Wednesday, December 17, 2014

St. Dionysios of Zakynthos

St. Dionysius of Zakynthos was born in 1547 on the island of Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea. Before becoming a monk his name was Draganigos Sigouros. He was educated by priests and became fluent in Greek, Italian, and Latin. He excelled in theology, became a monk in 1568, received his first degree of ordination as a priest in 1570 as Fr. Daniel; he later became hieromonk of Zakynthos and Strofades. In 1577, he was raised to Archbishop of Aegina and Poros and after a year abdicated from this dignity and settled in Zakynthos as an abbot of a monastery. In December 17, 1622 he fell asleep in the Lord. He had asked to be buried in this monastery and his grave is still to be found in the chapel of St George; a dependent of the monastery. It has been found that his body remains intact and emits a mixed fragrance of flowers and frankincense. Therefore he is venerated, and his sainthood has been proclaimed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. His feast day is celebrated on December 17

The Saint of Forgiveness

St. Dionysius was remarkable in his forgiveness and love for his fellow man!

A man came to St. Dionysius's cell and begged the saint to hide him from his pursuers. When St. Dionysius asked him why he was being pursued, the man told him that he had killed a man. The murderer did not know that he had killed the saint's own beloved brother Constantine. St. Dionysius was very grieved, but hid the man and did not surrender him to the law. Instead he instructed him and brought him to repentance. According to local tradition, the murderer later repented and became a monk himself at that same monastery. St. Dionysius is an example to us all for his forgiveness of even the most grievous sins against us.

When the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas was destroyed on September 11, 2001 during the World Trade Center attack, only two things were recovered intact: a cross and a paper icon of St. Dionysios. 

Together with your child, read "Saint Dionysius of Zakynthos" by Potamitis Publications!

St. Dionysios rests in the church which bears his name in Zakynthos, where opening his tomb is often found impossible. It appears as though this occurs when Dionysios is out performing miracles. Afterwards, when the tomb can be opened, and seaweed is found at his feet and his slippers are found to be worn thin. In fact, his slippers need continual replacement because they receive so much wear! He is often seen alive and walking.

To celebrate St. Dionysios and his forgiving nature, color a page about forgiveness and discuss ways you can learn to forgive others 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

St. Lucia of Syracuse

St. Lucia was from Syracuse in Sicily, a virgin betrothed to a certain pagan. Lucia was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but died when she was five years old, leaving Lucia and her mother without a protective guardian. Her mother's name Eutychia, seems to indicate that she came of Greek stock.
Like many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. However, Eutychia, not knowing of Lucy’s promise and suffering from a bleeding disorder feared for Lucy’s future. She arranged Lucy’s marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family.
Since her mother suffered from an issue of blood, she went with her to the shrine of Saint Agatha at Catania to seek healing. There Saint Agatha appeared to Lucia in a dream, assuring her of her mothers healing, and foretelling Lucia's martyrdom. When her mother had been healed, Lucia gladly distributed her goods to the poor, preparing herself for her coming confession of Christ. Betrayed as a Christian by her betrothed to Paschasius the Governor, she was put in a brothel to be abased, but was preserved in purity by the grace of God. Saint Lucia was beheaded in the year 304, during the reign of Diocletian. 

Lucia's Latin name Lucia shares a root (luc-) with the Latin word for light, lux. Saint Lucia is named as the patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble. She is also the patroness of Syracuse in Sicily, Italy, and Caribbean island of Saint Lucia (which is one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles). 

Her feast day once coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year before calendar reforms, so her feast day has become a festival of light!

There are several traditions that are celebrated on St. Lucia's Day! 

But first, read this book:
 Or this one
Or even this

Scandinavia: A young girl dressed in a white dress and a red sash (as the symbol of martyrdom) carries palms and wears a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In both Norway and Sweden, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls (Lussekatter) and cookies in procession as songs are sung. It is said that to vividly celebrate St. Lucy's Day will help one live the long winter days with enough light.

