waited to depart this life.

He asked that a deep grave be dug for him. Then he told someone what to write, and wrote a letter for his spiritual children. In the letter he gave some advice and asked them to forgive him for the things that he did wrong in his life. He was ready to depart this life, but his spiritual children kept contacting him for advice and help. Two times he had to go back to the Convent in Athens. He didn’t want to, but his spiritual children needed him, so he went. He always left only a few days after arriving at the Convent, so that he could get back to Mt. Athos as quickly as possible.

God was merciful and allowed Elder Porphyrios to be on the Mountain when he departed this life. The evening that he passed away, he went to confession and then spent some time praying. His disciples read some Psalms and prayed the Jesus Prayer to help him finish his prayer rule one last time. He continued to whisper prayers, until finally he said only one word, “Come!” and departed this life. It was 4:31 am, Dec. 2, 1991.

The fathers at the monastery kept vigil all day and night, and buried him at dawn on Dec. 3. They had not announced his passing to the rest of the world, just as Elder Paisios instructed. After he was buried, everyone else found out that he had departed this life.

Elder Porphyrios continues his work of love for others and prays for all of us. He has appeared to those who needed his help, and prayed successfully for God to heal many people. Because of his life and these after-departing-this-life miracles, the elder was elevated to sainthood on Nov. 27, 2013.

 

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

Sources:

http://www.abbamoses.com/porphyriosbio.html

http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/Orthodox_Elders/Greek/Fr._Porphyrios/

http://pemptousia.com/2014/01/saint-porphyrios-of-kafsokalyvia-part-i/

Here are additional helpful links and ideas that can help you teach your Sunday Church School students about St. Porphyrios:

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Share this little book about St. Porphyrios’ life with your Sunday Church School students: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/…/58…/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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To learn more about St. Porphyrios, listen to this recorded telling of his life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrjzhH1pHjU
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You and your students can hear the voice of St. Porphyrios, as he speaks about Christ and our life in Christ in this (subtitled with English) video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhkoQ2T0azA

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Talk with your young Sunday Church School students about saints. What makes some people special so that we call them saints? How do we become holy? Share with them the story of one of the Saints: the life of St. Porphyrios. As you tell his story, be sure to point out how often his life exemplified love. Talk together about love and how/why it is so important. Then share this quote of St. Porphyrios’ with your students: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_porphyrios_you_dont_become_holy.pdf. Discuss the meaning of the quote together, and tie together your previous discussion about sainthood/holiness and love. Give each student a copy of the quote and allow them to decorate it in a way that will remind them to love, and thereby become holy.

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Continue to encourage your Sunday Church School students to work towards being a saint. “Be the Bee” episode #11 uses the life of St. Porphyrios to encourage its viewers to work on sainthood from an early age. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgocWG9AG7s

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Mending a coat with newspaper? Flying cars? Speaking to people of other languages without an interpreter? A miraculous intervention in spacetime? Share these miracles of St. Porphyrios (that sound like they could be movie clips!) with your Sunday Church School class: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/10/saint-porphyrios-and-flying-car.html; http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/12/saint-porphyrios-and-gift-of.html; and http://www.bio-orthodoxy.com/2015/04/saint-porphyrios-of-kavsokalyva-patron.html (by the way, today it would take about 50 minutes to travel from Migara to Milesi, but the nuns made the trip in a taxi slowed by traffic in only 15 minutes, with St. Porphyrios’ blessing.)
And then there was this time when St. Porphyrios appeared to high school students and healed one of the students’ mother through his prayers: (told from the father/husband’s perspective) http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-wondrous-appearing-and-healing-of-st.html
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Before class with your middle-years Sunday Church School students, gather some items to have in the room when they arrive to pique their interest in the life of St. Porphyrios. Perhaps a pair of binoculars to represent his incredible long-distance vision, a wood carving to represent the carvings he made, a rock to represent the rocks he could communicate with about the ascetics who had visited them before, etc. Keep these items visible in the room and share the life of St. Porphyrios. Challenge your students to identify each item and how it relates to St. Porphyrios’ life. Then talk about some of the special gifts that God gave to him so that he could use the gifts to help others get closer to God. Make a list on the board of the different kinds of gifts he had. Share this video that demonstrates one of them (knowing what happened in someone’s life so that they are encouraged to make things right with God): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2Tie7qFdBs. After watching this together, discuss it. What happened in this story? How did St. Porphyrios know about the taxi driver’s sin? WHY did he know about it? Who else knew what had happened? Talk together about how God knows EVERYTHING that happens, and encourage your students to live accordingly (and to go to confession if they need forgiveness!).

