Tag Archives: Saints

Gleanings From a Book: “Sasha and the Dragon” by Laura E. Wolfe

Author’s note: I would have loved to have read (and re-read) this book with my children when they were younger! “Sasha and the Dragon” is a powerful story of a boy who conquers his fears with the help of St. Michael the Archangel. Although it is a picture book, “Sasha and the Dragon” is appropriate for Orthodox Christians of many ages because of all that the book addresses. This story opens the door for conversations about how strange a new country feels to the person entering it; what to do when you are alone and afraid at night; the reality of the saints’ readiness to come to our aid if we ask them to; and how the light of Christ illumines our world when we invite Him to do so!


Sasha has just moved to New York City from Russia. He misses the familiarity of his old village near the river: its sights, smells, and sounds. He felt safe there, and close to God. His new home, however,  is filled with shadows and seemingly uncaring people. It is grey and cold, and no one seems to know or love God or His saints. Other boys his age seem to mock Sasha at every turn instead of befriending him. Even his new house is not a very comforting place: his Baba who used to sing to him lies still in a scary room at the end of the hall. Sasha is afraid of everything in New York City.


Night time is the scariest for Sasha. Even though he signs himself with the cross before going to bed, he always feels the grey, unfamiliar shadows of the city lurking. One night, as Sasha lies in bed trying to go to sleep, he hears sounds under his bed, which he discovers to be a huge dragon. To his dismay, the dragon comes out from beneath his bed. Sasha is terrified and just wants to hide under the covers. Instead, he finds the courage to do all the right things: he kisses the cross he is wearing and then prays for help! An icon of the Archangel Michael hangs on the wall by Sasha’s bed, and Sasha is confident of the Archangel’s help. He asks St. Michael to kill the dragon with his sword.

As the dragon approaches, St. Michael’s icon begins to radiate heavenly light into the dark room. He races out of the icon on his great red steed and kills the dragon with his sword. As he does so, the room is filled with peace and hope. Sasha drifts happily to sleep. The next morning he wakes to find a slash from the dragon’s claw still remaining in the floor of his room, covered with a golden feather from St. Michael’s wings.

That very morning Sasha begins to notice and enjoy New York’s colors and good smells. A scarlet feather drifts into his hand as he walks. When he meets up with two of the mocking boys, instead of cowering or retreating, he surprises them by offering the feather to them. Sasha even braves the spooky hallway to take the golden feather to his Baba. Her delighted smile encourages Sasha, and he begins to sing to her, for he is no longer afraid!

This story is a delight, and Nicholas Malara’s drawings fit it perfectly. The art in this book is part “normal” picture book, part superhero story. The figures that are the most realistic are the accurately styled icons found on some of the pages. The tone of the illustrations changes from gloomy greys and muted colors at the beginning of the story to cheery bright colors at the end. This change is clearly intentional, and it greatly strengthens the story.


“Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent addition to an Orthodox Sunday Church School’s library. It has a great story which also presents multiple possibilities for classroom discussion. It can be used with students of varied age levels, because it offers opportunities to discuss so many different relevant topics for children of different ages.

“Sasha and the Dragon”  is available from Ancient Faith Publishing here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/sasha-and-the-dragon/


Here are a few discussion ideas and suggestions of ways to learn together with your students after reading “Sasha and the Dragon”:

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If you have younger students, consider bringing a few basic props to class when you share this story. After you have read it to the class, invite them to act it out as you re-read. Possible props: a beanie and/or jacket for “Sasha;” a head covering for his mom; head covering and blanket for Baba; shawls/hats/baskets/etc for other New Yorkers; hats for the “mean boys”; icon of St. Michael that someone can hold “in Sasha’s room”; blanket and pillow for Sasha’s bed; dark gloves and hoodie for “dragon”; plastic sword for “St. Michael”; a red feather; a “gold” feather (spray paint or spread glue on a feather, then sprinkle it with golden glitter)
After acting it out, talk together about the story and what we can learn from it. Help each student to create their own gold feather and/or St. Michael icon to put in their room to remind them of his constant watching and willingness to help if we ask him to do so.

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How does a new world feel to those entering it? Have you ever gone someplace completely different? Did those around you speak your language? Is anyone near you experiencing this right now? How can you help them feel most welcomed instead of making fun of them (as the boys did to Sasha in the book)?

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With middle-years or older students, talk about why many Russians immigrated to the United States around the time that “Sasha and the Dragon” appears to take place. Look online to find some ideas and additional information. (For example, https://www.ancestry.com/contextux/historicalinsights/russian-immigration-1800s offers a short description along with actual photographs.) Discuss what it would be like to come into a completely foreign place and try to live there. Then think of any refugees that you already know, or look into how you could connect with refugees who have recently settled in your area and may feel like Sasha did in the story. Brainstorm ways to make them feel at home. Select one of those ways and do it!

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“Sasha’s Dragon” features a little boy who has recently moved to New York. Perhaps he was a refugee. Help your students learn about what a refugee is (if the term is new to them), and how a refugee’s life changes radically when they arrive in their new place. This (non-Orthodox, but helpful) website suggests a activities and lessons you may wish to share with your students in a discussion about refugees: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/teaching-resources.html

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Who is St. Michael? Learn more about him on the page dedicated to him in the back of “Sasha and the Dragon.” Look up other icons of him and compare them to the one in Sasha’s room. Read a real-life miracle that St. Michael and his spear caused to happen here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/archangel-michael-at-chonae-icon-of-a-miracle/

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Discuss the following with your Sunday Church School students: What does our priest mean when he says at every Divine Liturgy, “The light of Christ illumines all!” and how does that affect us? What does it mean for our life? In what way does the light of Christ illumine Sasha’s life in the story “Sasha and the Dragon”? If your students are older, you can share this article (quoting Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory) as part of your discussion: http://orthodoxmeditations.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-light-of-christ-illumines-all.html
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With older children, discuss the story. Also talk about the meaning/symbolism behind the story and many of the illustrations. For example:

