Tag Archives: asceticism

Lenten Learning: St. John Climacus

The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is called “The Sunday of St. John Climacus.” This blog will help us learn more about the life of St. John and why we commemorate him on this day, so that we can better teach our Sunday Church School students about his life. Here are two ways that we can begin to learn about him:

  1. Watch a 2-minute video about St. John of the Ladder, which introduces him and his book as well as the icon inspired by the book. The video ends with a challenge to young people to keep climbing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VTtpllgQTk.
  2. Read this blog about his life and see pictures of the cave where he lived: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/the-cave-of-saint-john-of-the-ladder/ or here: http://myocn.net/blessings-desert-st-john-ladder-climacus/

Would you believe that we do not actually even know St. John Climacus’ family name?!? Climacus is a Greek word that means “of the Ladder.” He is so named because of the book that he wrote primarily for ascetics. The book is also both challenging and helpful to lay people, and it is called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St. John Climacus is known for what he lived, taught, and passed on; not for where (or who) he came from.

We do know that St. John was a monk who chose to live his life to the fullest for Christ, beginning at an early age. He was only 16 years old when he went to live at St. Catherine’s Monastery. When he was 20, he was tonsured a monk. One source mentioned that his elder waited those four years to tonsure him in order to test his humility. He lived as a monk for more than 70 years, many of those years in solitude, in a “cave” which was actually a small shelter formed by boulders: a truly humble dwelling. He lived a life of humility.

We also know that St. John’s pursuit of holiness has influenced the lives of Orthodox Christians for every century since he walked on earth. His words in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (which he wrote because the abbot of another monastery asked him to do so) encourage all of us to continue our journey towards the Kingdom of God. His entreaty that we “let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath” has challenged Orthodox Christians to live their lives in hesychasm, or the quietness that leads a person to God through constant prayer. (This constant prayer has come to be known as the “Jesus Prayer.”) He humbly led his monks and all Orthodox Christians since then, passing down tools that we can use to grow deeper in our faith.

So, what can we learn from what we know about St. John Climacus? How can we apply that learning and teach our Sunday Church School children to do so, as well?

1. Perhaps we can begin by emphasizing to our students how important it is for Orthodox Christians to live in a way that leads others towards God. Each family’s name is important to that family, but how much more important is the name which all of us bear, “Christian?” Let us evaluate how well we live up to that name, consider how our life is impacting those around us and those who will follow after us, and take steps to “kick it up a notch.” Let us encourage our students to do the same!

2. Another thing we can do after studying the life of St. John Climacus is encourage our students to live godly lives wherever they are! We need to support them in their pursuit of the Faith, doing all that we can to encourage their spiritual growth. We must encourage our students to incorporate themselves into the life of the Church, to continue to be involved with the Sunday Church School and JOY/SOYO, etc. We should encourage our students to attend Orthodox Christian summer camp so that they can meet other Orthodox kids and be strengthened in their faith. We can invest in icons, books, music, etc. to give as gifts to our Sunday Church School students, that will help to point them towards the Faith. We also need to work to inspire our students to offer themselves to God for His service, whether that happens now (serving in the altar, choir, etc.) or later in life (as short- or long-term missionaries, as monastics, or as clergy). Regardless of their age, when our Sunday Church School students take steps like this, whether they are small or large steps, let us support them, release them, and pray for them.

3. We can pursue holiness together as a Sunday Church School class by using the tools that St. John Climacus left for us. We should be praying constantly, pursuing hesychasm with more fervor. We can read The Ladder of Divine Ascent and study the steps with our students. (Download the book here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf. Listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast about it here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder. Or read this new book that takes a look at each of the steps of St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://store.ancientfaith.com/thirty-steps-to-heaven. Print a copy of the basic steps of the ladder to hang in your classroom as a reminder: http://saintannas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/30-Steps-of-Ladder.pdf. Read about the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent here: http://saintannas.org/sunday-of-the-ladder-of-divine-ascent/.) As we practice constant prayer and daily continue our ascent of the ladder, we will become more like Christ.


“Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend and hear Him who says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet like hind’s feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song.

