Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, was a great Father of the Church and a pillar of Orthodoxy. He was born around the year 297 in the city of Alexandria into a family of pious Christians. He received a fine secular education, but he acquired more knowledge by diligent study of the Holy Scripture. In his childhood, the future hierarch Athanasios became known to Saint Alexander the Patriarch of Alexandria (Commemorated May 29). A group of children, which included Athanasios, were playing at the seashore. The Christian children decided to baptize their pagan playmates.
The young Athanasios, whom the children designated as “bishop”, performed the Baptism, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. Patriarch Alexander observed all this from a window. He then commanded that the children and their parents be brought to him. He conversed with them for a long while, and determined that the Baptism performed by the children was done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the Baptism as real and sealed it with the sacrament of Chrismation. From this moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasios and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon.
It was as a deacon that Saint Athanasios accompanied Patriarch Alexander to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in the year 325. At the Council, Saint Athanasios refuted the heresy of Arius. His speech met with the approval of the Orthodox Fathers of the Council, but the Arians, those openly and those secretly so, came to hate Athanasios and persecuted him for the rest of his life.
After the death of holy Patriarch Alexander, Saint Athanasios was unanimously chosen as his successor in the See of Alexandria. He refused, accounting himself unworthy, but at the insistence of all the Orthodox populace that it was in agreement, he was consecrated bishop when he was twenty-eight, and installed as the archpastor of the Alexandrian Church. Saint Athanasios guided the Church for forty-seven years, and during this time he endured persecution and grief from his antagonists. Several times he was expelled from Alexandria and hid himself from the Arians in desolate places, since they repeatedly tried to kill him. Saint Athanasios spent more than twenty years in exile, returned to his flock, and then was banished again.
There was a time when he remained as the only Orthodox bishop in the area, a moment when all the other bishops had fallen into heresy. At the false councils of Arian bishops he was deposed as bishop. Despite being persecuted for many years, the saint continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and he wrote countless letters and tracts against the Arian heresy.
When Julian the Apostate (361-363) began a persecution against Christians, his wrath first fell upon Saint Athanasios, whom he considered a great pillar of Orthodoxy. Julian intended to kill the saint in order to strike Christianity a grievous blow, but he soon perished himself. Mortally wounded by an arrow during a battle, he cried out with despair: “You have conquered, O Galilean.” After Julian’s death, Saint Athanasios guided the Alexandrian Church for seven years and died in 373, at the age of seventy-six.
Numerous works of Saint Athanasios have been preserved; four Orations against the Arian heresy; also an Epistle to Epictetus, bishop of the Church of Corinth, on the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ; four Epistles to Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, about the Holy Spirit and His equality with the Father and the Son, directed against the heresy of Macedonius.
Other apologetic works of the Saint in defense of Orthodoxy have been preserved, among which is the Letter to the Emperor Constantius. Saint Athanasios wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture, and books of a moral and didactic character, as well as a biography of Saint Anthony the Great (January 17), with whom Saint Athanasios was very close. Saint John Chrysostom advised every Orthodox Christian to read this Life.
The memory of Saint Athanasios is celebrated also on January 18 with Saint Cyril of Alexandria.
When reading the life and works of this holy Saint, it may seem somewhat difficult to find ways that through our prayers, he is able to intercede for us. Looking closer, however, reveals there is an application to us as college students. He received an education not just in the world, but outside of it as well. The resulting knowledge gained from the education and upbringing by the hands of St. Alexander led St. Athanasios to be an educated defender of the faith against Arianism and the persecutions of Julian the Apostate. When we are faced with adversity and persecution, we can pray to St. Athanasios to bring about understanding and correct those who speak falsely about the Faith.
What surprised you about the life of St. Athanasios?
How might you benefit from getting to know the intricacies of the lives of the saints?
Learn his Troparian
Thou wast Orthodoxy’s steadfast pillar, holding up the Church with godly dogmas, O great Hierarch, for thou didst preach unto all that God the Son is one essence in very truth with God the Father; thus thou didst shame Arius. Righteous Father Athanasios, do thou entreat Christ God that His great mercy be granted unto us.
O Saint of God, you were raised by the Lord of Glory to confront the greatest heresy of all time, the diabolical lie that the Son of God is a created being. When the impious Arius spread his poison of falsehood throughout Egypt and beyond, you led the defense of the one true Faith and to you, who defeated the devil and annulled the Arians, we cry:
Rejoice, true theologian of the Incarnation!
Rejoice, pious guardian of the Nicene Creed!
Rejoice, godly son of the Son of God!
Rejoice, bright beacon of the Light of Light!
Rejoice, destroyer of the devil’s delusion!
Rejoice, defender of the one true Faith!
Rejoice, O Father Athanasius, Holy confessor and champion of Orthodoxy!
St. John was born in Damascus around the year 680 into a Christian family. His father was well-respected in the city since he served the Muslim caliph as a high-ranking financial official. Thus, St. John received an exceptional education that included studying Christian, classical Greek, and Muslim texts. He was fluent in Arabic and Greek and easily absorbed anything he was exposed to from his various areas of study such as astronomy and music. In fact, in his later life, he would go on to produce a number of well-known pieces of hymnography including the Paschal Canon!
Despite growing up in a Muslim society, St. John remained steadfast in the faith. This was a direct result of his parents’ commitment to Christ and the guidance of the monk Cosmas, who was ransomed by St. John’s father from captivity to tutor his sons. Upon his father’s death, St. John assumed his position in the Damascene court as city prefect. However, only a few years into his service in 726, he stepped down to become a monk at the Mar Saba monastery in Palestine.
In his new role, St. John had the unique opportunity to prayerfully defend the Orthodox faith in a number of ways when it was most needed. Muslim society did not force Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, but conversion opened doors and allowed people to be exempt from the Jizya tax. Further, the Islamic faith presented an explanation of Jesus as a prophet for Jews and a compromise for Christians who were uncomfortable with the idea of God becoming man through Christ. In response to these worrying trends, St. John authored a 3-part defense of Christianity which included one of the first philosophical defenses of the faith. The unique thing about this defense was the insight St. John’s deep knowledge of the Christian faith, the Muslim faith, and many other relevant topics provided him. He was able to address the Quran directly and provide a Christian response to the increasingly popular religion of the day.
A few years before St. John became a monastic, Leo III was instated as Byzantine emperor. He took a deep interest in involving himself in church matters, and one of his adopted stances was the belief that icon veneration invited sinful idol worship into the Christian life and that the Byzantine empire’s recent misfortunes were due to this practice. He formalized this view in the form of a royal edict in 726. As part of the pushback against the heretical Iconoclast movement, St. John authored a series of 3 treatises in defense of the veneration of icons. Since he was not under Byzantine jurisdiction, Emperor Leo forged a letter supposedly written by the saint to the emperor, offering his help in overthrowing the Muslim Caliphate in Damascus. When the letter was intercepted, St. John was thrown into prison and had his right hand cut off. Our Tradition holds that the Theotokos miraculously restored the saint’s hand, which caused the caliph to repent and release St. John from prison.
Following these events, St. John entered the monastery of Saint Savva as a novice and led an ascetic lifestyle, completely humbling himself in spite of his renowned background. He spent much of his later life producing spiritual books and hymns, which still nourish us as Christians today. St. John remained humble and steadfast in his faith throughout his life despite his impressive education and harsh trials. He provides us with an example of how we can live in a world that goes against our beliefs and values, yet not conform to it. Christ can and will give us the strength if we truly desire to do so, just as he did for St. John.
During our time as college students, we are surrounded with opportunity and flooded with ideas of what our future can be. St. John of Damascus was also faced with many opportunities possessing a background as a government official, scholar, musician, poet, and apologist among other things. He could have pursued many different paths, but the key is that he maintained his focus on Christ and proclaimed the Truth of our faith without fear of the consequences. He lived in a Muslim society but remained ardently Christian.
In every Christian’s life and especially college students, we have to process many different ideas thrown at us and make sense of them in the context of our faith. St. John can intercede on our behalf so that we might have the wisdom to discern what is right and wrong and the courage to stand up for the Truth. In this way, we can strive to follow St. John’s example and remain close to Christ, regardless of the choices we make in life.
Because of his great contributions to Christian hymnography, St. John is also regarded as the saint we can pray to for help in the study of church music. Pray to Christ for us, St. John, that we may always use our talents to glorify God and we may have the wisdom and courage to remain steadfast in the Truth.
As one of the great Christian apologists of his time, St. John was unafraid to speak the Truth in a tolerant yet opposing society. What are some ways we can be keepers of the Truth like St. John on campus and everywhere? Are these things easy/comfortable to do and why or why not?
In his piece An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St. John says, “He who longs always after God, he seeth Him: for God is in all things.” The saint longed after God to the point of becoming a monastic, but he maintained this commitment even during the parts of his life when he was surrounded by opposing views or hardship. Why is it difficult to see God in every situation even when we know we want to serve Him? What action/commitment will you take today to remain as committed to the Faith as St. John?
Learn his troparion.
Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship,
The enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs:
All-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things.
From a passage in the Divine Office by St. John of Damascus
Lord, you led me from my father’s loins and formed me in my mother’s womb. You brought me, a naked babe, into the light of day, for nature’s laws always obey your commands.
By the blessing of the Holy Spirit, you prepared my creation and my existence, not because man willed it or flesh desired it, but by your ineffable grace. The birth you prepared for me was such that it surpassed the laws of our nature. You sent me forth into the light by adopting me as your son and you enrolled me among the children of your holy and spotless Church.
You nursed me with the spiritual milk of your divine utterances. You kept me alive with the solid food of the body of Jesus Christ, your only-begotten Son and our God; you let me drink from the chalice of his life-giving blood, poured out to save the whole world.
You loved us, O Lord, and gave up your only-begotten Son for our redemption. And he undertook the task willingly and did not shrink from it. Indeed, he applied himself to it as though destined for sacrifice, like an innocent lamb. Although he was God, he became man, and in his human will, became obedient to you, God his Father, unto death, even death on a cross.
In this way you have humbled yourself, Christ my God, so that you might carry me, your stray sheep, on your shoulders. You let me graze in green pastures, refreshing me with the waters of orthodox teaching at the hands of your shepherds. You pastured these shepherds, and now they in turn tend your chosen and special flock. Now you have called me, Lord, by the hand of your bishop to minister to your people. I do not know why you have done so, for you alone know that. Lord, lighten the heavy burden of the sins through which I have seriously transgressed. Purify my mind and heart. Like a shining lamp, lead me along the straight path. When I open my mouth, tell me what I should say. By the fiery tongue of your Spirit make my own tongue ready. Stay with me always and keep me in your sight.