Of course, the infamous Lussekatter ("Lucia Cats") must be made on St. Lucia's Feast Day!
The first recorded occurrence of the Lussebruden, or Lucia Bride, bearing a breakfast tray with coffee and lussekatterna while wearing a crown of candles is in Skövde in Västergötland in 1764. Over time, the tradition spread from the higher to the lower social classes. I wasn’t able to find anything definitive as to why the saffron was used other than in Årets Festdagar Nils-Arvid Bringeus suggests it may have begun within the celebrations of the higher classes who could afford such an expensive ingredient. The white-clad Lussebruden may have its original influences from German tradition but it has evolved uniquely in Sweden.
Italy: On 13th of every December it is celebrated with large traditional feasts of home made pasta and various other Italian dishes, with a special dessert of cooked wheat (Cuccia) in hot chocolate milk. The large grains of soft wheat are representative of her eyes and are a treat only to be indulged in once a year.

USA: In Omaha, Nebraska, the Santa Lucia Festival is celebrated each summer. Founded in 1925 by the Italian immigrant Grazia Buonafede Caniglia, it continues to this day. Members of the ethnic Italian community process with a statue of Saint Lucy through the streets of downtown Omaha, carrying also a first-class relic of Saint Lucy.
Hungary: It is custom is to plant wheat seeds in a small pot on Sveta Lucia feastday. By Christmas, green sprouts appear, signs of life coming from death. The wheat is then carried to the manger scene as the symbol of Christ in the Eucharist. A candle is sometimes placed in the middle of the pšenica. The candle may symbolize Christ, the Light of the world.
To honor St. Lucia's feast day, here are a few craft ideas to celebrate with children:

Paper St. Lucia crowns and hats


Toilet paper St. Lucia puppet

Finally, here are a few traditional hymns sung in Sweden on St. Lucia's Day!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

St. Nicholas of Myra (Feast Day: December 6)

The evening before December 6, I read a book about St. Nicholas to my children. Then they put their shoes outside their bedrooms for St. Nicholas to fill in the night (usually chocolate coins and clementines or a small toy).  I read another story about St. Nicholas to the kids this morning using the peg St. Nicholas along with some other small props to help tell the story.  Then we enjoyed our spice cookies and some hot chocolate.  I sometimes read several stories about St. Nicholas to the kids during the week leading up to Dec. 6 emphasizing his kindness and generosity to others then we make the sacks together to give to our friends.

Book on St. Nicholas:

The Legend of St. Nicholas A Story of Christmas Giving By Dandi Daley Mackall and Guy Porfirio

The Legend of Saint Nicholas
by Demi

The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan

Traditions on St. Nick's Day around the world: 
In most Eastern Orthodox homes, candies, cookies, apples, small toys, chocolate coins, a small rod, and nuts are common items found in shoes on St. Nicholas Day!

In France, it is tradition to make spiced gingerbread biscuits and mannala (a brioche shaped like the saint).
In the Netherlands, the primary occasion for gift-giving is the 5th of December, when St. Nicholas's reputed birthday is celebrated. In Belgium, they celebrate Sinterklaas on the morning of the 6th of December. Young children put their shoes in front of the chimneys and sing Sinterklaas songs. Often they put a carrot or some hay in the shoes, as a gift to St. Nicholas' horse. The next morning they will find a small present in their shoes, ranging from sweets to marbles or some other small toy. Often times Sinterklaas will deliver the presents personally!

In Germany, Sankt Nikolaus is usually celebrated on a small scale. Many children put a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel outside the front door on the night of 5 December. St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts and sweets overnight, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good, polite, and helpful the last year. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (Rute) in their boots instead.

In the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, children find candy and small gifts under their pillow, in their shoes, or behind the window the evening of 5 December.

In Greece, St. Nicholas does not carry an association with gift-giving. St. Nicholas, being the protector of sailors, is considered the patron saint of the Greek navy, military, and merchants alike, and his day is marked by festivities and blessings aboard all ships and boats, at sea and in port.