Run, I beseech you, with him who said: Let us hasten until we attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, who, when He was baptized in the thirtieth year of His visible age, attained the thirtieth step in the spiritual ladder; since God is indeed love, to whom be praise, dominion, power, in whom is and was and will be the cause of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen.” St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 129

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to teach about St. John Climacus:

This blog suggests ways to teach about the life of St. John Climacus, and also offers directions for a “ladder” craft to help children remember his book: http://kellylardin.com/activities/2014/03/20/fourth-sunday-of-lent-st-john-climacus/

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Send a copy of this page home with each child, so that their family can discuss St. John and the ladder, as well as Sunday’s Gospel reading: http://saintanna.org/assets/forms/st_john_climacus.pdf

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Give each child a copy of an icon of St. John Climacus for them to color and hang up in their home, to remind them of him and his holiness: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/johnclim.gif or http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/climacus.gif

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Let younger Sunday Church School students color this icon of the ladder while you read to them a few of the steps on “the ladder” from St. John Climacus’ book The Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/ladder.gif

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Provide materials for students to create their own artistic version of the “ladder of Divine Ascent” as suggested here: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2014/04/23/st-john-of-the-ladder-craft/

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Read some of these quotes from St. John Climacus with older Sunday Church School students, and discuss their meanings and application together: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-john-climicus-of-the-ladder/page/2/

Learning About a Saint: St. Nectarios, the Wonderworker (Commemorated on Nov. 9)

A boy named Anastasios was once born in Greece to parents who loved each other, God, and their 7 children very much. Anastasios loved to obey his parents, to learn from his grandmother and his siblings, and to study in school. He especially liked learning to read. Why? Because he wanted to be able to read the Holy Scriptures, so that he could learn more about God!

When Anastasios was 14, his parents had to send him to another city to work and study. The work that he found did not pay very well, so he had ragged clothes and very little food. One day, he wrote a letter to Christ. In his letter, he explained that he did not have enough food or clothes. He asked his Lord, Jesus Christ, to send him what he needed. He sealed up the letter, marked it “To my Lord, Jesus Christ,” and went off to mail it. On the way, he began to talk with a kind man named Themistocles, who offered to deliver the letter for him. Anastasios gave the letter to him and went back to work.

Themistocles was curious about the letter, so he opened and read it. He knew that he could be the one that God used to answer the letter, so he then went out and bought the things that Anastasios needed, and sent them to Anastasios with a note saying these things were “for Anastasios, from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Anastasios was so grateful to God for answering his letter: he kept on thanking and thanking Him for providing what he needed.

Themistocles soon offered Anastasios work in his own shop, where Anastasios was better cared for and even had evenings free to read, pray, and study. Years passed, and Anastasios grew up. All that studying made him wise enough to teach, so he got a job as a teacher. He helped children to read and write, and also taught them more about God.

All this time, Anastasios spent as much time as he could in the church, participating and worshiping in the services. Finally the time came when Anastasios realized that he wanted to serve God as a monk. He was tonsured a monk, and given the name Nektarios.

Nektarios studied in Athens, and when he finished his studying, he was ordained a priest. He worked for a while in Egypt, doing the usual work of a priest like performing the services, as well as baptisms and marriages. He worked hard to help people stop arguing with each other, so he helped to bring God’s peace to his people. The people liked how Father Nektarios helped them, and they worked hard to obey him, because they knew that God was with him. Before too long, he was consecrated as a bishop.

Some unkind people didn’t like Bishop Nektarios. Because of that, they lied about him to the Patriarch, saying that Bishop Nektarios wanted to take away the Patriarch’s job. The Patriarch believed those people, and Bishop Nektarios was banished from Egypt and sent back to Greece. Bishop Nektarios was so sad to leave his friends, but he had to leave.

When Bishop Nectarios got to Greece, he was even more sad because of what he learned. The unkind people had sent the same lies to Greece ahead of him, so he was not able to serve in the Church or teach about God in Greece, either. But, instead of feeling sorry for himself or getting angry with God, or complaining, the Bishop prayed. He prayed that God would give him one place where he could preach.

God heard Bishop Nektarios’ prayers and provided an island, Evia, where he was allowed to preach. Bishop Nektarios was so happy that he went to the island and began to pray and preach there. At first, no one would listen because they had heard the lies, too, but the bishop kept praying and preaching. Soon the people of Evia got to know the bishop and they began to love Bishop Nektarios and attend the services with him.