  1. In the beginning of the story, everything in Sasha’s world is dark, grey, hushed, shadowed, and Sasha’s baba’s room “smells like the dead crow he had found at the park”. Why do you suppose it is this way? Do the shadows reflect how Sasha feels in any way? How do the pictures in the beginning of the book make you feel?
  2. Sasha sees dragon shadows everywhere at the beginning of the story. They are not mentioned in the story, per se, but show up in the illustrations. How many dragon shadows can you find in the book? What do  you suppose is the reason that the illustrator included these shadows in these illustrations? What do you think they represent?
  3. How do the other children respond to Sasha at the beginning of the story? Why do you suppose they do that? Does Sasha like it? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way around other children?
  4. What does Sasha do to help calm his fears? What do you do when YOU feel afraid? Can you tell about a time when you did something just like Sasha does, and it helped you? Why do you think it helped?
  5. The dragon in Sasha’s room was very real to Sasha! Do dragons exist in the world? What do you think Sasha’s dragon was or represents? Do you have any “dragons” in your life?
  6. Why did Sasha turn to St. Michael for help with the dragon in his room? What do you know about St. Michael that makes him a good saint to ask for help with your own “dragons”?
  7. What other saints can help us with the “dragons” in our life? How can we get them to help us?
  8. The illustrations in the book make us look hard at the difference between God and His angels and saints and satan and his “helpers” (for example, in this book, the dragon). How do the illustrations help you to see the difference between the two? Does that difference appropriately illustrate the difference in real life?
  9. Sasha does something that shows his complete trust in St. Michael’s ability to save him. What does he do? When you are feeling afraid and attacked, to whom do you turn? Do you have the courage to trust God and His saints fully to help you in those times? Why or why not? Try to remember Sasha kneeling on his bed, pointing right at the dragon, and shouting, “Kill it with your sword!” every time you are feeling afraid!
  10. How does St. Michael enter Sasha’s bedroom? Why do you think the author included smells and sounds in her description of his entrance? How does it make you feel about St. Michael’s presence with Sasha?
  11. Describe St. Michael’s victory over the dragon. If you were there, what would you have thought? Did St. Michael accomplish what Sasha asked him to do, or did he accomplish even more? What makes you think that?
  12. Is Sasha’s life any different after St. Michael kills the dragon in his room? Just by looking at the picture, how can you tell?
  13. Sasha finds a feather on a gash in his floor. What is special about the feather? How would you feel if you found a feather like that in your room? What would you do with it if you found one?
  14. How does Sasha’s world change on the morning after St. Michael’s visit? Describe what Sasha sees as he goes out for a walk with his mother. Is anything different? What is missing?
  15. What does Sasha do with the two feathers he receives? Why do you suppose he does that? How do the others feel after they receive a feather from Sasha?
  16. Compare the first illustration in the book to the last page of Sasha’s story. Are these illustrations alike or different? How so? And how did it happen that they came to be that way? Then compare Sasha at the beginning of the book to himself at the end. Is he the same, or different? How can you tell?

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“Sasha and the Dragon” author Laura Wolfe has created lesson plans (for varying ages) which incorporate her book. The plans can be used to teach about “arrow prayers”, big feelings, and helping others. Find them here for use with your SCS class: http://lauraewolfe.weebly.com/educational-resources.html

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Learning from the Saints: St. Paul (June 29)

As we prepare for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, let us take time to learn more about each of these saints, and help our children to do the same. This post will focus on St. Paul. (There are so many details of his life that we could not include, so we have tagged scriptural references, so you can read more if you wish to!)

The Holy Apostle Paul was born in Tarsus. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, and was originally named Saul. He was a very intelligent man, who studied under the renowned teacher Gamaliel. He learned to be a tentmaker, and worked as one (at least part time) for much of his life.

He was a very zealous young man, who honored his Judaic faith and did all that he could to protect it. This is why he was present at the stoning of St. Stephen: he considered Christians to be heretics of the Jewish faith, and wanted to do what he could to purify and preserve it. (Acts 7:58)

Saul was adamant that the Christian movement be stopped, and he did all that he could to stop it. (Acts 8:3) He was on his way to Damascus to continue his mission to rid the area of Christians (Acts 9: 1-2) when he had a life-changing vision. In a blinding light, Christ Himself stopped Saul on the road and spoke to him. Saul was blind after that encounter, and the voice of Christ left him with directions to go to Damascus and wait for instructions there (Acts 9:3-9).

Saul obeyed Christ’s commands, went to Damascus, and sent for Ananias. Thankfully Ananias also obeyed Christ’s command to go see Saul, even though he knew that Saul was an enemy of the Christians, and therefore feared for his own life. Upon arrival, Ananias prayed for the repentant Saul and God healed his eyes (Acts 9: 10-19). He began to preach that Christ is the Son of God, and was so convincing that many Jews were amazed! (Acts 9: 20-22) When local authorities found out that Saul was preaching about Christ, they came in pursuit of him. But the other Christians let Saul out of the city by lowering him in a basket over the city wall (Acts 9: 23-25). He returned to Jerusalem, where Barnabas (who had also studied under Gamaliel) took him under wing, defending him against the Christians who still doubted his conversion (Acts 9:26-28). Saul and Barnabas worked in Antioch for a season (Acts 11: 26). Then the Holy Spirit led Barnabas and Saul to set off on many missionary journeys (Acts 13: 1-3). Saul’s lifestyle of enthusiastic diligence continued, only now he was zealous to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone who would listen!

They traveled first to Cyprus. During this time is when the scriptures begin to refer to him as Paul (Acts 13: 9). From there they traveled to modern-day Turkey (Asia Minor) (Acts 13: 13). While there, Paul preached and helped many people to learn about Christ. God used him to heal a crippled man (Acts 14: 8-10). The Jews were upset that so many people were learning about Christ, so they came and found Paul, stoned him, and left him for dead. But he was not! (Acts 14: 19-20). Paul and Barnabas traveled from there to Jerusalem, teaching and preaching along the way (Acts 15). Then they traveled back to Antioch for a while. They decided to revisit the cities where they had preached, but could not agree on who to take along. So it was that Barnabas and Paul parted ways, each taking another man to help them (Acts 15: 36-40).

Paul and Silas’ travels led them to meet a half-Jew/half-Greek named Timothy (Acts 16: 1-3); a seller of purple named Lydia (Acts 16: 14-15); and a spirit-possessed slave girl whom they healed (Acts 16: 16-19), among others. Healing the spirit-possessed girl landed them with beatings and imprisonment. That night there was an earthquake that unlocked all the prisoners’ chains, but none escaped. Instead, Paul and Silas were welcomed into the jailor’s house, where they preached and converted the entire household. (Acts 16: 20-34) When it was discovered that both Paul and Silas were Roman citizens with rights as such, they were quickly asked to leave the city!

When they left, they traveled, ministering in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens (Acts 17); Corinth and Antioch (Acts 18); Ephesus (Acts 19); Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20); and Jerusalem (Acts 21-22). Along the way, they encountered difficulties, resistance, and people who wanted to learn about Christ. In Jerusalem, there was such an uprising against Paul that he was bound and was to be questioned during a scourging (Acts 22:22-24), until Paul asked if it was legal to treat a Roman citizen like that (Acts 22: 25-28). It was not, so he was unbound. However, the Jews really wanted to kill Paul, so the centurion sent him to Governor Felix by night, with an armed guard of 200 men (Acts 23). Governor Felix kept postponing making a decision of what to do with Paul, so his case was passed on to Governor Festus when he took over (Acts 24). Governor Festus’ inquiries led Paul to appeal to Ceasar (Acts 25).