In Serbia, Saint Nicholas is the most widely celebrated family patron saint, celebrated as the feast day (or Slava) of Nikoljdan.A priest will come over and say prayers for the family in honor of St. Nicholas.

In Macedonia, Sveti Nikola is one of the most popular and beloved saints in the Orthodox tradition. Koliva is made if it is the families Slava, and its is a big celebration with fish, cabbage rolls filled with rice and spice, beans, and salads for everyone. Parents may give money gifts, particularly coins, to children.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

St. Andrew the Apostle

Andrew was a fisherman by trade, born in Bethsaida. A disciple of St. John the Forerunner, he left St. John to follow Jesus Christ following his baptism and brought along his brother, the Apostle Peter.
St. Andrew was martyred in Peloponnese, in the city of Patras. The Proconsul Aegeates' family believed in the miracles and preaching of St. Andrew, and the enraged Proconsul tortured and crucified St. Andrew. The new converts wanted to remove him from his cross, but the saint would not allow them. Instead, he comforted them from the cross and as he prayed an extraordinary light encompassed him for about a half hour. When it left, he gave up his soul. It was the year 62 AD.
Relics of the Apostle Andrew are kept at the Basilica of St Andrew in Patras, Greece; the Duomo di Sant'Andrea in Amalfi, Italy; St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland and the Church of St Andrew and St Albert in Warsaw, Poland. There are also numerous smaller reliquaries throughout the world.

About the middle of the 10th century St.Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland. Several legends state that the relics of Andrew were brought by divine guidance from Constantinople to the place where the modern town of St Andrews stands today (Gaelic, Cill Rìmhinn).
 (the Saltire (or "St. Andrew's Cross") is the national flag of Scotland)

St Andrew the Apostle is celebrated on 30th November. On the Greek island of Rhodes, it’s customary to make Loukoumades (donuts) or Tiganites to honour the Saint.
 There’s even a unique blessing custom among the local women. Before frying the Loukoumades, the cook dips her finger in the oil and makes the sign of the Cross on the pantry doors in the hope that St Andrew will ensure the household would always have food. Loukoumades recipe:

The calling of Sts. Peter & Andrew

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Incorporating "The Akathist of Thanksgiving" into a Thanksgiving Celebration!

Thanks to Orthodox Christian Parenting for sharing this wonderful idea!

As we approach the end of November, Americans are preparing to celebrate “Thanksgiving,” a holiday in which we are encouraged to gather together with loved ones, enjoy food and time together, and be grateful for all that we have been given. Although Thanksgiving is a cultural (secular) holiday, it was begun with a holy intent: to thank God! It is an opportunity for us as Orthodox Christians to do what we should be doing daily, anyway: giving glory and thanks to God for His rich blessings on our lives!

The Akathist of Thanksgiving ( is a beautiful prayer, a delight to the soul, and a fitting beginning to praising God at any time of the year. It is especially appropriate to pray this akathist in this season of giving thanks. Readers unfamiliar with the Akathist of Thanksgiving may want to read this note about it:

How can we incorporate this akathist into our family’s celebration of Thanksgiving this year? Here are a few ideas:

  • At evening prayers, read the akathist together as a family. If you have young children, read only one or two stanzas each evening, until you’ve read the whole thing. After the reading, talk about what you have just read. How did you see God’s hand in the ways described, in this day? (ie: kontakion 2 says “...the golden rays of sun and the light clouds are reflected in the water…;” a family member may remind the rest, “Remember as we drove to school this morning, when the sun rays shone down through a cloud, and we saw it reflected in that puddle?!?”)
  • Play the akathist on your CD or mp3 player as you prepare for Thanksgiving Day; whether cooking (if dinner is at your house) or even just getting ready to go (if dinner’s at someone else’s house), this akathist can help your spirit be ready to be truly thankful.
  • On Thanksgiving Day itself, chant or read the akathist together as part of your thanksgiving celebration.
After having read/chanted/heard the akathist:
  • Select one stanza (or even just one kontakion or ikos) that seems particularly appropriate to your family this year. Print out the individual phrases, and work together to make an illustrated booklet. You can work together to draw the pictures; or make a collage of magazine pictures that illustrate the phrases; or even take photos to illustrate them. Illustrate a different stanza every year, and eventually you’ll have the whole akathist and can pray it directly from your own illustrated version; savoring the growth and memories collected while illustrating it!
  • Carefully write or print out beautifully-lettered bookmarks of kontakion 13 (for example: Use them as Thanksgiving place markers or host gifts, depending if you are hosting or being hosted. Print the kontakion and adhere it to colorful cardstock cut slightly larger than the paper on which the kontakion is printed. Together decorate the edges of each bookmark with crayon/marker, pressed leaves, or seasonally appropriate stamps. On the back of the bookmark, write the name of the person to whom you are giving the bookmark. Laminate the whole thing (contact paper makes a nice laminate), punch a hole in the top, and tie on a bit of ribbon or yarn for the bookmark topper.
  • Use a permanent marker (over scrap paper, in case the marker bleeds through) to write kontakion 13 on a length of wired ribbon. Gently curve and twist the ribbon, careful to keep the words showing, and spread it down the middle of your table or across a mantle as part of your Thanksgiving decor.
  • Select a phrase such as this one from kontakion 1: “I thank Thee for all Thy visible and secret goods, for earthly life and for the heavenly joy of Thy future Kingdom…” Print the phrase at the top of a large sheet of butcher paper. Attach the paper to a door or wall of your home, as a collaborative art piece where family members and guests can add words, cut pictures, or sketches of the “goods,” “earthly life,” or “heavenly joy of [the] future Kingdom” for which they specifically want to thank God.
However we implement this hymn into our Thanksgiving celebration, let us do so with thoughtful awareness of the words and the worshipful intent behind them. We have much for which to be thankful, not the least of which is our Faith. Hymns such as the Akathist of Thanksgiving allow us to join with the voices of saints from years gone by, in worshipping God.

Indeed, “Glory to God for all things!” ~ St. John Chrysostom

Saturday, November 22, 2014

St. Cecilia of Rome

St. Cecilia was born in Rome of wealthy and illustrious parents. From her youth, she was raised in the Christian Faith. She prayed fervently and helped those in need.

Though she had vowed to preserve her virginity for Christ, her parents decided to give her in marriage to the noble pagan Valerian. Cecilia did not oppose her parents, but tearfully prayed to God that her betrothed would believe in Christ, and that He would send an angel to preserve her virginity.

Cecilia told Valerian that she had an angel of the Lord watching over her who would punish him if he dared to violate her virginity, but who would love him if he could respect her maidenhood. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia replied that he would see the angel if he would go to the third milestone on the Via Appia and be baptized by Pope Urbanus. Both he and his brother Tiburtius  converted to Christianity.

Having learned of their conversion, Governor Almachius gave orders to arrest the brothers and bring them to trial. He demanded that they renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, but they refused. They were then beaten. Under torture, Valerian urged his fellow Christians not to be afraid of torments, but to stand firm for Christ.

The martyrdom of St. Cecilia is said to have followed that of Valerian and his brother. For three days, she was tortured with fire and smoke in a red-hot bathhouse, but the grace of God sustained her. It was then ordered that she be beheaded, but the executioner – after striking her three times with a sword – only wounded her.

St. Cecilia lived three more days in full consciousness, encouraging those around her, she sang to herself until Jesus brought her home to heaven, and died with prayer on her lips.

Given that, St. Cecilia is the patroness of musicians. It is also written that as the musicians played at her wedding she "sang in her heart to the Lord."
The altar at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere enshrines the remains of its titular Saint. The marble carving is said to duplicate the state her body was found in ...
 One craft to do in honor of St. Cecilia is to make a harp our of foil and yarn or string:

Friday, November 14, 2014

St. Gregory Palamas

Born at Constantinople in 1296, St. Gregory Palamas was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the Archbishop of Thessaloniki known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, his followers as Palamites. 
Some of his writings are collected in the Philokalia. The second Sunday of the Great Lent is called the Sunday of Gregory Palamas.