Lead me to pastures, Lord, and graze there with me. Do not let my heart lean either to the right or to the left, but let your good Spirit guide me along the straight path. Whatever I do, let it be in accordance with your will, now until the end.
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 19:14
Holy tradition tells us that when Christ spoke these words, it was St. Ignatius of Antioch who was sitting on His lap. Otherwise known as Theophorus “God-Bearer”, St. Ignatius sought the kingdom of heaven as a disciple of the Apostles and later as a Bishop by ordination of St. Peter. Most of what we know about St. Ignatius is in seven letters preserved by St. Polycarp. During his on-foot journey to Rome, he wrote to the churches and left for us a snapshot of early Christian life, practice, and faith. Of his written teachings, he emphasized the place of the Eucharist in our lives as the source of healing and true presence of Christ. Dying a martyr’s death, St. Ignatius was killed in the Roman arena by beasts, depicted in icons as lions, under the rule of Emperor Trajan on December 20, 107. Before his repose, he boldly expressed: “I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” In the spirit of these words and of his martyrdom, many early Christians were encouraged to continue struggling in the pursuit of God. The path of righteousness that St. Ignatius walked and on which he emboldened so many to join was one that required endurance through persecution. Knowing what obstacles they would have to face, he implored that they would pray “without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be ye meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be ye stedfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness” (1 Epistle to the Ephesians). We can draw inspiration from St. Ignatius’ extreme humility towards God and towards others.
As young adults and especially as college students, many of us can recall examples of times we’ve experienced unkindness for our faith. Perhaps it was someone who didn’t want to be friends after finding out we were Christian, or a mocking professor, or maybe some of us have felt the alienation that comes when we have to stand up for what we know to be true. The first thing that we can take comfort in is knowing that we are not alone. Christ God was incarnate for our sake and was mocked, beaten, scourged, and rejected before His ultimate triumph over sin and death. For nearly two thousand years, the martyrs and Saints who have come before us have experienced all manner of persecution and oppression, but they knew that true freedom and peace can only come from the Creator of all. St. Ignatius knew this peace in the face of trial, and we can look to him in moments of adversity, that he’d lift our eyes towards heaven and plead with Christ that He would dwell in us as our Strength. Through his intercessions, may we boldly and humbly live out faith.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16: 24-26
Learn His Troparion:
Tone 4 As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Ignatius. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
St. Ignatius Troparion - Tone 4
by Orthodox Christian Fellowship
What does it mean to endure suffering for Christ’s sake? Consider how St. Ignatius approached his execution in Rome. How or with what posture of heart should we approach the persecutions we endure in our own lives?
Look back at the quote from St. Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. In modeling the love of Christ for those who crucified Him, St. Ignatius calls us to pray for those who commit evils against us. Is it easy or difficult to pray for those who’ve wronged us? Why? How might we begin to do so?
Pray to him.
Ikos 4 Hearing thy confession, the faithful people glorified God; but Trajan, gnashing his teeth, again demanded: “Why art thou called God-bearer?” And thou sayest: “For I bear my God in my heart.” Wherefore, we chant to thee: Rejoice, faithful warrior of the King of heaven! Rejoice, invincible champion of the faith! Rejoice, good shepherd! Rejoice, advocate for our souls! Rejoice, for, enlightened by the divine Spirit, with pastoral boldness thou puteth the savagery of the tyrant to shame! Rejoice, for, guiding the flock of Christ, thou illumineth many with the light of knowledge divine! Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!
Kontakion 5 Considering all the beauties of the world to be as dung that thou might acquire Christ, O Ignatius, thou crieth: “Who shall separate me from the love of God? Tribulation is sweet to me; the bonds I bear for Him Whom I desire are pleasant; persecutions are dearer to me than my homeland, and pangs are more delightful to me than health of body!” And we, honoring thy glorious memory, cry out to God: Alleluia!
Ikos 5 Seeing thee to be an invincible confessor of the Faith of Christ, the ungodly Trajan condemned thee to death; but thou didst cry out, rejoicing: “For me it is more pleasant to die than to live! Christ, and to die for Him, is gain! Unto Him do I go; Him do I love; Him do I hope to receive!” Wherefore, O holy Ignatius, we bless thee: Rejoice, thou whose desire it was to depart and be with Christ! Rejoice, pure sacrifice to God! Rejoice, imitator of the sufferings of Christ! Rejoice, for thou wast crucified with Christ! Rejoice, for thou didst shed thy blood for Christ! Rejoice, for by thy blood thou adorneth thy hierarchal vesture! Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!
Saint John was born at Antioch in the year 347. His father, Secundus, being a famous military commander, died soon after John’s birth. His mother, Anthusa, although being widowed at the age of 20, did not dare to remarry but rather devoted all of her time and efforts into raising her son with Christian love and piety. John was trained with the finest philosophers and rhetoricians, thus turning himself to the study of Holy Scripture and dedicating his life to Christ.
The church that he was quickly gaining popularity in was populated by bishops who enjoyed a life inconceivably lavish and extravagant, with pressure to host powerful figures. The sacred role of bishop consisted of pleasing royalty, and other transient concerns. It was his disapproval and powerful grace-filled words that eventually landed him in one of these very roles. After three years after his baptism, he was tonsured a Reader, and studied under many of her experienced instructors of ascetic life, specifically Flavian and Diodorus of Tarsus. It was there he learned true rhetoric through the study of Holy Scripture and prayerful contemplation. After some time, both John and his friend Basil were considered candidates for the priesthood, and after hearing this, they decided to withdraw to the wilderness as monastics to avoid this calling. John embraced monasticism, calling it the “true philosophy”, and after four years of struggling in the wilderness, he was obliged to return to Antioch to recover his health. Let us note that while being away from the world, he wrote many works, including his “Six Discourses on the Priesthood” and “Against the Opponents of Those Attracted to Monastic Life.” After becoming a deacon and priest in his hometown of Antioch, he was, somewhat against his will, ordained the Bishop of Constantinople.
John was different from the clerics of his day. With bravery and utter disregard for what would personally befall him, in place of hosting royal events, he implored his people to give alms. The Saints zeal in spreading the faith extended not only to those who lived in Constantinople, but also to those who lived in the Slavs, Asia Minor, and Syria. His “golden-mouth” touched the hearts of many, as he preached homilies that opened the ears to the word of God. Instead of placating the emperor and empress of his day, Arcadius and Eudoxia, he served as the needed voice of God in a time where His inconvenient truths were being suffocated by political and worldly concerns. As time progressed and aggression toward John became more and more evident by those in power, a sentiment only overpowered by the love of the people, he was banished by Arcadius and Eudoxia in a synod consisting of false charges. In response to the overwhelming demand of the people for their bishop back, John was restored.
This was not for long. John cut though the fear and pressure that might have scared another in his position into meekness when the Empress had a silver statue of herself built across from the temple of Hagia Sophia. He denounced and publicly preached against the idolatrous dedications ceremonies. The power of his voice, the love of his people, and the truth of his ministry this time were not enough to stop the Emperor and Empress. He was banished for the rest of his life. At first to a region closer in Georgia, but, in response to his place in the hearts of those still in contact with him through letters, later to a farther more remote region, which he never reached. He died on the way due to his deteriorating health and the harsh travel conditions.
There, on the brink of the world, having been banished from all he knew, he departed this life with the words, “Glory to God for all things.” It was Arcadius and Eudoxia’s son, Theodosius, who repented of his parents’ sin and restored his relics to the church. As he entered the temple of the twelve apostles, those present heard the words from his relics: “Peace be to you all” in 438 AD.
In the life and intercessions of Saint John Chrysostom we begin to discover answers to these questions. Perhaps Saint John himself would not have had the boldness and strength of God to answer them himself had he not lived out his yearning for God with his whole self earlier in his life. Before he became who we know as the “golden-mouthed” (the meaning of Chrysostom), before he had the resolute voice to restore the brokenness of the church in his day and call out the kings and queens that had authority to take his own life, the young John sought a life of quiet solitude. It was his strict asceticism and resulting poor health alone that forced him back into the world. Using the skills taught to him by his pagan rhetorician before his time as a monastic, along with the grace he experienced in his time away from the world, John spoke with powerful eloquence about the love of Christ at a time when it was needed most.
Pray to him when you are at a loss for words, when you are about to speak publicly, when you are afraid to say what is right, for the healing of the Church and for the moral voice of the political rulers.
Learn His Troparion:
Tone 8 Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe. It has shown to the world the riches of poverty; it has revealed to us the heights of humility. Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls!
Many of us speak of and admire the bravery to speak out against wrong at all costs. But what does this really mean? How can we use examples from Saint John’s life and ministry and apply it into our own life?
Saint John writes: “The mark of a soul that loves wisdom alway gives thanks to God. If you have suffered evil give thanks and it is changed to good… Give thanks even in disease, lack of possessions, or false accusations. It is not we who are injured but those who are the authors of them.” Reflect on this quote, keeping in mind that the last words of Saint John were “Glory to God for all things!” How are we to acquire true gratitude in our own lives?
Pray to him.
You have received many and various gifts from the Lord, and, as a good and faithful servant, have shown good increase of all the talents given to you: for this cause you were truly a teacher of the universe, for every age and calling learns from you. You are a model of obedience for children, a luminary of chastity for the young, a teacher of industry to grown men, an instructor of forgiveness to the aged, a rule of abstinence for monastics, a leader inspired by God for those at prayer, an enlightener of the mind for those who seek wisdom, an inexhaustible source of the living Word for well-spoken orators, a star of mercy for the charitable, a model of wise rule for those in authority, an inspiration to boldness for those zealous in the truth, a teacher of patience for those persecuted for truth’s sake: you have become all to all, so that in any way you might save some. But above all these, you have sought after love, which is the bond of perfection, and by that as by Divine power you have united all these gifts into one in yourself; and the same love, which reconciles the divided, you have preached unto all the faithful in expounding the words of the Apostles.
As for us sinners, each having our own gifts, we lack the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; we are vain, provoking one another, envying one another: therefore our divided gifts come not unto peace and salvation, but rather unto enmity and to our judgment. For this cause we fall down before you, O hierarch of God, in the grip of dissensions, and in contrition of heart we ask: By your prayers, drive away from our hearts all pride and envy that divide us, so that in many members there may be one churchly Body, and so that according to the word of your Prayer we may love one another and in one accord confess the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity One in Essence and Undivided: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
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
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?
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!
The Raising of Lazarus - Tone 1
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.