After a while, Bishop Nektarios was asked to be the principal of a school for young men. He moved to Athens to do this job. He worked hard, teaching the young men about the True Faith. One day, the school’s janitor became sick. That man would lose his job if he did not get his work done. Bishop Nektarios, even though he was very important as the principal of the school, began to do the man’s work for him (such as sweeping, cleaning toilets, etc.) while the janitor was sick, because the bishop wanted to show his students that one must have faith but one must also do good deeds. He was a good teacher who knew how to teach not just with words, but also with his life.

While doing all of this, Bishop Nektarios helped every poor or sick person who came to him. People realized that he was kind and loving, so they came to him when they needed help. He always knew what to do to help the people who came to him; whether to give them things, tell them wise words from God, or to pray for them.

When Bishop Nektarios was old, he wanted to retire from being a principal. Years before, he had met some young ladies who had wanted to become nuns. He had told them to wait to be tonsured as nuns, to be sure it was God’s will. They had waited, so finally he gave his blessing for them to look for a place for a monastery. They found a deserted monastery on the island of Aegina, and the people of the island came to help restore it. Bishop Nektarios tonsured the young ladies as nuns, and then he built a cell outside the monastery for himself so that he could live nearby. (He also helped to build cells for the nuns, and also a church, even though he was old.)

Even though he was retired, Bishop Nektarios went on teaching. More young ladies came to be nuns at the monastery. So many of them came from poor families that they did not know how to read or write. Bishop Nektarios taught them how to do so, so that they could read and chant the services in the church. At the same time, other people on the island came to see Bishop Nektarios, to ask him for help, advice, and/or prayers.

Bishop Nektarios spent the last few years of his life in this way, on Aegina, working hard, and helping everyone that he could. After a few days in the hospital because of a disease he had for a long time, he departed this life on November 9, 1920. He had served God well for all of his life, and was ready to go to be with God. The nuns and the people of Aegina were sad to say goodbye to their bishop, but they also knew that now they had another person in heaven praying to God for them.

There are many, many stories of people who were healed through Bishop Nektarios’ prayers, both throughout his lifetime, and since he has departed this life. He is a good saint to ask to pray for you when you are ill. His prayers bring people peace just like his presence and his wise words did, when he was still alive on this earth.

“A man, with his mind in heaven were you, in the world still living,

O Nektarios, Hierarch of Christ. You led a devout and holy life,

and in everything you were truly impeccable, righteous, and inspired by God. “

~ from the Oikos

St. Nektarios, please intercede for our salvation!

This picture book is a great way to tell Sunday Church School students about the life of St. Nektarios: https://orthodoxchristianchildren.com/component/virtuemart/1071/9/children-s-books/the-story-of-the-holy-hierarch-nectarios-the-wonderworker-detail?Itemid=0

The Real To-Do List

Teachers always have a to-do list. There is always research to do, a lesson to plan, a classroom management idea to investigate, a craft to try, a classroom display to create, etc. Adding all of that on top of the everyday to-do lists of life such as groceries, laundry, work, etc. can make teachers incredibly busy people. In the midst of this busyness, it is easy to neglect the important things: the spiritual things that really ought to be at the top of each of our to-do lists. The lazy neglect of these truly important things is harmful to our souls and the souls of our Sunday Church School students. Let us be diligent and press on towards the goal of our spiritual “to-do” list, as well!

“What is beautiful and well-made belongs to the world and cannot comfort those who want to live a spiritual life.  There is no wall that will not eventually be torn down.  One soul is worth more than the entire world.  What must we do for the soul?  We must begin spiritual work.  We must have only the right kind of concern.  Christ will ask us what spiritual work we have accomplished, how we helped the world in spiritual matters.  He will not ask what buildings we made.  He will not even mention them.  We will be held accountable for our spiritual progress.  I want you to grasp what I am trying to say.  I am not saying that one must not construct buildings, and not construct them well, but one must take care of the spiritual life first and then mind the rest, and do all that with spiritual discernment.” –  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Athos

 

Following are quotes from the Spiritual Fathers on our good and divine work. This work includes prayer, study, worship, trust in God, humility, and much more. May these quotes encourage us to keep our priorities right; to work to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven first and foremost; and to allow God to work in and through our lives. Work done at the true top of our “To-Do List” will trickle down through the rest of the list, sanctifying and blessing all of our work; as well as all those around us.