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Talk about what you and your Sunday Church School students (middle grades or higher) think is the most important thing to you. If you knew that you would soon depart this life, what would you write down to leave with your loved ones? God told St. Porphyrios when he was getting ready to depart this life. Because of this, St. Porphyrios wrote a letter to his spiritual children before he died, so that he could say final words to them. Read the translation of the letter here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/88352.htm. Read the letter to your students and talk about what St. Porphyrios had to say in the letter. What was most important to him when he knew that he would soon depart this life? How does that compare to what you talked about as important words you would leave for your loved ones?

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Print or copy these quotes from St. Porphyrios onto notecards. Put the notecards in a basket and allow older Sunday Church School students to select one, read it, and share it with the class. Discuss each quote – how does it apply to our life? http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-porphyrios/

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With older children, watch this video of 12 sayings of St. Porphyrios. Pause after each and talk about what it says and what it means. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycxr6D74q-Y Before class, copy each of the sayings onto its own piece of paper, large enough that the whole class can see it. As the saying appears in the video and you discuss it, put the paper containing it out on the table or up on the wall for your students to see. By the end of the video, you will have 12 sayings displayed. Encourage each student to select their favorite, then take time to have each student share their favorite quote and why they like it so much. (If there’s not time, just have each student share with someone near them.)

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Teens or adults will benefit from a book study on this book full of the wisdom of St. Porphyrios: https://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Love-Wisdom-Saint-Porphyrios/dp/9607120191/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Maria of Paris (July 20 or August 2)

In 1891, in Riga, Latvia, a baby girl named Elizabeta (“Liza,” to her family) was born to the Pilenko family. The Pilenkos were Orthodox Christians, and raised Liza in the faith. When she was 14, Liza’s father died, and Liza was so upset that she gave up her Faith. When the family moved to St. Petersburg, instead of going to church, Liza began to hang out with radical people who, like her, liked to read and wanted to make the world better. They would spend hours talking about revolution and about theology, but (in Liza’s words) they “seemed to do nothing but talk.” She wanted to actually DO something to make a change. Years passed, and Liza slowly came back to her faith.

When she was only 18, Liza got married. Three years later, she left her husband and moved back to the house where she grew up. While she was there, she gave birth to her daughter Gaiana. Three years after Gaiana’s birth, Liza was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy of The Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. She was the very first woman to study there! For a while in 1918, Liza was the mayor of her town. This was during the time that the Bolsheviks were taking over Russia, and she was accused of being part of their Red Army. She was arrested and taken to trial. Her judge, Daniel Skobstova, said she was innocent, and he had her released instead of executed. After she was free, she went to find him to thank him. They quickly became friends and were married only a few days later!

Right after the wedding, as the Bolsheviks got stronger in Russia, Liza and her whole family left the country. They didn’t want to be part of all the horrible things that happen during a revolution. They traveled through Tblisi and other parts of the country of Georgia; through Istanbul, Turkey; and through parts of Yugoslavia. They ended up in Paris, France, where they settled down to live. In the time that they moved around, Liza gave birth to two other children: her son Yura and her daughter Anastasia. Once the family settled in Paris, Liza made dolls and painted silk scarves to help provide for all of them. She also began to work with the Christian Student Movement to help other Russian refugees who lived there. Many of them had a much harder life than she did. But her bad things still happened to her family: unfortunately, in the winter of 1926, Liza’s whole family got the flu. Little Anastasia died from it. But this time, a death in her family did not drive Liza away from the Faith: instead, it made her faith stronger! She began to work even harder to help the refugees. She wanted to live a more real, more pure Christian life than ever. Sadly, all of this work was hard on her marriage to Daniel, and she left him, moved into her mother’s house, and continued her work.

