Category Archives: Church Fathers

A Glimpse at “God’s Saintly Friends, Vol. 2” by Kathryn Reetzke

Park End Books has once again published a beautiful board book that introduces young Orthodox Christians to new “friends”: the saints of the Church. These new friends are no ordinary friends: because they are saints, they point us to Christ, and demonstrate the beautiful virtues that produce fruit in the life of each person who is truly following God. God’s Saintly Friends V. 2 is the second in this series of board books written by Kathryn Reetzke and illustrated by Abigail Holt. 

In this book, readers will meet eight sets of saintly friends, one for each spread of the book. This edition includes saints who were related to each other: Sts. Ruth and Naomi; St. Emelia and her children; Sts. Cosmos and Damien; Sts. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; the Theotokos and St. Elizabeth; Sts. Cyril and Methodius; Sts. Benedict and Scholastica; and St. John the Forerunner. Kathryn Reetzke has succinctly written a one-sentence statement about each set of saints. This statement mentions the virtuous way in which a saintly friend points those around them to Christ. Each spread of the book also offers a few sentences introducing these saints who modeled that statement with their life. The spread also includes a drawing of the saints as they display the virtue and interact with these other members of their family.

Abigail Holt’s simple but beautiful illustrations pair beautifully with Reetzke’s words. The saintly friends are sketched in a straightforward style and colorized with a select palette. The illustrations are simple, but will be engaging for children of all ages. 

Readers will learn much from the words of the book, and desire to interact with their family members in a similar manner. Children will be especially drawn to the friendly faces and kindness of the saints on every page. The book may be one of those books that is just read over and over again. It could also be used for educational purposes: whether for a family study, or for a Church school class. With a little research and a few other resources, each spread could easily be crafted into a lesson about the saintly friends on that page (and the way in which they interacted with their family members), while also taking a closer look at the virtue that they modeled. Regardless of how the book is used, all who read it will be challenged to become a saintly friend and to seek saintly friends.

This book will be an asset to any family or Church school library. It would also make a beautiful gift, whether for a new baby, a baptism, a young child’s name day, or their birthday. (This reader liked it so much that she gave a copy to the newest little member of her parish on the day of her baptism!)

Find you own copy of this book here:

The Antiochian Department of Christian Education thanks Park End Books for providing a copy of this book for review.


A Glimpse at “Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ” written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi

Newrome Press is publishing a twelve-book series called Friends of Christ. Each book is filled with the stories of five saints who are commemorated during a particular month of the year. Here is a closer look at Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ, written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi, translated by Nicholas Palis, and printed in 2019.

Authors Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos have retold the stories of five saints/groups of saints in this January edition of the Friends of Christ series. Readers will learn much about the lives of St. Basil the Great (commemorated January 1); St. George the Neomartyr of Ioannina (Jan. 17); St. Mark of Ephesus (Jan. 19); the Venerable Ascetic Xenia and her two servants (Jan. 24); and the Venerable Ascetics Xenofon, his wife Maria, and their two children, Arkadios and John (Jan. 26). Children of various ages will be able to understand and enjoy the stories of these great saints, and readers of all ages will find new friends that they will wish to emulate. Each saint’s story is clearly written with young listeners in mind: even the hardships that the saints face are worded in a child-friendly manner. Translator Nicholas Palis effectively communicates the stories to English-speaking children.

The bulk of the book features the stories of these saints. But that is not all that this book has to offer: it also contains a handful of other important resources. The book begins and ends with helpful prayers (the morning prayer to one’s patron saint, and the evening one). The back of the book offers “the Friends of Christ Glossary”, which enables children to understand some of the difficult terminology of the book.

As with other books in this series, the illustrations are beautiful. Paraskevi Hatzithanasi’s sketches draw from iconographic representations, and colorfully illustrate the portion of the saint’s story that is being told. Her art enhances the text while also familiarizing readers with the saint(s) in such a way that they will easily recognize the saint’s icon, when they find it at church or elsewhere.