St. Macarius is a fourth century saint from a small village in Egypt. In obedience to his parents, he married a young woman despite wishing to remain alone. However, he left to rest in the wilderness for a few days where he received a vision from the Cherubim showing him the entire desert and saying, “God has given this desert to you and your sons for an inheritance.” When he returned home his virgin wife had died. At that time, he knew it was time to leave the worldly life. He began attending church frequently and deeply studying the Holy Scriptures. After his parents death, he sought the guidance of a local elder who lived in the desert and guided him in watchfulness, fasting, prayer, and basket-weaving. Soon, he began to live in a cell near the elder who taught him with love.
The local people seeing his virtues told the bishop of St. Macarius, and he was ordained a priest, despite his protests. He was accused of seducing a woman from the nearby village and thus endured slander and torments. He was attacked and beaten by the villagers and he accepted this without a word. Instead, he sent the money from his baskets to the pregnant woman. When it was time for the child’s birth, the woman was unable to deliver the child until she confessed her lies against St. Macarius. When she did, the woman’s parents and many other locals sought his forgiveness, but he fled again to further into the desert inorder to avoid the praise of the town.
St. Macarius sought the wisdom of St. Anthony the Great and lived near him as a disciple for many years. Later, he was sent to the Skete monastery, and he became known as the “young elder.” He was a mature monk even though he was not even thirty years old. Eventually he became the abbot of the monks in the Skete desert. He remained close with St. Anthony the Great and was even present at his death.
Through his many years of ascetic practice, he was credited with many healings, and through his intercessions, the Lord raised the dead. His humility remained steadfast despite his recognition from many. One day, a thief came to his cell stealing his few worldly things. St. Macarius, without revealing himself as the owner, helped the thief tie the things to his donkey. The thief left, never knowing the saint’s generosity.
St. Macarius died at the age of 97. One of his disciples saw St. Macarius’ soul ascending to heaven. The demons yelled out to him, “You have conquered us, O Macarius!” He responded saying, “Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ who has delivered me from your hands.”
Among the great wisdom of St. Macarius, he reminds those of us still in our earthly life, “If a soul still in the world does not possess in itself the sanctity of the Spirit for great faith and for prayer, and does not strive for the oneness of divine communion, then it is unfit for the heavenly kingdom.” We can each learn from his ascetic practice to draw away from the world and pursue Christ with extreme humility. Through St. Macarius’ intercessions, we can better prioritize God in our lives and develop a practice of prayer.
Discussion around St. Macarius
When life is busy and there are overwhelming deadlines, some of us have thought about escaping everything (A hut in the desert sounds appealing during finals week, no?). What were St. Macarius’ intentions when he left the world, and how can we apply those same goals to our lives in the world?
St. Macarius is an excellent example of true humility. When we are overwhelmed by “busyness,” how can we use his example to draw closer to Christ? What is the role of humility when we feel like we are constantly rushing around?
Despite being frequently sought out for his heavenly wisdom, St. Macarius stayed focused on a life of prayer, meditation, and silence. When our schedules seem to be filled with distractions that pull us away from those practices, what can we do to stay focused?
Learn his Troparion
Tone 1 Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O Makarios, our God-bearing father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to Him that has crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.
Troparion of St. Macarius - Tone 1
Pray to him
Blessed Macarius who taught us the way of prayer by your life of prayer, give strength to us who desire to be free from distraction. Intercede on our behalf that we might be granted wisdom, patience, humility, and stillness so that our eyes can be opened to behold the True Light which comes into the world to enlighten the hearts of those who seek Him. Amen.
The Seven Holy Youths (“Seven Sleepers”) of Ephesus
The 7 Holy Youths “Seven Sleepers” of Ephesus—Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus—lived in Ephesus in the third century. Friends from childhood, the Seven Youths all served in the military together. During the time of the youths’ service, Emperor Decius commanded all the people of Ephesus to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, and those who did not obey would be tortured and killed. Despite the threat of death, the Seven Youths refused to offer sacrifices to the gods.
The Seven Youths were summoned by Decius, appeared before him, and proclaimed their faith in Christ. The Emperor, hoping the youths would change their mind while he was on his military campaign, released them. Meanwhile, the youths fled into a cave on Mount Ochlon and passed their time in prayer in preparation for martyrdom.
When Saint Iamblicus, one of the seven, dressed up as a beggar to fetch bread in town, he heard the Emperor was back in town. Saint Maximilian implored them to present themselves to Emperor Decius. However, before they could turn themselves in, Decius learned where they were hidden. The Emperor, hoping the holy youths would die from hunger and thirst, commanded the entrance to the cave to be sealed. Two Christians, wanting the Youths to be remembered for their dedication to Christ, placed a plaque outside of the cave detailing their date of martyrdom and death.
While everyone believed the saints to have perished, they lived on, for the Lord placed them in a miraculous sleep for almost two centuries.
After 200 years, the Seven Youths woke up unaware that 200 years had passed since the cave they were hiding in was sealed. Their clothes and their bodies remained miraculously undecayed. It was only when Saint Iamblicus left the cave and paid for bread with coins bearing Emperor Decius’ image that they were found alive. Believing the saint to have a hoard of old money, the people detained him.
On hearing his bewildering story, the Bishop of Ephesus opened the cave and discovered the rest of the youths in the cave. In sight of everyone, the Holy Youths all lay their heads down and fell asleep in the Lord until the General Resurrection. Their lives reveal the mystery of the Resurrection in Christ, which surpasses all wordly time. They are commemorated on August 4th. May the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus intercede for us all!
The Seven Sleepers were brave in the face of certain persecution, and the Lord saved them because of their faith. Pray to them when you need courage facing hard situations. Ask the Seven Sleepers to intercede for you when you feel spiritually “dry” and to help you find your zeal for Christ.
Apolytikion of Holy 7 Youths of Ephesus
Thy Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for Thee received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since they possessed Thy strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.
Kontakion of Holy 7 Youths of Ephesus
They that scorned all things in the world as corrupted and found the gifts that nothing ever corrupteth, behold, they died, and yet corruption touched them not. Wherefore after many years once again they all rose up, burying all unbelief of malicious revilers. Ye faithful, let us laud the seven youths with hymns of praise on this day, while extolling Christ.
The Seven Holy Sleepers existed outside of normal time for a bit and in this sense, were preserved from the dangers of their fallen world. When we participate in the Divine Liturgy, it is said that we are worshiping outside of time, in a timeless space that is both past, present, and future. How does stepping out of time and into the Mystical life of the Church help preserve us from the dangers of our fallen world?
Despite the threat of persecution, the Seven Sleepers held fast to God and their faith, risking their lives to do so. Yet they also sought to escape the dangerous persecution of the emperor by hiding in a cave. In what ways can we learn from the Seven Sleepers’ zeal for God? How can we explain their willingness to risk their lives like other martyrs while also taking into account their God-blessed efforts to preserve them?
The Seven Holy Youths refused to sacrifice to Emperor Decius. What are some things in the world today that demand our attention/sacrifice? How can we pull our attention away from these false idols and shift it back to God?
As we can see in his simple yet complicated life, there may be no saint better acquainted with the depths of despair and despondency than St. Silouan. Although our temptation to hopelessness may look differently than Silouan’s, he still understands that same feeling. He was a young man when he first began battling despondency in full force. He is right here with us, and he shows us how to keep getting back up and resolutely place our trust in Christ. When we are perplexed, frustrated, apathetic or catch ourselves thinking or feeling some pretty negative things, we can turn to him as our friend and ask for his help. He in turn can help guide us to Christ and see His light even in the blackest hell. He can lead us by his prayers to the peace and love we find in our Savior Jesus Christ. As his spiritual son, St. Sophrony of Essex, says, “Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea.”
The Life of St. Silouan (1866-1938)
St. Silouan was a Russian peasant who traveled to Mt Athos and became a monk in the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon. He lived so simply, humbly, and quietly that he might have been forgotten had St. Sophrony (Sakharov) not become his spiritual child and, after the saint’s repose, written a book describing his life and teaching, St. Silouan the Athonite, one of the great spiritual books of our time. It was through St. Sophrony’s efforts that St. Silouan was glorified as a saint.
St. Silouan grew up with pious parents but was himself fairly “wordly” for a long while. When he was still a young man, he almost accidentally killed a man with a single punch. He was immediately remorseful and devoted himself with zeal to repentance. However, this newfound fervor only lasted a few months! He returned to his old ways until he had a horrible dream that demonstrated just how displeasing his way of life was to the Mother of God. Grieved in his soul, he devoted himself again, and this time, through the prayers of St. John of Kronstadt, made his way to the Holy Mountain with a fire burning in his heart, so deep was his repentance.
In the beginning, he made many blunders in the spiritual life but his desire for Christ was stronger than his failures. A torrent of temptations that would have led him to give up this life of prayer assailed him but still he persisted. For six months the attacks never lessened. His spirit failed, he began to lose heart and the horror of hopelessness surrounded him. He thought to himself, “God will not hear me!” He felt utterly forsaken, his soul plunged into the darkness of despondency. Sick at heart, he remained in this black hell for about an hour. That very same day, the Lord appeared to the young novice whose whole being was filled with the fire of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The gentle gaze of the joyous, all-forgiving, boundlessly-loving Christ drew Silouan’s entire being to Himself.
The period of time after this, all was beautiful and lovely. He had within himself a sense of peace, reconciliation with God, and strength to continue on. However, this gradually faded, and he was perplexed and feared losing what he had. He sought counsel from an elder concerning his experiences and worries and received good advice on prayer, but amazed at the spiritual depth of the novice, the man mistakenly praised him as well. Silouan soon found himself struggling with thoughts of vainglory among other things. He fell into despair, despite his perpetual prayer. Having known the peace and grace of the Holy Spirit, his soul grieved, begged, prayed, and wept for the return of that Light. Weary years of alternating grace and withdrawal of grace now set it.
St. Silouan was called to serve as steward to the monastery. Though he now supervised some two hundred men, he only increased his prayers, withdrawing to his cell to pray with tears for each individual worker under his care. For more than fifteen years, he struggled with demonic attacks during prayer until he was almost in despair. At this point Christ spoke to him in a vision, saying “The proud always suffer from demons.” Silouan answered, “Lord, teach me what I must do so that my soul may become humble.” To this he received the reply, “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.” St. Silouan made this his discipline in every moment of his life with joy and thanksgiving and was granted the grace of pure prayer. He said that if he ever let his mind wander from the fire of hell, disruptive thoughts would once again plague him. In his humiliation, he was filled with a pervasive love for all — he said many times that the final criterion of true Christian faith is unfeigned love for enemies, and that “to pray for others is to shed blood.”