In 1932, Metropolitan Evlogy tonsured her a nun and encouraged her to develop a new kind of monasticism: the life of a nun living in the city and serving the needy people there instead of living out alone in the countryside. So Liza, now “Mother Maria,” began her work of sharing her life with the poor and homeless.
She started with a small empty house, sleeping her first night on the floor under the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. Others came to join her as she served the Russian refugees, and soon her room in the house was needed for others, so instead, she slept in the basement by the boiler. An upstairs room became the chapel, and Mother Maria wrote the icons on the icon screen. Before too long, she was able to set up a home at 77 Rue de Lourmel (77 Lourmel Street) in Paris that was larger and had much more space. In this new space, she and the others serving with her began to prepare dinner for those who needed food. They served up to 120 every night! Sometimes they would turn the dining room into a hall where Orthodox leaders would come to teach about the Faith. At this house, the stables out back became a chapel, and again Mother Maria contributed many of the icons, some of them were icons that she embroidered. Mother Maria rented other buildings around Paris that she then shared with the poor so that needy families would have a place to live. She started a hospital for people sick with tuberculosis. She began schools for children. She visited mental hospitals just so she could look for Russian refugees. Because these people were so poor and didn’t speak French well, they had been labeled as mentally ill and put in mental hospitals – even if they were in their right minds! Mother Maria would rescue them from the mental hospital and help them.

She also helped to start an organization called “Orthodox Action,” which provided safe places for travelers or for the elderly to stay. The people in the Orthodox Action group also helped people who did not have a job, worked in hospitals, aided elderly people, and published books and pamphlets. Mother Maria was living up to her youthful dream of DOING something for change, not just talking about it!

When the Holocaust began and edged closer to Paris, of course Mother Maria did all that she could to help save the Jewish people who reached out for help. Her priest, Fr. Dimitri Klepinin, would make baptismal certificates for any Jewish person who asked for one. (Any Jew that had a certificate saying they had converted to Christianity and were no longer Jewish was in less danger.) Mother Maria, her son Yura, and Fr. Dimitri would then plan escape routes for the Jewish people who asked them for help. In 1942, Mother Maria somehow got into the Velodrome d’Hiver. This winter stadium was where many of the Jews in Paris were being kept before they were taken to Nazi death camps. While Mother Maria was in the Velodrome, she did whatever she could to help the Jewish people that she met in there. One way that she helped was by sneaking Jewish children out of the Velodrome to safety! She made arrangements with some of Paris’ trash haulers, who helped her take the children out of the Velodrome inside trash cans, and then drove them in trash trucks to Mother Maria’s house, where she would help to arrange for their escape from Paris.

Mother Maria was finally caught by the Nazis in 1943. They arrested her for helping the Jewish people and took her to Ravensbruck, one of the concentration camps. Even while she was a prisoner in that Nazi camp, Mother Maria was helping people. One survivor talked about her later and said she was adored by everyone, but especially the young prisoners. They had been separated from their families, but Mother Maria became their family and cared for them. She was known to give her “meal” (piece of bread) to anyone that she thought needed it more than she did. She lived this way until she died. On April 30, 1945, Mother Maria was killed in a gas chamber. We are not sure if she was selected to die that day or if she volunteered to take the place of someone else who was. Either way, she died because of the way she lived her faith.

Mother Maria once said, “At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.” And she lived exactly that way. But she went beyond just feeding, clothing, visiting, and helping the others in her care: she actually saw everyone she met as “the very icon of God incarnate in the world,” and she treated them as such. She may even have died in the place of one of those “icons of God,” walking out the Faith to the very last moment of her earthly life.

You became a bride of Christ, O venerable Mother,

And offered your body and soul to Him as a living sacrifice.

You exposed the evil side of humanity’s ways

By allowing the light of the Resurrection to shine forth from you.

We celebrate your memory in love.

O Martyr and Confessor Maria

Pray to Christ our God that He may save our souls.

St. Maria of Paris, intercede for our salvation!

Sources:

http://myocn.net/st-maria-of-paris/

http://www.pravmir.com/the-challenge-of-a-20th-century-saint-maria-skobtsova/

http://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/saint-of-the-open-door/

http://incommunion.org/st-maria-skobtsova-resources/

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your students learn more about St. Maria of Paris:

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Find a few pictures of St. Maria of Paris in this article about her life:

http://www.pravmir.com/the-challenge-of-a-20th-century-saint-maria-skobtsova/

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Find several icons of St. Maria of Paris here: https://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/icons/

