Sunday, September 28, 2014

St. Wenceslaus I (Feast Day: September 28)

Wenceslaus I (also known by Vaclav) was the duke (kníže) of Bohemia from 921 until his assassination in 935, purportedly in a plot by his own brother, Boleslav the Cruel.

His martyrdom, and the popularity of several biographies, quickly gave rise to a reputation for heroic goodness, resulting in his being elevated to sainthood, posthumously declared king, and seen as the patron saint of the Czech state. He is the subject of "Good King Wenceslas," a Saint Stephen's Day carol written over 900 years later, in 1853, that remains popular to this day.

St. Wenceslaus was born near Prague, and was the son of Duke Wratislaw and his wife Drahomira. He was raised by his grandmother St. Ludmila, who taught also him Christianity. The Magyars, along with Drahomira, was an anti-Christian faction who murdered the Duke and St. Lumila.
According to some legends, after having regained control of her son, Drahomíra set out to convert Wenceslaus to the old pagan religion.

Wenceslaus was declared the new ruler after a coup in 922. But he encouraged Christianity in a pagan land. Boleslav, his brother, was no longer successor to the throne after Wenceslaus' son was born, and joined a group of noble Czech dissenters.

In September 935, a group of nobles (allied with Wenceslas' younger brother Boleslav) plotted to kill the Duke. After Boleslav invited Wenceslas to the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Stará, Boleslav, and three of Boleslav's companions Tira, Česta and Hněvsa, killed Wenceslas on his way to church after a quarrel between him and his brother. Boleslav thus succeeded him as the Duke of Bohemia.

Although St. Wenceslaus was, during his lifetime, only a duke, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously "conferred on [Wenceslas] the regal dignity and title" and that is why in his legend and song, he is referred to as a "king."

He is the patron saint of Bohemia 

(St. Wenceslaus Chapel in St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic)

Here is an excellent book about the character and humility of St. Wenceslaus:
Or you can listen to
"St. Wenceslaus"
And of course, you must listen to the famous "
"Good King Wenceslas" song!  
Today is a good day to do a service project in St. Wenceslaus' honor and help those people who are needy. Consider assisting a food bank or soup kitchen if there is a local one nearby. 

Troparion of St. Wenceslaus (Tone 4)
Today angels and men share a common joy. * Heaven and earth join together in splendid chorus * for thy memorial. O holy Prince Wenceslaus. And we sinners earnestly cry aloud unto thee: * Pray thou to the Master in our behalf, * that from dangers and from invisible foes, * He may deliver us who honor thine all-honored memory.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

St. Sergius the Wonderworker of Radonezh, Abbot of Russia (Feast Day: September 25)

Born on 14 May 1314 (transliterated as Sergey Radonezhsky or Serge of Radonezh) he was a spiritual leader and monastic reformer of medieval Russia. Together with Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, he is one of the Russian Orthodox Church's most highly venerated saints.

His medieval biography states that he was born to Kiril and Maria, a boyar family, near Rostov the Great, where Varnitsy Monastery now stands. He was originally baptized with the name Bartholomew (Варфоломе́й Varfolomei in Russian).
 (St. Sergius's Illumination: "Vision to the Youth Bartholomew" by Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov)

 Although an intelligent boy, Bartholomew had great difficulty learning to read. His biography states that a starets (spiritual elder) met him one day and gave him a piece of prosphora (holy bread) to eat, and from that day forward he was able to read. Orthodox Christians interpret the incident as being an angelic visitation.

When the Principality of Rostov fell into the hands of the Prince Ivan Danilovich of Grand Duchy of Moscow, his parents Kiril and Maria became impoverished and moved to Radonezh together with their three sons: Stefan, Bartholomew and Peter.

Upon his parents' death, Bartholomew went to Khotkovo near Moscow, where his older brother Stefan was a monk. He persuaded Stefan to find a more secluded place to live the ascetic life. In the deep forest at Makovets hill they decided to build a small cell and a church dedicated in honor of the Trinity. Thus started the history of the great Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra.