By prayer thou didst receive Christ as thy teacher in the way of humility, and the Spirit bore witness to salvation in thy heart. Wherefore, all peoples called unto hope rejoice in this day of thy memorial, O sacred Father Silouan. Pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.
Apolytikion of St. Silouan the Athonite
by Orthodox Christian Fellowship
Pray to him
O chosen ascetic and earthly angel of Christ, all-blessed father Silouan, most excellent emulator of the fathers of Athos in vigils, fasting and humility! Through thy thirst for God and burning love for Him thou didst acquire abundant grace for thy soul, O most blessed one. Imitating Christ, thou didst crucify thyself with tearful prayer for those languishing in hades, for the living and for those yet to come. Of this thy love deprive us not, who amid the vale of sin ask thine intercession before God and cry out with compunction: Rejoice, O father Silouan, inextinguishable burning of love in thy prayer for the world!
St. John is known for his love for his parents and his gratitude. Pray to him to grow closer to your family while you are away for college. Ask him to implore the Holy Spirit to give you a spirit of thanksgiving for all things.
In the days of St. John, the Gospel was hard to come by, so St. John read it constantly as soon as he obtained it. Meanwhile, we are privileged to have the Gospel in our prayer corners and on our phones, but most of rarely make use of these resources. How can we set aside more time to read our Savior’s words?
St. John lived a life of worldly luxury, but he chose to give it all up so that he could focus more on growing closer to God. What little “time-sucks” can we leave out each day to give more time to prayer?
St. John couldn’t stand to be away from his parents. How can we honor our parents in this phase of our lives when we spend less time with them?
The Life of St. John
St. John was born in Constantinople to wealthy parents in the 5th century. By the age of twelve, St. John knew he wanted to enter the monastic life. Meeting a monk on his way to Jerusalem, St. John made him promise to take him to the monastery on his way back from the Holy Land.
St. John asked his parents to use their riches to commission a copy of the Gospel. When he received the copy –– bound in gold and covered in gems —- he could not put it down.
When the pilgrim monk returned, he kept his promise and took St. John to the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones” (Ακοίμητοι). He received the monastic tonsure, and the fathers were shocked by the young man’s zeal in prayer, obedience, abstinence, and perseverance.
After six years, he began to undergo temptations. He remembered his parents, how much they loved him, and what sorrow he caused them. He regretted leaving them, and he was desperate to see them again. After explaining this to igumen St. Marcellus, he was released from the monastery. Asking his blessing, he prayed with the brethren that he would not succumb to temptation in the city.
When the young saint returned to Constantinople, he dressed as a beggar to avoid being recognized and given the luxuries of his worldly life. He settled by the gate of his parents’ home, like the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. His father, unlike the Rich Man, sent him food from his own table. For the three years he lived in the hut, he was insulted by the servants and braved freezing weather, conversing unceasingly with the Lord and His angels.
Before his death, the Lord spoke to him, telling him he would enter Paradise in three days. St. John then asked a servant to bring his mother to the hut, for he had a message.
At first, his mother didn’t want to come, but she wanted to know what a beggar could say to her. He explained that he would soon die and that he was thankful for her charity. Asking to be buried in rags under his lowly hut, he gave her his copy of the Gospel, saying, “May this console you in this life, and guide you to the next life.”
After showing the Gospel to her husband, they discerned that it was the Gospel they gave their son. They went back to the hut, intending to ask the pauper how he got the Gospel. St. John then told them that he is their son, and his parents wept tears of joy. He reposed in the Lord, not even twenty-five years old. His parents built a church atop his hut, and they cared for the strangers that passed through it until they reposed.
(Tone 4) From infancy fervently you loved and longed for the Lord; you therefore renounced the world and every worldly delight, and excelled in ascetic feats. You set the hut you dwelt in before the gates of your parents. Therein, all-blessed struggler, you crushed the snares of the demons. And therefore, O John, Christ has gloriﬁed you worthily.
Troparion of St. John the Hut-Dweller
by Samuel Dutschmann
Pray to him
Having loved that poverty which no one can rob, you turned down your parents’ wealth, O John. Taking the Gospel of Christ in your hands, you followed Him; now pray for us unceasingly.
Anastasios Kephalas was born on October 1st, 1846, in Eastern Selyvria of Thrace (now Turkey). He was one of six children and grew up very poor, but his parents taught him from a young age to be a pious Orthodox Christian. After elementary school, he went to Constantinople with not a penny in his pocket with the hopes of earning some money to help his poverty stricken family. He was determined to study theology, a desire which stemmed from his growing love for Christ. He did not even have the money to buy a ticket for the boat ride but the sailors took pity on him and let him go. After arriving in Constantinople, he eventually found work in a factory with a tobacco merchant and earned barely enough money to feed himself, he could not even afford shoes. However, he found comfort with the lord and never cared about materialistic things. He wanted to write about his circumstances and send the letter to someone, and that someone became Jesus Christ. The letter said: “My little Christ, I do not have an apron or shoes. Please send them to me. You know how much I love you. Anastasios”. The envelope said “to the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven”. A merchant who took the letter to mail it out saw what it said and, overcome with emotion, anonymously sent the boy money and advice on how to use it wisely.
In his young adult years, he became a monk. This was a dream come true to him because it allowed him to study the scriptures more than ever before. He fasted and prayed daily, many nights he did not sleep and just prayed until sunrise and then prayed the eternity of the next day. He was eventually ordained a deacon due to his holiness and given the name “Nektarios”. The uncle of one of the sailors from the boat many years ago, John Horemis, who was touched by the young boy, paid for him to further his studies in Athens. He then went to Alexandria, Egypt where he became very close with the Patriarch Sophronios. After furthering his education he was ordained priest, then Metropolitan of Pentapolis and eventually secretary to the Patriarch.
The holiness which radiated from the Saint in every encounter he had resulted in him being adored by everyone. He touched the lives of everyone he came across and was known for his kindness and pureness, especially to those in poverty/homeless. It is said people were drawn to him like a magnet. This led to the bishops and higher clergy to slander his name and convince the Patriarch to write a letter of suspension from the Metropolis. Saint Nektarios never tried to defend himself, instead, he prayed to the Lord and trusted his will. People became very angry and upset at the treatment he was facing and he would instruct them to remain calm and keep their faith. He eventually left very secretly for Athens to avoid any uproar. Those who committed slander against him wrote many letters to influential people in Greece saying his good virtues and kindness was all an act and he was never genuine.
Once in Athens he was refused a position in the Church of Greece by the state and Church authorities. At some point, the best and practically only option was to go to Mount Athos where he would at least have food and shelter, but he refused because he wanted to stay and help others more so than himself. He was eventually appointed a preacher by the Minister of Religion, despite this being a huge step down from his former position, he was never embarrassed to have this position. Throughout all of this, the Saint prayed for those who persecuted him and never questioned God’s will or became angry. There were a few people who came to realize the Saint was truly a good man and had been falsely accused. Their good influence led him to be appointed as dean of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens. Despite his role in the administration, he still lived as a monk with constant prayer, meditation, fasting, and ascesis.
Saint Nektarios decided he wanted to eventually leave the loud and noisy world and retreat to a place where he could just pray and enjoy the silence. He had a few spiritual daughters who wished to become nuns and together they founded a small monastery on the island of Aegina where he retired in 1908. He had also founded a small church which was once a monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The Saint would say to the nuns: “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God will put a light in it that shall shine unto the breadth and length of the whole world. Many shall see the light and come here to Aegina.” But the nuns could not understand what he was trying to tell them. It was only after the recovery of his holy relics and miracles that he began working in such abundance that they understood. He meant that his way of life, his very holy body, were the lighthouse, and if God pleased He would send his light, and it would shine throughout. Thus the words which the Saint used to say to them have been fulfilled.
Saint Nektarios often preferred to be alone only with the company of the saints and the Virgin Mary, they often appeared to him during liturgy or in his cell. After the first World War he taught his nuns to always rely on God and never keep any food in storage for themselves and give everything to the poor. He was eventually overcome with illness (cystitis) and relied on Christ through it all and never complained. He even thanked God for putting him to the test just like he did when he was faced with slander. There was a paralyzed man in the bed next to him and when he finally gave up his spirit his sweater was removed and placed on the paralyzed man’s bed and almost immediately he rose and began walking, all while glorifying God. They took his body to Aegina where they gave him a simple burial at the Convent of the Holy Trinity.
Many people saw Saint Nektarios as a Saint during his lifetime because of his humility, miracles, great virtues and purity he constantly upheld. His relics were removed from the grave in September of 1953 and exuded a beautiful fragrance. However, it was not until April 20, 1961, that he was recognized a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Since then, thousands of miracles have been attributed to his intercession, especially in cases of cancer or serious illness being cured. In 1998, the Patriarchate of Alexandria released an official apology statement on behalf of their predecessors who mistreated the Saint.
● His best friend and co-confessor was Saint Savva of Kalymnos (who painted the first icon of Saint Nektarios) ● He is the author of the renowned hymn, “Agni Parthene/O Pure Virgin” to the Holy Mother ● His body smelled of fragrance so strong when he died, nothing they did would get rid of it ● He was the most popular confessor in Greece at his time ● He is the author of many writings on ethics, Church history, and theology
Discussion around St. Nektarios
Saint Nektarios always forgave and prayed for those who persecuted him. He also never tried to defend himself and relied on Christ through everything. What are some ways we can incorporate these virtues when we ourselves are struggling with similar circumstances?
Like many other Saints, Saint Nektarios used fasting as part of his regular prayer rituals. In the midst of school and social obligations, how can we as busy students incorporate fasting into our own prayer rituals?
The man who funded the Saints initial studies in Athens, John Horemis, was touched by the Saint from the time he was a young boy only fourteen years old before even meeting him in person. Discuss what this tells us about the impact he must have had on people throughout his life.
A prayer to the Virgin Mary by Saint Nektarios
Take away from me, O Virgin, the fetters of sin, Of my lusts and other transgressions: the terrible carelessness and the overcaring, the evil curiosity and the talkativeness, the useless incontinence and the haughtiness, the negligence, the drunkenness and the lack of mercy, the bad desires, the terrible impurity, the extravagance, the darkness, the great insensitivity. Take away the tendency to say jokes, the enjoyment, the prodigality. The laughter of immorality and every evil. Give me, O maiden, fasting, carefulness, vigilance and perfect obedience. Give me carefulness in all and acute discernment, silence, order and holy patience. Grant to me O Lady, eagerness to work and to attain my perfection, and zeal for virtues and exercise. Keep, O most- Holy One, my soul, my heart and my mind and guard it in virginity.
