Tag Archives: contentment

On Choosing to Live a Life of Joy

“Do what makes you happy” is a common thought in today’s world. Everyone wants to feel happy, to have that positive emotion in our lives. Because of this, we try all sorts of things in pursuit of the “happiness” we desire. Sometimes we succeed – at least for a little – and feel happy. But we learn quickly that happiness is temporal – a fleeting positive feeling. It is soon lost.

Joy, however, God’s joy, is eternal. It is a deep-set “nothing can shake this inner peace” reality. What we all are truly seeking is not happiness: rather, we are seeking joy. We long for the deep, inner joy that comes only from God which is experienced by walking in His ways. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” If joy is our strength, we can work as hard as we want to try to be happy: but in reality, it is joy that will strengthen us. So instead of doing what makes us happy, we need to do what makes us joyful.

The scriptures, the saints, and Orthodox theologians have much to say about joy. Here is a taste:

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your guiding Spirit.” (Ps. 50:14)

“These things I have spoken to you that my joy remain in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

“…You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22) Find more scriptures referring to joy here: http://yourvibrantfamily.com/bible-verses-joy/#_a5y_p=4906869

“Joy is not one of the components of Christianity, it is the tonality…that penetrates everything.” ~ Alexander Schmemann

“You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss one of the reasons for our existence. In fact, the reason Jesus lived and died was to restore the joy we had lost.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 1

“In the beginning, there are a great many struggles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing  toward God. Afterward, however, there is ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first, the smoke chokes them, and they cry. Yet by this means, they obtain what they seek, as it is said, ‘Our God is a consuming fire!’ (Heb. 12:24) So we, too, must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.” ~ Amma Syncletica

St. Nektarios once wrote to Abbess Xenia: “Realize that your cheerfulness gladdens the faces of the Sisters and renders the Convent a paradise. On the other hand, your depression and sullenness are transmitted to the other Sisters, and joyfulness is banished from that paradise. Learn, therefore that the joy and cheerfulness of the Sisters depend upon you, and it is your duty to preserve these in their hearts. Do this even at times by forcing yourself. I counsel you not to surrender yourself to sorrowful fantasies, because this greatly depresses the hearts of the Sisters. Your reward will be great if you become to them a cause for cheerfulness. I give you this advice because I myself have it as a principle. When you gladden the heart of your neighbor… you may be sure that you please God much more than when you occupy yourself with extreme forms of askesis (i.e. prostrations, prolonged prayer, and fasting).”

An elderly saint of the church once counseled a young priest who sought his advice on how to help a young mother in his parish. “Tell her God forgives her… Tell her He forgives her for being lonely and bored, for not being full of joy with a house full of children. That’s what sin really is, you know: not being full of joy.”

Fr. Anthony Coniaris tells the story of a 70- year-old Romanian Orthodox priest in his book Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith (Light and Life Publishing, 2003). This priest had been thrown into prison by Communists in the Soviet Era. His son died in jail, his daughter was sentenced to 20 years, his sons-in-law were also jailed, and his grandchildren had no food and had to eat garbage. Yet, in spite of this, the priest greeted everyone with the words, “Always rejoice!”
“One day, he was asked, ‘Father how can you always say rejoice—you who passed through such terrible tragedy?’

“He replied, ‘Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written ‘rejoice with all those who rejoice!’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I can’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who can go to church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice for all those who an. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice for those who do. I can’t see flowers, we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, the stars. Many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multi-colored butterflies and with rainbows, but I can rejoice for those who see the rainbows and who see the multi-colored butterflies. In prison, the smell was horrible… Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have pictures, and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others can. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.’” (pp. 67-69)

“A choir director once asked his choir after they sang a jubilant Easter hymn, ‘Are you happy?’

‘Yes!’ they said.

Then he said, ‘I suggest you notify your faces!’

“My face, your face, the face of every Christian should be notified to reflect the joy of forgiveness; the joy of repentance; the joy of the good news of Jesus; the joy of the resurrection; the joy of God’s steadfast love; the joy of the Kingdom; the joy of eternal life with God.

“How can this happen? It can happen through prayer. If there is any power that can transform our face, it is the power of prayer.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 113

 

Teaching your Sunday Church School students about joy:

“When you teach children, you convey to them not only certain knowledge but the spirit which is behind this knowledge. And you know that the one thing that the child accepts easily is precisely joy. But we’ve made our Christianity so adult, so serious, so sad, so solemn, that we virtually have emptied it of that joy. And yet Christ said whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it.” Listen to the rest of the podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/wardrobe/joy_orthodox_style

Start a discussion on joy with older students by watching this “Be the Bee” episode: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee/prayer_and_joy

 

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

On Materialism

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;” (Mt. 6:19)

 

In this age in the United States of America (and, indeed, throughout the world), the acquisition of “stuff” is what many people embrace as their goal for life. With the forthcoming holiday season, the fight-to-convince-everyone-to-acquire-more-stuff will be intensifying all around us. But is more stuff really what we or the children in our care (such as our Sunday Church School students) need?

 

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) said, “I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.”

 

As Orthodox Christians, we do not want to forget God forever. (Nor do we want our children or Sunday Church School students to forget Him.) Neither do we want (them) to miss out on experiencing God’s presence and appreciating His benevolence. Therefore it is imperative that we be careful to set an example of simplicity and contentment in our own lives; and also encourage our students to place their hope in God, rather than in their things.

 

Beyond setting an example for them with our own lives, there are many ideas available to help us further teach our students to guard against materialism. Here are a few:

Ask your students what is their most prized possession. Have them write down what it is or draw a picture of it. Then, talk with your students about what is truly important in life. An idea of how one teacher did this is found at: http://www.5thgradecommoncore.com/blog/my-most-prized-possession-lesson. After the discussion, ask the students to look again at their original “most prized possession.” Is it still their most prized? Or is there something else that is more valuable? Ask them to tell the class, and explain why they ended up with what they did.

 

Encourage your students to focus any comparisons they may make on those less fortunate than them. Because, as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, “comparison is the thief of joy,” we must be careful not to compare ourselves and our stuff to others. If we do compare, then  we should compare ourselves to those who have less than we do. We can work to this end by teaching our students that not everyone has as much as they do. For example, we can show them the pictures on this page http://borgenproject.org/children-and-their-most-prized-possessions/. The page features pictures of children from different parts of the world, photographed with their most prized possessions. Talk together as a class about the photos and how it feels to have so much more than these real kids do. Brainstorm ways your class can help provide for children in your neighborhood or around the world who do not have enough.

 

Use the plethora of advertisements (perhaps bringing in one copy of the Sunday paper would suffice to this end) which appeal to our greed as an opportunity to talk with your students. Discuss how the companies who pay for the advertisements are trying to make you feel discontent with what you have, and convince you that you need to buy their product. Talk with your students about the products being advertised. Do the students really think the items as amazing as they are advertised to be? What makes them think so/not? (Idea from  http://www.parenthood.com/article/10_simple_ways_to_combat_greed.html#.VEf6AseJOuZ.)

 

Consider challenging your students to join you in the Minimalism Game (see http://www.theminimalists.com/game/ for details). On day 1 of the game, each participant gets rid of (gives away, recycles, or otherwise shares) one item before midnight. On day 2, two items; day 3, three; etc. The participant who keeps at it the longest is the winner! (Actually, everyone who participates wins because of eliminating excess in their home while helping others!)

 

‘Tis the season… to face materialism head on and find ways to combat its influence in our lives and in the lives of our students. As we successfully turn away from our greed and toward Christ and His people, we will, indeed, be storing up “treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:20-21)

*******

Additional lesson ideas:

***
Show your students (of any age) the book Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel. If you don’t have access to the book you could print out and show (or show on your computer screen) several of these photos from that book: attp://menzelphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/Material-World-Family-Portraits/G0000Ip09fSBViW8/C0000d0DI3dBy4mQ. After looking at the pictures, discuss what your students see in them, as is appropriate to their age level: How are these different families doing with their material goods? Which families look content? Does their contentment seem to have anything to do with how much stuff they have? If your students took a picture like this with their family and their stuff, what would it look like? Would they look content?

 ***

Teachers of very young Sunday Church School children can read a book such as More by I. C. Springman to their class. After reading, use the story to begin an age-appropriate discussion about materialism.

 ***

Students in grades K-6 will benefit from this lesson on (not) loving money, which focuses on 1 Timothy 6: 6-10. Find the lesson at: http://ministry-to-children.com/the-love-of-money-bible-lesson/. The lesson is well documented and printable!

 ***

Older elementary or middle school students could begin a discussion on materialism with this skit on “stuff”: http://www.kidssundayschool.com/618/gradeschool/stuff.php. It is available for download as a pdf, so that you can print copies for the students who will read/perform the skit.

 ***

Middle or high school Sunday Church School students can read and the discuss this article about one couple who pared back their lives: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1414166722-C2NoCO+I+Pw8Upcc5k4g1Q. What are the results of their simpler living? How does this simpler living work for the pair?

 ***

 Print and cut apart the following quotes (or any others you may find and add) about materialism and/or contentment. High school students can select a quote from a basket in which you have placed the cut-apart quotes. The students then take turns to read their quote to the class, and begin a discussion about the quote by stating whether or not they agree with it, as well as why. Together as a class, read 1 Tim. 6:6-10. Compare that quote to the others that had been read. Students can then each select their favorite quote, and illustrate it. Hang the illustrations around your classroom to remind you all to be content with what you have; and to avoid materialism.

Contentment vs. Materialism Quotes:

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. ” ~ Socrates

“To be content with little is difficult; to be content with much, impossible.” ~Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Aphorisms

 

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

 

“We’ve got a sort of brainwashing going on in our country, Morrie sighed. Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it–and have it repeated to us–over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.

 

Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. ‘Guess what I got? Guess what I got?’

 

You know how I interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.

 

Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.” ~ Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

 

“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” ~ Bertrand Russell

 

“Life isn’t about having, it’s about being. You could surround yourself with all that money can buy, and you’d still be as miserable as a human can be. I know people with perfect bodies who don’t have half the happiness I’ve found. On my journeys I’ve seen more joy in the slums of Mumbai and the orphanages of Africa than in wealthy gated communities and on sprawling estates worth millions. Why is that? You’ll find contentment when your talents and passion are completely engaged, in full force. Recognise instant self-gratification for what it is. Resist the temptation to grab for material objects like the perfect house, the coolest clothes or the hottest car. The if I just had X, I would be happy syndrome is a mass delusion. When you look for happiness in mere objects, they are never enough. Look around. Look within.” ~ Nick Vujicic

On Materialism

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;” (Mt. 6:19)

In this age in the United States of America (and, indeed, throughout the world), the acquisition of “stuff” is what many people embrace as their goal for life. With the forthcoming holiday season, the fight-to-convince-everyone-to-acquire-more-stuff will be intensifying all around us. But is more stuff really what we or the children in our care (such as our Sunday Church School students) need?

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) said, “I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.”

As Orthodox Christians, we do not want to forget God forever. (Nor do we want our children or Sunday Church School students to forget Him.) Neither do we want (them) to miss out on experiencing God’s presence and appreciating His benevolence. Therefore it is imperative that we be careful to set an example of simplicity and contentment in our own lives; and also encourage our students to place their hope in God, rather than in their things.

Beyond setting an example for them with our own lives, there are many ideas available to help us further teach our students to guard against materialism. Here are a few:

Ask your students what is their most prized possession. Have them write down what it is or draw a picture of it. Then, talk with your students about what is truly important in life. An idea of how one teacher did this is found at: http://www.5thgradecommoncore.com/blog/my-most-prized-possession-lesson. After the discussion, ask the students to look again at their original “most prized possession.” Is it still their most prized? Or is there something else that is more valuable? Ask them to tell the class, and explain why they ended up with what they did.

Encourage your students to focus any comparisons they may make on those less fortunate than them. Because, as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, “comparison is the thief of joy,” we must be careful not to compare ourselves and our stuff to others. If we do compare, then  we should compare ourselves to those who have less than we do. We can work to this end by teaching our students that not everyone has as much as they do. For example, we can show them the pictures on this page http://borgenproject.org/children-and-their-most-prized-possessions/. The page features pictures of children from different parts of the world, photographed with their most prized possessions. Talk together as a class about the photos and how it feels to have so much more than these real kids do. Brainstorm ways your class can help provide for children in your neighborhood or around the world who do not have enough.

Use the plethora of advertisements (perhaps bringing in one copy of the Sunday paper would suffice to this end) which appeal to our greed as an opportunity to talk with your students. Discuss how the companies who pay for the advertisements are trying to make you feel discontent with what you have, and convince you that you need to buy their product. Talk with your students about the products being advertised. Do the students really think the items as amazing as they are advertised to be? What makes them think so/not? (Idea from  http://www.parenthood.com/article/10_simple_ways_to_combat_greed.html#.VEf6AseJOuZ.)

Consider challenging your students to join you in the Minimalism Game (seehttp://www.theminimalists.com/game/ for details). On day 1 of the game, each participant gets rid of (gives away, recycles, or otherwise shares) one item before midnight. On day 2, two items; day 3, three; etc. The participant who keeps at it the longest is the winner! (Actually, everyone who participates wins because of eliminating excess in their home while helping others!)

‘Tis the season… to face materialism head on and find ways to combat its influence in our lives and in the lives of our students. As we successfully turn away from our greed and toward Christ and His people, we will, indeed, be storing up “treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:20-21)

The Ecclesiastical New Year

“It is part of the goodness of God, that He, who has no beginning and no ending, the Eternal Trinity, should take such care to give us a year which begins and ends, and then begins all over again. In our human and finite state we need fresh starts, and this is one of them…” ~ Fr. Michael Harper, “The Orthodox New Year”

September 1 is rapidly approaching, and a new Church year will begin. The Ecclesiastical New Year is an important time for Orthodox Christians. Unfortunately, it is often nearly overlooked. This year let us prepare to celebrate the Ecclesiastical New Year, remembering its importance, and solemnly celebrating it as the new beginning for our Church year.

Here are a few resources to help us think about the Ecclesiastical New Year, some ideas of how to teach our Sunday Church School children about it, and a few related crafts :
Resources for background information:

Ideas:

  • Study this meditation on the Ecclesiastical New Yearhttp://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/indiction.htm, and use it as a base for a lesson on the new Church year. (Ideas for a lesson based on this meditation include: gratitude for bounty; blessings; God’s goodness; our dependence on God; Ps. 65 (64 in the Greek Septuagint); etc. So, for example, younger classes could have a lesson about blessings: what they are, and how God loves to grant them, and just what it is that we are asking God to do for our year. Or, older children could study Ps. 65 and/or discuss what God would like to do in our lives in the year ahead, etc.)
  • As a class, create a “crown of the year” poster. At the top, write “Bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness, O Lord.” Have students list, draw, or otherwise illustrate (maybe with pictures cut from magazines?) different aspects of God’s goodness with which you would like Him to bless the year ahead. (For example: kindness, illustrated by someone helping someone else; forgiveness, illustrated by a person receiving absolution after confession; love, illustrated by family members hugging; etc.) Place the poster in your classroom where you can weekly be reminded of what you have asked of the Lord from the beginning of this new year. At the end of the year, revisit the poster and list ways in which He indeed blessed your year with His goodness.

Crafts:

The Ecclesiastical New Year offers us an opportunity to be mindful of God’s presence in our lives. As we bring in the new Church year, let us be sure that this celebration is a subdued time of reflection, prayer, and committing our year to God. Let us think about the new year, ask God to bless it, and look for His presence in our lives throughout the year ahead.

O Word of the Father from before the ages, Who, being in the form of God, broughtest creation into being out of nothing; Thou Who hast put the times and seasons in Thine own power: Bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness; give peace unto Thy churches, victory unto Thy faithful hierarchs, fruitfulness unto the earth, and Great Mercy unto us. –Orthros of the Feast, Tone 3

Learning About the Saints: St. Luke of Crimea (Commemorated June 11)

On June 11, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates a (fairly recent) saint, St. Luke of Crimea. St. Luke lived a faithful Christian life, characterized by kindness and compassion in the midst of difficulties and oppression. In an increasingly materialistic and self-centered society, St. Luke’s example is ever more important to study and emulate. It is important that we teachers learn about this saint, learn from him, and pass on his story and his example to our children.

Here is a summary of his life that can help us learn about him, and be better ready to teach our students about him and his life, when we have opportunity to do so:

***

St. Luke was born in 1877, in Russia, to a Catholic father and an Orthodox mother. He was baptized with the name “Valentine.” Even though his parents were of differing beliefs, they raised their children to love and serve God by serving others. Although they were not rich, his mother often took food to prisoners and his father (a pharmacist) would prepare medicine for the sick. Being raised in an environment like this had a powerful effect on Valentine.

When Valentine grew up, he love to paint and considered becoming a painter, but decided instead to become a doctor so that he could help more poor people. He overcame his dislike for studying the sciences, and became a promising physician. However, instead of going on to be a professor, as he could have done, he chose instead to serve the peasants as a doctor. When he realized how many of the poor were struggling with blindness, he began studying ophthalmology in Kiev, and caring for patients in his family’s home. He would not accept pay from his patients. While he studied the sciences, he also studied the scriptures.

When war began between Russia and Japan, Valentine traveled by train for a month to the city of Chita, so that he could help to care for the wounded. It was there that he met his future wife, Anna, who was working as a nurse. The two of them married, and God granted them three sons and a daughter. After the war, he worked in different villages and towns, trying to help as many people as he could. During this time, he decided to begin writing a book about the new treatments he was discovering, and so he began to write.

When Valentine was 40, the Bolshevik Revolution began. Life became difficult for Christians in that part of the world. Valentine and his family moved to Tashkent, where he became the surgeon in one of the biggest hospitals in the country. It was a dangerous time for everyone: even the hospital itself had bullet holes, and Valentine often risked his life while he was working to save the lives of others. During this time in Tashkent, Anna became ill with tuberculosis, and passed away. Their children were aged 6 to 12. Valentine prayed that God would provide for the children’s needs, and help him to raise them. God answered by sending a nurse named Sofia, who loved Valentine’s children so much that she became a second mother to them (even raising them and sending them to school in later years, when Valentine was unable to care for them).

Valentine’s deep faith was exhibited by his keeping an icon of the Theotokos in his surgery room. He prayed before every operation, marking the patient with an iodine cross at the location where the operation was to be done. At one point, when the Soviets took control of Tashkent, they removed the icon from Valentine’s surgery. He refused to continue to work without having the icon of the Theotokos present. Within a very short time, one of the military leaders’ wife was in serious condition and needed an operation. They requested that Valentine do it, as he was well known because of the success of his operating skills. He refused to operate on the woman because the icon was gone. Before too long, the icon was put back in its place on the wall of the surgery, and Valentine was able to perform the surgery and successfully save the woman’s life, with the help of the Theotokos.

Soon thereafter, Valentine was urged to become a priest. Although it was a dangerous time to be related in any way to the Church, he agreed, and in 1921, he was ordained to the priesthood. He continued to work as a doctor (considered “the best surgeon in Russia”), while also directing a hospital and teaching anatomy. He dressed as a priest in all of his work, which irritated the authorities in Tashkent.In 1923, Fr. Valentine was secretly ordained a bishop, and was given the name of Luke. Within a month, he was exiled for his role in the Church. Over the next 11 years, Bishop Luke was banished many times, often to Siberia and other difficult places to live, because of his faith. No matter where he was sent, the people were glad to see him. He would serve them as a bishop in whatever spaces they could manage to meet: whether on a riverbank or in a small cottage, he would lead services and encourage people to follow God. He also would help as a doctor whenever possible, healing people’s bodies as well as their souls.One of the most difficult things for Bishop Luke was being so far from his children during this time. They wrote letters to each other, and Bishop Luke prayed for them intensely. God healed the children when they were ill, even though their doctor father was not around, simply through Bishop Luke’s prayers. In the years after these initial exiles, God brought other children into Bishop Luke’s life, as well, for whom he cared as though they were his own. All the young people under his care greatly benefited from their interaction with the bishop, and (among other things) he taught them, “The most important thing in life is to always do good. Even if you cannot do much to help others, strive to do whatever small benefaction you can do.”This teaching was evident time and again in Bishop Luke’s later years. Whether giving his coat to a needy prisoner while himself imprisoned, or working day and night despite his age during World War 2, or serving on Sundays and feast days at a church an hour and a half’s walk over slippery roads away, he did everything that he could to help others. Even at the age of 70, when he was transferred to Simferopol in Crimea, he still wanted to serve others.

There was only one church left in all of Crimea when (by then) Archbishop Luke arrived. There was much famine and poverty, as well. Despite these immense obstacles, Archbishop Luke helped the people by increasing the number of churches to more than 60.

At age 74, Archbishop Luke went completely blind. However, he was able to continue serving. God’s guidance, as well as his years of precision as a surgeon, made him able to be so precise in his service that others who didn’t know he was blind could not tell that he was. Despite this new challenge of blindness, Archbishop Luke continued to serve sick people by praying for them. (For example, a young girl named Galina, who had a brain tumor, was healed by his prayers. She later went on to become a doctor to help others.)

After he became blind, Archbishop Luke’s granddaughter Vera came to help him. She would cook a big pot of food every day in their apartment. The poor, children, and elderly would come to the apartment, looking for the food. Although he ate only once a day, Archbishop Luke would ask each evening if there had been enough for the others who had come for the other meals. He would not allow Vera to purchase new clothes for him. Instead, he always asked her to mend his old ones because “there are many poor people around.” His concern was never for himself, but for others, to the day that he fell asleep in the Lord.

On June 11, 1961, Archbishop Luke departed this life. He was 84 years old, and had blessed the lives of many people in those 84 years. But even departing this life has not stopped him from helping those in need. He continues to bless people who ask for his prayers. Here are two examples: there was a boy whose hip bone developed a disease, whose parents took him to venerate the relics of St. Luke and ask for his prayers. St. Luke visited the boy in the night, blew on the leg, and it was healed. Recently, another boy, a pianist, had fingers cut off when an iron door slammed shut on them. He went to St. Luke’s tomb and asked St. Luke for help. Within days, the fingers grew back (even with nails!), and he is able to play the piano again (better with the healed hand than the uninjured one)!

***

Through the prayers of Saint Luke of Crimea, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!

Mothers In God’s Service (reprinted with permission from Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox Nuns, Vol. 21 #2)

The following article applies to all Orthodox women: mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, Sunday Church School teachers, and fellow parishioners alike. Each woman in the Church has an important role in the parish, and can be used by God to be a great blessing to the children and young people of the parish! May the article encourage the women who read it to “serve God in motherhood,” as we work together to raise the little ones in our parishes to love and follow God.

“Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all called to serve God. Whatever talents He has given us, we should choose to use in the service of His glorification.
One such talent is the ability of a woman to care for the children she bears. She takes care of their physical needs and also tries to promote what she herself perceives as a need to know God. To women, God has given the wonderful mission of raising children, of building little temples for Him, raising another generation inspired to praise God.

Orthodox Christians understand just how exalted motherhood is. Has God not willed to be incarnate of a woman – Mary, the blessed offspring of aged Joachim and Anna? She was found worthy to take part in the mystery of the incarnation, having perfected in her soul purity, humility, obedience, silence, simplicity and a gentle disposition. She knew that such is precious in the sight of God (I Pet. 3:4). And in the environment of her purity of mind and speech, as well as her quiet comportment, she raised her holy Son with gentle love and care. While she is unique in her holiness, she is absolutely beautiful in her humanity. Perhaps every woman cherishes the wish in her heart to have the special grace that renders the Mother of God the saint of saints and the model of purity and silence.

To all who are called by God to motherhood, may it be granted not only to be worthy servants of His chosen flock, but also to take part in raising that God-glorifying generation. While God entrusts the leading to spiritual growth and development of virtues to many people, including priests and godparents, He chooses women to serve Him in motherhood, and we ought to understand that it is a holy calling. A woman worthy of being called “mother” is also worthy of being deemed “martyr” because raising children is a great sacrifice of self. Do not underestimate the serious and holy service you render when you accept from God to raise the little ones He gives you.

Happy Mother’s Day! ”

Reprinted with permission from Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox
Nuns, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 1989, p.10. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Ellwood City, PA.