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Younger children will enjoy learning about St. Maria of Paris through the picture book, “Silent As a Stone,” by Jim Forest. It tells the story of when she snuck Jewish kids out of captivity in trash cans. Find it here: http://www.svspress.com/silent-as-a-stone/  Before Sunday Church School begins, roll a big (clean, wheeled) outdoor trash can into the middle of your classroom and have it sitting there at the beginning of class. The students will be curious about it, and you can tell them it makes you think of faith and how to live as a true Christian. Entertain their ideas and suggestions of why that is. Then, share the book about St. Maria with them, and then talk together again about the trash can. Can they now tell you why a trash can reminds you of faith and how to live as a true follower of Christ? Give each of student a turn to “be” one of the children being saved from the velodrome while you act the part of St. Maria or one of the Parisian trash workers. Help them into the trash can, close the lid, and push it around a little, then help them out. After whoever wants one has a turn, talk about how it must have felt for the Jewish children in Paris to be in the trash. Their people were being treated as (less than) trash, but St. Maria knew that because they are people made in the image of God, they are not trash but treasures, and she therefore rescued as many as she was able before being caught. Talk together as a class: how can WE see the people around US as treasures, not trash, and rescue them when they need help? Invite the students to draw, tell, or write a plan of how they can do that. Encourage them to look out for those around them who may feel like trash, and be ready to help however they can. (In future weeks, remember to offer the opportunity for students to share any times that they were able by God’s grace to help someone who needed it.)

st-maria-hauls-treasure

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Because St. Maria loved to read and write, we have many of her quotes. Discuss this one with your Sunday Church School students: “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.” If that is true, how should we treat each person? Describe different types of people to your students (some wonderful, some terrible) and invite them to tell how they should treat each person described as an icon of Christ. Give each student their own copy of the quote: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_maria_of_paris_each_person.pdf and invite them to draw or write their responses to the quote around the edge of the quote itself.

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With older Sunday Church School students, listen to this podcast about St. Maria: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/socialjustice/mother_maria_skobtsova Talk together about the saint’s life and the challenge that the podcaster, Mariam Youssef, extends to the listeners as a result of St. Maria’s life.

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With teens, discuss this section of Bev Cooke’s article about St. Maria of Paris (found here: http://myocn.net/st-maria-of-paris/) “It wasn’t enough to just feed the hungry. ‘I should say that we should not give away a single piece of bread unless the recipient means something as a person for us,’ she wrote. And she meant it. Late at night, she would travel to the Parisian market, Les Halles, to a restaurant that stayed open all night. For the price of a single glass of wine, anyone could sit (and sleep) there. It wasn’t unusual for St. Maria to bring several people home from the place, or to tell them, while collecting the food that the merchants in the market donated to her, to come to her house for dinner that night. She would often skip liturgy, or leave it early in order to begin preparing a meal for up to 120 guests. 

“Her legacy to us is clear: we need to help each other, and look upon everyone – every single human being with whom we interact, whether our family, our friends, or a stranger on the street – not only as a brother or a sister in Christ, but as the very icon of God in the world. For, as she pointed out, ‘About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person, the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . It fills me with awe.’ ”

How did St. Maria live that demonstrated that? How can WE live like that? What can we do as a parish, a Sunday Church School class, as individuals to show that we know that Christ is every hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned person?

Saints of Recent Decades: Abbess Sophia of Kiev (March 22/April 4)

 

In 1873, in the Tula and Kaluga region of Russia (just south of Moscow) a wealthy landowner had a daughter and named her Sophia Grineva. Sophia was raised in the countryside. When her lawyer father died, Sophia and her brothers and sisters went to stayed for a while in a convent in Belev (their hometown) because the abbess there was their old governess. The children also often visited the Optina Monastery, where they would play “monastery” together and Sophia would be the “abbess.” When Sophia was 12, Elder Anatole of Optina called her “abbess,” which came true when she was older. Sophia grew, and when she became a young lady, she had a very beautiful singing voice. She was sent to a music school (called a conservatory) so that she could become an opera singer.  This is not really what she wanted to do, though: she wanted to become a monastic.