In time, Stefan moved to a monastery in Moscow. Bartholomew took monastic vows, taking the name Sergius, and spent more than a year in the forest alone as a hermit. Soon, however, other monks started coming to him and building their own cells. After some time, they persuaded him to become their hegumen, or father superior, and he was ordained to the priesthood. Following his example, all the monks had to live by their own labor. Over time, more and more monks and donations came to this place. Nearby, there appeared a posad, which grew into the town of Sergiev Posad, and other villages.

When the news of Sergius's accomplishments reached patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople, he sent to him a monastic charter. During the reign of St. Dmitri Donskoi, his disciples started to spread his teaching across central and northern Russia. They settled intentionally in the most impracticable places and founded numerous monasteries, of which Borisoglebsky, Ferapontov, Kirillo-Belozersky and Vysotsky monasteries could be mentioned. St Sergius was also connected with the foundation of two monastic communities in Moscow - Andronikov and Simonov monasteries. All in all, disciples of Sergius founded about 40 monasteries, thus greatly extending the geographical extent of his influence and authority. However, when Metropolitan Alexius asked him to become his successor, Sergius declined, preferring to remain a simple monk.
(St. Sergius of Radonezh blessing Dmitri Donskoi before the Battle of Kulikovo depicted in a 1907 watercolor on paper by Ernst Lissner)
As an ascetic, Sergius did not take part in the political life of the country. However, he blessed Dmitry Donskoy when he went to fight the Tatars in the signal Battle of Kulikovo field – but only after he was certain Dmitry had pursued all peaceful means of resolving the conflict.
St. Sergius died on September 25, 1392, and was glorified (canonized) in 1452. His incorrupt relics were found in 1422 and placed in the new Trinity Cathedral of the Lavra of St. Sergius,
which he founded. The church commemorates him on September 25, the day of his death, and on July 5, the day his relics were uncovered.

Need more details for younger kids? Here are a couple of book written on St. Sergius:

The Life of St. Sergius of Radonezh Wonderworker of Radonezh for Young People by Maria Naumenko 

The Wonderful Life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh by Alvin Alexsi Currier (Author), and Nadezda Glazunova (Illustrator)
Singing parise for St. Sergius on his Feast Day (Russian)!

Troparion to St. Sergius of Radonezh

As a virtuous ascetic athlete, and true warrior of Christ our God / fighting fiercely the good fight against the passions during this earthly life, / labouring in song, vigil and fasting thou wast an example to thy disciples./ Wherefore, the Holy Spirit made His abode in thee / Whose activity adorned thee with radiant beauty: / Since thou hast great boldness towards the Holy Trinity/ remember thy flock wisely gathered by thee / and forget not as thou didst promise to visit thy children, O holy Father Sergius!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Synaxis of All Saints of Alaska

On the anniversary of the arrival of the Russian missionaries in Alaska (1794), we remember the New Martyrs: St. Peter the Aleut, Protomartyr of America, and St Juvenal.

The other recognized Saints of Alaska on this day are St. Herman the Wonderworker, the Missionary Priest, Husband, Father, Widower, Bishop, and eventually Metropolitan of Moscow, St. Innocent, and his Russian/Aleut co-worker, the Priest and Widower St. Jacob Netsvetov.

Here is a GREAT (short) video of these saints: 

Of course, you can always make foods native to Alaska to commemorate these saints on their Feast Day too!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Prophet Jonah

The Holy Prophet Jonah lived in the 8th century before the birth of Christ and was a successor of the Prophet Elisha. The Book of the Prophet Jonah contains prophecies about the judgments on the Israelite nation, the sufferings of the Savior, the downfall of Jerusalem, and the end of the world. Besides the prophecies, the Book of Jonah relates how he was sent to the Ninevites to preach repentance (Jon. 3: 3-10).