 

“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov (Read http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/09/17/what-st-seraphim-meant/ for practical suggestions of how to do so.)

“Boredom is the grandson of depression and laziness is the daughter.  To send her away, labor actively—do not be lazy in prayer, then boredom will pass and zeal will come.  And if you add to this patience and humility, then you will escape much evil.

“If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself.  The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced.  You do not want to, but force yourself.  ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force, (Matt 11:12).’”  – Elder Ambrose of Optina

“(The Pure soul — or truly rich man) is ever laboring at some good work and divine work; even though he be necessarily sometime or other deprived of them (possessions) is able with cheerful mind to bear their removal equally with their abundance.” ~ Clement of Alexandria

“It is, therefore, immediately obvious that we must toil with diligence and not think that our goal of piety offers an escape from work or a pretext for idleness, but occasion for struggle, for ever greater endeavor, and for patience in tribulation, so that we may be able to say: ‘In labor and painfulness, in much watching, in hunger and thirst.’ Not only is such exertion beneficial for bringing the body into subjection, but also for showing charity to our neighbor in order that through us God may grant sufficiency to the weak among our brethren, according to the example given by the Apostle in the Acts when he says: ‘I have shown you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak,’ and again: ‘that you may have something to give to him that suffereth need.’ Thus we may be accounted worthy to hear the words: ‘Come ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.’

“Thus, in the midst of our work can we fulfill the duty of prayer, giving thanks to him who has granted strength to our hands for performing our tasks and cleverness to our minds for acquiring knowledge, and for having provided the materials, for that which is in the instruments we use and that which forms the matters of the art in which we may be engaged, praying that the work of our hands may be directed toward its goal, the good pleasure of God.

“Thus we acquire a recollected spirit — when in every action we beg God the success of our labors and satisfy our debt of gratitude to Him who gave us the power to do the work, and when, as has been said, we keep before our minds the aim of pleasing Him.” ~ St. Basil the Great
“But since the mind is something that is in constant motion and incapable of total inactivity, it is necessary that it should be concerned with and eager to practice the commandments of God. So the whole life of men is filled with care and concern and cannot be wholly at leisure, even if many have striven to achieve it. though it is beyond their ability and power. but in the beginning man was created with such a nature, for in paradise Adam was enjoined to till the ground and care for it [Gen. 2:15] and there is in us a natural bent for work, the movement toward the good. Those who yield themselves to idleness and apathy, even though they may be spiritual and holy, hurl themselves into unnatural subjection to passions.” ~ Simeon the New Theologian

“‘There can be no rest for those on earth who desire to be saved,’ says St. Ephrem the Syrian. The struggle is unceasing be it either external or internal. The adversary acts visibly at times through men and other things and at other times, invisibly through thoughts. At times, the adversary appears openly and behaves brutally and cruelly like an enemy and, at other times, under the guise of a flattering friend, he seduces by shrewdness. That which occurs in battle between two opposing armies also occurs to every man individually in battle with the passions of this world. Truly, ‘There can be no rest for those on earth who desire to be saved.’ When salvation comes, rest also comes.” – Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, The Prologue from Ohrid, April 11

“It is very profitable to occupy oneself with reading the word of God in solitude, and to read the whole Bible intelligently.  For one such occupation alone, apart from good deeds, the Lord will not leave a person without His mercy, but will fill him with the gift of understanding.” – Saint Seraphim of Sarov
“Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  Why did he say ‘strive?’   Because it is not possible for us to become holy and to be saints in an hour!  We must therefore progress from modest beginnings toward holiness and purity.  Even were we to spend a thousand years in this life we should never perfectly attain it.  Rather we must always struggle for it every day, as if mere beginners.” – St. Symeon the New Theologian, (949-1022)

Learning About The Saints: Saint Thekla (commemorated Sept. 24)

On September 24, the Orthodox Church commemorates St. Thekla. Our Sunday Church School students will benefit from hearing about her, because we can learn many things from her life. Here is her story, written in child-friendly language:

St. Thekla was born in Iconium, in AD 16, to parents who were pagans. When she was 18 (and betrothed to be married to Thamyris), Sts. Paul and Barnabas arrived in Iconium. Although Thekla’s mother Theokleia wouldn’t let her go to where the saints were preaching, Thekla discovered that she could still hear them preach if she sat right by her bedroom window. She especially liked St. Paul’s teaching about remaining pure for Christ. Theokleia and Thamyris didn’t like this at all, so they complained to the city governor about Paul. The governor put Paul in prison, saying that he was disturbing the public, and left him there, waiting for a trial.