Learn his Apolytikion
O faithful, let us honor Nectarios, divine servant of Christ, offspring of Silivria and guardian of Aegina, who in these latter years was manifested as the true friend of virtue. All manner of healing wells forth for those who in piety cry out, “Glory to Christ who glorified you; glory to Him who, through you, wrought wonders; glory to Him who, through you, works healing for all.”
Learn His Kontakion
“In joy of heart let us hymn with songs the newly revealed star of Orthodoxy, the newly erected bulwark of the Church; for, glorified by the activity of the Spirit, he poureth forth the abundant grace of healing upon those who cry: Rejoice, O Father Nektarios, model of patience and lover of virtue.”
Hear our prayer, Saint Seraphim, from the innermost being of each one of us, from our greatest yearnings for truth and love, and from our deepest needs for intervention into our struggles in this temporal life. Proclaim to us, “Christ is Risen,” and guide all our steps to eternal life. We choose to walk on the path of prayer, in whatever station of life God has placed us, and we ask for your blessings and intercession. We thank you for your heavenly aid, Saint Seraphim, and we go forward in the peace of your holiness. Amen.
Saint Seraphim struggled with illness during many times in his life and can intercede for us to be healed as he was. He also was known for his pursuing Christ in the Holy Spirit, even in the face of temptation, and he can help us to build Christ-centered habits.
The Life of St. Seraphim
Saint Seraphim was born in the town of Kursk in 1759. From childhood, he was under the protection of the most holy Mother of God, who, when he was nine years old, appeared to him in a vision, and through her icon of Kursk, healed him from a grave sickness from which he had not been expected to recover. At the age of nineteen, he entered the monastery of Sarov, where he amazed all with his obedience, his lofty asceticism, and his great humility. In 1780, the saint was stricken with a sickness which he endured for three years, until our Lady the Theotokos healed him, appearing to him with the Apostles Peter and John.
He was tonsured a monk in 1786, being named for the holy Hieromartyr Seraphim, Bishop of Phanarion (Dec. 4), and was ordained deacon a year later. In his unquenchable love for God, he continually added labors to labors, increasing in virtue and prayer with titan strides. Once, during the Divine Liturgy of Holy and Great Thursday, he was counted worthy of a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who appeared encompassed by the heavenly hosts. After this dread vision, he gave himself over to greater labors.
In 1794, Saint Seraphim took up the solitary life in a cell in the forest. This period of extreme asceticism lasted some fifteen years, until 1810. It was at this time that he took upon himself one of the greatest feats of his life. Assailed with despondency and a storm of contrary thoughts raised by the enemy of our salvation, the saint passed a thousand nights on a rock, continuing in prayer until God gave him complete victory over the enemy. On another occasion, he was assaulted by robbers, who broke his chest and his head with their blows, leaving him almost dead. Here again, he began to recover after an appearance of the most holy Theotokos, who came to him with the Apostles Peter and John, and pointing to Saint Seraphim, uttered those awesome words, “This is one of my kind.”
In 1810, at the age of fifty; weakened with his more than human struggles, Saint Seraphim returned to the monastery for the third part of his ascetical labors, in which he lived as a recluse until 1825. For the first five years of his reclusion, he spoke to no one at all, and little is known of this period. After five years, he began receiving visitors little by little, giving counsel and consolation to ailing souls. In 1825, the most holy Theotokos appeared to the saint and revealed to him that it was pleasing to God that he fully end his seclusion; from this time the number of people who came to see him grew daily. It was also at the command of the holy Virgin that he undertook the spiritual direction of the Diveyevo Convent. He healed bodily ailments, foretold things to come, brought hardened sinners to repentance, and saw clearly the secrets of the heart of those who came to him. Through his utter humility and childlike simplicity, his unrivaled ascetic travails, and his angel-like love for God, he ascended to the holiness and greatness of the ancient God-bearing Fathers and became like Anthony for Egypt.
In all, the most holy Theotokos appeared to him twelve times in his life. The last was on Annunciation, 1831, to announce to him that he would soon enter into his rest. She appeared to him accompanied by twelve virgins-martyrs and monastic saints-with Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Theologian. With a body ailing and broken from innumerable hardships, and an unspotted soul shining with the light of Heaven, St. Seraphim lived less than two years after this, falling asleep in peace on January 2, 1833, chanting Paschal hymns. On the night of his repose, the righteous Philaret of the Glinsk Hermitage beheld his soul ascending to heaven in light. Because of the universal testimony to the singular holiness of his life, and the seas of miracles that he performed both in life and after death, his veneration quickly spread beyond the boundaries of the Russian Empire to every corner of the earth.
Learn more about the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov here.
Learn his Troparion
You loved Christ from your youth, O blessed one, / and longing to work for Him alone you struggled in the wilderness in constant prayer and labor. / With penitent heart and great love for Christ you were favored by the Mother of God. / Therefore we cry to you: / “Save us by your prayers, venerable Seraphim, our father.”
Troparion of St. Seraphim of Sarov - Tone 4
by Orthodox Christian Fellowship
Discussion around St. Seraphim of Sarov
St. Seraphim greeted everyone he met by saying “Christ is Risen!”, no matter the time of year. How does constantly living with Christ’s resurrection in mind change the way we live?
Saint Seraphim would also call everyone he interacted with, “my joy”. What can we do to see everyone the way that Christ sees them and learn to delight in their presence? What ways might we help others see their inherent value as beloved by Christ?
One of St. Seraphim’s most famous quotes is, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will also be saved.” What can we do to obtain God’s Spirit of Peace?
St. John of the Ladder is honored by the church as a great ascetic and the author of the renowned spiritual book called The Ladder of Divine Ascent, for which he is named. (St. John Climacus in Greek)
There is almost no information about St. John’s origins. One tradition suggests he was born in Constantinople around the year 570, and was the son of Ss. Xenophon and Maria.
John went to Sinai when he was sixteen, submitting to Abba Martyrios as his instructor and guide. After four years, St. John was tonsured as a monk. Abba Strategios, who was present at St. John’s tonsure, predicted that he would become a great luminary in the Church of Christ.
For nineteen years, St. John progressed in monasticism in obedience to his spiritual Father. After the death of Abba Martyrios, St. John embarked on a solitary life, settling in a wild place called Thola, where he spent forty years laboring in silence, fasting, prayer, and tears of penitence.
St. John had a disciple named Moses. Once, the saint ordered his disciple to bring dung to fertilize the vegetable garden. When he had fulfilled the obedience, Moses lay down to rest under the shade of a large rock because of the scorching heat of summer. St. John was in his cell in a light sleep. Suddenly, a man of remarkable appearance appeared to him and awakened the holy ascetic, reproaching him, “John, why do you sleep so heedlessly, when Moses is in danger?”
St. John immediately woke up and began to pray for his disciple. When Moses returned in the evening, St. John asked whether any sort of misfortune had befallen him.
The monk replied, “A large rock would have fallen on me as I slept beneath it at noon, but I left that place because I thought I heard you calling me.” St. John did not tell his disciple of his vision but gave thanks to God.
St. John ate the food which is permitted by the monastic rule but only in moderation. He did not sleep very much, only enough to keep up his strength so that he would not ruin his mind by unceasing vigil. “I do not fast excessively,” he said of himself, “nor do I give myself over to intense all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but I restrain myself.”
The following example of St John’s humility is noteworthy. Gifted with discernment and attaining wisdom through spiritual experience, he lovingly received all who came to him and guided them to salvation. One day, some envious monks reproached him for being too talkative, and so St John kept silent for a whole year. The monks realized their error, and they went to the ascetic and begged him not to deprive them of the spiritual profit of his conversation.
Concealing his ascetic deeds from others, St. John sometimes withdrew into a cave, but reports of his holiness spread far beyond the vicinity. Visitors from all walks of life came to him, desiring to hear his words of edification and salvation. After forty years of solitary asceticism, he was chosen as abbot of Sinai’s St. Catherine’s Monastery when he was seventy-five. St. John governed the holy monastery for four years.
At the request of the abbot of the Raithu monastery, St. John wrote the incomparable Ladder, a book of instruction for monks who wished to attain spiritual perfection.
Knowing his wisdom and spiritual gifts, the abbot requested St. John to write down whatever was necessary for the salvation of those in the monastic life. St. John felt that such a task was beyond his ability, yet out of obedience he fulfilled the request. The saint called his work The Ladder, for the book is “a fixed ladder leading from earthly things to the Holy of Holies” (Gen. 28:12).
The Ladder begins with renunciation of worldliness and ends with God, who is Love (1 Jn 4:8). Although the book was written for monks, any Christian living in the world will find it an unerring guide for ascending to God and a support in the spiritual life.
In The Ladder is a written account of his thoughts, based on the collected wisdom of many wise ascetics and on his own spiritual experience. The book is a great help on the path to truth and virtue. With the exception of the Scriptures themselves and St. Athanasius’ Life of Anthony, it is the most copied and influential book in Christian history.
Learn more about the life of St. John of the ladder here.
Feast Day: March 30th and 4th Sunday in Great Lent
How can St. John intercede for us?
St. John is known for being a great ascetic and monastic. Pray to him for help with spiritual matters: putting down demonic thoughts, strength keeping the fasts, and guidance for prayer.
Discussion around St. John of the Ladder
St. John talks a lot about tears of repentance. How can we practice repentance in our own lives?
Early in The Ladder, St. John suggests that we begin our path towards Christ with the foundation of innocence, abstinence (fasting), and temperance. What can we do to cultivate those virtues while in college?
In Step 4 of The Ladder, St. John gives this advice to people in the world, “‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate any one; be sure you go to church; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness;3 and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.” What are your thoughts on this passage? Is there one area you’d like to focus on in the coming weeks?
With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O John, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.
With the streams of your tears, you made the barren desert fertile. Instill in us also, tears of repentance that our hearts too may be made fertile to bear the gifts of the Spirit. Help us to improve our prayer and fasting so that we can grow closer to God. Give us the strength to climb the ladder of divine ascent that we may be counted among the saints. Amen.
Do you know the story of Wally? He was a nine year old second grade. He should have been in fourth grade but everyone knew that Wally had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the Christmas pageant one year but the play’s director knew that there were too many lines for Wally to memorize. Instead, she assigned him the role of the Innkeeper who only had a few lines. For weeks he practiced his part and his lines. The biggest concern for the play that year was that Wally didn’t mess his part up and embarrass himself.
Church was packed the day of the pageant. No one was more caught up in the magic of the event than little Wally. Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.
“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a gruff gesture.
“We seek lodging.” Joseph responded. “Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”
“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”
“There is no room in the inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.