Near the Grineva family’s estate, there was another wealthy family, the Znamenskys. They had a daughter named Anna who, like Sophia, was now grown up and had finished all of her years of school. Instead of following the wealthy lifestyle she could have had, Anna chose to live in a way that allowed her to spend more time in prayer and service to God. She began to teach in the village school. Because of how much Anna loved God, she would gather people together and give spiritual talks and then they would sing akathists together. Hundreds of people came to those gatherings, and Sophia Grineva was one of them. Anna and Sophia came to be very close friends. One night after one of their gatherings, Sophia was on her way home. It was late at night, and it was dark. She was very frightened when she suddenly came upon a wolf. There was no one nearby to help her, and she thought she would die! In those days, the wolves were hungry, and they had already killed some large animals like cattle, and one had even recently killed an armed officer. As Sophia faced what she thought was her last moment, she prayed and asked God to save her. She promised to become a nun if He did. Then, she made the sign of the cross over the wolf. Immediately the wolf turned and ran away into the woods! She was saved!
Not long after that, Sophia got sick. She had a kind of diphtheria that made her lose her voice. She was not just sick: she was also very upset because her voice was gone, so the doctors suggested that she should go to Switzerland to recover. But her friend Anna had recently begun a monastery on a piece of her family’s land, and she invited Sophia to stay with her and the other sisters at the monastery until she was well enough to travel to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Sophia got sicker while she was staying there. It got to the point once when the sisters called the elder who was serving at the monastery. He came to give Sophia her last confession and communion. Since she could not speak, Sophia just cried on the comforting elder, who then gave her communion. After she communed, Sophia fell asleep.


When she woke up, Sophia could speak again! The community offered a thanksgiving service right away, and she began to completely recover. After that miracle, Sophia did not want to go back into the world: she wanted to become a nun and serve God for the rest of her life. So she stayed in the convent with Anna and helped the sisters cut down trees, chop firewood, dig a well, and build a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity where they could offer the daily services. It was a hard but good life and the monastery grew quickly! Unfortunately, Matushka Anna was so successful that she was lured away from the true Faith, and fell into spiritism. She left the convent, and some of the other sisters left, too. Sophia went to another convent, St. Nicholas Convent, where Elder Gerasimus of Kaluga was in charge. Fr. Gerasimus’s spiritual son was given the name Gerasimus as well, and he and Sophia developed a spiritual friendship that lasted the rest of their lives.

Sophia and another sister left that convent and started another community on the bank of the Oka River in an abandoned church. The sisters lived in poverty, but offered up daily services and worked hard. The way that they lived inspired others, and before too long a new monastic community began. It was dedicated to the Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos that is called “Comfort and Consolation,” and the people who benefitted from the community’s presence included local factory workers (most of whom used to be prisoners).

Sometime after that, the church leaders asked Abbess Sophia to be in charge of the Protection of the Mother of God convent in Kiev. This was a big move for the abbess, and she would need to leave the community that she had started, but she obeyed and went. Even though she was now in charge of one of the largest convents in Russia, Abbess Sophia still lived simply and purely. It didn’t take long for the sisters in the monastery to love the Abbess. She was kind and generous. If someone needed something and came to her, they got help. She supported everyone. Because of how Abbess Sophia acted, everyone loved her.

It was at this time that the Soviet Revolution began. The government tried to change the Church and the monastery. Several times, Abbess Sophia was arrested and released for various reasons. Finally she and a few sisters and some clergy members, including Fr. Dimitry Ivanov went to live in the Kiev suburbs summer home of Mrs. Barbenko, a wealthy lady who offered her home, near a miracle spring that had just been discovered, to the community. Inside the house where the nuns lived, there was a large hall full of pointings. Every night, they would secretly take down the paintings, replace them with icons, and hold Divine services in the hall. In the morning, they would put the paintings back up so no one knew that this was now a secret church! They even used special language to communicate with those outside about the community. Abbess Sophia called Metropolitan Sergius “Dr. Sergiev;” churches “clinics and drugstores;” and Holy Communion “treatment” in some of her letters to others. Above all, the abbess tried to live a pure Orthodox monastic life. She and some of the clergy continued to be put in and out of prison. Once time, when she and Bishop-Confessor Damascene were both out of prison, he tonsured her in the Great Schema. This was around 1934: we know because there’s a picture of Mother Sophia and her flock, taken then, with the Bishop-Confessor.

And then things got worse for the Orthodox Christians. Mother Sophia’s priest-friend Fr. Dimitry was arrested and beaten many times for his beliefs and for his sermons. Finally, he was sent to live far in the north of Russia, in the city of Archangelsk. His wife went along and was with him when he finally got so weak that he fell down in the middle of a street and died in the home of a Jewish doctor who was trying to help him. Other members of the community were arrested and sent far away, as well.

Abbess Sophia was arrested before the rest of the community, and she was sent from one prison to another. She became sick with asthma and other diseases. But even though she was sick and in prison she kept telling people about her Orthodox Christian faith! One time a lady asked the Abbess to talk to her son, who did not believe in God. The man was an engineer, very smart, and very stubborn. Mother Sophia talked to him about the Orthodox faith, and it was not an easy discussion. But the Abbess prayed for him and kept talking, and a miracle happened: the man’s disbelief was shaken so strongly that he became a believer, left his job, and became a pilgrim, praying the Jesus Prayer!

Abbess Sophia became so sick that they released her from prison so she could go die. On the morning of March 22, 1941, while living with some of her spiritual daughters on a farm near Serpukhov, the Abbess asked to be left alone. She had not eaten for several days and was exhausted, but wanted to read her favorite book, the Gospel. The sisters could hear her coughing and gasping for air for 3 hours, as she read. Then she turned to look at an icon, closed her eyes, and departed this life.

Throughout her life, Abbess Sophia chose to love God and follow Him to the best of her ability. She knew that doing so would get her into trouble with the government, but she did not panic or worry: instead, she happily loved and served God by helping those around her to have what they needed, and to know more about God and His Holy Church.

 

Saint Sophia, Abbess of Kiev, please pray for our salvation!

 

Here are additional resources that can help you as you prepare to teach your Sunday Church School students about Abbess Sophia of Kiev:

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Read more about Abbess Sophia of Kiev’s life here:
http://russiascatacombsaints.blogspot.com/2010/12/23-abbess-sophia-of-kiev.html)

And here: http://www.orthodox.net/russiannm/sophia-abbess-confessor-of-kiev-and-those-with-her.html

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Find Abbess Sophia of Kiev’s story with a few pictures here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2012/11/abbess-sophia-of-kiev-canonized.html

There are more pictures of Abbess Sophia here, but the page is in Russian. (If you do not speak or read the Russian language, allow your computer to translate it for you. Enough of the text will translate for you to be able to get a basic idea of what each picture’s caption says.) http://idrp.ru/igumeniya-sofiya-kievskaya-ispovednica-lib47/

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Here is an icon of Abbess Sophia of Kiev:

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

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Share Abbess Sophia of Kiev’s life with younger students. You could do so using a series of pictures. For example, find pictures to illustrate the main parts of her life (a map of the Moscow area showing where Tula and Kaluga are; a photograph of a convent and/or children playing “nuns,” a picture of a woman singing opera, a wolf, etc.) and show each pictures as you share her story. When you finish, ask each student to select a photo and retell that part of the abbess’ life.

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Talk with your middle years students about Abbess Sophia of Kiev’s life. Encourage them to think about what life was like for the abbess and her fellow monastics, living under the Soviet Revolution. Provide writing supplies and challenge your students to write a letter. It could be a letter to the Abbess herself; or a letter that she may have written during her life (say, to her friend Anna); or a letter to one of their own friends about your church, using the same “secret medical language” that the abbess and her friends used to communicate when they wrote letters. After they have finished writing, allow time for students to read their letters aloud if they want to do so.

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Before sharing the life of Abbess Sophia of Kiev with older students, encourage them to look for a theme in her life. After telling them her story, ask your students this question: If they could describe the abbess in one word, or short phrase, what would it be? Then offer each of them a copy of this quote about her:

http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/abbess_sophia_kiev_everybody_loved_her.pdf
Talk together about what Abbess Sophia’s life must have been like in order for this to be said of her. Brainstorm together and think of ideas of how each member of your class, in this hostile-to-Christianity culture can live in such a way that this could be said of you. Encourage each student to write or draw as many ways as they can think of to live in that way in the margins around the quote.

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Tikhon of Moscow (March 25/April 7)

On January 19, 1865, Vasily (Basil) Ivanovich Belavin was born to the family of the priest Ioann Belavin. Ioann was the priest in the countryside of Russia, in the Toropetz district of the Pskov diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a child, Vasily spent time with the poor in his town. He loved to be part of the Church from a young age, and was unusually meek and humble. Ioann’s deceased mother once appeared to Ioann in a vision and told him many things that came true. One of the things she told him was that Vasily would grow up to be a great man.