When Thekla learned that Paul was arrested, she went to the prison secretly. She bribed the guard with her jewelry, so that he would let her into the prison. While she was in the prison, Thekla listened to St. Paul speak about Christ. She stayed there for a long time.

Meanwhile, Theokleia and Thamyris checked with Thekla’s servant to find out where she was. When they discovered that Thekla was visiting Paul in prison, they went back to the governor, asking that Paul be judged immediately. The governor scolded Paul for causing a disturbance, and then he had Paul stoned and expelled from Iconium. Then the governor advised Thekla to stop being foolish, and to go home. Thekla announced that she wanted to remain a virgin, staying pure for Christ’s sake. Theokleia was furious and asked the governor to threaten Thekla, so he did: he said she would be burned at the stake if she did not stop following Christ.

Thekla did not change her mind, so she was taken to the arena. A vision of Jesus Christ gave her strength while she was being tied to the stake and then as she faced the flames. The authorities lit the fire, and it began to burn. As the flames came closer to Thekla, however, a thunderstorm came up, and the heavy rain and hail put the flames out. The governor was embarrassed and angry, so he released Thekla and ordered her to leave Iconium immediately.

Thekla found St. Paul outside the city, told him what had just happened, and asked to be baptized. St. Paul would not baptize her, saying that her baptism would happen in God’s timing and God’s way. They then left Iconium, and traveled together to Antioch.

When they arrived in Antioch, a nobleman named Alexander saw Thekla. She was so beautiful that he rushed up to her and tried to convince her to be his girlfriend. She embarrassed him by refusing him, in front of all of his friends. Alexander was so upset that he went to the governor of Antioch and complained that this girl had come into town and disgraced him in public even though he was a nobleman. He told the governor that Thekla should be killed as her punishment. The governor agreed and said that Thekla would be put into the arena with wild beasts.

On the day that Thekla was taken into the arena, a lioness was also released into the arena, to attack Thekla. Instead of attacking Thekla, the lioness walked up to her and lay down at her feet. Next, a bear was released. The lioness defended Thekla, killing the bear. Next, a large lion was released into the arena. The lioness again defended Thekla, and died while killing the lion. Finally, all the other cages were opened so that more wild animals could enter the arena. Thekla crossed herself and prayed that God would make her brave. She noticed a large tank of water nearby, also containing dangerous animals. She climbed into the water, asking Christ Himself to baptize her as she did so. The dangerous water animals did not hurt her.

When they saw that none of the wild animals would harm Thekla, the authorities gave up and released her. After her time in the arena, she spent 8 days in the home of a wealthy lady named Tryphaena, telling her and her household about Jesus, and converting all of them to Christianity. When Thekla left Antioch, Tryphaena gave her gold and jewels as a gift.

Thekla gave these gifts to St. Paul (so that he could give them to the poor) when she found him in Myra, after leaving Antioch. She told Paul all that had happened, and asked that he bless her to spend the rest of her life as an ascetic. St. Paul blessed her to do so, and so she left for the mountains in Syria.

For years, Thekla lived alone, praying, in those mountains. One day, a young man found her alone in the mountains and wanted to hurt her. He blocked the only way she could escape! Thekla prayed and asked Jesus Christ to protect her. A miracle happened: the canyon wall split at that very moment, and she could escape through a crack in the rock.

Thekla lived the rest of her life as an ascetic. She fell asleep in the Lord when she was 90 years old. Soon after she passed away, a group of young ladies went to live in her cell in the mountains. They built a small chapel to house her body. This was the beginning of the Convent of St. Thekla near Ma’loula, Syria.