This well-made hardcover book will last through many January readings. Families and Church schools will likely return to this book, January after January. Each saint/group of saints’ story could be read all at once, say once a week (for a family night, or in a Sunday Church school class, for example), or bit by bit, across a series of days, until it is completed. The book comes with a large decal featuring one of the illustrations. This decal would be a fantastic addition to a timeline if the family or Church school room has one on their wall; but it also makes a wonderful bookmark to mark the reader’s place in each story.

You can order your own copy of Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ from Newrome Press, here: 

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

Three New Children’s Books from Newrome Press

Three new children’s books from Newrome Press are now available. You can read a bit about each, below. Visit so that you can be among the first to purchase them for yourself, your children, or your Sunday School class. 

A Boy’s Journey to Sainthood: Saint Porphyrios Kafsokalivia by Anna Iakovou, Illustrated by Konstantinos Dimitrelos

Many Orthodox Christians are familiar with St. Porphyrios Kafsokalivia, and resonate with his words. But do you know the story of his life? St. Porphyrios’ story is beautifully told and illustrated in this brand new picture book from Newrome Press. 

Author Anna Iakovou effectively uses descriptive language to tell St. Porphyrios’ life story. The reader can’t help but feel that they are right there with him. They sense the warm autumn sunshine on their shoulders as the boy struggles to read his favorite story, the life of St. John the Hut-Dweller, while watching over his family’s sheep. They hear the schemes of the lazy older coworkers forcing their work on him when he goes to the city to work in a grocery store.  They smell the sea air as the young man hides at every port beyond his original destination – his parents’ hometown, aboard the ship headed to Mt. Athos, where he longs to live. And they can almost taste his joy as he becomes a schema monk, years later.

Konstantinos Dimitrelos’ delightful illustrations add depth and charm to the story. The illustrations of the saint himself very much bring him to life in the reader’s mind. Tucked into the corner of one page, readers will even find a photograph of the saint, since he lived in the era of cameras. The book ends with two pages of heartening quotes from St. Porphyrios.

Readers of all ages will find encouragement to face whatever opportunities come their way as they read the story of the life of St. Porphyrios in this book. 


Paul Apostle to the Nations: the Life, Work, and Travels of the Herald of the Lord, from the Sacred Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner, Mesa Potamou, translated by Stavros and Stavroula Stamati

Newrome Press has just released a book for older children, focused on the life of Saint Paul. The first quarter of the book tells the story of his life, and the rest of the book takes a close look at his travels. Part story book, part “travel/history” guide, this book will be useful to anyone studying the travels of the saint and/or the history of cities in which he visited. 

The book includes beautiful iconography from the Sacred Monastery of Kykos, Cyprus, to illustrate the part of the book that tells Saint Paul’s life story. The portion of the book featuring his travels is broken up according to the trips that he took. Each travel section begins with a map illustrating that particular journey. Informational pages about each city which he visited on that journey follow the map, offering a brief history of the city, as well as some photographs of the city.

Older children who are fascinated by history, maps, or travel will enjoy learning about each place that Saint Paul visited, when they read this book. It will be a valuable asset to a home library, classroom, or church school that is studying the life of Saint Paul.


The Many Tunics of Christ: A Nativity Story by Theofanis Sawabe, Illustrated by Vladimir Ilievski

There once was a young man named Thomas who loved being a monk. He was delighted to live and work in the monastery. He did not like all of the noisy and frustrating people outside of the monastery, so living INSIDE the monastery, away from them, was just fine by him.

This book tells the story of what happened on the eve of Nativity, when Thomas’ tasks for the day took him OUTSIDE of the monastery: first, he was to accompany Patriarch John to the hospital to visit the sick; then he was to hand out winter clothes to the poor; and finally, he was to go to the market to pick up an order for the monastery. How did that day go? How did Thomas handle interacting with the “noisy and frustrating” people? And why did the Archangel Michael  show up when he was trying to rest up for the vigil? 

Answer all of these questions and more when you read The Many Tunics of Christ: A Nativity Story. You’ll find a bonus section in the back of the book about “Patriarch John”, who we now know as St. John the Merciful. Somewhere between Thomas’ attitude change and St. John’s (and Christ’s!) compassion, readers will come away from this book challenged to rethink their own attitudes towards those around them.