Ioann passed away soon after that, but Vasily began his great work. He began by studying and, he studied hard. From 1878 through 1883, Vasily was a student at the Pskov Theological Seminary. The other students at the seminary liked him because he was so helpful, smart, and holy. They teasingly called Vasily the nicknames “bishop” and “patriarch” and would often ask him for help when they didn’t understand a lesson or when they needed help with their writing.
After he graduated, Vasily returned to the seminary, but this time he was not a student: he was a teacher! He taught Moral and Dogmatic Theology when he was only 23. The seminary and the whole town loved him. He lived a very pure life, in a tiny and simple wooden annex to a house. When he turned 26, he was tonsured as a monk. Vasily, now “Tikhon” (after St. Tikhon of Zadonsk), wanted to spend his whole life serving the Church.
In 1892, he was transferred to the Kholm Theological Seminary, and made an archimandrite. Five years later, Archimandrite Tikhon was consecrated as the bishop of Lublin, and was the Bishop of the Kholm Diocese. His hard work and pure lifestyle made him popular among the all the people in his region, no matter what their nationality.
Bishop Tikhon’s life changed once again in 1898 when he was made the bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, the head of the Orthodox Church in America. At the turn of the century, Bishop Tikhon’s diocese was extended beyond Alaska to all of North America. He was so well loved and respected that the Americans made him an honorary US citizen.

By 1905, the American Mission became an Archdiocese, with Bishop Tikhon leading it in his new role of Archbishop. He was given two bishops under his care to help him with this huge and diverse diocese: Bishop Innocent in Alaska, and Bishop Raphael in Brooklyn. Later that same year,
Archbishop Tikhon gave his blessing for a new monastery to be built. This monastery is named St. Tikhon’s, not after the archbishop who blessed its building, but for the saint for whom he was named: St. Tikhon of Zadonsk.

By just a few years later, in 1907, he had unified the different ethnic groups of Orthodoxy and planned a Council with all of them in February 1907. He didn’t get to go to that meeting, though, because in January he was appointed to Yaroslavl back in Russia, so he returned back to his home country again. In no time at all, he was (once again) well loved by the people now under his care. Although he was an archbishop, he spoke kindly to those beneath him instead of showing off his power. Even when he had to scold someone, he did in a kind way, and sometimes even with a joke, so that the scolding was easier for the other person to take.

In 1913, Archbishop Tikhon was sent to serve in Vilnius, Lithuania. While he was there, he worked hard to get the needed money for the local charities. Once again, the people in his care very quickly loved him because they could feel his love for God and for them. While he was in Vilnius, World War 1 began. When the war began, Archbishop Tikhon did everything that he could to help the poor in the Vilna area. Because of the war, some of these people no longer had a home, and others had no way to make a living, so they came to their archpriest for help.

A few years later, in 1917, Archbishop Tikhon was raised to the role of Metropolitan. He was put in charge of a council whose job it was to make the Russian Orthodox Church work in the way it was supposed to, including by having a patriarch. Three names were considered for the patriarchate, and the name selected from the ballot box was that of Archbishop Tikhon. That is how he came to be Metropolitan Tikhon. But even this new, more important role did not change how the metropolitan interacted with others! Everyone who met him noticed his simple life, his modesty, and how easy it was to be with him. But he could be tough when he had to: he was tough when it came to church matters, especially if he needed to defend the Church. It was a tough time for the Church herself, and it was made even harder by all that was going on in the world. Church property was being taken away by the government, the clergy were being taken to court and being persecuted, and it was difficult for Russian Orthodox Christians all over Russia. Metropolitan Tikhon kept shining the light of Christ and encouraging his fellow Christians to do the same by living godly lives full of repentance. He encouraged the clergy under his rule to stay as far from politics as possible in order to save their people.

Then a famine came to the Volga region of Russia in 1921. Patriarch Tikhon asked for help from other Russians and also from people all over the world. He even gave his blessing for donations to be made of valuable things (not used in liturgical services) from churches that could then be used to help the victims. Another group changed this to include all valuables from the church and they said that these items must be confiscated, which was against the 73rd Apostolic Canon. Not only was this against the Canon of the church, but also not all of the money for all of those items taken from churches was given to the victims of the famine. Some of it was kept by those who took the items out of the churches. This led to a uproar that ended in thousands of trials, more than 10,000 people killed, and the Patriarch himself was put into prison for over a year, Throughout this time, the patriarch was faithful to God and His Church. And when it was all finally over and the troublemaking priests and hierarchs repented and came back to the Church they were met with love by Patriarch Tikhon. It made the Patriarch very sad to see all of these troubles in the Church, but through it all, he gave himself completely to the Church and encouraged other church leaders to do the same.