Our Lord Jesus Christ, addressing the Scribes and the Pharisees who demanded a sign from Him, said that no sign would be given except for the sign of the Prophet Jonah, “As Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so also shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights (Mt. 12: 40). From these words the Lord shows clearly the symbolic meaning of the Book of the Prophet Jonah in relation to Christ’s death on the Cross, descent into Hell, and the Resurrection.

Reproaching the lack of penitence and recalcitrance of the Jews, the Lord said, “The Ninevites shall rise in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and one greater than Jonah is here” (Mt. 12: 41).

A video for young children on the life of Prophet Jonah:

One book that's good in the Orthodox tradition is

by Mother Melania, illustrated by Bonnie Gillis

Here are a few fun crafts to do for this Old Testament Prophet! 


Cut Jonah out of black construction paper, then have kids cover sheets of contact paper w/small squares of tissue paper. When the sheets are completely covered, put Jonah on top & cover the whole thing w/another sheet of contact paper, sticky side in. Then, glue the contact paper with Jonah in the back behind blue construction paper w/fish shape (I'd cut out a whale...) cut out. When you hang it, with Jonah on the backside, he only shows up inside the fish when the sunlight streams thru.

A simple coloring page


The memory of your Prophet Jonah,
We celebrate today, O Lord.
By his prayers we entreat you:
O Christ God, save our souls!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Holy Martyrs St. Sophia and her three daughters: Faith, Hope and Love

 St. Sophia and her daughters Faith, Hope and Love, were born in Italy. Sophia was a pious Christian widow who named her daughters for the three Christian virtues. At the time of their martyrdom, Faith was 12, Hope was 10, and Love was nine. St. Sophia raised them in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they did not hide their faith, openly confessing it before everyone.
An official named Antiochus denounced them to Emperor Hadrian who ordered that they be brought to Rome. The holy virgins prayed fervently to the Lord asking that He give them the strength not to fear torture and death. When they appeared before the emperor, all those present were amazed at their composure. They looked as though they had been brought to some happy festival, rather than to torture. Summoning each of the sisters in turn, Hadrian urged them to offer sacrifice to the goddess Artemis, but the girls remained unyielding.
The emperor then ordered them to be tortured. They were burned over an iron grating, thrown into a red-hot oven, and finally into a cauldron with boiling tar, but the Lord preserved them. The youngest child, Love, was tied to a wheel and beat with rods until her body was covered with bloody welts. After undergoing unspeakable torments, the three holy virgins glorified their Heavenly Bridegroom and remained steadfast in the Faith.
St. Sophia was subjected to another type of grievous torture: she was forced to watch the suffering of her daughters. She displayed adamant courage, and urged her daughters to endure their torments for the sake of the Heavenly Bridegroom. All three maidens were beheaded, and joyfully bent their necks beneath the sword.
In order to intensify St. Sophia’s suffering, the emperor permitted her to take the bodies of her daughters for burial. She placed their remains in coffins and loaded them on a wagon. She drove beyond the city and reverently buried them on a high hill. Sitting by their graves for three days, she gave up her soul to the Lord. Even though she did not suffer for Christ in the flesh, she was not deprived of a martyr’s crown. Instead, she suffered in her heart. Believers buried her body there beside her daughters.
Their relics have rested at El’zasa, in the Church of Esho, since the year 777. In 778 part of their relics was transferred to the women's convent at Eschau in Alsace, France.
Thou didst blossom in the courts of the Lord as a fruitful olive tree, O holy Martyr Sophia; in thy contest thou didst offer to Christ the sweet fruit of thy womb, Love, Hope and Faith. With them intercede for us all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