Thanks to Newrome Press for supplying us with copies of these books so that we could write these reviews. 

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “Lives of the Saints for Children: November: Friends of Christ” written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos

Newrome Press has begun publishing a twelve-book series called Friends of Christ. Each book is filled with the stories of five saints who are commemorated during a particular month of the year. Here is a closer look at Lives of the Saints for Children: November: Friends of Christ, written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi, translated by Nicholas Palis, and printed in 2021.

Authors Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos have beautifully told the stories of five saints in this November edition of the Friends of Christ series. Readers will learn much about the lives of Venerable David of Evia ( commemorated on Nov. 1), St. Porphyrios the Mime (Nov. 4), Sts. Galaktion and Episteme (Nov. 5), St. John Chrysostom (Nov. 13), and the Holy Great Martyr Katherine (Nov. 25). Each saint’s story is told in such a way that children of various ages can understand. Readers (even adults) will be challenged to grow to be more like that saint. (This reader learned a great deal from this book, even about the two saints whose stories she thought she already knew!) The text is interesting, thorough, and understandable. And the stories were clearly written with young listeners in mind: even the hardships that the saints face (for example, St. Katherine’s martyrdom) are worded in a child-friendly manner. Translator Nicholas Palis has done a good job of expressing the stories in English.

Aside from the stories of the saints, this book offers a handful of other important resources. The book opens and closes with prayers. It opens with the morning prayer to one’s patron saint, and closes with the evening one. That seems a beautiful way to begin (or end) each reading, depending on the time of day, as the reader’s saint can certainly pray that God will work in the heart of the reader through reading the example of the saint in the book! The back of the book features several pages called “the Friends of Christ Glossary”: a thorough child-friendly explanation of difficult terms and unfamiliar places mentioned in the book.

Young children will be drawn to the illustrations on every page. Paraskevi Hazithanasi’s colorful sketches seem to draw heavily on iconographic representations, while also perfectly illustrating the portion of the saint’s story that is being told on that page. Her art helps each reader to better understand the text while also being able to easily identify the saint, should the reader later encounter the saint’s icon.

This sturdy hardcover book will last through many November readings. This is good, because it is likely that its readers will benefit from reading it year after year. One saint’s story could be read in one sitting, once a week (for a family night, or in a Sunday Church school class, for example), or bit by bit, across a series of days, until it is completed. The book comes with a large decal featuring one of the illustrations. This decal would be a fantastic addition to a timeline if the family or Church school room has one on their wall; but it also makes a wonderful bookmark to mark the reader’s place in each story.

You can order your own copy of Lives of the Saints for Children: November: Friends of Christ from Newrome Press, here: 

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at the Book “101 Orthodox Saints” by Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, Illustrated by Nicholas Malara

Ancient Faith Publishing has just released a gift to the English-speaking Orthodox Christian world. Wrapped in a sturdy hardcover and crammed with art, stories, and facts, this gift is the beautiful book 101 Orthodox Saints, written by Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, and illustrated by Nicholas Malara. This book is a breath of fresh air, bright with color, alive with stories and facts, and filled to the brim with intrigue.

From its introductory pages, the photos and illustrations draw the reader in, and they become curious to learn more. What are saints? How does someone become one? What does it mean to venerate a saint? Who is called to be a saint? How can this book be used? All of these questions (and more) are answered in an engaging manner in the few pages at the beginning of the book.

The bulk of the book is a page-by-page alphabetical sharing of information about 101 carefully-selected saints from all regions of the world and from all generations, who cross both continents and time to breathe the life of Christ into the reader’s soul. An abridged version of each saint’s story is told on their page. The page also includes important details about the saint’s life (including a map of where they are from, several fun facts, and the dates of their birth and repose, as well as their feast day), their icon, and related photos. Artist Nicholas Malara’s rendition of each saint beautifully reflects their love for God and gives the reader a realistic glimpse into a moment of their life. 