Governor Festus asked the visiting King Agrippa to hear Paul’s case, and Paul thus had the chance to tell the story of his life and his conversion to both of them (Acts 26). After hearing this, King Agrippa told Governor Festus that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.

Paul’s voyage by boat to Rome for that appeal was struck with a terrible storm which ended with a shipwreck in Malta. All aboard survived (Acts 27).

Paul’s miraculous survival of a viper bite opened the doors for him to minister to the people of Malta before catching another ship to go on to Rome (Acts 28). When they arrived in Rome, Paul was allowed to live in a rented house with his guard. He lived there for two years.

During all of his journeys as well as while under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote letters to individuals and churches. 14 of these letters have been included in the New Testament and are encouraging even to their modern day readers! Paul was given the title “The Apostle to the Gentiles” because of his missionary work everywhere from Arabia to Spain, to Jews and Gentiles alike.

Around the year 68 AD, during the time of Nero’s persecution, Paul was beheaded for his faith. He was buried where the basilica of St. Paul now stands.

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!



St. Paul, Apostle of Christ, intercede for our salvation!

Sources: The Bible, “The Prologue from Ochrid” by St. Nikolai Velimirovic,  and http://stpaul-orthodox.org/stpaullife.php

Here are some other ways that you can help your students to learn about St. Paul:

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Teachers of young children can use some of these coloring pages to help them tell St. Paul’s story:
His conversion: http://www.bible-printables.com/Coloring-Pages/New-Testament/40-NT-apostles-013.htm

His eyesight restored by Ananias: http://www.bible-printables.com/Coloring-Pages/New-Testament/40-NT-apostles-014.htm

Shipwreck: http://www.bible-printables.com/Coloring-Pages/New-Testament/40-NT-apostles-015.htm

Map of his journeys: http://www.bible-printables.com/Coloring-Pages/New-Testament/40-NT-apostles-016.htm

Writing an epistle: http://www.bible-printables.com/Coloring-Pages/New-Testament/40-NT-apostles-017.htm

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Encourage your students to help their family decorate their table at home to celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. After studying the lives of these two saints, ask your students for ideas of what they could include in the decorations that would remind the family of these saints’ faithfulness to God. You could do a craft with the icon of Sts. Peter and Paul which the students could take home to add to their display. Find a printable icon of Sts. Peter and Paul on pg. 29 of this book: https://www.scribd.com/doc/14024263/Orthodox-Christian-Icon-Coloring-Book
(You could also show them this five-minute Orthodox video about the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=117&v=NREVFRDUdJg)

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Teachers of younger grades may wish to use this lesson idea with a printable booklet to teach/review the life of St. Paul: http://www.biblefunforkids.com/2013/03/review-of-pauls-life.html

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The life of St. Paul is full of many amazing stories. Select a number of the scriptural references in the blog we wrote about his life, and find a prop for each (ie: dark glasses for when he was blinded, a boat -or part of one- for when he was shipwrecked in Malta, etc.) Strew the props in a place where your students can see them when they arrive at class, and have a basket containing all of the references available. Allow the students to select a reference, read it, and guess its prop. After every prop has had its story told, have them work together to put the “prop life of St. Paul” in order according to the scriptural references.

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Check this resource for lesson ideas for teaching about St. Paul. (It is not Orthodox, but contains many helpful and useful ideas!) http://ministry-to-children.com/?s=st+paul

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Find lesson, game, craft, and snack ideas related to the life of St. Paul here: http://www.daniellesplace.com/html/Bible-themes-Paul.html

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Find a kid-friendly (non-Orthodox, cartoon-illustrated) story of St. Paul’s shipwreck on Malta, including lesson plans and printable pages here: https://www.biblepathwayadventures.com/stories/shipwrecked/

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There are many (non-Orthodox, but very helpful) stories from and printables about the life of St. Paul at the Biblewise.com website:
Here is one sample: http://biblewise.com/kids/fun/amazing-paul.php

(Search “Paul” for hundreds of entries.)

Learning from the Saints: St. Peter (June 29)

As we prepare for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, let us take time to learn more about each of these saints, and help our children to do the same. This post will focus on St. Peter.

St. Peter was born in Bethsaida, in Galilee, to a man named Jonas. His given name was Simon. He lived a simple, uneducated life. Simon earned his living by catching and selling fish, along with his brother Andrew.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ called Andrew, Simon’s brother, to follow Him first. Andrew invited Simon to follow Jesus as well. Immediately after Christ’s call, the brothers left their fishing nets and followed Him (Matt. 4:18-20). Simon was married, but left his home to follow Christ. One of the times that Christ visited Simon’s home, he healed Simon’s mother in law, who had been sick. (Matt. 8:14)

 

Simon followed Jesus zealously after that, and would not leave His side. He proved his trust in Christ by walking to the Lord on the water when Christ was walking towards the disciples on a boat during a storm. (Matt. 14: 22-32) It was Simon who was the first disciple to recognize that Christ was the Son of God. (Matt. 16:13-20). When Jesus heard that, He said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas.” (John 1:42) “Cephas,” translated, is “Peter,” and so that is what we now call him.

 

Peter was one of only three disciples who were invited to go to Mt. Tabor with Christ when He was transfigured before them (Matt. 17:1-9). It seems that Peter wanted to know all that he could about Christ’s teachings. He asked a lot of questions, like: “Explain this parable to us!” (Matt. 15:15); “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21); “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” (Luke 12:41) and “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” (Matt. 19:27)

 

Peter later promised to follow Christ “no matter what” at the Last Supper, and Christ told him that he would deny Him three times before the very next morning’s rooster crows. Simon went with Christ and two other disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, but could not stay awake to pray as Christ urged the three to do. When the soldiers and others came to the garden to arrest Christ, Peter cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear in defense of Christ. Later that night, he faltered and swore he didn’t know Christ, not just once, but three times, during the night of Our Lord’s trials and beatings; and then the rooster crowed. We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

We do not know where Peter was when Christ died. But he was right with the other disciples when the word came that something had happened to Christ’s body! Peter ran to the tomb with John when Mary Magdalene brought the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty. John arrived first, but it was Peter who had the courage to go into the tomb first and see the folded, empty grave clothes. (John 20:1-10)

 

Peter was in the upper room with the rest both times when Christ appeared to all of the disciples. One evening a few days later, Peter decided to go out fishing, and many of the others went with him. They caught nothing. When a stranger on the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, they caught many fish (even though the time for catching fish that day was long past). When this happened, Peter realized that it was Christ who was on the shore, and he dove into the water in order to swim to Him! Peter got to eat a fish breakfast with Jesus and his friends that day. He had a second (and third) chance to reaffirm his love for Christ when our Lord asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” and finally continued, “Feed my sheep!” (John 21:1-19)

 

Peter was right there watching as Christ ascended into heaven. After the ascension, the disciples stayed in the upper room, praying and waiting for the helper that Christ had promised. Peter was faithfully praying with the others, ten days later, when the Holy Spirit descended on them. At this point, Peter became a mighty preacher! The first sermon that he gave was on the day of Pentecost, and 3,000 people converted after that sermon! (Acts 2:14-41)

 

Peter healed a lame beggar in the name of Christ (Acts 3). God also used Peter to heal a bedridden, paralyzed man and bring to back life a much-loved community member named Dorcas (Acts 9:32-42). He helped to establish the Church in Antioch.

