Tag Archives: Holiness

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Nikolai Velimirovich (March 5/18)

On December 23, 1880, Dragomir and Katarina Velirnirovich gave birth to their first child, a son. He was born in the town of Lelich, among the Povlen Mountains of western Serbia. When he was born, he was so weak that they had him baptized soon after birth. He was named Nikola, after the family’s patron saint, St. Nicholas of Myra. As Nikola grew up, he grew stronger. (Dragomir and Katarina had 8 other children after Nikola, but unfortunately all of them passed away during WWII.)

Nikola’s parents were hardworking farmers who loved God and His Church so much that they always stopped their work when it was time for prayers. They kept the fasts and lived their life by the liturgical cycle of the Church. Katarina was a very holy mother, and she taught her children about God, the saints, and the holy days of the Church year. She also would take Nikola to the Chelije Monastery for Communion, even though it was a three miles walk to get there. When he got older, Nikola remembered his mother’s commitment to taking him to church, and he was grateful.

It was in that same monastery where Nikola first started school. His spiritual father, Father Andrew, taught Nikola to read, to write, to do math, and he also taught him about his culture. Father Andrew also taught Nikola the Scriptures and the teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Church. Nikola loved to learn. Even during summer vacation, Nikola would sneak away to the monastery church’s bell tower and hide there all day so that he could read and pray!

After Nikola had finished 6th grade, he wanted to enter the Military Academy. He was not accepted to the school, though, because he was too small to do everything that military cadets needed to do. Since he could not go to military school, Nikola applied to the Seminary of St. Sava in Belgrade. He was accepted to the school, and he began the life of a seminarian. He did not just study the normal things seminarians study, though: he also read the important writings of famous writers in Europe (like Shakespeare, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, and Marx to name a few). He especially liked Peter Njegosh’s writing, and gave a speech about him for his final big project when he was finishing at the seminary in 1902. Everyone who heard this speech was amazed: they could tell that Nikolai was very, very smart.

Unfortunately, during his years at seminary, Nikola got sick. He was not eating well, and the housing at the seminary was not good, so he was sick when he graduated. Nikola’s doctor told him to spend time on the sea coast. So after graduation, Nikola taught in a few villages during the school year, but spent his summer break on the seashore. As he rested at the shore, Nikola wrote. He wrote the life of Bokel the Montenegrin and Dalmatin; and he started a Christian newspaper that contained some of his first published writings.

In 1905, Nikola was chosen to study abroad. He went to Switzerland, Germany, England, and Russia during this time of his life, and he studied very hard. In 1908, he received his Doctorate in Theology. The very next year, 1909, Nikola worked for (and got) his Doctorate in Philosophy, this time in Oxford, England. He was so smart and could learn quickly: not many people have two doctorate degrees at age 28!

That fall, Nikola became very sick. He was in the hospital for more than two months. While he was there, Nikola prayed and told God that if He saved him from this illness he would serve God and His Church. God healed him, and brilliant Dr. Nikola laid his possibilities for greatness aside and became a simple monk. Monk Nikolai was tonsured and ordained to the priesthood on the same day, Dec. 20, 1909. The Hieromonk Nikolai served God with all of his heart and mind, and was soon elevated to Archimandrite.

Archimandrite Nikolai was sent to Belgrade to teach at the seminary there. However, before he could teach, he needed to take a test (because the people at the seminary discovered that he had never taken 7th and 8th grades). The test was an oral test: he had to stand before the examiners and answer questions that they asked him. Everyone who heard him speak at that test could not believe how well he spoke. No one could even ask him a question about his answers. So, of course he passed the test! But before he was allowed to teach, the people at the seminary thought it would be good for him to spend some time in Russia. So he went to Russia for a year. While he was there, Archimandrite Nikolai wrote “The Religion of Njegosh,” his first great work.

Back in Belgrade, he went on to write many others, including a collection of homilies that he called “Sermons at the Foot of the Mount” (he said he called it this because “Christ spoke on the Mount, but I dare to speak only at the foot of the Mount.”) He also wrote “Beyond Sin and Death,” which was a very deep book written in a way that ordinary people could understand. Besides his writing, he taught at the seminary, and many of his students went on to become monks, theologians, and clergy because they had been so inspired by Archimandrite Nikolai. He taught philosophy, logic, history, and foreign languages; and his writing made him well known on around the world.