The authors have sorted the particular vocations of each saint, marking their page with simple sketches explained in a legend at the beginning of the book. (For example, St. Columba of Iona was a priest, a missionary, and a monastic so there are three sketches right under his icon that identify him as such.) This marking system allows readers to quickly flip through, find, and read about all of the saints that were royalty (or fools for Christ, hymnographers, wonderworkers, etc.). The book includes a beautiful timeline that places Malara’s illustrations in the order of when in time each saint lived. The authors have also included a glossary that is both thorough and accessible, along with an extensive index. 

Young children will be mesmerized by the beautiful new friends they will see in this book. Some older children will flip through and read all of the fun facts, making connections between the saints in the book and the places and history they are learning about at school. Some will read the book from cover to cover. Even adult readers will “meet” new (for them) saints and be challenged to live in the same godly manner. 

This book offers 101 refreshing glimpses into what a life truly lived for Christ can look like. Each of the 101 saints’ lives are unique, and they differ in many ways. But all of them share one thing in common: their complete dedication to and love for Christ.

It is a good thing that this book is so sturdily bound. Whether it belongs to a child, a family, a Church school class, a Church library, or a classroom, it will be poured over again and again. And, each time the reader inhales a bit more about the saints whose stories are told in its pages, they will grow closer to God and to His holy Church. What a gift.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

Purchase your own copy of the book here:

On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers

As we prepare our hearts for and then commemorate the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, let us take some time to think about Mary, the Theotokos. What can we learn from her love for God and her submission to His will? How did her choices and the way that she lived her earthly life affect ours? How does she continue to impact the world since her dormition?

We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been.

May the Holy Mother of God pray for all of us, that we will be saved and that we will follow God as wholeheartedly as she did!


In case you missed these when they first came out, here are two related posts. The first offers some thoughts – mostly from the scriptures – about the Theotokos as a mother and how parents can be encouraged to emulate her:

And the second offers a story that may be a helpful tool as you talk with young children about her Dormition:


Here are a few of the things that the Church Fathers had to say about the Mother of Our Lord:


“I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria


“Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is He who shone forth from her!” ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian


“In her manner she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which she was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas


“And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God [John 1:1], and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria


“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” ~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast


“How honored and magnified is mankind through the Holy Virgin Mother of God, for it has been made worthy of renewal and sonship by God; She herself was made worthy by her immeasurable humility and exceedingly great purity and holiness to be the Mother of the God-man!” ~ St. John of Kronstadt


“When God became known to us in the flesh, He neither received the passions of human nature, nor did the Virgin Mary suffer pain, nor was the Holy Spirit diminished in any way, nor was the power of the Most High set aside in any manner, and all this was because all was accomplished by the Holy Spirit. thus the power of the Most High was not abased, and the child was born with no damage whatsoever to the mother’s virginity.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa


“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” ~ St. Ambrose


“…The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.

And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” ~St Irenaeus of Lyon


“The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.” ~ Elder Thaddeus


“When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is, the All-Merciful Mother of the All-Merciful God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all ages by all Christian Churches; she is, indeed, an abyss of mercies and bounties, as is said of her in the canon of Odigitry..” ~ St. John of Kronstadt


“O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, Thou Bride of God and Sovereign Lady, who didst unite the Word of God to mankind through thy most glorious birth giving, and hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly; who art the only hope of the hopeless, and the helper of the struggling, the ever-ready protection of them that hasten unto thee, and the refuge of all Christians: Do not shrink with loathing from me a sinner, defiled, who with polluted thoughts, words, and deeds have made myself utterly unprofitable, and through slothfulness of mind have become a slave to the pleasures of life. But as the Mother of God Who loveth mankind, show thy love for mankind and mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and prodigal, and accept my supplication, which is offered to thee out of my defiled mouth; and making use of thy motherly boldness, entreat thy Son and our Master and Lord that He may be pleased to open for me the bowels of His lovingkindness and graciousness to mankind, and, disregarding my numberless offenses, will turn me back to repentance, and show me to be a tried worker of His precepts. And be thou ever present unto me as merciful, compassionate and well disposed; in the present life be thou a fervent intercessor and helper, repelling the assaults of adversaries and guiding me to salvation, and at the time of my departure taking care of my miserable soul, and driving far away from it the dark countenances of the evil demons; lastly, at the dreadful day of judgment delivering me from torment eternal and showing me to be an heir of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God; all of which may I attain, O my Sovereign Lady, most holy Theotokos, in virtue of thine intercession and protection, through the grace and love to mankind of thine only begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ from the Small Compline: The Supplicatory Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos


“Hail to you forever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.” ~ St. Methodius


” . . . when the Church tells us in Her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.” ~ St. John Maximovich




Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. John Climacus


This is the sixth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

Today we commemorate St. John Climacus and his work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” both of which have had a great impact on the Holy Orthodox Church through their influence on the monastic community and on the Church at large.