 

It was Peter that first converted and baptized Gentiles, with clear guidance through visions from God (Acts 10). Soon after this, Herod the King started persecuting the Church. One of the first things he did was to throw Peter in jail. God used an angel to free Peter, who went to the house where other Christians were praying for him. The servant girl was so excited to see him when she answered Peter’s knock at the door that she ran back into the room to tell everyone that he was at the door, but she forgot to open the door and let him come inside! Later she left him in and he was able to tell them about the miracle of his release before escaping to another city (Acts 12:1-17).

 

Peter went on to continue to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentile converts all over Asia Minor. He helped to establish churches along the way. When these churches were being persecuted, he sent them a letter: today we call it 1 Peter, and it encourages its readers to remember to rejoice in sharing in Christ’s sufferings. 2 Peter was written to remind its readers to always seek true knowledge, and to beware of false knowledge. Both of these books were written while Peter was in Rome. (It is also believed that he was the main source of information for St. Mark’s Gospel.)

 

Peter died in Rome, at the orders of Emperor Nero. When Peter saw the cross on which he was to be crucified, he asked to be crucified upside down. He did not feel worthy to die in the same way that his Lord had died.

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!

 

St. Peter, Apostle of Christ, intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are some other ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students to learn about St. Peter:

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Find some fun activities that you can use with your Sunday Church School class to help them better understand some of St. Peter’s experiences here: http://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-activities-saint-peter-6932743.html

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Younger children may enjoy this printable color-by-number of the animal that reminded St. Peter of his denial of Christ: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/i-dont-know.php

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Older children will enjoy the challenge of this printable activity puzzle featuring St. Peter walking on water: http://biblewise.com/kids/fun/peter-walks.php

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Here’s a tiny printable crossword puzzle about St. Peter’s experience in jail: http://biblewise.com/kids/images/fun/peter_in_prison.pdf

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Print and color these drawings of St. Peter:

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This Catholic blog offers ideas of things to do with children to help them learn about St. Peter. For example, play “Saint Peter’s Fishers of Men” game! (Note: just remember that this is a Catholic site, so not all of it will work for Orthodox children, but there is a lot that would work!) http://showerofroses.blogspot.ca/2011/06/saintly-summer-fun-saints-peter-and.html

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Icon” by Georgia Briggs

Author’s note: This book will be of great encouragement and benefit to every Sunday Church School teacher’s journey of Faith. However, since the book is geared to older children, be aware of the events of the book and use caution when sharing it with your students. You know them, so you know if they would benefit from reading it, or if the events would be too disturbing and they would not find it uplifting. The book would be an excellent upper grades/teen book study!

I did not want this book to end. That is the first time in a long time that I’ve read a book and felt that way. “Icon” by Georgia Briggs may be aimed at young adults, but it is no ordinary young-adult-aimed fiction book, and is a great read for adults as well.

The story line in this book is believable, though fictional, and I found it hard to put the book down because of both the story line and the Orthodox insights throughout the book. “Icon” is the moving story of a young Orthodox Christian girl in a era similar to our own, except that in this dystopian tale (set in 0000 ET, “Era of Tolerance,” with flashbacks to the Pascha before ET began), it is suddenly no longer legal to be a Christian, most especially an Orthodox one. “Icon” is a story of loss, finding, miracles, death, light, and restoration, written so believably that the reader thinks “this could really happen!” It is a gripping story of Faith put to the test.

This book challenges its readers to think about their own Faith. What if all that we currently do and take for granted with regard to our Faith were suddenly illegal and we were being watched at every turn? What if our family members died/disappeared simply because of their Faith? What if we were left alone and had to move to new surroundings and change even our very name to one unassociated with our Faith? And what if all of this happened to us at the tender age of 12? My guess is that many of us would not react with the same endurance that Euphrosyne does. (But neither is this one of those books that glosses everything over. Euphrosyne definitely struggles with doubt and temptation all along the way, and the reader struggles along with her, knowing what she ought to do, but also understanding the reality of what will happen if she stands strong for her Faith!) The book is written so realistically that one almost feels the need to keep an eye out for “traps” in his/her own life after reading it.

After reading Euphrosyne’s struggles and then thinking through the questions that those struggles point to, the reader is left with the determination to take nothing about the Faith for granted. Readers will continue to realize the blessing that icons are in their life, whether the human-written ones or the icons that are still wearing the flesh that God Himself wrote. When a reader makes the sign of the cross, they will ponder the “streaks of light” that Euphrosyne could “see” traced over her Orthodox friends’ chests near the end of the book. The Divine Liturgy will not be the “same old” liturgy so easily taken for granted… I could go on and on (at the risk of divulging too much of the story) with ways that the reader will be challenged to ponder their faith. Suffice it to say that this book makes its readers really think about their Faith and then value it like never before.

If you choose to share this book with your students, be sure that you read it first (it won’t take you too long: as I mentioned before, it is hard to put down!), so that you have a grasp on what is coming. If you share it with the class, you can read it aloud with them, or have them read several chapters at a time that you can then discuss when you meet together. It would make a great summer “book club” read that you could meet up during coffee hour to discuss the next few chapters, even if you are not having Sunday Church School over the summer! Regardless of how you read it, be sure to talk together about this book. It is my opinion that your Faith (and your students’ Faith!) will be strengthened after reading and discussing this book together!

Purchase your own copy/copies of “Icon” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/icon-a-novel/

Learn more about author Georgia Briggs here: https://georgiabriggsauthor.wordpress.com/

Here are some quotes from different parts of “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, along with suggestions of discussions your class could hold when you arrive at that part of the book. (With apologies for spoilers: they are difficult to avoid in this book!) We hope that these selections can help to give you an idea of the types of discussions that this book can encourage!
***

“Mimi leans closer to me. ‘I’ll tell you a bigger secret,’ she whispers, ‘I am still Orthodox. My name is Mary. And guess what? It always will be.’

‘They made me change mine to Hillary,’ I say, ‘I used to be Euphrosyne.’

‘After St. Euphrosynos the Cook?’

‘Yeah. He was my patron saint.’

‘He still is your patron saint,’ Mimi whispers.

‘What if he isn’t, now that my name is different?’

‘They can’t change the name God gave you, Mimi says.‘Besides… you want to know something really ironic?’

‘What?’

