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.