St. John was given the name “Climacus” because of his writings. “Climacus” means “ladder” and thus his name is a nod to the work by that name. From a very young age, John desired to serve God with all of his heart. He became a monk at the Mt. Sinai Monastery when he was only 16 years old, and he served there faithfully for years before going into the desert to live a hermit’s life.

The fight against the devil and his passions was difficult, but John faithfully prayed and focused on Christ, and over time he became holier because of his refusal to give in to those passions. His holiness drew people to John, and even monks would come to him to ask for advice. God gave him the gift to be able to help people who were severely tempted and/or upset to be at peace.

God used John to work some miracles during his lifetime. For example, one time his disciple Moses was far from their dwelling, searching for dirt for their garden, when he got very hot and tired, so he took a rest under a big rock. As this was happening, John was back at his cell, praying, when he had a revelation that Moses was in danger. John began to pray fervently for his disciple. Later in the evening, when Moses returned home, he told John that while he had been sleeping under the rock, he heard John calling him, so he woke up and moved quickly, just as the huge rock crashed down right where he had been sleeping! God had heard John’s prayers and saved Moses with this miracle.

Many years passed, and John continued to faithfully pray and read from the lives of the saints. He continued to live a holy life. At age 74, he was made the abbot at the Mt. Sinai Monastery. The monks there asked him to write down all of the rules that he’d followed for his whole life, so that they could follow his example. He wrote about thirty steps that can lead monks (and any Orthodox Christian) closer to God. He called the steps “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Although this book was written about 1,400 years ago, it is still considered the ultimate guide to the Christian ascetic life.

St. John Climacus, please intercede for our salvation!


Here are a few quotes from St. John Climacus, as well as some resources that may be helpful to you and your family as we commemorate him and his wisdom.


“Fire and water are incompatible; and so is judging others in one who wants to repent. If you see someone falling into sin at the very moment of his death, even then do not judge him, because the Divine judgment is hidden from men. Some have fallen openly into great sins, but they have done greater good deeds in secret; so their critics were tricked, getting smoke instead of the sun.” ~ St. John Climacus


“An angel fell from Heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.” ~ St. John Climacus


“If the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, as He is said to be, and as He is in reality, and if anger is disturbance of heart, as it actually is and as it is said to be, then nothing so prevents His presence in us as anger.” ~ St. John Climacus


“Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly the angel who guards you will honour your patience. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible [Matthew 19:26].” ~ St. John Climacus


“The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” ~ St. John Climacus


Find a summary of St. John Climacus’ life and of the Gospel reading for the Sunday of St. John Climacus, as well as a few suggestions of related things to do with your family at


Feel inspired to learn more about St. John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent”? You may be interested to know that someone has taken the time to break the whole book into sections, with suggested readings during Great Lent. Find them here:


“So this is the book of St. John the Abbot of Sinai, perhaps the most-read book… in Eastern Orthodox tradition after the holy Scripture… Written for monks, but fruitful and helpful for everyone who wants to deny himself, take up his cross, follow Christ… It’s for the person who says, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief!’ And it’s for the one who knows that only by prayer, only by fasting, only by doing the things that the Lord commands us to do, with faith, can we actually receive the grace of God, live by the grace of God, and be saved by the grace of God that is fully and completely poured out upon us in his crucified and glorified Son.” Hear this and more when you listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s meditation on St. John of the Ladder:



Lenten Sundays Series: Forgiveness Sunday

This is the second in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

The Sunday immediately before Great Lent begins is usually referred to in the Orthodox Church as “Forgiveness Sunday.” Forgiveness Sunday has two major themes: the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, and Forgiveness. We will take a short look at each of these themes, here.