“Please, good innkeeper, my wife is pregnant and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”
Now, for the first time, Wally relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
“No! Begone!” the prompter whispered from behind the curtain.
“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the desperate couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears. It was right then that Wally realized exactly what had happened that night. And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all the others.
“Wait! Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wally’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”
YOU CAN HAVE MY ROOM!
What an unexpected twist to a very familiar story. And yet, Wally’s actions leave us much to think about. What would WE have done 2000 years ago in Bethlehem? We can even ask, what do we do today when we are placed in a similar situation?
In today’s world, not too many people would fault with the innkeepers. They didn’t know that Mary would give birth to the Savior of the world. For all they knew, it was just another peasant woman giving birth to another child in this world. They were preoccupied with their own cares and lives!
Does that sound a little familiar?
How many of us don’t have time for Christ to enter into our lives at school? During our recreation? Among our friends? How many of us don’t make room for Christ to interfere with our busy schedules?
In the midst of our busy lives, will we have the eyes to see Christ when he comes unexpectedly.
I’m not only talking about making time for Jesus as a part of our schedule. We need to begin there and set aside time each day to pray and have a quiet time, as well as each Sunday to meet Christ in the Divine Liturgy.
Yet, what about during the unexpected times when Jesus surprises us? The Christmas story, from the perspective of the innkeepers, is more about having the eyes to see the Christ even when we are extremely busy and He comes at an inconvenient time. Will we see Jesus in each and every person whom we meet day by day. Our Lord said, “Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”
Wally may have mixed up his lines in the Christmas pageant, but he surely revealed the true spirit of Christmas to all those who were watching.
“Wait! Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” Wally’s face grew into a bright smile as he proudly proclaimed, “You can have my room.”
This Christmas may each of us reflect upon how we can make room for Christ to be born anew, in our lives.
Here’s a prayer we can offer daily during this holy season:
Lord Jesus Christ, you have come so many times to us and found no resting place. Forgive us for our overcrowded lives, our vain haste and our preoccupation with self. Come again, O Lord, and though our hearts are a jumble of voices, and our minds overlaid with many fears, find a place however humble, where You can begin to work Your wonder as you create peace and joy within us. If in some hidden corner, in some out-of-the-way spot, we can clear away the clutter, and shut out the noise and darkness, come be born again in us, and we shall kneel in perfect peace with the wisest and humblest of people. Help us enter into this Christmas season with humility, with joy, and most of all with a desire to discover you anew! Yes Lord, give us a Christmas from within, that we may share it from without, on all sides, all around us, wherever there is a need. God help us, every one, to share the blessings of Jesus Christ with others, in whose name we keep Christmas holy.
Our newest “There’s a Saint for That” guide features St. Raphael of Brooklyn. Learn how he brought together people of different backgrounds, founded numerous parishes, and humbly served the Church for many years. This month’s saint also includes a special “bonus” section you’ll not want to miss.
In the very first book of the Old Testament, we are told that, “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27, NKJV.) Any detailed examination of the Orthodox faith will show that the largest calling we have received from God is to become like Christ. St. John explains this in the Gospel:
“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (John 2:4-6)
In other words, if we say we’re Christians, we must walk the walk and strive to live our lives like Jesus lived His.
However, it’s easy to say that we must walk the walk. The more difficult question is, how do we walk the walk? Especially in today’s world, we hear so many different things about what’s right and what’s wrong, and what we’re “supposed” to do to love our neighbor. Especially on college campuses, we are constantly assailed with conflicting messages from different sources. It is so easy to become confused about which paths we should follow.
The good news is, we have as sources of wisdom and intercession those who have walked the walk before us! Truly, out of all people, the saints of our Church have most fully realized the image of God within themselves. When we read their lives, we can see how they have been set on fire with love for Christ, and we can see how that love looks different in each of their lives. Some saints, like St. Mary of Egypt, flees into the desert to wage war against their temptations. Others, like St. Luke, are surgeons—or midwives, like St. Olga. Some are artists, like St. Romanos the Melodist. Some are royalty, like St. Constantine and his sons. Some are martyrs, some are single, some are married, some are monastics. Regardless of your strengths, struggles, and callings, you can find a saint who shares them with you.
Notice that I am writing about the saints in present tense. The saints are not people who lived a very long time ago, then died, and that’s the end of that. They are people who lived earthly lives, and now in eternity intercede for us, constantly participating in our lives. And, importantly, there are people living their earthly lives today who will become saints, if they are not already! Every one of us is called to become a saint.
St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, after his death, said, “It’s as if we saints are in retirement…the people don’t pray to us, don’t entreat us, don’t ask us for anything, don’t give us any handiwork to do. They don’t give us the opportunity to pray to God for them.” The saints are looking for opportunities to help us! It’s up to us to become more aware of their presence.
It took me a long time to learn that the saints are still living and interacting with us, and my prime realizations of this fact occurred on OCF: Real Break trips. On my first real break trip, Thessaloniki 2018, I venerated the body of my patron saint, St. Demetrios, and saw the exact place where he was run through with lances. St. Demetrios is overwhelming for anyone to visit, because myrrh still streams from his body to this day—to the point that on his feast day, they open his reliquary and mop it up with towels! The Akathist to St. Demetrios reads, “Rejoice, you who ride throughout the world as one alive.” One can feel the power of his presence by how strong the smell of his myrrh is, even upon reaching the threshold of his cathedral.
Another example from my Thessaloniki trip is the relics of St. Gregory of Palamas. I visited him after St. Demetrios, but there is a little glass window in St. Gregory’s reliquary, through which you can see one of his bones. I watched a drop of myrrh materialize, seemingly out of thin air, and run down the length of the bone. It completely overwhelmed me. I had to step out of the room—but even though I had left that room and entered the nave of the church, I couldn’t get away from the smell of the myrrh! It was so strong, it almost hurt my nose. Even though, overcome with their holiness and their active presence, I had to turn away from them, the saints were still with me!
Finally, on my second Real Break trip—Romania 2020—we all became very stressed on the second-to-last day of our pilgrimage. It was at the height of COVID-related anxieties, since it had just been elevated to pandemic status. With travel bans instated and Europe suddenly spiking to high risk, we had to get home as soon as we could. We had just been informed we were leaving that night. We were fatigued, uncertain, and—speaking at least for myself—afraid. But our trip leader, Fr. Robert, took us to venerate the hand of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of travelers. The woman watching over his relics removed the glass in the reliquary so we could directly kiss his hand. I was brought such a sense of peace. I knew that St. Nicholas was watching over us and magnifying our prayers for safe travels, and that he would be present with us on our journey home.
Since the saints are powerhouses of intercession and full of wisdom, how can we get to know them better? There are practical steps you can take! I recommend learning more about your patron saint. Who are you named after? Is there an Akathist to them? Read their story and learn their Kontakion and Troparion.
Another step you could take is Googling Akathists to Orthodox Christian saints. You will be shocked at the number of saints you’ve never heard of, and you will truly feel their presence as you beseech them for their intercessions and learn their life story through prayer. You will start to see yourself in different saints and their walks of life, which will encourage you.
Finally, OCF has a resource as well, called There’s a Saint for That. It would also be a great idea for your chapter to have a meeting about saints, where people can share the lives of their patron saints or other beloved saints. In this time leading up to Christ’s birth, let’s all look to the saints together and, through their prayers and examples, learn how to emulate Christ.
My name is Demetra Chiafos! I was involved in OCF during my four years at The Ohio State University, serving on the student officer board for three years at OSU and participating in national events. I graduated in 2020 with a BFA in Dance and a BA in Japanese. I am currently teaching dance while completing my MA in Translation (Japanese) through SOAS University of London. I play piano and cello, and sing in church choir whenever I can!
This time of year, everyone starts talking about what they’re dressing up as for Halloween, and especially in the age of Marvel films we are currently living in, people want to dress up as a superhero—or superhuman, depending on your semantics. But when I think of a superhuman, I think of someone who is truly human. Someone who has found their way through all the layers of debris this world coats us with, excavating through to their true self the way that Christ created them. Christ is the definitive human, the example we are all called to live up to despite constantly falling short. We should be Christlike, we say so often without thinking. Saints are people who have given up their life for Christ and thus gained their life back, living out the true image that God created in them.
One of my favorites of these saints is St. Demetrios, my patron saint. St. Demetrios followed Christ to personal detriment and even unto death. When the emperor told St. Demetrios, a military leader, to go out and kill all Christians, St. Demetrios instead went out to preach the Gospel. The emperor called St. Demetrios before him and demanded to know what he believed in. “Only in Christ do I believe,” St. Demetrios said, very simply and very boldly.
When a series of events related to St. Demetrios occurred that undermined the pagans—including the emperor—the emperor was angry and ordered for St. Demetrios to be killed. St. Demetrios told his faithful servant, St. Lupus, to disperse all his earthly riches amongst the poor and told him to prepare to receive heavenly riches with him. An angel of the Lord appeared to St. Demetrios while he was praying in preparation for his martyrdom and told him not to be afraid. The emperor sent men to lance St. Demetrios, and after he was killed, St. Lupus began to heal people with his blood-soaked garments. (St. Lupus was also martyred.)
Can you imagine being like St. Demetrios? Going against the orders of an emperor? Publicly preaching the Gospel in a time and place where confessing Christ would get you killed—and then saying to the emperor’s face that all the rumors the emperor heard were true and you were a Christian? Calmly asking your servant to disperse your belongings and prepare to receive heavenly riches? Clearly, St. Demetrios reached a place where God’s grace had filled him so thoroughly that he was able to become superhuman—that is, truly his most human, becoming Christlike by God’s grace.
One may look at the story of St. Demetrios and say, “Well, that was then when the earth was still full of saints, but in modern times I can’t live like that.” To the contrary, my dears! As college students, there are many ways we can seek to emulate St. Demetrios and the fruits of the spirit that he was blessed with. Many times in college—and in life, if we’re being honest—we feel separated for our faith. Perhaps it’s not as black and white as St. Demetrios’ dilemma of either killing Christians or being killed for being a Christian. Perhaps it’s in other less dire ways.
Perhaps your roommate doesn’t understand why you pray in the morning and makes it awkward. Perhaps your classmate asks you about your cross or your prayer rope. Perhaps you cross yourself before you eat and someone at your table says, “Why do you do that?” Perhaps you’ve spoken up about an important issue on your campus, about which the Church has a currently unpopular teaching, and someone has acted aggressively toward you in response. Even in the face of a genuinely curious classmate who just wants to know more, we can become afraid.
Should I speak for Christ? What is this person going to say, do, or think in response? Is this dangerous for me? Am I really qualified to teach others about the faith? I’m going to mess it up. I’m going to say the wrong thing. I’m not ready for this.
In those moments, we are called to confess Christ, just as St. Demetrios did. We can take courage from his example. He died for Christ. We can certainly pray in the morning, tell our classmate what a prayer rope is, and tell the person eating with us that we cross ourselves to ask God to bless our food before a meal. The more that we do these little things and try to let Christ visibly live in us, the more courageous we will become.
More than these small forms of confessing Christ in the day-to-day, in college and our future jobs and any other scenario, we can also take courage from St. Demetrios’ reaction to physically dying to this world for Christ’s sake. When we see depressing and evil news, it is so tempting to despair. But St. Demetrios knew exactly what was up. The accounts of his life say that he joyfully awaited his suffering, because he knew what his reward in Heaven would be.
How many of us can say the same? Do we still have joy and thanksgiving, even in our times of suffering? I know I often don’t. Of course, it is healthy to be sad. Of course, we sometimes struggle. Of course, we are many times afraid. When something terrible happens, we should weep for our brethren and bear their suffering with them. However, it is important as Christians to keep our eyes on the prize, as St. Demetrios did, and remember the riches of heaven.
Let us all go forth and strive to confess Christ to the world as St. Demetrios did. Let us struggle to become our most human—or superhuman, if you prefer—selves. May St. Demetrios intercede for all of us that we may receive the fruits of the spirit and be brave in our spiritual warfare, as he was brave and gave his life for Christ.
My name is Demetra Chiafos and I am a senior at The Ohio State University! I am originally from Iowa. My dual degree is in dance and the Japanese language. This is my third year as a member of the student leadership board for the OSU OCF chapter. I love reading, writing, and traveling. I also play piano and sing in the choir at my school parish!
Hi everyone! Quick disclaimer, this blog post is a bit longer than normal, but there was so much that I wanted to put in that I couldn’t tell myself to stop. Below you will read an inspiring story of one of my favorite church heroes. So, sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy this blog post!
By Evyenia Pyle
When I think of superheroes, I tend to think of super strength. While thinking about superheroes of the church I thought of what it meant to have super strength in the church. Sure, we could look at Sampson in the Old Testament and read about his hair, but that was a long time ago. What if I told you that a church superhero lived in the 20th century with super strength? To open things up I have a question: How much does it take to survive the harshest conditions? I can tell you plainly that in my walks to class last winter, although they were at most 15 minutes, felt like if I didn’t get inside right then and there, I would surely die. On average it was probably 20 degrees Fahrenheit. While I admit I am a bit of a wimp, it was brutal. Today I am going to tell you the story of a man who survived unimaginable conditions in -27 degree Fahrenheit weather, a man who must have had the kind of strength only God can give you, a man who is a superhero of the church, and someone who I keep very close to my heart. This man is Father Arseny.
To give some background information before I go into the story, I should probably tell you about the prison camps. These camps were spread across Russia in its period of communism under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. They were labor camps where “enemies of the government” were sent to die/be worked to death. You aren’t supposed to survive these camps. The conditions were terrible. Hygiene was nonexistent, no heat, barely any food, and one pair of clothes. This is where most of our story will be taking place, as Fr. Arseny was in one of these prison camps.
In the book Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, it opens the scene portraying a dark morning, with gusty winds, around -27 degrees Fahrenheit. We see the people in the prison camps get out of bed for role call. Those who didn’t make it out were either dead (due to the cold, sickness, and exhaustion) or on the verge of being dead. Fr. Arseny wasn’t old, but he certainly wasn’t young, but he was always on duty. He was sent to the camps with many other priests and religious figures at the time. Most priests had to be priests in secret because of the fact that they would most likely be arrested. A middle-aged man was out in negative 27-degree weather chopping wood. Now, axes weren’t allowed on the grounds of the camp, so Fr. Arseny split the half frozen and damp wood with a wooden wedge, and another log to function as a hammer. If he failed to do this, they would have no firewood and would surely die, but Fr. Arseny was vigilant. He said the Jesus prayer has he worked, he knew that if the wood wasn’t done on time he would be punished and beaten by not only the guards, but the prisoners too. So, this was Father Arseny’s daily life, I could write so many pages on how the conditions should have killed him, but I will spare you for now. Now that you have a feel for the daily routine, I’m going to tell you about Father Arseny made it out of the place he was brought to die.
So, for starters I talked about super strength. In the book it reads, “‘Have mercy on me a sinner. Help me. I place my trust in Thee, O Lord, and in you, O Mother of God. Do not abandon me, give me strength,’ prayed Father Arseny, almost falling from exhaustion as he carried bundle after bundle of logs to the stoves.” Imagine being so close to falling down but knowing that God has a hold of you. Father Arseny trusted God to keep him upright, but the story doesn’t end there. How could he get damp frozen wood to light, he did not want to be beaten, so he prayed the Jesus prayer and at the end he added, “Thy will be done!” hoping to find dry wood. He searched and searched but found nothing. An infamous criminal saw him and asked what he was doing. This criminal reportedly committed so many crimes he could not remember them all. He evoked fear from all of the other prisoners. Fr. Arseny was afraid but told him he needed some dry wood. The criminal told Father to go with him, Fr. Arseny thought it was a trick, but went to see what would happen. The criminal had a large pile of dry wood he kept for himself, but he offered it to Father Arseny, who was a bit reluctant thinking that he might have been set up for stealing. Father finally accepted and started taking some. The criminal told him to take more and more, and then he himself picked up the dry logs and they carried it back to the stoves together. A criminal, who brought fear and despair among people and prisoners, gave Fr. Arseny what he needed so he would not be beaten. This is one beautiful example of how God never left Fr. Arseny’s side in the camp.
Another thing Fr. Arseny was known for was giving parts of his daily bread ration to the sick. Imagine working in such cruel conditions, but with only a small amount of food to help other people. I am not sure I would have the strength to do that.
Every night, even when Father Arseny didn’t get any food, he would pray the Akathist to the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and St. Arsenios and pray for his spiritual children. When he awoke the next morning he would feel rested and full of new strength almost as if he had eaten the night before.
Some nights Fr. Arseny would stay up late and take care of the sick. He would feed them and make them hot water. This meant he would usually not get any sleep. One of the sick patients Fr. Arseny knew well. In fact it was the exact man that sentenced him to the death camp (when the government was tired of an official they too went to the death camps). Not only did Fr. Arseny forgive him, but he thanked him for sentencing him to the camp instead of sentencing him to be shot. The man was amazed by how genuine Father Arseny was and became a friend to Father Arseny. How much strength would it take to forgive someone who sentenced you to a long terrible death? Super strength.
One day Fr. Arseny was watching the prisoners fight and kill one another, he went and pleaded with a criminal who respected him, to ask him to stop the fighting, to prevent more from dying. All the criminals would listen to this man because he was one of the worst, but the criminal laughed and told Fr. Arseny that “his God” would do it if he really cared about his people. Fr. Arseny frustrated with these words cried aloud in prayer, “In the name of God, I order you. Stop this!” and immediately Fr. Arseny retreated inside himself so deeply into to prayer that he did not see the fight stop, and the living fighters caring for one another’s wounds. The criminal told Father Arseny that he doubted his God, but he wouldn’t any longer, for he had witnessed a miracle. How amazingly strong Father Arseny had to be in Christ to stop people from killing each other with words! This is yet another example of the super strength he received from God.
Now, let’s talk about how Father Arseny got the flu, with a 104-degree fever, and was expected to die in two days. Everyone was sad and tried to help, until the dreadful day came. According to the witnesses Father Arseny was physically dead. Father Arseny later reported that it was God showing him that the people in the camp were twice the ascetic he was and that he had more work to do within himself. Then the mother of God spoke to him and sent him back, and Fr. Arseny woke up and arose as if nothing had happened.
Another account of Father Arseny’s super strength is from a prisoner who was certain he would die. He couldn’t keep his boots dry for fear of them being stolen or worse, being beaten for warming his boots with the criminals. He eventually got frostbite in his feet and could not get out of bed and work. One night, Father Arseny took the man’s boots, and the prisoner assumed they were being stolen, but he had no strength to fight back. When he awoke the next morning, he was greeted by Fr. Arseny with dry boots. Every night Father Arseny would take the boots and put them by the stove and stayed and kept watch over them so that they would not be stolen. Imagine the super strength it must have taken for him to barely sleep and still be able to function enough the next morning to do the hardest work anyone has ever had to do! That is super strength.
I could go on about Father Arseny all day, I love him, but I need to make sure this blog is readable. So, again, I want to highlight the amount of strength Father Arseny had to survive the prison camp. Not only did he survive the most brutal conditions that almost no one else survived, but he lived many years after being released. Through his prayers to God, his faith, and his unwavering trust Fr. Arseny was able to bear the intolerable. It is superheroes of our church like this that cause me to yearn for this spiritual strength that is indescribable by those who witness it. I pray that one day I will have the super strength Father Arseny had in the camp, and I pray that all of you will find Fr. Arseny’s story an inspiration, a remembrance that God will always help us.
Publications Student Leader
Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! email@example.com
So October is Orthodox Awareness Month, and I thought, what better way to participate than to have the blog focus on the “superheroes” of the church that make this month possible. As Halloween is also approaching and kids are getting their superhero outfits, I thought it would be a fitting theme for October. We are going to hear about Holy People, both alive and dead, and I am super excited for what this month’s publications will bring!
I am going to kick us off with a personal favorite saint of mine, St Evyenia (or Eugenia) of Rome. Okay yes, she is my patron saint, but she is still super cool! So let’s dive in.
The Holy Martyr Evyenia was a Roman by birth. She lived in Alexandria, where her father Philip was sent by Emperor Commodus (180-192) to be Prefect of Egypt. Evyenia was noted for her beauty and good disposition. Many illustrious youths sought her hand, but she did not wish to marry anyone, for she was determined to preserve her virginity.
She became acquainted with the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, and yearned with all her soul to become a Christian, but kept this a secret from her parents. During that time, Christians were banished from Alexandria by the command of the emperor. Wishing to learn more about Christianity, she asked for permission to visit one of the family estates outside the city, supposedly to enjoy the countryside. She left with her two servants, Protus and Hyacinthus, dressed in men’s clothes. She and her companions were baptized at a monastery by Bishop Elias, who learned about Evyenia in a vision. He blessed her to pursue asceticism at the monastery disguised as the monk Eugene.