‘Hillary is an Orthodox name too,’ she says with a grin. She shakes her head. ‘And Mimi is short for Miriam, which is just another form of Mary. Somebody didn’t do their research.’”~ “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 44

This exchange between Euphrosyne and her new friend, Mary the librarian, offers the chance to talk about names. What name does each member of your class go by? What is their Christian name? Spend some time learning more about and teaching each other about your patron saints!

***

“I’m quiet for a few minutes, considering what he’s saying. It seems so easy, so simple, to believe that goodness is just following your heart and being nice to people.

It’s flat, thought. It’s like Winter Holiday instead of Christmas, warm and fuzzy but not real. It’s nothing like the rich smell of incense, or the warmth in your throat when you swallow communion, or the brightness of Pascha. I’ve pulled a bullet from an icon and watched it bleed. Maybe if I had grown up with my grandparents, I could agree with Dr. Snead, but you can’t go through what I’ve been through and not believe in God. The real question is if I want to follow God or not.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 99-100

Ask your students what they think of these thoughts Euphrosyne has in one of her “sessions” with Dr. Snead. Have them mentally compare their own spiritual life with the life of a non-religious person their age, to see if there are parallels to what Euphrosyne is saying about the emptiness of life without Faith. Invite them to cite incidents of times when they have had the opportunity to see God at work. Encourage them to think about following God as well, even if no one else around them is choosing to do so.

***

“He turns the icon toward me, and I see St. Nicholas’ stern eyes and set mouth…

‘I thought Christians weren’t supposed to worship things like this,’ Dr. Wilcott says. ‘Graven images. Isn’t that kind of like idolatry?’

It’s like a picture of a friend, I think. Not an idol. But if I get drawn in, I might say too much, so I just say, ‘I don’t know.’

Dr. Snead chuckles. ‘Same old Hillary, shutting herself off.’”~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 162-163.

After reading this passage, talk with your students about icons and idolatry. How do the students define the difference between reverencing an icon and idolatry? Have they ever encountered someone who accused them of idolatry because of having icons in their home and church? Talk together about Euphrosyne’s personal description of what an icon means to her. Challenge the students to think of the best way that they can describe what an icon means to them, so that when they meet with opposition or accusations, they can clearly express their intent with having and/or reverencing the icon.

***

“‘So, I assume you’re here for one of these?’ [Dr. Snead] waves his hand from me to the icon. ‘Or both?’

‘Both,’ says Father Innocent.

‘How about we make a deal?’ says Dr. Snead. ‘I’ll give you one. You choose.’

‘Then I must take Euphrosyne.’

‘The sick orphan instead of a holy icon? Look at her. She won’t make it out to your car.’

‘There are two holy icons here,’ says Father.

Dr. Snead blinks in confusion.

‘And I believe St. Nicholas can take care of himself,’ Father Innocent says…” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 180-181

Talk with your students about this passage. What does Father Innocent mean when he says that there are TWO icons in Dr. Snead’s office? There is St. Nicholas’ icon with the bullet hole and the bloodstain, and what/who else? Which icon is Fr. Innocent choosing to take with him? Do you think that is a good idea? Why or why not?

***

“When I get close, I realize I can see more than just the stuff on the outside. I can see her soul too. And it makes me sad. Its silver glow has dark scars across it. There’s a jagged rip over her heart and another on her right hand, the hand she’s holding over her face as she cries. The one across her heart looks old, but the one on her hand is fresh. I hover beside her, trying to touch her.

‘Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ she whispers over and over again. She makes the sign of the cross, and her fingers leave a trail of light that lingers for a moment before disappearing.”  ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 195

Talk together about this passage after reading it. Why do you think her soul glows? Where did the scars come from? Why do her fingers leave a trail of light when she crosses herself? How does this make you think differently about your own soul and your own prayers?

On Pursuing Virtue: Mildness

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!

In our series about the virtues, we have come to the virtue of mildness. How exactly should we define it, and how can we teach our Sunday Church School students about it so that they can better pursue this virtue? OxfordDictionaries.com defines mildness as “a person’s lack of aggressiveness.” This definition is especially suitable for use with children, as the grievous sin which is this virtue’s counterpart is anger, and this definition helps them think about that. We must fight against anger and instead, struggle toward mildness, or a “lack of aggressiveness.”

One way that we can teach our students about mildness is by studying the life of Christ. We can brainstorm with our students how Our Lord was mild in all of his interactions with others. Together with our students, we could even make a giant list of examples from His life! Looking at His life on earth will give us many ideas of ways to live in a way that shows the virtue of mildness through us.

Another way to teach our students about meekness is by looking together at the lives of the saints as examples. We can share the stories of the lives of several saints who were known for their mildness. Here are a few examples from which we could choose:

The Theotokos is undoubtedly an excellent saint for us to look to with regard to a life lived in mildness. Share her life story via this book full of icons from her life: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-mother-of-god-in-icons-board-book/

Hieromartyr Methodius the Bishop of Patara, who led his people in mildness yet fiercely defended the purity of Orthodoxy. (see https://oca.org/saints/lives/2001/06/20/101759-hieromartyr-methodius-the-bishop-of-patara)

St. Gregory the Theologian the Archbishop of Constantinople, whose “fortitude and mildness …were his armor, and his words converted many to the Orthodox Church. (see http://www.saintsophiadc.com/2017/01/st-gregory-theologian-archbishop-constantinople/)

Hieromartyr Marcellus the Bishop of Apamea was a high-ranking official, yet lived a mild, kind, and pure life even before becoming a monastic and dedicating his life’s work to God. (see http://a-719748.c.cdn77.org/saints/lives/2013/08/14/102299-hieromartyr-marcellus-the-bishop-of-apamea)

The Holy Nobleborn Prince of Chernigov Michael, who was noted from his childhood for his piety and mildness (see http://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/iconoftheday/los/September/20-02.htm)

The child saint, Artemius, was known for his mild meekness in his few years before his death. (see https://avcamp.org/st-artemius-of-verkola/)

Of course, there are many other mild saints as well! We can select as many or as few as we wish to share, and tell their biographies to our class! After we tell (or have students read) the stories of the lives of several saints, we can compare the saints’ lives. In what ways were their lives the same? How did each saint demonstrate mildness? Was there any difference in the way that they exhibited mildness? What can we learn from each of them that will help us to pursue mildness?

Give each student a blank piece of paper and encourage them to write the word “mildness” on it. Give them some time to write or draw about mildness, based on the lives of the saints which you have discussed. Perhaps they will draw a picture of a saint reacting mildly to an event in his/her life. Perhaps they will write or draw their own intent to react mildly the next time an opportunity to be angry arises. Maybe they will write a prayer, asking God for help in their struggle to be mild. Or they could write an acrostic poem. The ideas are endless. The important part is that the students interact with the concept of mildness, showing that they are beginning to understand what it is, how it has been exhibited by saints, and/or how they intend to pursue it in their own lives.