It is important that this day features the expulsion of Adam and Eve, who in the beginning walked and talked with God in Paradise. This sort of relationship with God is what we wish to restore in our own life, and Lent is a time when the Church encourages us to do so with vigor. So it makes sense that She provides us with a reminder of what has been lost, and how it was lost, just before we begin Great Lent. This reminder also causes us to ponder the reality of Hades – where everyone went after their death, after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. Because we are blessed to live in a time when we are able to know Christ, we also think of Him, who by His death trampled the doors of Hades, and rescued Adam and Eve, and all of us from Hades’ grasp, forever. So, even right here, just before Great Lent begins, we already have a spoiler alert. We know where this is going, and we want to be part of it!

Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading is found in Matthew 6: 14-21 (NKJV)

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This Gospel reading is, in a sense, a good map for our Lenten journey. It begins with forgiveness. In order to restore our relationship to God, we need to be forgiven the multitude of our sins. This Gospel reading reminds us that if we want forgiveness from God, we need to also forgive others. The reading continues by telling us how to fast: not by showing off, but simply and quietly, genuinely. And it finishes with an admonishment for our focus: it should not be on earthly things, but on the heavenly. Great Lent is the perfect time to re-orient our focus to heavenly things. The Gospel reading’s last sentence summarizes the whole passage: where our treasure is is also where our heart is found.

Let’s take another look at the Gospel reading, this time through the lens of that last sentence. If we treasure forgiveness from God, our heart will be full of forgiveness for our fellow humans. During Great Lent, we are offered the opportunity to serve others willingly. We can more effectively serve if we are forgiving, not holding grudges. Forgiving others and serving them restores our relationship with them, and opens our hearts to receive forgiveness from God.

If we treasure relationship with God, our heart will be full of joyful, non-pretentious fasting. During Lent we are invited to eat less and pray more, giving Him our attention instead of seeking the attention of others or looking to food for satisfaction. Working to control our physical body’s desires and spending more time and energy in prayer restores our relationship to God.

And if we truly treasure God’s Heavenly Kingdom, the stuff of earth will matter not to us. During Great Lent, we are encouraged to do a better job of giving alms. Almsgiving lays up for us treasures in Heaven, while also blessing us with the opportunity to extend love to our fellow humans, and in doing so, to Christ Himself. Letting go of earthly things and earthly cares restores our ability to care for what is important to God: His creatures, His creation, and His Kingdom.

The Church steps right into the beginning of this Gospel passage with Her practice of offering Forgiveness Vespers to begin Great Lent. We’re not sure exactly when this beautiful service began to be offered. We do know that Forgiveness Vespers has been practiced since at least 520 AD, for it is mentioned in the story of the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. So Orthodox Christians have been beginning Great Lent by forgiving each other for a very long time.

According to Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading, forgiving each other is a natural way to begin Great Lent.

Please forgive me, a sinner. And may God forgive us all and restore us to right relationship with Him.

Here are some quotes from the Church Fathers and a few links that you may find helpful as you continue to ponder Forgiveness Sunday.

“Do we forgive our neighbours their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or non-forgiveness, then, of your sins—and hence also your salvation or destruction—depend on you yourself, man. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how terrible it is.” ~ St Philotheos of Sinai


“No one is as good and kind as the Lord is; but He does not forgive one who does not repent.” ~ St Mark the Ascetic


“Forgiveness is better than revenge.” ~ St Tikhon of Zadonsk


“No human being gets off the hook. No human being can blame anyone else… we are born into a world already… rebellious… We have to be taken back… to Paradise, and we believe that that’s what Jesus has done for us. And that’s what we are celebrating during Lent and Holy week and especially the Holy Pascha. We are celebrating the fact that God sends His Son to be the real, final, last Adam Who does not sin… and He forgives us…” Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory shares about Adam and Eve’s expulsion here:


“…Forgiveness is life itself. Because when we do not forgive, we murder. We kill the person that we do not forgive, and we kill ourself in the process of not forgiving. So forgiveness is the heart of the matter. And that’s why the Great Lenten season in the Orthodox Church begins with the Sunday of Forgiveness.” Hear the rest of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s words on Forgiveness Sunday here:


Consider having a family forgiveness time, whether or not you attend Forgiveness Vespers. Read one mom’s blog about their family’s experience with this here:


The first four questions at this page could be part of a great family discussion about Forgiveness Sunday. (And don’t worry, there are answers there, too, so your family can compare yours to the ones listed and see if there’s anything more you can learn about this last Sunday before Great Lent!)