By her ascetic labors, St. Eugenia acquired the gift of healing. Once, a rich young woman named Melanthia turned to her for help. Seeing “Eugene,” this woman burned with an impure passion, and when she was spurned, she falsely accused the saint of attempted rape. St. Eugenia came to trial before the Prefect of Egypt (her father), and she was forced to reveal her secret. Her parents and brothers rejoiced to find the one for whom they had long grieved.
The entire family accepted holy Baptism. Philip, after being denounced by pagans, was dismissed from his post. However, the Christians of Alexandria chose him as their bishop. The new Prefect, fearing the wrath of the people, did not dare to execute Philip openly, but sent assassins to kill him. They inflicted wounds upon St. Philip while he was praying, from which he died three days later, so her dad was also a saint, how cool is that.
St. Evyenia traveled to Rome and continued with monastic life, bringing many young women to Christ. She, along with St. Claudia, built a wanderers’ hostel and aided the poor. After several peaceful years, Emperor Galienus (260-268) intensified the persecution against the Christians, and many of them found refuge with Sts. Claudia and Evyenia.
The pagans dragged Sts. Protus and Hyacinthus, her servants, into a temple to make them sacrifice to the idols, but just as they entered, the idol fell down and shattered. The holy Martyrs Protus and Hyacinthus were then beheaded. They also brought St. Eugenia to the temple by force, but she had not even entered it, when the pagan temple collapsed with its idol. They threw the holy martyr into the Tiber River with a stone about her neck, but the stone became untied and she remained unharmed. They then cast her into a pit, where she remained for ten days. During this time, the Savior Himself appeared to her and said that she would enter into the heavenly Kingdom on the day He was born. When this radiant Feast came, the executioner put her to death with a sword. After her death, St. Eugenia appeared to her mother to tell her the day of her own death (information taken from http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/17207 and stories from my mom).
Okay, so is she not one of the coolest people ever. I was thinking about how she had to stumble across the epistles of St. Paul, and I realized how fortunate I was to be able to actively read the bible without facing persecution. As one of the readers of the Epistle at my local church, I have access to people who lived with Christ! St. Evyenia didn’t have that same luxury. She had to run away to become acquainted with literature concerning Christ.
So, why is she my superhero and a superhero of the church? Well, for starters the fact that God delivered her from her persecutors is amazing. It reminds me of the Psalms we sing in vespers, “Deliver me from my persecutors for they are stronger than I”. Another reason she is a superhero of the church is that she was able to perform miraculous healings! I truly believe that she and St. Pelagia were kick starters for women monasticism because they both disguised themselves as monks. I recently went to the Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan (mother Gabriella is the Abbess). We were in church a lot, and I looked up during one of the services and right next to me was a huge icon of St. Evyenia, honestly bigger than I am. I realized that while she is one of my superheroes, she is also a superhero to nuns and monastics everywhere. After talking with mother Gabriella, I discovered that it is not rare to have an icon of her at a women’s monastery. Also, she was a princess. A costume most girls dress up for Halloween in, and something every little girl most likely wants to be.
My family celebrates the feast day of the patron saint, almost more than we celebrate birthdays, we have parties, no joke. The hard thing with St. Evyenia though is that she is celebrated December 24, so the parties usually have fasting food (a real tragedy because my brother gets lamb). But another reason she is my superhero is because I got presents on the 24 for my nameday and then presents on the 25 for Christmas!
As we delve into more saints the rest of the month I challenge you all to either learn more about your patron saints, and/or learn about different superheroes of the church!
Publications Student Leader
Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! firstname.lastname@example.org
As September has officially come to a close, and October has started, I have been looking back at our blog contributions. I was very moved at the sight of blog posts written by other students who also wanted to serve the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Throughout September we focused on the OCF theme, John 1:5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and then darkness did not overcome it.” After spending a month reflecting on our theme, and reading other student’s reflections I found the Epistle reading on the last Sunday of September to be a perfect compliment to our work so far this year. This past Sunday we heard the Epistle of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians. Paul writes, “Brethren, it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ…So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6-15).” It is fitting for Paul to write this, if we remember the story of his conversion to Christianity he is a physical example of Christ’s light overcoming darkness.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read about a man named Saul who persecuted Christians, in fact it was on his way to persecute the Christians in Damascus that he was given, “a wake up call” so to speak. We read in Acts 9 that a bright light shone forth from the heavens and God said to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”. Through that bright light Saul found himself blind and journeyed to Damascus without eating or drinking. He was found by St. Annanias who was recently celebrated (the 1st of October), (we honestly couldn’t have planned this better if we tried) and Annanais helped Saul receive his sight again. It is said in Acts 9:18 that “immediately things like scales fell from his eyes”. Saul was then baptized and his name became Paul, who is one of the most widely recognized church fathers, in fact in the icon of Saints Peter and Paul we see them holding a church together. In my opinion this was a huge breakthrough in seeing that God can create light from the darkness. In all actuality it was the light of Christ that took Saul’s sight to show him where to find the truth. The fact of the matter is, Saul found the truth without seeing! What faith! I don’t know if I would have been able to have faith like that. Yet, a man who had once killed people for declaring a man as the Christ, was now himself proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah. The man who once hunted the people who followed Christ became the one who was being hunted.
The man who was once blinded by the light is now writing to the people of Corinth that, Christ is the light who overcomes the darkness. Let’s go back to what he wrote. “Brethren, it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” So basically, the Light, aka God, through us is shining His light to give us more light so we can glorify God. That’s a lot of light. Okay what’s next, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Our Earthly bodies will one day fail, we are going to die, but with Christ’s light we will have eternal life. If Christ lives in us, we will never die, so while our Earthly bodies will, our spirit will not. So, through Christ’s not only will I be illumined, but I will live in life everlasting with God. How cool is that?! I mean, think about it. If I were hearing this I would definitely say, “sign me up!” It is like that flashlight infomercial I gave in an earlier blog (read it here https://www.ocf.net/turning-on-the-light/) I wrote about how we have flashlight that guides us in our lives.
So, the other part of the epistle I will leave to your interpretation, but think about this: Paul’s conversion was that of light, when Jesus was baptized the heavens opened and the heavens house the sun which produces light, and on the feast of the Transfiguration we hear that when Moses came down from Mount Tabor his face was still glowing and shining because it had been in the presence of Christ’s light, and we even see that his face was too bright for some of the people with him! It all comes back to light. Imagine your face glowing because you were in such deep communion with God that His light shone so brightly that it hurt other people’s eyes. I think our goal should be to achieve that, but not just because it’s amazing, but because Christ causes the light to shine in the darkness. What if you are a beacon that guides people to Christ with your light? That sounds to me like the best job ever! So the point I’m trying to make is that even in the darkness Christ’s light will shine, whether it be through you, me, or it blinds someone because they didn’t listen to anyone else. Paul went from killing Christians and persecuting the church to being the one depicted in icons as holding up the church! Someone who made it their life’s mission to destroy the church, became one of the biggest protectors of the faith! If God’s light can shine so brightly that it brings the biggest persecutor to the faith, then maybe even a little bit of that light in us will cause us to bring multitudes as Sts Peter and Paul did. Christ’s light will never be overcome by the darkness. Don’t forget that. He has illumined us all with His divine grace. The Light of lights, the True God, and the giver of light, may He intercede for us as we go through college, a time with lots of darkness that needs to be overcome.
Publications Student Leader
Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this opportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! email@example.com
A personal favorite saint of mine, St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, is a beacon of light for those going through college. Her life is a wonderful example for how we should conduct ourselves and her intercessions are particularly relevant to the stresses an average college student faces…finding a job and finding love.
Let us learn about her story, taken from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website,
Our righteous Mother Xenia of Petersburg was born about the year 1730. She was married to a Colonel named Andrew; when she was twenty-six years old, her husband died suddenly, having been drinking with his friends. Left a childless widow, Xenia gave away all that she had, and vanished from Saint Petersburg for eight years; it is believed that she spent this time in a hermitage, learning the spiritual life. When she returned to Saint Petersburg, she wore her husband’s military clothing, and would answer only to the name Andrew, that is, the name of her late husband. She took up the life of a homeless wanderer, and was abused by many as insane; she bore this with great patience, crucifying the carnal mind through the mockery she endured, and praying for her husband’s soul. She was given great gifts of prayer and prophecy, and often foretold things to come; in 1796 she foretold the death of Empress Catherine II. Having lived forty-five years after her husband’s death, she reposed in peace at the age of seventy-one, about the year 1800. Her grave became such a source of miracles, and so many came to take soil from it as a blessing, that it was often necessary to replace the soil; when a stone slab was placed over her grave, this too disappeared over time, piece by piece. Saint Xenia is especially invoked for help in finding employment, lodging, or a spouse.
St. Xenia has the clairvoyance that personally, I wish I had because the future can be frankly terrifying. “Will I find a job?” “Where am I going to live after college?” “Will I ever find a significant other?” “Will I ever get married?” These are the questions countless college students ask themselves because there is so much uncertainty and competition that we really do need divine intervention for guidance in our lives, and towards the Kingdom.
St. Xenia was married, lived a somewhat wealthy life, was young, and had things going well for her in her life–the “American dream” as we would now describe. But one day, she lost her husband, and she felt not only the pain of the loss, but the pain of a lost future. Her life was set up, and one day she felt that it was taken all away. Personally, I can’t even imagine the anguish she must have felt during that time.
What makes St. Xenia special to us, and special to God, was that in her times of suffering, she turned to Him to transform her. She gave away all she had, and because of that, people used to think she was actually crazy. People who highly regard earthly pleasures would think that giving away all you have would be crazy. However, St. Xenia saw her spiritual poverty and sought to be transformed and align her life towards the Kingdom.
She learned how to pray and how to follow the spiritual life. I’m sure people understand the importance of having a spiritual father and that many have given advice to seek one. LEARN! Priests are trained to be people’s spiritual fathers, and they have their own spiritual fathers themselves! The right spiritual instruction helped cultivate St. Xenia into the saint that she is today.
St. Xenia had incredible humility. She was so humble that she wanted to bear not only her own sins but that of her husband and assumed his name. Through the sacrament of marriage, she and her spouse became one, and in her persistence to make her life a Kingdomly one, she assumed his name and was willing to bear their cross, suffering much physical and emotional torment.
St. Xenia intercedes for those looking for a spouse and looking for a job. I urge you all to ask for her help! The job market and love markets are tough out there, and a little saintly push from the spiritual master that is St. Xenia can give you hope and guidance. Also, St. Xenia was known to only take copper pennies during her earthly life, so, make a little donation to the poor or to your church in her name, so you can be like the people who were able to receive her blessings whilst living on earth.
May she intercede for you all! Also learn more about her here, in OCF’s program, “There’s a Saint for That”