St. Ludmila of Bohemia

Today is the feast day of St. Ludmila the Martyr of Bohemia. She was born in Mělník around 860 AD to a Slavic prince named Slavibor. St. Ludmila was the grandmother of St. Wenceslaus, who is known to Orthodox faithful as Good King Wenceslaus.
St. Ludmila was married to the Czech prince Bořivoj I. She and her husband were baptized by St. Methodius, in 871. By her zeal for the Orthodox Christian faith, she brought many from paganism to the Church.  
After becoming Christians, St. Ludmila and Bořivoj took care of the education of the true faith for their subjects, building churches and invited priests to perform their worship services. But Bořivoj died young, at only 36 years old having one son - Ratislav. 
St. Ludmila, being a widow, kept a strict and pious life, and continued to take care of the Church in the reign of her son Ratislav, which lasted 33 years. Ratislav was married to a girl named Dragomira. Together, they had a son named Wenceslaus. Entrusted with the care of Wenceslas, Ludmila brought him up as a Christian. After Ratislav’s death, Wenceslaus, (who was only 18 years old), took the throne. Dragomira made use of the inexperience and youth of her son, and began to implant pagan morals and manners in the country. St. Ludmila stood up against this. 
 In 921, after St. Ludmila moved away to the city of Techin, her daughter-in-law Dragomira sent two boyars in secret to murder her. St. Ludmila was praying at the time, and the two assassins entered the house and carried out Dragomira's orders and strangled in her old age. 
St. Wenceslaus buried his grandmother's body in the Church of St. George in Prague. Many miracles are said to have occurred over her holy relics. 

St. Ludmila is the patron saint of Bohemia, Czech Republic, duchesses, and in-laws.  

St. Ludmila is buried in St. George's Basilica, which is the oldest surviving church building within Prague Castle. A Gothic style chapel within the basilica (which holds the tomb of the saint) is dedicated to St. Ludmila of Bohemia. 

Sadly, Orthodox believers are only allowed to hold a religious service in front of the miracle-working relics of St. Ludmila only once a year - on her feast day! Her tomb is closed to the public.

Fr. Václav Míšek prays in front of the chapel where St. Ludmila is buried in St George's Basilica.
Orthodox believers venerating the relics of St. Ludmila in St George's Basilica.
Singing the Akathist Hymn to St. Ludmila in St George's Basilica.

  One thing we try and do on the feast day of St. Ludmila is make Czechoslovakian food in her honor: Halushki, soups, pork, ham, peas, stuffed eggs, stuffed cabbage and anything with paprika! Of course, koláče is a must!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Feast Day: September 14)

Jesus Christ's True Cross was discovered in 326 by St. Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor St. Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Sts. Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross placed inside it. Other legends explain that in 614, a portion of the cross was carried away from the church by the Persians, and remained missing until it was recaptured by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628. Initially taken to Constantinople, the cross was returned to the church the following year.

September 14 is always a fast day and the eating of meat, dairy products and fish is prohibited. The Feast of the Exaltation has a one-day Forefeast and an eight-day Afterfeast. On the eve of the feast before small vespers the priest, having prepared a tray with the cross placed on a bed of fresh basil leaves or flowers, covered with an aër (liturgical veil), places it on the table of prothesis; after that service, the priest carries the tray on his head preceded by lighted candles and the deacon censing the cross, processing to the holy table.

The bringing out of the cross and the exaltation ceremony occur at matins.
The normal antiphons are replaced by special verses from the psalms 22, 74, and 99, which have direct reference to Christ's crucifixion on the Cross. A special hymn replaces the Trisagion hymn, as it is sung, the faithful prostrate. The epistle reading is from I Corinthians 1:18-24, and says that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." The gospel reading is taken from John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, and 30-35 together. This long reading is the passion account.

Troparion (Tone 1)
O Lord, save Thy people,
And bless Thine inheritance.
Grant victory to the Emperor [or "Thy people" or "the Orthodox Christians"]
Over the barbarians, [or "their enemies"]
And by the power of Thy Cross
Preserve Thy commonwealth. [or "estate" or "habitation"]
Since basil (which was found at the site where the True Cross was buried) is used to decorate a silver plate with a cross, along with flowers, after the service the basil would be taken house and used to bless the house. It is then kept at the icon corner and a little bit burnt each time in the censer.
One idea to help children celebrate is lighting a candle under a Cross to commemorate this holy day. Burn some of the basil received from Divine Liturgy as a "burnt offering" to Christ our God!