Thekla suffered very much for her faith. Because of this, the Church calls her a “Protomartyr.” She brought so many people with her into the Christian faith, so she is also called “Equal-to-the-Apostles.” (abridged from http://www.antiochian.org/life_of_thekla)

Troparion – Tone 4
You were enlightened by the words of Paul, O Bride of God, Thekla, and your faith was confirmed by Peter, O Chosen One of God. You became the first sufferer and martyr among women, by entering into the flames as into a place of gladness. For when you accepted the Cross of Christ, the demonic powers were frightened away. O all-praised One, intercede before Christ God that our souls may be saved.

More background about St. Thekla’s life can be found here:http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/09/24/102715-protomartyr-and-equal-of-the-apostles-thekla

Here is a version of St. Thekla’s life story that includes icons as well as pictures of the recent monastery that was built at the site of her ascetic labors: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-thekla-protomartyr-and-equal-to.html

Allow the life of St. Thekla to challenge you to become more like Christ! Read these two sermons about St. Thekla: http://araborthodoxy.blogspot.com/2011/10/met-ephrem-two-sermons-on-st-thekla.html. How will you teach what you’ve learned about her life to your Sunday Church School students?

Learning About The Saints: Saint Thekla (commemorated Sept. 24)

On September 24, the Orthodox Church commemorates St. Thekla. Our Sunday Church School students will benefit from hearing about her, because we can learn many things from her life. Here is her story, written in child-friendly language:

St. Thekla was born in Iconium, in AD 16, to parents who were pagans. When she was 18 (and betrothed to be married to Thamyris), Sts. Paul and Barnabas arrived in Iconium. Although Thekla’s mother Theokleia wouldn’t let her go to where the saints were preaching, Thekla discovered that she could still hear them preach if she sat right by her bedroom window. She especially liked St. Paul’s teaching about remaining pure for Christ. Theokleia and Thamyris didn’t like this at all, so they complained to the city governor about Paul. The governor put Paul in prison, saying that he was disturbing the public, and left him there, waiting for a trial.

When Thekla learned that Paul was arrested, she went to the prison secretly. She bribed the guard with her jewelry, so that he would let her into the prison. While she was in the prison, Thekla listened to St. Paul speak about Christ. She stayed there for a long time.

Meanwhile, Theokleia and Thamyris checked with Thekla’s servant to find out where she was. When they discovered that Thekla was visiting Paul in prison, they went back to the governor, asking that Paul be judged immediately. The governor scolded Paul for causing a disturbance, and then he had Paul stoned and expelled from Iconium. Then the governor advised Thekla to stop being foolish, and to go home. Thekla announced that she wanted to remain a virgin, staying pure for Christ’s sake. Theokleia was furious and asked the governor to threaten Thekla, so he did: he said she would be burned at the stake if she did not stop following Christ.

Thekla did not change her mind, so she was taken to the arena. A vision of Jesus Christ gave her strength while she was being tied to the stake and then as she faced the flames. The authorities lit the fire, and it began to burn. As the flames came closer to Thekla, however, a thunderstorm came up, and the heavy rain and hail put the flames out. The governor was embarrassed and angry, so he released Thekla and ordered her to leave Iconium immediately.

Thekla found St. Paul outside the city, told him what had just happened, and asked to be baptized. St. Paul would not baptize her, saying that her baptism would happen in God’s timing and God’s way. They then left Iconium, and traveled together to Antioch.

When they arrived in Antioch, a nobleman named Alexander saw Thekla. She was so beautiful that he rushed up to her and tried to convince her to be his girlfriend. She embarrassed him by refusing him, in front of all of his friends. Alexander was so upset that he went to the governor of Antioch and complained that this girl had come into town and disgraced him in public even though he was a nobleman. He told the governor that Thekla should be killed as her punishment. The governor agreed and said that Thekla would be put into the arena with wild beasts.

On the day that Thekla was taken into the arena, a lioness was also released into the arena, to attack Thekla. Instead of attacking Thekla, the lioness walked up to her and lay down at her feet. Next, a bear was released. The lioness defended Thekla, killing the bear. Next, a large lion was released into the arena. The lioness again defended Thekla, and died while killing the lion. Finally, all the other cages were opened so that more wild animals could enter the arena. Thekla crossed herself and prayed that God would make her brave. She noticed a large tank of water nearby, also containing dangerous animals. She climbed into the water, asking Christ Himself to baptize her as she did so. The dangerous water animals did not hurt her.

