Staff Pick : “Everyday Saints and Other Stories”

Staff Pick : “Everyday Saints and Other Stories”

Recommended by Ivy Gabriella Tesfay,
Ministry Intern

In Communist Russia in 1984, five youths from non-religious backgrounds joined a monastery. This is the story of what they experienced and some of the “everyday saints” they met. The author says, “In this book I want to tell you about this beautiful new world of mine, where we live by laws completely different from those in ‘normal’ worldly life—a world of light and love, full of wondrous discoveries, hope, happiness, trials and triumphs, where even our defeats acquire profound significance: a world in which, above all, we can always sense powerful manifestations of divine strength and comfort.”


There’s A Saint For That : St. Lazarus

There’s A Saint For That : St. Lazarus

St. Lazarus

St. John of the Ladder

The Life of St. Lazarus

St. Lazarus of Bethany was brother to Mary and Martha and a known close friend of Jesus. He was very sick; some historians believe he had leprosy. He was a poor man and was often found lying at the gates of rich men begging for table scraps while street animals licked his wounds.
Shortly before His crucifixion, Christ left Bethany to preach in a nearby area. While away, He received word that Lazarus had fallen ill and died. Jesus delayed his return to Bethany until after Lazarus’ body was placed in a tomb. Christ returned to Bethany four days after Lazarus’ burial at which time he went to the tomb and commanded Lazarus come out. To the surrounding crowd’s surprise, Lazarus appeared. Still wrapped in his burial shroud, Lazarus had been resurrected.
St. Lazarus’ resurrection was a significant event prior to Christ’s resurrection as it was a miracle that provided reassurance to Christ’s followers and foreshadowed Christ’s own resurrection which followed 8 days later. With rising tensions in the Jerusalem preceding Christ’s crucifixion, Lazarus became a target and was compelled to seek refuge Cyprus away from the high priests and pharisees who wanted to kill him.
St. Lazarus lived a long life following his resurrection. In 52 AD he invited the Theotokos to visit him in Cyprus. The ship he had sent to the Holy Land for the Theotokos’ journey blew off course leading to her discovery of Mount Athos. Later Apostles Paul and Barnabas ordained St. Lazarus the first Bishop of Kition and he served for 30 years until he passed away.
St. Lazarus is commemorated on March 17 and on Lazarus Saturday, the final Saturday of Great Lent just prior to Palm Sunday. His relics were moved from Cyprus to Constantinople in 898 AD which is commemorated annually on October 17. People around the world pray to him as he is the patron saint of the poor and sick.

Discussion around St. Lazarus


  1. Christ resurrection of St. Lazarus’ reassured many of his followers of his divinity. Are  there times you’ve needed reassurance? Did you get it? What did that look like for you?
  2. In what ways did St. Lazarus live that revealed he truly believed in the resurrection? How  can we mirror that in our own lives?

Learn his Troparion

Troparion — Tone 1

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, / You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God! / Like the children with the palms of victory, / we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death: / Hosanna in the Highest! / Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!

Prayer on the Saturday of the Righteous Lazarus

O Christ our God, Who by Thy voice didst release Lazarus from the bonds of death after four days in the tomb, restoring him again to life: Thyself. O Master, enliven us who are deadened by sins, granting life that none can take away; and make us who put our hope in Thee, heirs of life without end.

For Thou art our Life and Resurrection, and to Thee belongeth glory: together with Thine immortal Father, and Thine All-holy, and Good, and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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Curated Discussion: “Planted in Death, Bearing Fruit in Life”

Curated Discussion: “Planted in Death, Bearing Fruit in Life”

Begin your meeting with prayer and by reading the excerpt from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans below, followed by St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on the text. Then, discuss the questions about the reading.

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection . . .

Romans 6:3-5

“. . . he [St. Paul] is counselling you when he says, ‘for if we have been planted together in the likeness of His Death, we shall be also in the likeness of His Resurrection.’ Do you observe, how he rouses the hearer by leading him straightway up to his Master, and taking great pains to show the strong likeness? This is why he does not say ‘in death,’ lest you should gainsay it, but, ‘in the likeness of His Death.’ For our essence itself has not died, but the man of sins, that is, wickedness. 