You could also cook a meal using basil in the food to remember the place where the True Cross was found by St. Helena. Wine and Olive Oil are allowed, so perhaps a simple Italian dish with lots of basil! This Tomato, Basil and Lemon Zucchini Pasta look like a perfect dish to celebrate the Elevation Feast Day!

Little ones can color this coloring page:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

St. Euphrosynos the Cook (Feast Day: September 11)

Today we celebrate the life of St. Euphrosynos the Cook!

St. Euphrosynos was born of poor and simple parents, (though he surpassed even those of noble lineage in good works). Because of his virtuous life he was translated to paradise, as we will see, and was shown to be an inhabitant there.

He lived in a Palestinian monastery where he served the brethren, laboring in the kitchen and serving them with great humility and submissiveness as though they were not men but God Himself. He labored in obedience day and night, but he never left off praying and fasting. His patience was inexpressible. He bore much abuse and disparagement and suffered frequent vexations. Scorched by the material fire of the cookstove, he was warmed by the spiritual fire of the love of God, and his heart burned with longing for the Lord. While passing his days preparing food for the brethren, he at the same time prepared a table for himself in the kingdom of God by his virtuous life, where" he would eat his fill with those of whom it is said, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." He served the Lord secretly so that he might be rewarded by Him openly, even as it came to pass.

A priest of the monastery in praying asked the Lord to show him the blessings prepared for the righteous in the age to come. In a dream it seemed to the priest that he was standing in a garden. Of the scene, he contemplated its inexplicable beauty with fear and with joy.

In it he also saw St. Euphrosynos! Amazed at this encounter, the presbyter asked Euphrosynos how he came to be there. The saint replied that he was in Paradise through the great mercy of God. The priest then asked if Euphrosynos if he would be able to give him something from the surrounding beauty. In reply, St. Euphrosynus suggested the priest take whatever he wished, and so the priest pointed to three luscious apples growing in the garden of Paradise. Euphrosynos picked the three apples, wrapped them in a kerchief and gave them to his companion.

Then, in an assembly of the monastery brethren, the priest related everything he had experienced, pointing out the spiritual heights of Euphrosynos in pleasing God and to the fragrant fruit of Paradise. Deeply impressed by what they heard, the monks went to the kitchen to pay respect to St. Euphrosynos. However, they did not find him there...

Fleeing human glory, Euphrosynos had left the monastery. The place where he concealed himself remained unknown, but the monks always remembered that their monastic brother St. Euphrosynos had come upon Paradise, and that they, in being saved through the mercy of God, would meet him there. The pieces of the apples from Paradise, the brethren reverently kept and distributed for blessing and for healing.

To celebrate the Feast of St. Euphrosynos, consider reading your child The Boy, A Kitchen, And His Cave: The Tale of St. Euphrosynos the Cook by Catherine Contopoulos.

Have a snack of fresh apples or baked apple products and explain to your child the importance of the dream that the Priest had of St. Euphrosynos!
(photo by Illumination Learning)

Create a apple craft with the troparion to St. Euphrosynos.
(photo courtesy of Creative Hands Blog)

Bless your kitchen utensils with Agiasma (holy water) and incense, asking St. Euphrosynos for another year of successful cooking!

Troparion for St. Euphrosynos the Cook
You lived in great humility, in labors of asceticism and in purity of soul, O righteous Euphrosynos. By a mystical vision you demonstrated the Heavenly joy which you had found. Therefore make us worthy to be partakers of your intercessions.

Finally, have your children assist you in cooking a meal to honor the hard work that St. Euphrosynos dedicated his life to! If it's possible, visit a monastery in his memory!