When they saw that none of the wild animals would harm Thekla, the authorities gave up and released her. After her time in the arena, she spent 8 days in the home of a wealthy lady named Tryphaena, telling her and her household about Jesus, and converting all of them to Christianity. When Thekla left Antioch, Tryphaena gave her gold and jewels as a gift.

Thekla gave these gifts to St. Paul (so that he could give them to the poor) when she found him in Myra, after leaving Antioch. She told Paul all that had happened, and asked that he bless her to spend the rest of her life as an ascetic. St. Paul blessed her to do so, and so she left for the mountains in Syria.

For years, Thekla lived alone, praying, in those mountains. One day, a young man found her alone in the mountains and wanted to hurt her. He blocked the only way she could escape! Thekla prayed and asked Jesus Christ to protect her. A miracle happened: the canyon wall split at that very moment, and she could escape through a crack in the rock.

Thekla lived the rest of her life as an ascetic. She fell asleep in the Lord when she was 90 years old. Soon after she passed away, a group of young ladies went to live in her cell in the mountains. They built a small chapel to house her body. This was the beginning of the Convent of St. Thekla near Ma’loula, Syria.

Thekla suffered very much for her faith. Because of this, the Church calls her a “Protomartyr.” She brought so many people with her into the Christian faith, so she is also called “Equal-to-the-Apostles.” (abridged from http://www.antiochian.org/life_of_thekla)

Troparion – Tone 4
You were enlightened by the words of Paul, O Bride of God, Thekla, and your faith was confirmed by Peter, O Chosen One of God. You became the first sufferer and martyr among women, by entering into the flames as into a place of gladness. For when you accepted the Cross of Christ, the demonic powers were frightened away. O all-praised One, intercede before Christ God that our souls may be saved.

More background about St. Thekla’s life can be found here:http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/09/24/102715-protomartyr-and-equal-of-the-apostles-thekla

Here is a version of St. Thekla’s life story that includes icons as well as pictures of the recent monastery that was built at the site of her ascetic labors: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-thekla-protomartyr-and-equal-to.html

Allow the life of St. Thekla to challenge you to become more like Christ! Read these two sermons about St. Thekla: http://araborthodoxy.blogspot.com/2011/10/met-ephrem-two-sermons-on-st-thekla.html. How will you teach what you’ve learned about her life to your Sunday Church School students?

Gleanings from a Book: “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms” by Annalisa Boyd

“Prayer is a great weapon, a rich treasure, a wealth that is never exhausted, an undisturbed refuge, a cause of tranquility, the root of a multitude of blessings and their source.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

As a rule, adults have so many obligations, so many places to go, and so much work to do. Sunday Church School teachers willingly add lesson planning and caring for their students to their long “to-do” lists, as well. With so many responsibilities, how can we find time to “pray without ceasing”? Annalisa Boyd meets that question head-on in the introduction to her uplifting and helpful book, The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms. “No matter how little time we feel we have, we can always take a moment to pray. Learning all or some of the daily prayers… will help you take advantage of even those fleeting moments to pray.” (p. 26)

This book is aimed at Orthodox moms who want to prayerfully raise their children in the Faith; but it is equally useful to any Orthodox Christian, male or female, who works with children and desires to see these children raised in the Faith. The heartening chapters at the beginning of the book set the reader’s mind at ease that he/she is not the only one going through tough circumstances or wondering how on earth to live her Faith in the midst of the mundane tasks of life. The bulk of the book is the myriad of prayers for various situations, which have been carefully gathered and organized by topic, and can therefore be easily found. The book includes basic daily prayers, prayers for times of trouble, prayers for the sick, preparation for confession, prayers of blessing and thankfulness, prayers through the stages of motherhood, prayers for godchildren and other “bonus” children, prayers for the future, and more.