St. Gregory taught us that unceasing mental prayer is the duty of ALL Christians and the prayer known as the "Jesus Prayer" is often used for this purpose in the Orthodox Tradition.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

In fact, here is a craft in honor of  St. Gregory Palamas. Make a paper prayer rope! Simply cut out the words of the JESUS PRAYER and glue each word onto a paper "bead." Glue them in a circle shape. If you want, print out an icon photo of St. Gregory Palamas and glue it in the middle! You can add a cross at the bottom too (shown below).
O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation,
O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians,
O wonder-working Gregory, glory of Thessaloniki and preacher of grace,
always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

St. Martin of Tours

St. Martin of Tours (Latin: Martinus), was a bishop of Tours in the 4th century. Martin was born in 316 or 317 in Sabaria, Pannonia, in present day Hungary, into a military family. He showed interest in Christianity at an early age. He was named after the Roman god Mars. Against his parents' wishes, young Martin began attending church at the age of ten, becoming a catechumen. At the age of 15,  being the son of a Roman officer, he was required to join the cavalry. In the course of his duties in 334 he was stationed at Samarobriva, Gaul, (modern day Amiens, France). After service as a soldier in the Roman army, he was baptized and became a disciple of St. Hilary of Poitiers, who was prominent in the trinitarian disputes with the Arians. He was acclaimed bishop of Tours in 371. He founded the monastery Marmoutier where he led a austere life with cave-dwelling cenobites. Veneration of Martin was very popular in western Europe during the middle ages.
File:Saint Martin of Tours and the episode of the cloak.jpg
It was while in Amiens that he experienced a vision that became a memorialized event in his life. He had met at the gates of the city of Amiens a scantily dressed beggar for whom Martin cut in half his military cloak to share it with the beggar. That night, he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half cloak that Martin had given away and heard Jesus telling the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who was not baptized. He has clad me." Confirmed in his intent by this vision, Martin was baptized and after serving two more years left the army. He then traveled to Tours.

In 371, Martin was acclaimed bishop of Tours. As bishop of Tours he greatly impressed the city's inhabitants with his demeanor and zeal in destroying the pagan temples. Sulpicius Severus recorded in the Vita of St. Martin many of the events of this period. Sulpicius further recorded Martin's withdrawal from the tensions of the city to the monastery, Marmoutier, that he founded across the Loire river from Tours. Here Martin led a austere life among the cave-dwelling cenobites who had gathered around him.

After his death he was buried in Tours where, in time, a large basilica was built as the shrine of St. Martin of Tours. The basilica was built over his grave and was a major stopping point on pilgrimages during the middle ages. During the Wars of Religion in 1562, the Huguenots sacked the shrine and it was completely destroyed during the French Revolution. Two streets were built over the site to ensure it could not be re-built.

St. Martin of Tours continues to be remembered in many parts of western Europe through annual processions and the giving of presents to children on his day, November 11, instead of December 6 (St. Nicholas of Myra) or December 25 (Nativity). 

Read together "The Life of Martin of Tours" by St. Sulpitius Severus
"THE LIFE OF SAINT MARTIN" written by Verena Smith and illustrated by Emile Probst

Martinmas is widely celebrated in Western Europe. In honor of St. Martin, here are a few activities to do as a family:
Martinmas lanterns to celebrate St. Martin's warm spirit of giving and kindness towards those in need (especially beggars and the homeless)

If you have older kids, you can consider making real lanterns out of mason jars (saved for the 11th hour on 11/11 - a German tradition) :
Gather coats and jackets to donate to a charity in honor of St. Martin's gift of half of his cloak to a beggar. 

There are some really cute cookie molds in the shape of St. Martin if you are in a baking mood!

Color a picture of St. Martin of Tours
In signs and in miracles you were renowned throughout Gaul. / By grace and adoption you are a light for the world, O Martin, blessed of God. / Almsdeeds and compassion filled your life with their splendors, / Teaching and wise counsel were your riches and treasures, / Which you dispense freely to those who honor you.