Gleanings from a Book: “Raising Them Right” by St. Theophan the Recluse

St. Theophan the Recluse may have lived a reclusive life, but his was a life of prayer and asceticism, and that closeness to God granted him much wisdom. His writings and teachings have been recorded, preserved, and translated from the Russian so that we are able to read them and learn from them. “Raising them Right” is a collection of his writings and teachings for and about young people, intended for youth and those who raise or teach them. It is a small but powerful collection of teachings.

“Raising them Right” begins with a few pages telling about the life of St. Theophan the Recluse. That is followed by 7 chapters of his teachings: “The Christian Adult”, “Baptism: the Adult and the Child”, “The Developing Child”, “Forming Attitudes”, “The Years of Youth”, “Understanding a Young Person”, and finally “Preserving God’s Grace”. Each chapter contains timeless wisdom. Even though St. Theophan was born more than 200 years ago, his words are applicable to adults and children today.

This book is small but helpful. We recommend that parents and teachers alike read it, ponder its words, and allow St. Theophan to help us in our task of raising children. As we learn, may we, indeed, raise the next generation of Orthodox Christians right.


St. Theophan, please pray for us and for the children in our care.

Purchase “Raising Them Right” here: The ebook and audiobook will soon be available, as well.

Here are a few gleanings from the book. We found these short selections encouraging and/or challenging for parents:

“An enemy hates an enemy not only personally, but he hates also relatives and friends of this enemy, and even his belongings, his favorite color, and in general anything that might remind one of him. So also, true zeal to please God persecutes sin in its smallest reminders or marks, for it is zealous for perfect purity. If this is not present, how much impurity can hide in the heart!” (p. 18, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“Christian life is not natural life. This should be the way it begins or is first aroused: as in a seed, growth is aroused when moisture and warmth penetrate to the sprout which is hidden within, and through these the all-restoring power of life comes; so also in us, the divine life is aroused when the Spirit of God penetrates

into the heart and places there the beginning of life according to the Spirit, and cleanses and gathers into one the darkened and broken features of the image of God.” (p. 20, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“…if you desire to begin to live in a Christian way, seek grace. The minute when grace descends and joins itself
to your will is the minute when the Christian life is born in you—powerful, firm, and greatly fruitful.” (p. 24, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“It goes without saying that after the baptism of the infant a very important matter stands before the parents and the sponsors: how to lead the baptized one so that when he comes to awareness he might recognize the grace-given powers within himself and accept them with a joyful desire, together with the obligations and way of life which they demand. This places one face to face with the question of Christian upbringing, or the upbringing which is in accordance with the demands of the grace of baptism and has as its aim the preservation of this grace.” (p. 30-31, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“…the spirit of faith and piety of the parents should be regarded as the most powerful means for the preservation, upbringing, and strengthening of the life of grace in children.” (p. 35, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“It is necessary that in the gaze of the parents there should be not only love, which is so natural, but also the faith that in their arms there is something more than a simple child. The parents must have the hope that He who gave them this treasure under their watch as a vessel of grace might furnish them also with sufficient means to preserve him. Finally, there should be ceaseless prayer performed in the spirit, aroused by hope according to faith.” (p. 37, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“Parents often speak among themselves; children overhear and almost always assimilate not only the ideas, but even turns of speech and gestures… Let parents talk with their children and explain to them either directly or, best of all, by means of stories… Or let them ask the children what they think of one thing or another, and then correct their mistakes. In a short time, by this simple means, one may communicate sound principles for judging about things, and these principles will not be erased for a long time, and may remain for life.” (pp 50-51, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“While accustoming a child not to do his own will, one must also train him to do good. For this, let the parents themselves furnish a fine example of good life and acquaint their children with people whose chief concerns are not pleasures and awards, but the salvation of the soul. Children love to imitate. How early they learn to copy a mother or father!” (p.53, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“The earlier the fear of God will be imprinted and prayer aroused, the more solid will piety be for the rest of one’s life.” (p. 55, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“What frost is for flowers, so is the transgression of the parents’ will for a child; he cannot look you in the eyes, he does not desire to enjoy kindnesses, he wishes to run away and be alone; but at the same time his soul becomes crude, and the child begins to grow wild. It is a good thing to dispose him ahead of time to repentance, so that without fear, with trust and with tears, he might come and say, ‘I did something wrong.’” (p. 56, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)


