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.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

St. Nectarios the Wonderworker of Aegina

St. Nectarios of Aegina (1846–1920) Metropolitan of Pentapolis and Wonderworker of Aegina, was officially recognized as a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961. His Feast Day is celebrated every year on 9 November.

Anastasios Kephalas, later Nectarios, was born on 1 October 1846 in Selymbria in Thrace to a poor family. His parents, Dimos and Maria Kephalas, were pious Christians but not wealthy.
At the age of 14, he moved to Constantinople (Istanbul) to work and further his education. In 1866, at age 20, he moved to the island of Chios to take a teaching post. On November 7, 1876, he became a monk, at age 30, in the Monastery of Nea Moni, for he had long wished to embrace the ascetic life.
Three years after becoming a monk he was ordained a Deacon, taking the name Nectarios. He graduated from the University of Athens in 1885. During his years as a student of the University of Athens he wrote many books, pamphlets, and Bible commentaries.
Following his graduation he went to Alexandria, Egypt, where he was ordained a priest and served the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo. He was consecrated Metropolitan bishop of Pentapolis (an ancient diocese in Cyrenaica, in what is now Libya) by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Sophronios in 1889.
He served as a Bishop in Cairo for one year, but was removed from his post and sent away from Egypt without explanation. He then returned to Greece in 1891, and spent several years as a preacher (1891–1894). He was then director of the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School for the education of priests in Athens for 15 years. He developed many courses of study, and wrote numerous books, while preaching widely throughout Athens.
In 1904, at the request of several nuns, he established Holy Trinity Monastery for them on the island of Aegina.
St. Nectarios died on November 8, 1920, at the age of 74, following hospitalization for prostate cancer and two months of treatment. His body was taken to the Holy Trinity Convent, where he was buried by his best friend St. Savvas of Kalymnos, who wrote the first icon of St. Nectarios. The funeral of St. Nectarios was attended by multitudes of people from all parts of Greece and Egypt.

To learn more about the life of St. Nectarios, read:

"The Story of the Holy Hierarch Nectarios the Wonderworker" written by Catalin Gregore, illustrated by Cristina Ionescu-Berechet
"Saint Nectarios' Shoes" by Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis

A tribute to St. Nectarios