Addendum: Meekness is part of mildness and could be one way that we encourage our students to pursue mildness. For example, we can encourage them to pursue mildness through meek silence as St. Seraphim (Sobolev) the Wonderworker of Sophia suggests in this article:

“The saints fully embodied the Lord’s words: ‘Upon whom shall I gaze? Only upon the meek, and the silent, and the one who trembles at My words.’ Why does the Lord, speaking of meekness, also mention silence? In order to show that our meekness should be expressed through silence.

“But one can keep silence with one’s lips, yet hold great malice and hate in one’s heart against those who offend us. The Lord wishes our heart to participate in this time of silence, too. Therefore, let Christ’s silence during His trial be a constant example to us in this case, and may the words of the Gospel: ‘But Jesus held His peace’ (Matt. 26:63) serve as the basic guideline of our spiritual life. Let us always remember St. Seraphim’s injunction to one of his monks: ‘Keep silent, keep silent, keep ever silent.’ This means – with one’s lips, with one’s heart, while being insulted, in order to attain meekness or supreme love.”

(From http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/ct_love_meekness.html)

If we incorporate a discussion of meekness and pursuing silence via the paragraph above, we may want to use this craft idea: Make plaques from chair railing samples or other small pieces of wood. Allow your students to use permanent markers to write on the plaque: “Keep silent, keep silent, keep ever silent.” Encourage the students to decorate their plaque however they wish to remind them to keep silent with their lips, with their heart, and even when being insulted. When they take the plaque home, they should place it where they will see it and be reminded that that sort of silence will help them attain  meekness, which is an important part of mildness.

Here are other ideas of ways to help us learn about mildness and teach our Sunday Church School students about it, as well:

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While Sunday Church School teachers are not usually priests, we all can benefit from this teaching of St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians which addresses how a leader should adjust their speech as is needed by their followers: “”Always to speak to one’s disciples with mildness, even when they need severity, is not the character of a teacher, but it would be the character of a corrupter and enemy.” (Read more in this article directed to priests but helpful to lay leaders, as well; https://www.goarch.org/en/-/adaptability-and-the-good-shepherd-a-reflection-on-pastoral-leadership)

***

You may wish to include a discussion of this quote by St. John Chrysostom in your lesson on mildness. It offers a practical way to work towards the virtue of mildness: “Let’s stop fighting and pray in a becoming way. We should put on the mildness of angels instead of the demons’ brutality. No matter how we’ve been injured, we must soften our anger by considering our own case and our salvation. Let us quiet the storms; we can pass through life calmly. Then, upon our departing, the Lord will treat us as we treated our neighbours. If this is a heavy, terrible thing to us, we must let Him make it light and desirable. What we don’t have strength to carry out because of our struggle against sin, let us accomplish by becoming gentle to those who sinned against us.”We can discuss this quote piece by piece and ask our students to help us find in it things that we can do to become more meek.
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Listen to several episodes of “Saint of the  Day” (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday) – perhaps the past week’s worth – together with your students and talk about each saint’s life. Did it demonstrate mildness? How?
***

Consider printing these saints’ stories or finding a way to enable your students to go online and read them, Assign each student to one of the stories and have him/her summarize the saint’s life for the class, pointing out any mention or evidence of mildness in the saint’s life: http://www.antiochian.org/lives_of_the_saints

***

Teachers of teens may want to consider taking a look at this non-Orthodox, but still very helpful sermon on meekness. Read parts of it together as a class, and together glean some examples from scriptures (both verses and examples from saints from Bible times) as cited here: http://www.creativeyouthideas.com/resources/youth-sermons/blessed-are-the-meek/

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Learning About the Saints: The Three Holy Hierarchs (Jan. 30/Feb. 12)

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs with a special feast every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.

Hundreds of years after these hierarchs departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to which of these three men was the greatest. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites. The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder of this. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 (Feb. 12) as the day to celebrate all three of them.

Read more about the Three Holy Hierarchs, and find a personal challenge for each of us from their lives, in this blog post about them: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The three most great luminaries of the Three-Sun Divinity have illumined all of the world with the rays of doctrines divine and true; they are the sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom, who with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams: The great and sacred Basil, and the Theologian, wise Gregory, together with the renowned John, the famed Chrysostom of golden speech. Let us all who love their divinely-wise words come together, honoring them with hymns; for ceaselessly they offer entreaty for us to the Trinity.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you teach your Sunday Church School students about the Three Holy Hierarchs:

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Share this book about the Three Holy Hierarchs with younger children: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/20-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Three-Hierarchs/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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Color this icon or use it in a feast-related craft project: http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Three-Holy-Hierarchs-line-border.gif

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Teach younger children about the Three Holy Hierarchs with this printable lesson and activity pages: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/011-EN-ed02_Three-Hierarchs.pdf

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Help older children think about the division that was beginning in the Orthodox Church as people favored one of the Three Holy Hierarchs over the other with this hands-on lesson: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/01/fathers-fruits.html

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“In Greece, the Three Hierarchs are the patron saints of learning. The Greek churches celebrate the Greek alphabet on the same day that they celebrate the Three Hierarchs. Not only were these saints protectors of the purity of the Orthodox Faith, but they also were promoters of the importance of education. On this day, it is customary to give school children books. Another idea is to give awards for excellence.” ~ http://myocn.net/three-holy-hierarchs-st-basil-great-st-gregory-theologian-st-john-chrysostom/

***

The Three Holy Hierarchs are excellent role models for both educators and students: “If we were to summarize the precepts of the three great hierarchs, we might say that they advise young people of any era: ‘Go on, ever forwards and ever upwards. Really want to be educated. Throw yourselves into your studies. Hunger to do something great and heroic. Learn to ignore yourselves and submit to the service of others. Do you dream of a better society? Work for it. Arm yourselves with vitality and persistence and live the love of Christ powerfully and ardently, until the end.’” ~ from http://pemptousia.com/2015/01/the-three-hierarchs-and-education/

 

Learning from the Saints: St. Nina (January 14/27)

Late in the 3rd century, in Cappadocia (central modern-day Turkey), a young girl was born to a Roman army chief named Zabulon, and his wife Sosana (who was the sister of Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem). This girl was named Nina (or Nino, as she is called in the Republic of Georgia). Nina and her parents were well off, but decided to sell everything when Nina was 12 and go to Jerusalem to live in the Holy City. Soon after they arrived there, Zabulon was tonsured a monk and went to live in a monastery in the desert, Sosana became a deaconess and helped her brother the patriarch serve the poor of Jerusalem. Nina went to live with a godly woman named Nianfora, who continued to teach her to love and follow God through His Church.