And then World War 1 began. In the summer of 1914, Archimandrite Nikolai was asked to go to England to find help for his Serbian people. Because he had a doctorate degree from Oxford, he was welcomed by the British, who not only agreed to support the Serbian people, but also awarded him a Doctorate of Divinity from Cambridge University while he was there!

In the summer of 1915, Archimandrite Nikolai was sent out again. This time, he was sent to New York City to gather help from the (now American) emigrants. 20,000 volunteers came back with him to help protect their homeland from the Austrians; and many sent money to help their suffering brothers and sisters back home. During this trip to America, Nikolai had a dream in which an Angel of the Lord told him that he would come back to America to begin the American Serbian Diocese. (That dream later came true.)

At the beginning of 1916, Archimandrite Nikolai went back to England, where he wrote more books and articles. He stayed in England until the end of the war. Again, the British liked his work, and he was given another Honorary Doctorate of Divinity. This one was in 1919, from the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Nikolai was chosen to be the new Bishop of Zhicha. On March 12, 1919, when he was only 38, Nikolai was installed as the bishop. He cried happy tears during the consecration service: he had spent years trying to get help for the Serbian people whom he loved so much, and now he would actually be able to help them himself, as their bishop! He spent two years helping the Serbs in Zhicha as well as throughout Yugoslavia. Like Christ, he healed the sick, set spiritual captives free, and preached. In 1921 he was transferred to the Diocese of Ochrid and Bitola. Everywhere he went, Bishop Nikolai worked to help people be united peacefully. And all the while he worked, he wrote more books. One of those books, Prayers By the Lake, is full of prayers that are useful to Orthodox Christians today.

In 1924, Bishop Nikolai was sent to the United States, arriving in New York City again. This time he went around speaking about the situation in Europe, thanking the American Serbs for their help, and beginning to gather the Serbian parishes in America into an Archdiocese.

Six months later, he went back to Belgrade to report on the church in America. He was nominated to become the Bishop of the American Serbs, but not everyone in his homeland was ready to give him up. This made it hard for the Bishop, so he went on a pilgrimage retreat in 1922 to the Holy Land and then to Mt. Athos. He needed this time away to be refreshed and to receive counsel from God. When he returned, Bishop Nikolai nominated another bishop to be the first bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America. The synod agreed with that nominee, who then went to America. This meant that Bishop Nikolai could stay and continue writing. He wrote many books that helped people become closer to God and the Faith. He also encouraged people to pray, which they did, and it started a new dedication to prayer that helped to strengthen the Serbian Orthodox Church. In the next few years, he paid another visit to the United States (in 1927) stopping in London on his way back home to Serbia. During this trip, he challenged people to repent, warning that something terrible would soon happen in Europe. Back in Ochrid, he wrote several more books, including The Prologue of Ochrid, which has become a spiritual classic.

Early in 1930, the bishop went to Vatopedi Monastery, on Mt. Athos. A Pan-Orthodox conference was taking place, and while he was there, he was able to lead the Orthodox faithful of different nationalities in a way that helped them show that the Orthodox Church is united as the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” After that conference, Bishop Nikolai returned home and continued writing until war began in 1941.

When the Germans occupied Yugoslavia that same year, Bishop Nikolai was arrested. He was sentenced to prison in Dachau, the famous prison camp in Germany. Bishop Nikolai spent two years imprisoned in Dachau. While he was there, he saw (and suffered) some of the most terrible tortures against humans that the world has ever known. Even in prison, he wrote. He wrote a prayer to the Theotokos (he said later that her protection is the reason he survived Dachau) and a sort of diary about his time in the prison camp. An American division of the Allied Forces got Bishop Nikolai his freedom on May 8, 1945, and, after a brief stop in London, he moved back to the USA.