In 1924, the Patriarch began to feel sick. He checked into the hospital, but would not stay always: he would leave on Sundays and Feast Days so he could continue to serve the Liturgies. The last liturgy he served was on Sunday, April 5, 1925. Two days after that, in the evening, one source said that he took took a nap until 11:45. He asked what time it was, and when they told him, he made the Sign of the Cross twice while saying, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” Patriarch Tikhon died before he was able to cross himself the third time. (Our other source said of his death that the patriarch was poisoned and that is why he died, and then the official record of his death was changed to make it look like he died naturally.)
Nearly a million people came to his funeral, so they overflowed from the cathedral, all over the Donskoy Monastery, and out into the square and the streets! The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church glorified the Patriarch to sainthood in 1989. For almost 70 years, the saint’s relics were believed to be lost, but they were found hidden away in the Donskoy Monastery in February of 1992.

Troparion to St. Tikhon:

Let us praise Tikhon, the patriarch of all Russia, / And enlightener of North America / An ardent follower of the Apostolic traditions, / And good pastor of the Church of Christ. / Who was elected by divine providence, / And laid down his life for his sheep. / Let us sing to him with faith and hope, / And ask for his hierarchical intercessions: / Keep the church in Russia in tranquility, / And the church in North America in peace. / Gather her scattered children into one flock, / Bring to repentance those who have renounced the True Faith, / Preserve our lands from civil strife, / And entreat God’s peace for all people!

St. Tikhon of Moscow, intercede for our salvation!

 

Sources: https://oca.org/holy-synod/past-primates/tikhon-belavin and  http://gnisios.narod.ru/tikhonmoscow.html

 

Here are some ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students learn more about St. Tikhon of Moscow:
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Find a more detailed biography of St.Tikhon of Moscow’s life here: http://www.antiochian.org/Bishops/tikhon.htm

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

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Teachers of younger Sunday Church School children can show their students these icons of St. Tikhon’s life as they tell his story: https://oca.org/media/photos/the-life-of-st.-tikhon-of-moscow

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Tell your Sunday Church School students the story of St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life, emphasizing the ways that he exemplified humility. From his early years, he reached out to those beneath him and became a friend to all. Help your students begin to think about how to apply this humble lifestyle to their own life. Teach your students James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” As Orthodox Christians, our main objective in life is truly to be like God and to live for eternity at peace with Him. We cannot rise to His level, so we need God to descend to ours. Share with your students this quote from St. Tikhon:

http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_tikhon_of_moscow_god_descends.pdf

To whom does St. Tikhon say God descends? To the humble! Talk together about practical ways that we, like St. Tikhon, can live humbly even when we are successful and could become proud. Illustrate St. Tikhon’s quote with this visual: Find a way to illustrate how water flows down a hill. If you have a hill outside of your church, take a bucket of water and go on a field trip to demonstrate and observe. If not, use a cookie sheet “hill” that empties into a plastic bin “valley” to demonstrate. Either way, before you pour the water, ask your students what will happen to it. Will it go fast or slow? Will it stop halfway down and sit there, or keep going as far down as it can? After the demonstration, ask them to think about St. Tikhon’s statement and how this demonstration applies to it. How does God descend to the humble? If we want to be near God, we need to be humble.

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Here is a printable abbreviated version of St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life. Make copies of this version for your older students to read during your lesson: http://saintnicholas-oca.org/files/bltn16/10_9_16.pdf

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After introducing your older Sunday Church School students to St. Tikhon of Moscow’s life, show them a printed copy of this blog post and ask them to underline something they already knew about the saint and circle something new that they just learned from this post. After they’ve had some time to do so, compare notes and discuss their findings. http://orthodoxhistory.org/2015/04/20/who-was-st-tikhon/

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Teachers of teens and adults may want to purchase this recent translation of St. Tikhon’s sermons and writings: https://www.stspress.com/shop/top-25-best-sellers/st-tikhon-of-moscow-instructions-teachings-for-the-american-orthodox-faithful-1898-1907/
And/or this biography of his life: https://www.holytrinitypublications.com/Book/354/Chosen_For_His_People.html

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St. Tikhon of Moscow was instrumental in the establishment of the St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery in Pennsylvania, America’s oldest Orthodox monastery. Learn more about the monastery here: http://sttikhonsmonastery.org/home_about1.html

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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