When Nina was 14, she began to wonder about Our Lord’s robe and whatever happened to it. She asked Nianfora how something so precious could just be lost for hundreds of years? Nianfora answered that it was somewhere in Iberia (now Georgia) because it had traveled there after the soldier won the robe with the dice toss at the cross. Nina was very pious and thought that this holy item that had belonged to Our Lord should not be lost and forgotten, so she began to pray, asking the Mother of God to make a way for her to go. One night she had a dream in which the Theotokos blessed her with a cross made of grapevines tied together with hair. The Theotokos told Nina that the cross would be her protection as she traveled to Iberia. When Nina woke up, she was still holding the cross in her hand! She kept that grapevine cross with her for the rest of her life. Soon after this dream, Nina set out to find Christ’s robe with the blessing of her uncle, the patriarch.

Nina traveled first to Rome. While she was there, she met Princess Ripsimia and her teacher Gaiana, and let them to the Faith. The emperor at that time was Diocletian, who was persecuting Christians. Diocletian wanted to marry Princess Ripsimia because she was so beautiful, but she and Gaiana and Nina (and 50 other young ladies) ran away to spare their lives because they were Christians. They escaped safely to Armenia. Unfortunately, Diocletian was so angry he had sent soldiers to follow the young ladies (and to warn King Tiridat of Armenia about them). When the now-warned King Tiridat saw the beautiful Princess Ripsimia, he wanted to marry her! When she refused, he killed her, Gaiana, and the other 50 young ladies with them. Nina narrowly escaped this martyrdom by hiding in some rosebushes.

Alone, Nina continued her journey to Iberia. When she first arrived in Iberia, she befriended some shepherds who gave her food and helped her know where to go to find their capital city of Mtskheta. Along the way, Nina was very discouraged. She began to wonder why she was doing what she was doing. One night as she slept, she had a dream. In her dream, a heavenly visitor appeared to her and gave her a scroll. When she woke up, Nina still had the scroll in her hand. She could even read the scroll: it was written in Greek! It was full of scripture verses which encouraged her to continue on her journey so that she could help others learn more about Christ and His Church. This gave Nina the strength that she needed to continue her journey, and she made it to Mtskheta.

Soon after her arrival in Mtskheta, Nina was saddened to watch a ceremony where the people of Iberia were gathered to worship idols covered in metal. The people shook before the idols as their priests prepared sacrifices for the ceremony. Nina was so sad that she began to pray hard and loudly for the people, that God would enlighten them and show them that He is the true God. Suddenly, a storm came up and all the people had to take cover! Lightning destroyed the idols, crumbling them to nothing. The rain washed away the crumbled pieces. Nina had taken cover in the cleft of a rock, so she was safe, but she saw the whole thing happen. After the idols were washed away, the sun shone once again, and the people came looking for their idols. Of course they found no trace of them. This made the Iberian king wonder if there is another God greater than the gods that they worshiped.

Nina was welcomed into the palace garden by the gardener and his wife, who allowed her to live in a corner of the garden (some sources say in a hut; others say under a bramble). The couple was unable to have children, but Nina prayed for them, and God blessed them with many children after that! They became Christians, and so did many others in the land, as Nina prayed for them and told them about Christ. She became well known because of her godliness and her kindness. God worked other miracles through her prayers as well. For example, once a mother was carrying her dying son through the city, begging for help so that he would not die. St. Nina took the boy, laid him down on her leaf bed, and prayed for him. As she prayed, she touched him with her grapevine cross, and he was healed!

Nina preached even to the Jewish people of Iberia. Interestingly enough, it was through the Iberian Jewish High Priest (who converted to Christianity as well through the teaching of Nina) that she learned about the one thing that she had come to Iberia to find in the first place: the robe of Christ! He told her the story of his great-grandfather Elioz, who had gone to Jerusalem to witness Christ’s death (His death was considered by the Jewish people to be a victory for their nation, so invitations were sent out prior to its happening). Elioz’s mother had warned him not to ally himself with those who killed Christ, because she knew that He was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies! Elioz went to Jerusalem and was present at the crucifixion, and managed to get Christ’s robe from the soldier who had won it. He brought it back to Mtskheta, where he found out that his mother had died around the time that Christ did (after feeling in her heart the pounding of the nails as they were pounded into Our Lord and proclaiming that she sensed that He had been killed). Elioz’s sister Sidonia took the robe of Christ when she saw it in his hands, and began to venerate it with kisses. She hugged it to herself and immediately died! Elioz tried to pull the robe from her grasp but was completely unable to do so. He felt afraid about what could happen to the robe at that point, so he secretly buried her, still clinging to the robe, in an undisclosed location. Some say it was in the middle of the palace garden in Mtskheta, where a cedar tree suddenly grew, but no one knows for sure.

When Nina learned this, she was still uncertain of the actual location of the robe of Christ, but began to pray at that cedar tree in the middle of the royal garden in case the robe was truly under there. One night after her prayers, Nina saw many black birds perch in the cedar’s branches. They flew from there to the river, bathed, and came back as white as snow! The now-white birds sat in the cedars branches and sang beautifully. God revealed to Nina that this was to help her to realize that the people of Iberia would come to know Him, be baptized, and continue their lives cleansed of sins. It encouraged her to keep telling all the people around her about Christ, and to pray for them and for their salvation.

The queen of Iberia, Queen Nana, who did not like Christians and worshiped false gods like the Roman goddess Venus, became sick around this time. She went to doctors, but just got worse and worse. It looked like she would die. Although she did not like Christians, Queen Nana had heard that Nina could heal people through her prayers. She commanded that Nina be brought to her. Nina replied that if she wanted to be healed, the Queen would need to come to her humble dwelling instead. The queen was desperate and so she humbled herself and they carried her to Nina’s little living space, where her servants laid the queen on Nina’s bed of leaves. Nina prayed for her, and touched her head, feet, and shoulders with the grapevine cross. As soon as Nina finished making the sign of the cross over Queen Nana in this way, the queen was completely well. She was so grateful to be healed that she stopped worshipping idols and became a Christian instead. Queen Nana and Nina became close friends.

The king of Iberia, King Mirian, was not happy that his queen converted to Christianity. He was ready to have all of the Christians in Iberia killed, even though that meant that his own wife would die. While he was thinking of this plan, he went out hunting on a beautiful day. As he hunted, suddenly a dark cloud came up where he was. It was so dark that the king could not see! Winds began to blow, lightning was all around, and it was all very similar to the frightening storm that hit back when Nina first came to Iberia and the idols had been destroyed. All of the king’s hunting companions left him because they were afraid. Alone, King Mirian cried out to his gods to save him. The storm got worse, and of course the gods did nothing. Finally, King Mirian cried out to the God of Nina, asking Him to save him from this storm and promising to follow God if He did. At that moment, the storm stopped, and the sun shone! King Mirian returned to the city, found Nina and told her of his experience and his promise, which he kept. And that is how the  Light of Christ entered into King Mirian’s life and the lives of his people as well. His joy at his conversion led the king to build many churches to help his people to be better Christians.