A highlight of the book (and the largest chapter of all), titled “Tea Time at the Abyss”, references this quote:

“Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little and have a cup of tea.” ~ Elder Sophrony of Essex

In this chapter’s introduction, Boyd reassures the reader, “Let us step back and take tea together … Of course we may not be able to sit at each other’s tables and sip a perfectly steeped pot together, but we can pray for one another and be an encouragement. We can make a pot of gratitude for all the Lord has blessed us with and sip it throughout the day through prayer and the reading of His word. We can choose to face the difficulties, in the strength of Christ our Lord and lay down the idea that we must somehow bear it all. How freeing is that thought alone? May we take hold of even the smallest moments each day to enter into prayer, allowing us to step back and drink in Christ, for He promises to quench our thirst and give us His peace. Thank God!” (p. 38-39) The rest of the chapter lists topics from “Addiction” to “Special Needs,” which include quotes from scriptures and saints, as well as prayers related to each topic. (Note: some of the prayers in this book are prayers prescribed by the Church. Others are “simply prayers from the heart of one mama to another… (to) be used for encouragement and to promote your own personal prayer time with Our Lord.” ~ pp. 11-12)

This book is a wonderful resource for anyone who works closely with children. While it is aimed primarily at mothers, most of the quotes and prayers will be just as uplifting and useful for fathers or teachers, as well. It will be a much-used companion to anyone who adds it to their library and then faithfully uses it to help them to “pray without ceasing.”

The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms by Annalisa Boyd is available for purchase here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-ascetic-lives-of-mothers/

Follow the author’s blog, “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers,” here:http://theasceticlivesofmothers.blogspot.com/

Preparing for the Transfiguration of Christ (August 6)

On the mountain wast Thou transfigured, O Christ God, and Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold Thee crucified, they would understand that Thy suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father (Kontakion).

We are approaching the celebration of one of the 12 major feasts of the church year: the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. We may already be familiar with the story found in the scriptures (in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36). Even if we know the story well, it would be good for us to review these scripture passages and further study the significance of the event. Then we will be better prepared to celebrate, and also better ready to teach our Sunday Church School students about this feast!

Below are selections from two homilies on the Transfiguration. These homilies were written by two of the church fathers: St. Ephrem the Syrian, and St. John Chrysostom. Perhaps the insights of these saints can begin to help us to understand the underlying reasons for the Transfiguration of Christ, especially if we take a moment to ponder their words:

“And after six days he took Simon Peter and James and John his brother to a very high mountain and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white like light’.[2] Men whom he said would not taste death until they saw the image of his coming, are those whom he took and led up the mountain and showed them how he was going to come on the last day in the glory of his divinity and in the body of his humanity…

“…He led them up the mountain to show them the glory of the godhead and to make known to them that he is the redeemer of Israel, as he had shown through the Prophets, and they should not be scandalised in him when they saw his voluntary sufferings, which as man he was about to suffer for us. For they knew him as a man, but did not know that he was God…

“And so on the mountain he showed his Apostles the glory of his divinity, concealed and hidden by his humanity. For they saw his face bright as lightning and his garments white as light. They saw two suns; one in the sky, as usual, and one unusually; one visible in the firmament and lighting the world, and one, his face, visible to them alone. His garments white as light showed that the glory of his divinity flooded from his whole body, and his light shone from all his members. For his flesh did not shine with splendour from without, like Moses, but the glory of his divinity flooded from him… And he did not display the whole depth of his glory, but only as much as the limits of their eyes could encompass…

“And while the Disciples were marvelling, out of the cloud a voice was heard from the Father, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.’ At the voice of the Father, Moses returned to his place and Elias returned to his country, and the Apostles fell on their faces to the ground, and Jesus stood alone, because the voice was fulfilled in him alone.” ~ St. Ephrem the Syrian

“Nothing then is more blessed than the apostles, and especially the three, who even in the cloud were counted worthy to be under the same roof with the Lord. But if we will, we also shall behold Christ, not as they then on the mount, but in far greater brightness. For not thus shall He come hereafter. For whereas then, to spare His disciples, He discovered so much only of His brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite host of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over His head, but even heaven itself being folded up.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

May these insights help us to further understand the Transfiguration, so that we can better teach our students about this great feast! This week’s daily posts will offer ideas of ways to teach children about the Transfiguration. May we meet the feast with joy, and may Christ Himself continually transfigure us to become more and more like Him!

Thou wast transfigured on the mount, O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee (Troparion).

(The rest of these sermons on the Transfiguration can be found here: St. Ephrem the Syrian’s at http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/08/st-ephraim-syrian-on-transfiguration-of.html  and St. John Chrystostom’s athttp://thedivinelamp.stblogs.com/2010/02/27/st-john-chrysostom-on-the-transfiguration-feb-28-second-sunday-of-lent/.)