And he does not say, for if we have been partakers of the likeness of His Death; but what? ‘If we have been planted together,’ so, by the mention of planting, giving a hint of the fruit resulting to us from it. For as His Body, by being buried in the earth, brought forth as the fruit of it the salvation of the world; thus ours also, being buried in baptism, bore as fruit righteousness, sanctification, adoption, countless blessings. And it will bear also hereafter the gift of the resurrection. Since then we were buried in water, He in earth, and we in regard to sin, He in regard to His Body, this is why he did not say, ‘we were planted together in His Death,’ but ‘in the likeness of His Death.’ For both the one and the other is death, but not that of the same subject. 

If then he says, ‘we have been planted together in His Death, we shall be in that of His Resurrection,’ speaking here of the Resurrection which is to come. For since when he was upon the subject of the Death before, and said, ‘Do you not know, brethren, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His Death?’ he had not made any clear statement about the Resurrection, but only about the way of life after baptism, bidding men walk in newness of life; therefore he here resumes the same subject, and proceeds to foretell to us clearly that Resurrection. And that you may know that he is not speaking of that resulting from baptism, but about the other, after saying, ‘for if we were planted together in the likeness of His Death,’ he does not say that we shall be in the likeness of His Resurrection, but we shall belong to the Resurrection. 

For to prevent your saying, and how, if we did not die as He died, are we to rise as He rose? When he mentioned the Death, he did not say, ‘planted together in the Death,’ but, ‘in the likeness of His Death.’ But when he mentioned the Resurrection, he did not say, ‘in the likeness of the Resurrection,’ but we shall be ‘of the Resurrection’ itself. And he does not say, We have been made, but we shall be, by this word again plainly meaning that Resurrection which has not yet taken place, but will hereafter. Then with a view to give credibility to what he says, he points out another Resurrection which is brought about here before that one, that from that which is present you may believe also that which is to come. For after saying, ‘we shall be planted together in the Resurrection,’ he adds, ‘Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed.’”

St. John Chrysostom, Homily XI on Romans (section on verse 5)
Important parts are in bold. Read the full homily here.

Discussion Questions

According to St. Paul and St. John Chrysostom, what is the paradoxical way that we live as if we believe in the Resurrection?

What are some moments when you’ve been afraid to die a little death with Christ? For example, has there been a time when you have been afraid or embarrassed to admit you were Christian, or act in a way reflective of Christ? Why do you think that happened?

St. John says that Paul identifies two Resurrections in Romans: the Resurrection that follows Baptism and the Resurrection of eternal life. Regarding the former, how does dying to the parts of us that are not of Christ through Baptism and Repentance help us to walk in the newness of life?

What is the significance of the word “planted” in St. Paul’s epistle according to St. John’s homily?

Who is someone that you think bears the “fruit” of the Resurrection described by St. John? What is one way you think you can work to emulate that person?


Wrap up your discussion with this prayer from the Sunday Orthros service:

Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. Your Cross, O Christ, we venerate, and Your holy Resurrection we praise and glorify. For You are our God; apart from You we know no other; we call upon Your name. Come, all faithful, let us venerate the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold, through the Cross, joy has come to the whole world. Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection; for having endured the Cross for us, He destroyed death by death.

Guided Discussion: “Let the Living Bury the Living”

Guided Discussion: “Let the Living Bury the Living”

This discussion is made up of five parts, with each part containing a reflection and a set of discussion questions. Either with your OCF chapter, a friend or two, or just on your own, read each reflection and discuss the questions related to it. You can choose to break the discussion into multiple sessions, tackling a part or two a week, or you can do the whole thing in one sitting.

Part I: Framing the Discussion


The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the center of our rhythm of worship. It is the motivation for our ethical progression. It is the resolution of the struggles and evils in the world. It is what forms saints and reforms sinners. It is what allows us to know Who God is and what He wills for our lives.

The Resurrection is transformative in every sense of life. This is certainly something that all Christians understand in one form or another. But when asked about the Resurrection of Jesus, how often would we say that it is transformative in every sense of death?

Discussion Questions

In what ways does the Resurrection transform life?

What are some ways that the Resurrection transforms death and dying?

Part II: Early Christians and the Dead & Dying


Certainly, many of us recognize that the Resurrection changes the way that we ought to view death. We can point to the martyrs who were willing to die for Christ because they were no longer afraid of death thanks to His Resurrection. We can explain that because of the Resurrection we know that death is not the end of life — that there is more life to come and that we should not live as if this is our only opportunity to enjoy the world. We know that the Resurrection teaches us that life after death is heavenly and worthy of greater investment than this life — that sacrifice and suffering is not in vain when done for God and neighbor.

Yet how many of us would also say that the Resurrection affects our treatment of someone who is already dead or in the process of dying? How much does our treatment of the dead differ from people who do not share our faith?

In the first few centuries after Jesus’ Resurrection, the early Christians’ treatment of the dead and dying was one of the things that made them stand out among the Jewish community and the rest of the Roman Empire. Under the Old Covenant, interaction with a corpse ritually defiled a person because it meant that they had come into physical contact with death, which is the opposite of the gift of life which is offered to us through a relationship with God (Numbers 19:13). Similarly, in the pagan Graeco-Roman culture of the time, corpses were seen as things that polluted a society and needed to be disposed of outside of the city or simply burned to ashes (cremated). While Romans did view a formal funerary process as a way to honor a person, they typically reserved such processes for family members and wealthy members of society. The corpses of criminals, slaves, and the like were denied any ceremonial treatment. Finally, when it came to people who were sick and in the process of dying, the instinctual reaction in Roman society was to distance oneself from the dying person. For example, in times of plague, sick bodies would often be removed from homes and left to die on the streets in order to prevent them from infecting others in the household.

Yet despite being surrounded by all of the approaches to the dead and dying listed above, the first Christians established a radically different tradition. Instead of distancing themselves from dead bodies for fear of defilement, Christians intentionally worshiped in catacombs (underground tombs) and even went out of their way to risk their lives to collect the bodies of martyrs for veneration and for placement in altars used for the Eucharist. Likewise, Christians had the utmost respect and care for those who were in the process of dying. A paschal message by Bishop Dionysios of Alexandria preserved from the third century explains that during a recent pandemic Christians risked their lives to care for the sick and dying, “attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ.” Proper burial was no longer just for close family members or important members of society. Instead, all people and even dead strangers on the street were treated with honor and care.

All in all, the first Christians were not only unafraid of death and dying, but found the treatment of the dead and dying to be such an important part of the Christian life that some ignorant Roman citizens even thought Christian communities were simply burial societies.

Discussion Questions

Why do you think that treatment of the dead and dying was so important to early Christians that they were willing to risk their lives to do it?

How do we reconcile the practices of the early Christians regarding the dead with Jesus’ saying to “Let the dead bury the dead” (Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60)?

Part III: The Bodily Resurrection


The early Christian practice of caring for the dead and dying was rooted in two fundamental teachings of the Christian faith: the Resurrection and the fact that human beings are made in the image of God. If we pay attention to what the Scriptures tell us about Jesus’ Resurrection and the one to come for all human beings, we will notice very quickly that the Christian Resurrection is not just a spiritual reality. Just as Jesus was resurrected in a body (as we see in Thomas’ touching Jesus’ wounds or Jesus’ eating of fish after He Resurrected), so too will we be Resurrected in a body, says St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:35-52).

The earliest Christians took the bodily Resurrection seriously, as they did the fact that every human being is made in the image of God. Because of this pair of teachings, they treated every dying person with profound love and care. And, just as importantly, they treated every corpse with profound love and care, knowing that it would one day be transformed in the Resurrection. For early Christians, a person’s body was not a mere cage for their soul but a part of who we are and who we will be in the Kingdom of Heaven.

For centuries, Christians preserved this mentality. When a person died, the body was kept in his or her family’s home, and members of the Church would come and keep watch mournfully for the next few days. Women would care for the body until the funeral, preparing it for burial as the myrrhbearers and Joseph of Arimathea did for Christ, and men would dig the grave or carry and lower the body into the tomb. After a person’s body had been buried for many years, his or her bones would be exhumed and kept in an ossuary. To this day, an Orthodox Christian funeral requires the presence of a body, and, save for certain exceptions, the body is always laid out openly and visibly in the middle of the Church for the service. 

Finally, Christians throughout history refused to cremate their dead brethren because of the Resurrection. In fact, in certain times of persecution, one of the acts of disrespect that persecutors would engage in against Christians would be to burn the bodies of martyrs because (in both the East and the West) the act of returning a person’s body to the earth from which it came (Gen 3:19) was such an important practice for the Church.

Discussion Questions

What is the connection between the Resurrection and care for the dead and dying?

Why would Christians throughout history take care of a corpse when it would ultimately decompose and when God has the power to “raise up children for Abraham out of stones” (Matthew 3:9)?

Is the early Christian perspective of the dead and dying one that we preserve today? If not, what are the practices of our society that run counter to that perspective?

Part IV: The Fall From a Traditional Christian Ethos


In the past few centuries, western society has moved away from these Christian values to the point where many of us Christians passively participate in a very unChristian culture surrounding the dead and dying. In the Middle Ages, crises like the Black Plague caused people to begin to fear corpses again, and the practice of burning dead bodies soon rose to prominence in the West. Over time, bodies that were buried were no longer done so in direct contact with the earth but through coffins. Then, beginning in the 17th century, the first undertakers appeared in Europe, which distanced family members and others in the community from the burial process.

Eventually, dealing with the dead became a business. Cemeteries were no longer public plots of land but private grounds that people had to pay to be buried in. Likewise, funeral homes are run by private companies that seek to sell customers expensive burial packages that could range from $4,000-$40,000 for a casket, a cemetery plot, burial services, and a plot marker, which is approximately eight to ten times more than thirty years ago and still does not include the cost of florists and other funeral arrangements. In 2016, one of the largest funeral corporations in the world reported a revenue of over $3.031 billion.

Unfortunately, many Christians are the source of some of that corporate revenue for a few reasons. First, we fall victim to the temptation of materialism. Just as fashions and worldly comforts cause us to spend inordinate amounts of money for manufactured but meaningless material pleasures, advertisements about coffins and services that prioritize “durability, beauty, and craftsmanship” as well as custom engravings and more draw us to spend even more money on our own or others posthumous surroundings. 

Next, and more importantly, funeral directors not only try to sell us on these expensive material goods, but, according to Deacon Mark Barna and his wife Elizabeth, who have written a book on the topic, funeral directors also lie about the laws surrounding corpse and burial processes. While many funeral directors tell customers that it is legally required to use a licensed funeral director to bury a person or transport a body across state lines or on an airline, none of this is true, and there are very few requirements regarding burials on a state level as well.

One of the greatest lies about burying the dead accepted by many Christians today is that embalming is legally required either for burial or for an open casket because the body cannot be preserved otherwise and because it is unsanitary to be near a dead body. This is simply untrue. There is no health danger that comes from being near or touching a dead body except in the case of open wounds, and embalming only preserves a body for three to four days, which is no better than simply freezing the body.

Still, the lies told by funeral directors, paired with a fear of the reality of death that makes us want to see the person “as they were,” causes many Christians to consent to embalming. The result is an extremely violent process that includes sewing the eyes and mouth shut with materials similar to barbed wire and pumping blood out of the body with tubes and replacing it with red liquid to give the flesh a “lifelike” appearance. Modern embalming also entails puncturing the organs so that they can be sucked out and washed into the sewer and plugging bodily orifices with plastic screw-like devices. In the end, it may make our dead loved-one look more like their living selves, but the reality is that they are even less of a human being than they were after their soul left their body.

Meanwhile, the alternative process offered by commercial burial practices is just as disturbing. In the process of cremation, a person’s body is placed in a furnace lit to 1,400 to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, with burners pointing directly at it like a blowtorch. After up to four hours of heating, the person’s bones, which cannot be burned, are crushed in a high-speed blender and added to the ashes, which are often accidentally mixed with those of other corpses in the crematory. Cremation is often advocated for because of environmental concerns, but the fossil fuels and high levels of dioxins and trace minerals that are released by the burning of a human body end up polluting the environment just as much as the alternative. Similarly, the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration strongly recommend that embalmers take measures to protect themselves against the over 260 potentially deadly chemicals they use during the embalming process.

All in all, the treatment of the dead and dying today is far from the care that early Christians offered the sacred bodies of their dead brothers and sisters. As many modern commentators say, we treat the body like an “it” rather than a “them,” and this does not even take into account the modern practice of separating the sick and elderly from mainstream society through nursing and retirement homes. Regardless of what facts of life we are considering, when it comes to interacting with the dead and dying, the Resurrection plays no role in the decisions of most people in our culture.

Discussion Questions

Before reading the section above, what did you think went into the mainstream practices of treating the dead? What from this section surprised you?

In their book, Deacon Mark and Diakonissa Elizabeth also discuss how cremation treats the body like waste while embalming turns it into an idol. Why do you think they make this claim?

What are some of the practices surrounding our treatment of the elderly, sick, and dying that also reflects an approach of treating people like an “it” rather than a “them”?

Part V: Returning to the Resurrection


It seems as if the time has come when once again we as Christians have to take an approach to treating the dead and dying that is radically different from the world around us. But what does that different approach look like? And how do we pursue it today?

Unfortunately, there is not enough space in this brief discussion to cover everything that a traditional Christian burial process looks like. However, Deacon Mark and Diakonissa Elizabeth’s book A Christian Ending: A handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition is a fantastic resource to turn to on the details of ensuring a burial honors the Lord and the promised Resurrection. Aside from more information on the process of death and burial and the Church’s theology surrounding the topic, the book also encourages Christians today to research federal and local burial laws (now conveniently located online) and search for a burial place at a nearby monastery or Orthodox parish cemetery. Above all, however, the book offers suggestions and resources for preparing for the inevitable death of those closest to us and ourselves.

One of the best ways to prepare for those deaths is to speak to our priest and familiarize ourselves with the traditions of an Orthodox Christian funeral, such as the tradition of burying a person on the third day of their death. Similarly, we should learn about pre-death practices like requesting a priest to read the prayer of the departing of the soul over a dying person and offering a dying person the Eucharist, as well as post-death practices like anointing and praying over a loved-one’s body throughout the time between their death and burial. With the hope of the Resurrection, we should also seek to learn about the traditions for praying for a person after their burial, such conducting memorial services on the third, ninth, and fortieth day after a person’s falling asleep, visiting a person’s grave on the anniversary of their death, and remembering them in our personal prayers and the communal prayers of the Church.

After familiarizing ourselves with these practices, we can take the time to share our own funeral and burial preferences with our loved ones to ensure that our corpses are treated in a way that is mindful of the Resurrection to come. Again, the book A Christian Ending has fantastic resources for preparing for our own funeral. Paradoxically, the saints teach that it is when we take the time to consider the way that we hope to be treated when we die that we develop a greater appreciation for life and strive to seek its fullness alongside the Lord in His Heavenly Kingdom.

Discussion Questions

Have you ever considered what your funeral and burial will look like? What are some arrangements you want made for your funeral? What do you wish to learn more about?

Returning to the approach of early Christians and the way that they risked their lives for the sake of some of their practices surrounding the dead, what are some things we may have to risk to practice that same tradition today?

Share a situation where you were reminded of the reality of death and were moved to live in deeper repentance and with a fuller appreciation of life?

The title of this discussion is, “Let the Living Bury the Living.” How does this title describe the information discussed above and the Christian approach to the dead and dying in light of the Resurrection?

Staff Book Pick : The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Staff Book Pick : The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Recommended by Christina Andresen, Director of Ministries

John Mark Comer tackles the problem of hurry in our lives by helping diagnose the problem and introducing (or reintroducing) us to the spiritual practices of silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. This book is a great introduction for beginners to the rich ascetic tradition of the Christian life. It would make an excellent Lenten read, especially in conjunction with a monastic writing on the same topic from someone such as the Desert Fathers, St. Theophan the Recluse, St. Gregory of Sinai, or St. Maximos the Confessor.