He took a little time to recover (his back and leg were giving him trouble after his imprisonment) and then began to lecture again. Just a little over a year after his release from Dachau, Bishop Nikolai was given another Doctorate: this one, a Doctorate of Sacred Theology, was from Columbia University.

For the next few years, Bishop Nikolai taught at St. Sava Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois, and wrote books, some of them in English! In 1951,the bishop moved to St. Tikhons Russian Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, to serve as a professor (then dean, and even rector) of the seminary there. During his years at St. Tikhons, Bishop Nikolai wrote books and articles in a variety of languages (he could read, write, and speak seven languages fluently) so that Orthodox people of various backgrounds could read things in their own language. He also lectured in different seminaries and monasteries on the east coast of the United States. He often lectured and gave his homilies in English so that more Americans could understand what he was saying.

And then, one night (between the 17th and 18th of March, 1956), Bishop Nikolai fell asleep in the Lord. He was 76 years old, and praying in his cell at St. Tikhons when he fell asleep. There were many services held for him, beginning at St. Tikhon’s, then in New York City and finally in Libertyville, IL, where he was buried on March 27, 1956. Twenty-five years later, his body was returned to Serbia and laid to rest behind the church of the Chelije Monastery, right in his hometown of Lelich, where he used to hide during summer vacations to read and pray.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich, please pray for us and for our salvation!

Loving thy homeland thou didst sojourn as a patriot to secure aid for God’s suffering children,
And as a new Chrysostom thou didst preach to those in darkness
The rediscovery of the Foundational Rock, Christ the Lord,
In the Eternal Homeland of God’s Kingdom.
Thy pastoral love for all, O Confessor Nikolai, was purified in captivity by the godless,
Demonstrating thy commitment to the truth and thy people;
Therefore, O  venerable Bishop, thou hast attained the crown of eternal life.

Here are additional resources and ideas to help you prepare to share the life of St. Nikolai Velimirovich with your Sunday Church School students:

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Find more information about St. Nicholai Velimirovich’s life, including a few pictures and his icon here: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/stnikolai.aspx

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Read some of St. Nikolai Velimirovich’s letters to dignitaries, fellow clergy, and others here: http://www.babamim.com/st_bishop_nikolai__his_letters (Don’t worry, the letters in other languages have been translated to English!)

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Consider praying some of the prayers that St. Nikolai Velimirovich wrote in “Prayers By the Lake.” You can find the prayers here: http://www.sv-luka.org/praylake/

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Pray this prayer for your Sunday Church School students. The prayer is for children, and was written by St. Nikolai Velimirovich: http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2014/06/a-prayer-for-children-by-saint-nikolai.html

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St. Nicholai Velimirovich once said that similar things happen when we receive Holy Communion and when we give to those in need. In both cases, we receive Christ. Ask your Sunday Church School students what they think about that. What could he mean? Then share this story that he told: https://orthodoxchurchquotes.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/st-nikolai-reflection-on-giving-alms-to-the-poor/ After you share the story, talk together about how you can live in a way that reflects this. Consider ideas of things you could do together as a class and/or as a parish to better receive Christ when He appears as the poor in your community and around the world. Plan a hands-on project that you can work on together, and then prepare and do it! Give each student a copy of this part of the quote: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_nicholai_velimirovich_in_holy_communion.pdf Have them decorate it in a way that reminds them of your plan, so that they can bring/do whatever it is that you decide to do as a group to help.

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Talk with your middle-to-older students about suffering. Did St. Nicholai Velimirovich suffer? Who do you know that is suffering? Do your students ever suffer? What do they think about suffering? Do they like it?
Read this quote from St. Nicholai to your students: “Every sin, however small, would inevitably bring death if Mercy were not to allow suffering in order to sober men up from the inebriation of sin; for the healing that comes through suffering is brought about by the grace filled power of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit.” (The oldest students will want to ponder the entire quote, found here: https://orthodoxchurchquotes.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/st-nikolai-velimirovich-only-the-foolish-think-that-suffering-is-evil/.) Talk together about how this perspective can (and should!) change our opinion of suffering.

With older students, you may want to follow up with a discussion of this related quote: https://orthodoxchurchquotes.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/st-nikolai-velimirovich-blessed-is-the-man-who-uses-his-sufferings-knowing-that-all-suffering-in-this-brief-life-is-loosed-on-men-by-god-in-his-love/

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Print these quotes from St. Nikolai Velimirovich. Cut them into individual quotes and place them all in a basket. Invite older students to pull them one at a time from the basket and discuss them: https://orthodoxchurchquotes.wordpress.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-nikolai-velimirovich/page/5/

 

Learning About a Saint: St. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn (commemorated on Feb. 27 and the first Saturday of November)

Note: 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of St. Raphael of Brooklyn’s repose in the Lord. Parish Life Conference attendees in the Antiochian Archdiocese will notice that the creative arts festival theme this year is based on the life of St. Raphael. As a result, many of the children in that archdiocese have already studied his life so that they could complete their projects. Here is a brief synopsis of his life, courtesy of the Antiochian Village Camp’s website, for anyone not yet familiar with this saint.

Our holy Father Raphael was born in Syria in 1860 with the name Rafia. The exact date of Raphael’s birth is not known, but he estimated it to be on or near his Name Day, the Synaxis of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, November 8.

St. Raphael attended elementary school, where he did very well, but in 1874 it appeared that his father would no longer be able to afford his son’s tuition. Fortunately, help came from Deacon Athanasios Atallah (later Metropolitan of Homs), who recommended to Patriarch Hierotheos of Antioch that Rafia be accepted as a student of the Patriarchate in preparation for the priesthood.

Since the Balamand Seminary had been closed in 1840, Patriarch Joachim III of Constantinople invited the Patiarch of Antioch to send at least one deserving student to study on scholarship at the School of Theology at Halki, and Saint Raphael was the one who was selected to go.

On December 8, 1885 he was ordained to the diaconate at the school chapel. Patriarch Gerasimos of Antioch was impressed with Deacon Raphael and often took him along on his pastoral visitations of his parishes. When His Beatitude could not be present, Deacon Raphael was asked to preach the Word of God to the people.

The Patriarch gave his blessing, and Deacon Raphael was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy in Kiev.

When Patriarch Gerasimos resigned in order to accept the See of Jerusalem, Archmandrite Raphael regarded this as an opportunity to free the Church of Antioch from its domination by foreign hierarchs. In November 1891 Metropolitan Spyridon, a Greek Cypriot, was elected as Patriarch of Antioch. Many Arabs believed that he had purchased the election by distributing 10,000 liras to several notable people in Damascus. Archmandrite Raphael refused to commemorate the new Patriarch during services at the Representation Church. As a result, he was suspended from his priestly functions by Patriarch Spyridon. Saint Raphael accepted his suspension, but continued to write articles in Russian newspapers in defense of the Antiochian cause. The Patriarchs of Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria and Jerusalem successfully petitioned the Tsar to forbid Russian newspapers from publishing his articles. With this door closed to him, Saint Raphael began to publish his writings in book form. Eventually, Patriarch Spyridon wrote to the Assistant Oberprocurator of Russia, a friend of Saint Raphael’s, asking him to persuade Father Raphael to ask for the Patriarch’s forgiveness. He did so, and the suspension was lifted. Saint Raphael was allowed to transfer from the jurisdiction of Antioch to the Church of Russia, and to remain there. He went to Kazan, taking a position as instructor in Arabic studies at the theological academy. He remained there until 1895 when he was invited by the Syrian Orthodox Benevolent Society of New York to come to that city to be the pastor of the Arab Orthodox community.

Archmandrite Raphael arrived in New York on November 2, 1895 and was welcomed by a delegation of Arab Christians who were awaiting their leader from Russia. On November 5, his first Sunday in America, he assisted Bishop Nicholas in serving the Divine Liturgy at the Russian Church in New York City. Less than two weeks after his arrival, Archmandrite Raphael found a suitable place in lower Manhattan to set up a chapel, and furnished it with ecclesiastical items that he had brought with him from Russia. Bishop Nicholas blessed the new chapel, which was dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra.

In the summer of 1896, Saint Raphael undertook the first of several pastoral journeys across the continent. He visited thirty cities between New York and San Francisco, seeking out the Master’s lost sheep in cities, towns, and on isolated farms. He fed the spiritually hungry people with the word of God in each place where he stopped. He performed marriages and baptisms, heard confessions, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the homes of the faithful where there was no church building. In other words, he zealously fulfilled his ministry as a preacher of the Gospel, enduring many hardships and afflictions, and he was watchful in all things concerning the care of his flock (2 Timothy 4:5).

In 1898, with the blessing of Bishop Nicholas, Saint Raphael produced his first book in the New World – an Arabic language service book titled The Book of True Consolation in the Divine Prayers. This book of liturgical services and prayers was very useful to priests in celebrating the divine services, and also to the people in their personal prayer life. The English version published by Archimandrite Seraphim Nassar is still being used today.

In March 1899, Saint Raphael received permission from Bishop Tikhon to start collecting funds for a cemetery, and for building a new church to replace the chapel, which was located in an old building on a dirty street. In the spring he left on another pastoral tour of 43 cities and towns. In Johnstown, PA, he reconciled those whose personal enmity threatened to divide the Arabic community. Although civil courts had been unable to make peace, Saint Raphael restored calm and put an end to the bitter feud. While in Johnstown, he received a telegram informing him that Metropolitan Melotios (Doumani) had been elected Patriarch of Antioch. With great joy, Saint Raphael told his people that for the first time in 168 years, a native Arab had been chosen as Primate of the Antiochian Church.

After the new Patriarch had been installed, Archimandrite Raphael was proposed to succeed Meletios as Metropolitan of Latakia. The Patriarch, however, stated that the Holy Synod could not elect Father Raphael because of his important work in America. In 1901, Metropolitan Gabriel of Beirut wrote to Archimandrite Raphael asking him to be his auxiliary bishop, but he declined saying he could not leave his American flock. First, he wanted to build a permanent church and to acquire a parish cemetery. The latter goal was achieved in August 1901, when Fr. Raphael purchased a section of Mt. Olivet cemetery on Long Island.

In December 1901, Archimandrite Raphael was elected as Bishop of Zahleh. Patriarch Meletios sent a telegram congratulating him and asking him to return. Father Raphael thanked the Patriarch, but again declined the higher office. He said that he wished to complete the project of building a temple for the Syrian community of New York. The following year, he bought an existing church building on Pacific Street in Brooklyn, and had it remodeled for Orthodox worship. Bishop Tikhon consecrated the church to the great joy of the faithful in attendance. Thus, Saint Raphael’s second major project was finished.

Since the number of parishes with the Diocese of North America was growing, Bishop Tikhon found it impossible to visit all of them. The Diocese had to be reorganized in order to administer it more efficiently. Therefore, Bishop Tikhon submitted a plan to the Russian Holy Synod which would transfer the See from San Francisco to New York because most parishes and individuals were concentrated in the East. Since various ethnic groups required special attention and pastoral leadership, Bishop Tikhon proposed that Archimandrite Raphael be made his second vicar bishop, with the Bishop of Alaska his first.

In 1903, the Holy Synod of Russia unanimously elected Archimandrite Raphael to be the Bishop of Brooklyn, while retaining him as head of the Syro-Arab Orthodox Mission in North America. The Holy Synod announced the election to Patriarch Meletios, who was pleased by their decision. Bishop Tikhon wrote to Saint Raphael to inform him of his election, and Father Raphael sent him a letter of acceptance. Meanwhile, Father Innocent Pustynsky was consecrated at Saint Tikhon’s first auxiliary bishop at St. Petersburg’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

On the third Sunday of Great Lent 1904, Saint Raphael became the first Orthodox to be consecrated on American soil. Bishops Tikhon and Innocent performed the consecration at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn. The new bishop’s vestments were a gift from Tsar Nicholas II. After his consecration, Bishop Raphael continued his pastoral labors, ordained priests, and assigned them to parishes, and helped Bishop Tikhon in the administration of the diocese.

At the end of 1904, Bishop Raphael announced his intention to publish a magazine called Al-Kalimat (The Word) as the official publication of the Syro-Arab Mission. Bishop Raphael knew that he could not visit all Orthodox Christians across North America in person, but through the ministry of the printed word he could preach the word of salvation even to people he would never meet.

In July 1905, Bishop Raphael consecrated the grounds for Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and blessed the orphanage at South Canaan, PA. Three days later, he presided at a conference of diocesan clergy at Old Forge, PA, because Archbishop Tikhon was in San Francisco. Among the clergy in attendance were three who would be numbered among the saints: Fathers Alexis Toth, Alexander Hotovitzky, and John Kochurov. (The last two would die as martyrs in Russia.)

For the next ten years, Bishop Raphael tended his growing flock. With the growth of his New York community came an increase in the number of children, and he was concerned about their future. He wanted to establish an evening school to educate them in a Christian atmosphere because the future of the Church in this country depended on the instruction of the youth. Children who did not speak Arabic were already going to non-Orthodox churches, where Sunday School classes were conducted in English. Bishop Raphael saw the absolute necessity for using English in worship and in education for the future progress of the Syro-Arab Mission.

Taking heed of Saint Paul’s words to pray in language that people understood (1 Corinthians 14:15-19), Saint Raphael recommended the use of the Service Book of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church, translated by Isabel Hapgood, in all of his parishes.

In March 1907, Saint Tikhon returned to Russia and was replaced by Archbishop Platon. Once again, Saint Raphael was considered for Episcopal office in Syria, having been nominated to succeed Patriarch Gregory as Metropolitan of Tripoli in 1908. The Holy Synod of Antioch removed Bishop Raphael’s name from the list of candidates, citing various canons forbidding a bishop being transferred from one city to another.

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1911, Bishop Raphael was honored for his fifteen years of pastoral ministry in America. Archbishop Platon presented him with a silver covered icon of Christ and praised him for his work. In his humility, Bishop Raphael could not understand why he should be honored merely for doing his duty (Luke 17:10). He considered himself an “unworthy servant,” yet he did perfectly the work that fell to him (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians).

Toward the end of 1912, Bishop Raphael became ill while working in his office. Doctors diagnosed him with a heart ailment that eventually caused his death. After two weeks he felt strong enough to celebrate the Liturgy in his cathedral. In 1913-1914, this missionary bishop continued to make pastoral visitations to various cities. In 1915, he fell ill again and spent two months at home, bearing his illness with patience. At 12:40 am on February 27, he rested from his labors.

From his youth, Saint Raphael’s greatest joy was to serve the Church. When he came to America, he found his people scattered abroad, and he called them to unity. He never neglected his flock, but traveled throughout America, Canada, and Mexico in search of them so that he might care for them. He kept them from straying into strange pastures, and he protected them from spiritual harm. During twenty years of faithful ministry, he nurtured them and helped them to grow. At the time of his death, the Syro-Arab Mission had thirty parishes with 25,000 faithful.

Saint Raphael came into contact with all sorts of people, and was a gentle father to them. He gained their love and respect by first loving them, and also through his charming personality and excellent character. He was always kind and merciful with others, but was strict with himself. He accomplished many good things during his earthly life, and now he joins the holy angels in offering ceaseless prayer and praise to God.

Above excerpts taken from The Orthodox Church April/May 2000
(Reprinted with permission from https://avcamp.org/st-raphael-of-brooklyn/)

Rejoice, O Father Raphael, Adornment of the holy Church! Thou art Champion of the True Faith, Seeker of the lost, Consolation of the oppressed, Father to orphans, and Friend of the poor, Peacemaker and Good Shepherd, Joy of all the Orthodox, Son of Antioch, Boast of America; Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor thee.

Read a more in-depth telling of St. Raphael’s life here: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2015/02/27/100610-repose-of-st-raphael-the-bishop-of-brooklyn

In case you wondered why St. Raphael has two different commemoration days listed, read this: http://www.angelfire.com/pa3/straphaelcanonized/lives/DateFeast.html

Here are additional ways to help your students learn about St. Raphael:

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Find ideas for teaching children about the life of St. Raphael throughout the Sunday Church School year, here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/using-the-theme-2015

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Find printable posters about St. Raphael and a few of the churches he founded, here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/posters-2015

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Find pictures from the life of St. Raphael here: http://www.antiochian.org/category/image-galleries/antiochian-stock-imagery/icons/saints/st-raphael-brooklyn

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Select your students’ grade level and teach them about St. Raphael from the lesson plans and printables found here: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/mini-units/saints-of-south-canaan.pdf

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Older students can read about St. Raphael’s life, and then look for the details in the service held in his honor on the first Saturday of November. Find the text for the service here: http://www.dowama.org/sites/docs/SVCRaphaelAkolouthia.pdf

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After studying the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, students can go online and take this trivia quiz to see how much they know about his life! http://www.funtrivia.com/html5/index.cfm?qid=265273

Learning About a Saint: St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (commemorated on July 2)

Author’s note: as I read “The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco,” I was especially struck by the life and love of this saint. I began to research further and found online many accounts of his life on earth and of miracles resulting from his prayers both during this life and since his departure from it. What a blessing to be able to learn about such a recent saint! I feel as though I have met a dear (and very holy) old friend. Although his commemoration day has already passed for this year, I’d like to introduce you to my new old friend, so that you can introduce your Sunday Church School students to him as well.

On July 2, we commemorate St. John Maximovitch, the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco. Who is this saint, and why do we commemorate him? This blog will offer a small glimpse into his life, as cited in the book The Life of Saint, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas.

Born in southern Russia on June 4, 1896 to well-off parents, John Maximovitch (baptized “Michael”) was a frail boy who loved to study. Throughout his growing up years, Michael was exposed to true holiness as his family attended church regularly and took him to visit holy icons and the relics of holy people. These experiences had a profound and lasting impact on his life.
He studied in a military school and then got his law degree before his family was forced to leave Russia because of the Russian revolution. When the revolution happened, his family escaped to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where Michael studied theology and got his theological degree in 1925. During these years, he met and was mentored by Archbishop Anthony Khrapovitsky, who tonsured Michael as a monk named John, and ordained him to the diaconate.

John was a very humble man all of his life. For example, when he was summoned to Belgrade to be consecrated as a bishop, he told someone who he met on a streetcar that he had been accidentally summoned to see another monk named John be ordained bishop. The next day, when he met up with the same woman again by chance, he told her that the mistake was even worse than he had originally expected, for they actually wanted to make HIM the bishop, but he felt unworthy of the position!

After his ordination, Bishop John was sent first to Shanghai to look after the many Russians who had fled the Soviets in Russia and ended up in China. While he was there, he tenderly cared for his flock. Besides his pastoral work, he assisted in the completion of a cathedral, improved religious education, and cared for many orphans.

In his extreme humility, the bishop did not care about how he looked. Despite his status in the church, he wore clothing made from inexpensive material and usually walked barefoot. Even when he was told to wear sandals, since the Russian word for “wear” means “carry,” he fulfilled the decree by tucking the sandals under his arm so he was, indeed, “carrying” sandals!

Bishop John visited the sick daily, praying for them and doing whatever he could to help them. For example, once a woman who was thrown from her horse. She had her skull crushed but couldn’t be operated on (to remove the skull pieces pressing into her brain) because her pulse was so faint and the doctors knew she would not survive surgery. The bishop visited her and prayed over her for 2 hours. The woman’s pulse returned to normal. The surgery was able to happen, and was a success, through the prayers of the holy bishop. To this day, he cares for the sick and he intercedes for people who ask for his help, whether or not they are Orthodox!

When communism moved into China, (the now Arch)bishop John moved with his people to Tubabao, Philippines. This island, usually regularly buffeted by typhoons, was calm for two years and three months. During that time, Archbishop John walked around in the refugee camp every night, praying for his people and blessing the camp. (His prayers were powerful, for only two months after he and most of his flock left the island, a typhoon came through that flattened the entire camp.)

When the Russian refugees were relocated to the USA and Australia, Archbishop John was assigned to Western Europe. He oversaw the French and Dutch Orthodox Church, and gathered information on saints from that region that were part of Orthodoxy before the Latin Church left. Living in Europe didn’t sway the archbishop’s manner of dress: he continued to dress simply, and as a result, the French called him “St. John the Barefoot.”

Eventually, Archbishop John was sent to San Francisco, California. He worked hard to care for his flock, and also to enable the construction of the cathedral dedicated to the icon of the Theotokos, “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” He had plenty of opportunity for sorrow with that project, as opponents falsely accused him and stood in the way of the building. He patiently continued on with his work, blaming only the devil for the troubles once the cathedral was successfully completed.

During this part of his life, the Archbishop wrote sermons and encouragement to his people. Some of these have been published in English as well as Russian. All are full of his wisdom and contain answers to many questions about the Orthodox Faith.

Throughout his years of ministry, the archbishop always arrived early to church and stayed late. One reason it took him so long to leave was that, each time he left the church, he reverenced the icons as if he were saying goodbye to dear friends. On July 2, 1966, he was visiting St. Nicholas’ Cathedral in Seattle along with the “Kursk” icon of the Mother of God. On this night, he stayed particularly late – 3 hours after the service, to be exact – praying in the cathedral. After he left the cathedral, he went next door to a parish house, and reposed in the Lord.

For 28 years, people visited his remains, which were buried in a chapel below the cathedral in San Francisco. When they visited, people would often ask Archbishop John to pray for them. They would also write petitions on slips of paper and place them beneath his mitre. Archbishop John continued his work after departing this life, and even today he continues praying on behalf of his people. Many miracles have happened because of his prayers. Glory to God for His work through the prayers of His servant!

In 1993, Archbishop John’s relics were discovered to be incorrupt. His relics, along with the way that he lived and the miracles God has performed in response to his prayers both during this life and since his repose, were evidence enough for him to be recognized as a saint of the Holy Orthodox Church. He was glorified as such on July 2, 1994. Today, his relics are housed in a special shrine in the cathedral in San Francisco. His prayers continue on for all who request them.

St.-John-of-San-Francisco

St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, please intercede for us and for our salvation!

The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco is a book for young people that was compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas. It is available here: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/64/The_Life_of_Saint_John,_Wonderworker_of_Shanghai_and_San_Francisco_for_Young_People.html_

Find a dvd about St. John’s life here: http://hvcbookstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=54

Find the troparion and kontakion to St. John here: http://antiochian.org/node/37811

Find the supplication service to St. John here: http://hvcbookstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=350

The following are additional resources to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about St. John the Wonderworker:

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Find wonderful ideas of ways to celebrate St. John Maximovitch’s commemoration together with children here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2012/07/festal-learning-basket-saint-john-of.html

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Find an easy-to-read life of St. John Maximovitch appropriate for use with younger children, a printable (and colorable) icon, a map of his journeys, and an activity page related to his life on pp. 38-41 of this free downloadable resource: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/american-saints.pdf

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Print this double-sided brochure-style story of the life of St. John Maximovitch, and study it with older children: http://www.asna.ca/saints/st-john-maximovich.pdf

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Older children and/or adults will benefit from watching this documentary about St. John the Wonderworker (with English subtitles). It features photos of the saint that were taken throughout his life, as well as stories from his life and interviews with people whom he has helped. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSOoD9cCBoo

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“St. John [the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco] did not isolate himself from the world, but he was not of this world. First and foremost he was a man of prayer. He completely surrendered himself to God, presenting himself as a ‘living sacrifice’ and he became a true vessel of the Holy Spirit. His work as an apostle, missionary and miracle worker continues even now.” ~ from http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2013/06/st-john-maximovitch-wonderworker.html

Discuss this quote with older students: Talk about ideas of how to live like that: not isolated, but also not of this world. Discuss ways to present one’s self as a living sacrifice. Talk also about some of the miracles God has worked through the continuing prayers of St. John. Spend some time praying and asking St. John to pray for each student and the concerns that they may have for their family and/or fellow parishioners.