After the king’s conversion, Nina continued to preach and teach about Christ to the Iberian people. Her hard work, and the cooperation of the people around her, established Christianity firmly in that part of the world. (Even today, 82 % of the people of the nation of Georgia are practicing Orthodox Christians!)

Nina reposed in the Lord in the early 4th century, in the village of Bodbe, in what is now eastern Georgia. King Mirian had a church built at the site of her repose. Her body is buried there.

O handmaid of the Word of God,

Who in preaching hast equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew,
And hast emulated the other Apostles;
O enlightener of Iberia and reed-pipe of the Holy Spirit,
Holy Nino, equal to the Apostles:
Pray to Christ God to save our souls!
(troparion to St. Nina, in tone 4)

Sources:

http://www.antiochian.org/node/17330

https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/01/14/100191-st-nino-nina-equal-of-the-apostles-and-enlightener-of-georgia

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

http://www.stnina.org/st-nina/life-st-nina-karen-rae-keck

 

Here are additional sources that can help us learn more so that we can teach our Sunday Church School students about St. Nina:

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This picture book is a great way to help younger students learn about the life of St. Nina: http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-life-of-saint-nina-equal-to-the-apostles/

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Share this 8-minute video about the life of St. Nina with middle-years students: http://trisagionfilms.com/project/life-st-nina-enlightener-georgia/

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Older students will benefit from reading the life of St. Nina and studying and/or praying the supplication to her that is found in this book: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/8/313/The_Life_of_St_Nina_Equal-to-the-Apostles_and_Enlightener_of_Georgia.html

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Teens will enjoy reading this Iberian Jewish account of Christ, as it was told to St. Nina, and what happened with His robe:

“Conversing frequently with this Abiathar [the Iberian Jewish high priest], St. Nina heard from him the following tale about the Lord’s Robe:
‘I heard from my parents, and they heard from their fathers and grandfathers, that when Herod ruled in Jerusalem, the Jews living in Mtskheta and all Kartli received the news that Persian kings had come to Jerusalem seeking a newly-born male child of the lineage of David, born of a mother, but having no father, and they called him the King of the Jews. They found Him in the city of David called Bethlehem in a humble cave and brought Him gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. Having worshipped Him, they returned to their own country.
‘Thirty years passed, and then my great-grandfather Elioz received from the high priest in Jerusalem, Annas, a letter which read as follows: “He Whom the Persian kings came to worship and offer their gifts, has reached a mature age and has begun to preach that He the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Come to Jerusalem see His death, to which He will be delivered according to the law Moses.”
‘When Elioz, along with many others, was about to set out for Jerusalem, his mother, a pious old woman of the lineage of the high priest Elias, said to him: “Answer the king’s call, my son, but I beg you, do not ally yourself with the impious against Him, Who they intend to kill; He is the One foretold by the prophets, a Riddle for the wise, s Secret hidden from the beginning of the ages, a Light for the nations and Eternal Life.”
‘Elioz, together with the Karenian Longinus, arrived in Jerusalem and was present at Christ’s Crucifixion. His mother remained in Mtskheta. On the eve of Passover she suddenly felt in her heart something like the strokes of a hammer driving in nails, and she cried out: “Today the kingdom of Israel has perished, because it has condemned to death its Savior and Redeemer; from now on this people will be guilty of the blood of its Creator and Lord. It is my misfortune that I have not died before now, for then I would not have heard these terrifying blows! No more will I see on the earth the glory of Israel!”
‘And uttering these words, she died. Elioz, who was present at Christ’s Crucifixion, obtained the Robe from the Roman soldier to whose lot it had fallen, and brought it to Mtskheta. Elioz’s sister Sidonia, on greeting her brother with his safe return, told him of the wondrous and sudden death of their mother and of the words she had uttered just before she died. Then when Elioz, in confirmation of their mother’s foreboding regarding the crucifying of Christ, showed his sister the Lord’s Robe, Sidonia took it and began to weep and kiss it; then she pressed it to her breast and instantly fell down dead. And no human strength was able to wrest this holy garment from the arms of the dead girl. Elioz committed his sister’s body to the earth and buried her with Christ’s Robe, and he did this in secret so that even to this day no one knows Sidonia’s burial place. Some surmise that it is located in the center of the royal garden, where from that time there grew up of its own accord and still stands a shady cedar. Believers flock to it from all directions, considering it to possess great power; and there beneath the cedar’s roots, according to tradition, is Sidonia’s grave.’
“Having heard about this tradition, St. Nina began to go at night to pray beneath the cedar tree…” ~ from http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

After reading this passage together, discuss it. Possible questions could include: How is this passage the same as what we Christians have heard about this part of Our Lord’s life? Does the Jewish perspective offer us any insights we may not have had before this? How does hearing a Jewish person’s belief about Christ impact our own?

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Talk with your Sunday Church School students about St. Nina’s cross. How did she get the cross in the first place? How did God use it to bless others? Show them a picture of St. Nina’s cross, which is still reverenced by the Georgian people to this day. (You can find photos of it online, or show your students the video footage of the cross being reverently carried into a service at around :24 in this Georgian news story:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3LVGZ8aO0g.) After the discussion, help your students to each create a grapevine cross to remind them of the one that St. Nina had. Before class, you will need to procure some grapevine (from your own plants, or a friend’s plants, or from a craft store or nursery) and some embroidery floss. When it is time to make the crosses, cut sticks of two different lengths for each cross and use strands of embroidery floss “hair” to tie them into a cross. Their cross can be small, made of just two grapevine twigs, or large, crafted from multiple strands of each size: it is up to you! Send the crosses home with your students so that they can put theirs in a place where it will remind them to be faithful to God and to trust Him as St. Nina did. (Here’s a blog post that can give you an idea of how to tie the cross together. The cross in the blog is made with twigs from a tree, but the method would apply to grapevine as well: http://www.gratefulprayerthankfulheart.com/2012/04/little-wooden-cross-from-sticks.html)

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With older students, study the Gospel verses that were written on the scroll miraculously given to St. Nina in her dream when she was feeling most discouraged about her journey. Here they are:

“Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matt.26:13).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28).
“Then said Jesus unto them (the women), Be not afraid: go tell my brethren… (Matt.28:10).
He that receives you receives me, and he that receives me receives him that sent me (Matt.10:40).
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist (Luke 21:15).
“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul… (Matt.10:28).
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt.28:19-20).”

After reading the scriptures together, talk about how these words must have encouraged Nina. Then ask your students: do any of these verses stand out to encourage you? Have each student select one of these verses to copy onto a piece of magnetic sheet (magnetic business cards like these would work well: http://www.staples.com/Avery-reg-Inkjet-Magnetic-Business-Cards/product_461559). Send the magnetic verses with your students so that they can put the verse in their locker at school or on their fridge at home to continually encourage them as they did St. Nina!