“The state in which we emerge out of the years of youth depends a great deal upon the state in which we enter into them. Water falling from a cliff foams and swirls below, but then it goes its quiet way in various courses. This is an image of youth, into which everyone is thrown as water into a waterfall. From it there come out two kinds of people: some shine with virtue and nobility, while others are darkened by impiety and a corrupt life.” (p. 66, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)



On Learning from the Wisdom of the Three Holy Hierarchs

Very soon we will be celebrating the Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. Do you know why we celebrate the three of them together? If you don’t know, or need a refresher, check out the story here, and share it with your children, so that they know, as well!

The Three Holy Hierarchs, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom are full of so much wisdom, and they each have contributed so much to the life of the Church. All three loved learning and spent their life continuing to learn not just the Scriptures and the ways of God, but secular wisdom, as well. Their love for learning helped them to become excellent teachers. As we prepare to celebrate their life of faithfulness to God, let us also ponder some of their wisdom, which, though hundreds of years old, is still applicable to modern life.

Some of these quotes will be great conversation starters for a family evening prayer time. Others are geared more towards us parents. As you read them, decide which ones would be best for your family to talk about, and find a time to share them. You may think of related scriptures, Bible stories, or saint stories to share along with the quote. Or perhaps as you discuss the quote(s), your family members will make those connections! It is truly amazing that, although these hierarchs were on earth so many years ago, their wisdom is still perfectly applicable to us and our situations! Let us learn from them!

If you or your children enjoy coloring, you may want to check out these free printable pages which can give your fingers something to do as you talk about some of the wisdom of the Holy Hierarchs: (scroll down to find a printable page of all three together) or (each one, individually). Also, Orthodox Pebbles has just released these wonderful printables related to the Three Holy Hierarchs:

Holy Hierarchs of the Church, please pray for us and for our salvation!

The quotes shared here were gathered from,,, and


“Troubles are usually the brooms and shovels that smooth the road to a good man’s fortune; and many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away hunger.” ~ Saint Basil the Great


“Grace is given not to them who speak [their faith] but to those who live their faith.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian

“Prayer is the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom


“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” ~ Saint Basil the Great


“We are not made for ourselves alone. We are made for the good of all our fellow creatures.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian


“In children we have a great charge committed to us. Let us bestow great care upon them, and do everything that the Evil One may not rob us of them. But now our practice is the reverse of this. We take all care indeed to have our farm in good order, and to commit it to faithful manager, we look out for it an ass-driver, and muleteer, and bailiff, and a clever accountant. But we do not look out for what is much more important, for a person to whom we may commit our son as the guardian of his morals, though this is a possession much more valuable than all others. It is for him indeed that we take such care of our estate. We take care of our possessions for our children, but of the children themselves we take no care at all. Form the soul of thy son aright, and all the rest will be added hereafter.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom


“When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who in His wisdom has arranged things in this way. Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator.” ~ Saint Basil the Great


“Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian


“Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have great wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing…” ~ Saint John Chrysostom


“You can see that a city is prosperous by the wealth of goods for sale in the market. Land too we call prosperous if it bears rich fruit. And so also the soul may be counted prosperous if it is full of good works of every kind.” ~ Saint Basil the Great


“Let us treasure up in our soul some of those things which are permanent…, not of those which will forsake us and be destroyed, and which only tickle our senses for a little while.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian


“When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving (all these are attributes of God), to be generous, to love their follow men, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom