Category Archives: Holiness

On Miracles That God Performs Through Icons

Icons are windows to heaven. We have them in our churches, we have them in our homes, and perhaps in our car/locker/workspace/elsewhere as well. They are in these places as visual reminders of Truth. Icons remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. They help us to better understand the scriptures and to better connect with the person/people written on them. Icons draw us to God by virtue of their beauty, the stories of faithfulness they represent, the Scriptures they unveil. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Occasionally, God chooses to move beyond that sense of “being drawn,” and to work other miracles through them. The purpose of this blog post is to help each of us to learn about some of the icons He is using in this way (or has recently used in this way), and to read the stories of miracles wrought through them. It is our hope that this post will be encouraging and help each of us to be aware of how God is at work through icons. (These stories will also encourage our children when we share the stories with them. Children are naturally full of wonder, and will benefit from knowing these amazing ways in which God is at work through holy icons. So, please share the stories that your children will benefit from hearing so they can be encouraged, as well!)

Here are a few examples of miracle-working icons and their stories, as well as information related to miracle-working icons:

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What would you do if some of the icons in your prayer corner miraculously began streaming myrrh? Read this account by Subdeacon Nectarios himself, of what happened in his home. In the account, you’ll read about two streaming icons (each with different-smelling myrrh), a cat, a “doubting Thomas” who ends up with a mouthful of “proof,” and a few of the miracles that the miraculous myrrh have wrought. Glory to God! http://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html

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The Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God, at St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania, has been exuding myrrh ever since it was anointed with the myrrh of the Hawaiian Iveron icon in October of 2011. Many, many lives have been changed as a result. Read some of the miracles that have happened, as accounted in this homily: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/2014-sermons/the-miracles-and-wonders-of-god-the-crying-icon-of-taylor-pa

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“Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I’ve heard about and some I haven’t. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It’s as if people become liberated from the ‘old man’ and ardently strive towards God.  When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance.  I’d like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ.”

Read this and more of the story and miracles of the copy of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (the same one whose copy was sent to Hawaii and began myrrh streaming there, and when that one in turn visited the Kardiotissa icon in Pennsylvania it began exuding myrrh as well), which was brought to Canada from Mt. Athos by a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy here:  http://www.roca.org/OA/120/120k.htm

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“One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.” Read some of the miracles in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/8/25/the-miraculous-icon-of-panagia-portraitissa-the-keeper-of-th.html. Then, spend some time praying and asking the Theotokos to pray for you and your loved ones – and the whole world!

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Watch this 8-minute video that shows miracle after miracle, mostly related to icons, which God has granted through His Holy Orthodox Church. Set to parts of the Vespers service chanted by Eikona, this video could be a wonder-filled way to end a day! (We recommend that you watch it before showing it to your children, so you know what they will see and can be prepared to answer related questions.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-AOO903CZA

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Throughout history, icons of the Mother of God have worked miracles. This article shares the commemoration days of many icons of the Theotokos, along with some of the stories of miracles attributed to those icons, set throughout history. These stories are not as recent as some of the above, but they are still miracles and well worth learning about! To read about an icon of the Theotokos and/or a miracle attributed to the icon, click on the month, then which of the days of that month you’d like to read about: https://oca.org/saints/icons-mother-of-god

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“Venerating a miracle is also a way of acknowledging the importance of its context. A weeping icon is amazing, but it’s obviously not meant to distract attention away from the liturgical, sacramental, and doctrinal life of the Church. If anything, a miracle should amplify the importance of Church practices and teaching, for the God who causes the miracle is also the God who established these as markers of his ‘new and everlasting covenant’ with mankind.” Read more about responding to miracles wrought through icons in this article:  http://myocn.net/miracle-greece-weeping-icon-mean/

Gleanings from a Book: “Icon” by Georgia Briggs

I did not want this book to end. That is the first time in a long time that I’ve read a book and felt that way. “Icon” by Georgia Briggs may be aimed at young adults, but it is no ordinary young-adult-aimed fiction book, and is a great read for adults as well.

The story line in this book is believable, though fictional, and I found it hard to put the book down because of both the story line and the Orthodox insights throughout the book. “Icon” is the moving story of a young Orthodox Christian girl in a era similar to our own, except that in this dystopian tale (set in 0000 ET, “Era of Tolerance,” with flashbacks to the Pascha before ET began), it is suddenly no longer legal to be a Christian, most especially an Orthodox one. “Icon” is a story of loss, finding, miracles, death, light, and restoration, written so believably that the reader thinks “this could really happen!” It is a gripping story of Faith put to the test.

This book challenges its readers to think about their own Faith. What if all that we currently do and take for granted with regard to our Faith were suddenly illegal and we were being watched at every turn? What if our family members died/disappeared simply because of their Faith? What if we were left alone and had to move to new surroundings and change even our very name to one unassociated with our Faith? And what if all of this happened to us at the tender age of 12? My guess is that many of us would not react with the same endurance that Euphrosyne does. (But neither is this one of those books that glosses everything over. Euphrosyne definitely struggles with doubt and temptation all along the way, and the reader struggles along with her, knowing what she ought to do, but also understanding the reality of what will happen if she stands strong for her Faith!) The book is written so realistically that one almost feels the need to keep an eye out for “traps” in his/her own life after reading it.

After reading Euphrosyne’s struggles and then thinking through the questions that those struggles point to, the reader is left with the determination to take nothing about the Faith for granted. Readers will continue to realize the blessing that icons are in their life, whether the human-written ones or the icons that are still wearing the flesh that God Himself wrote. When a reader makes the sign of the cross, they will ponder the “streaks of light” that Euphrosyne could “see” traced over her Orthodox friends’ chests near the end of the book. The Divine Liturgy will not be the “same old” liturgy so easily taken for granted… I could go on and on (at the risk of divulging too much of the story) with ways that the reader will be challenged to ponder their faith. Suffice it to say that this book makes its readers really think about their Faith and then value it like never before.

I would encourage families of middle-grade-years or older children to get their hands on this book as soon as you can. Parents should read it first (it won’t take you too long: as I mentioned before, it is hard to put down!), in order to have a grasp on what is coming, and to best know which of your children would benefit most from reading it next. Or, if you can, after reading it yourself, read the book aloud together as a family (if everyone in your family could handle it – but only you will know that). Regardless of how you read this book, be sure to talk together about it after you read. This book can help to strengthen your family’s Faith when you read and discuss it!
Chances are, when you finish this read, you will hope along with me that author Georgia Briggs will write again, and soon!

Purchase your own copy of “Icon” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/icon-a-novel/

Learn more about author Georgia Briggs here: https://georgiabriggsauthor.wordpress.com/

Here are some quotes from different parts of “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, along with suggestions of what your family could discuss at that part of the book. (With apologies for spoilers, which are difficult to avoid with this book!) We hope that these selections can help to give you an idea of the types of discussions that your family can have while reading this book:
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“My hands shake as I reach to pick the icon [of St. Nicholas] up. It’s small and light in my hands. I turn it sideways. It’s only about a quarter of an inch thick, but the bullet hasn’t gone all the way through… I was holding it in front of me when he fired the gun… It must’ve stopped the bullet, and the force blew it through my hands and knocked me over… I sit back down on the ground and gaze at the icon. St. Nicholas looks so calm. The bullet in his chest bothers me. I start to pick at it with my fingernails, trying to pry it loose… It’s wedged in tightly, but after a few minutes I manage to work it out. A thin trickle of blood runs from the hole in the saint’s chest.” ~ “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 30-31

This experience of Euphrosyne’s offers your family the opportunity to discuss miracles wrought by icons. What miracles do you know of? Take time to research and learn about more. God is at work through His saints, and sometimes even through their icons!
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“All this is so fake, I think, looking around at the plastic plants and uncomfortable chairs. Everything about this world is fake and watered down—the holidays, the people, the ‘just accept everybody’ thing that Dr. Snead keeps telling me. How do they all live in this place and not go crazy? My grandparents, Miss Linda, the other kids in school. Do they really believe this is all there is?

Maybe I know better because of what I’ve been through. Or maybe I’m just crazy and trying to make it all mean something.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 74

Take some time to discuss Euphrosyne’s thoughts on her world. What do you think of what she thinks? Have you ever thought something similar about your own world? How does the world – even as it is right now – compare to the Heavenly Kingdom, God’s kingdom?

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“No one’s watching me.

I dance around a little, twirling and leaping, the ice squeaking under my feet. Soon my socks are wet and I’m breathing hard, but I don’t care. I twirl again and slip and fall. I lie back and make a snow angel…

…I look up at the dark sky without meaning to, like I’m going to see God up there or something.

No God in sight, but a few stars blink back at me.

For some reason it’s easier to believe in God when you’re standing alone in the snow on a cold morning and looking at the stars.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 77

Ask your family why they think the author put a snow scene into this story (which is set in Alabama). What could it symbolize? How does the snow purify or refresh Euphrosyne? What do you think of the last statement? Have you ever had a similar experience? When?
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“When I notice the other priest in the altar, I can’t remember whether he’s been there all along and I just wasn’t paying attention. He’s helping Father Innocent like a deacon or one of the altar boys, but he’s about a foot taller than Father Innocent and he seems… different. Brighter, or more colorful or something. I wish I could get a glimpse of his face. He’s robed in red, not gold like the others, and he has a white stole with blue crosses draped around his neck and over one shoulder.

…Now that I look around, though, there are strange people in the congregation too. More people than were here when liturgy started. …Am I going crazy? Does nobody else see this?

…Everything around me is getting greyer and greyer. Everything except the icons and the strangers. I can see them better now. They seem to fill every corner of the room. They’re all different ages, some young, some old, their faces shining. Some wear crowns, many hold crosses in their hands. Some are dressed in rags, but they’re so beautiful that the rags seem beautiful too.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 154-155

After reading this passage, talk together about who you think Euphrosyne is seeing in this part of the story. Discuss the reality of the saints’ and angels’ presence in the Divine Liturgy every time we celebrate it together. How does it make you feel? Does it make you want to change anything about the way in which you attend the Divine Liturgy? If so, what?

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“‘I’m Shamar,’ he says, ‘I’m your guardian angel.’

Right away I remember the icon that used to hang between my bed and Kat’s, of the curly-haired angel in blue robes and a red cloak, the one carrying a sword.

‘So you’ve been here all along?’ I ask.

Shamar nods. ‘Ever since you were baptized.’

‘You were old enough to be a guardian angel then?’ He can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen years old.

‘I’m a lot older than I look,’ he says with a smile.

‘Oh.’ It’s weird to think he’s been watching me my whole life. I think of all the stupid things I’ve done, all the times I was mean to Kat or whined to Mom and Dad. It’s kind of embarrassing.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 189

Talk together as a family about guardian angels. How long has each member of your family’s guardian angel been guarding him/her? Encourage each other to think about the fact that your angel is with you always and sees what you do, while also protecting you. Take a moment to pray the prayer to your guardian angel, thanking them for their protection and love. Find the prayer here: http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/OtherPrayers.html

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“When I get close, I realize I can see more than just the stuff on the outside. I can see her soul too. And it makes me sad. Its silver glow has dark scars across it. There’s a jagged rip over her heart and another on her right hand, the hand she’s holding over her face as she cries. The one across her heart looks old, but the one on her hand is fresh. I hover beside her, trying to touch her.

‘Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ she whispers over and over again. She makes the sign of the cross, and her fingers leave a trail of light that lingers for a moment before disappearing.”  ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 195

Talk together about this passage after reading it. Why do you think her soul glows? Where did the scars come from? Why do her fingers leave a trail of light when she crosses herself? How does this make you think differently about your own soul and your own prayers?

 

Learning About the Saints: The Three Holy Hierarchs (Jan. 30/Feb. 12)

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs with a special feast every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.

Hundreds of years after these hierarchs departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to which of these three men was the greatest. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites. The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder of this. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 (Feb. 12) as the day to celebrate all three of them.

Read more about the Three Holy Hierarchs, and find a personal challenge for each of us from their lives, in this blog post about them: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The three most great luminaries of the Three-Sun Divinity have illumined all of the world with the rays of doctrines divine and true; they are the sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom, who with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams: The great and sacred Basil, and the Theologian, wise Gregory, together with the renowned John, the famed Chrysostom of golden speech. Let us all who love their divinely-wise words come together, honoring them with hymns; for ceaselessly they offer entreaty for us to the Trinity.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as your family learns about the Three Holy Hierarchs together:
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Read more about the three holy heirarchs here: http://www.wenorthodox.com/three-hierarchs/ or here http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/01/feast-of-three-hierarchs-sts-basil.html

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Find more information about the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs here: http://www.goarch.org/special/threehierarchs/index_html

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Share this book about the Three Holy Hierarchs with younger children: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/20-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Three-Hierarchs/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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Print this icon for your children to color, or for use in another feast-related craft project: http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Three-Holy-Hierarchs-line-border.gif

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Be encouraged by these words from Metropolitan Tikhon, in his Jan. 30, 2105 homily on the Three Holy Hierarchs: “…the gentle, warm, and clear holiness and perfection of the Three Hierarchs [teaches] us, not oppressively but with peacefulness:

Not to give in to despair when we uncover the passions within our own hearts, but to slowly weed them out one by one; Not to be discouraged because we don’t seem to have control over our children and their behavior, but rather continually strive to love them and pray for them and not judge ourselves to be failures; Not to be overwhelmed when we find it difficult to live in a community, whether it is our family, our seminary or our parish, but to find hope in the examples of the great saints who give expression to true community.”

Read the entire homily here: http://www.svots.edu/metropolitan-tikhons-homily-feast-three-holy-hierarchs

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If you have a counted-cross-stitch fan in your family, you may want to know that this pattern to stitch the icon of the Three Holy Hierarchs is available: http://www.easterngiftshop.com/Item/IcCS3Hier

Learning from the Saints: St. Nina (January 14/27)

Late in the 3rd century, in Cappadocia (central modern-day Turkey), a young girl was born to a Roman army chief named Zabulon, and his wife Sosana (who was the sister of Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem). This girl was named Nina (or Nino, as she is called in the Republic of Georgia). Nina and her parents were well off, but decided to sell everything when Nina was 12 and go to Jerusalem to live in the Holy City. Soon after they arrived there, Zabulon was tonsured a monk and went to live in a monastery in the desert, Sosana became a deaconess and helped her brother the patriarch serve the poor of Jerusalem. Nina went to live with a godly woman named Nianfora, who continued to teach her to love and follow God through His Church.

When Nina was 14, she began to wonder about Our Lord’s robe and whatever happened to it. She asked Nianfora how something so precious could just be lost for hundreds of years? Nianfora answered that it was somewhere in Iberia (now Georgia) because it had traveled there after the soldier won the robe with the dice toss at the cross. Nina was very pious and thought that this holy item that had belonged to Our Lord should not be lost and forgotten, so she began to pray, asking the Mother of God to make a way for her to go. One night she had a dream in which the Theotokos blessed her with a cross made of grapevines tied together with hair. The Theotokos told Nina that the cross would be her protection as she traveled to Iberia. When Nina woke up, she was still holding the cross in her hand! She kept that grapevine cross with her for the rest of her life. Soon after this dream, Nina set out to find Christ’s robe with the blessing of her uncle, the patriarch.

Nina traveled first to Rome. While she was there, she met Princess Ripsimia and her teacher Gaiana, and let them to the Faith. The emperor at that time was Diocletian, who was persecuting Christians. Diocletian wanted to marry Princess Ripsimia because she was so beautiful, but she and Gaiana and Nina (and 50 other young ladies) ran away to spare their lives because they were Christians. They escaped safely to Armenia. Unfortunately, Diocletian was so angry he had sent soldiers to follow the young ladies (and to warn King Tiridat of Armenia about them). When the now-warned King Tiridat saw the beautiful Princess Ripsimia, he wanted to marry her! When she refused, he killed her, Gaiana, and the other 50 young ladies with them. Nina narrowly escaped this martyrdom by hiding in some rosebushes.

Alone, Nina continued her journey to Iberia. When she first arrived in Iberia, she befriended some shepherds who gave her food and helped her know where to go to find their capital city of Mtskheta. Along the way, Nina was very discouraged. She began to wonder why she was doing what she was doing. One night as she slept, she had a dream. In her dream, a heavenly visitor appeared to her and gave her a scroll. When she woke up, Nina still had the scroll in her hand. She could even read the scroll: it was written in Greek! It was full of scripture verses which encouraged her to continue on her journey so that she could help others learn more about Christ and His Church. This gave Nina the strength that she needed to continue her journey, and she made it to Mtskheta.

Soon after her arrival in Mtskheta, Nina was saddened to watch a ceremony where the people of Iberia were gathered to worship idols covered in metal. The people shook before the idols as their priests prepared sacrifices for the ceremony. Nina was so sad that she began to pray hard and loudly for the people, that God would enlighten them and show them that He is the true God. Suddenly, a storm came up and all the people had to take cover! Lightning destroyed the idols, crumbling them to nothing. The rain washed away the crumbled pieces. Nina had taken cover in the cleft of a rock, so she was safe, but she saw the whole thing happen. After the idols were washed away, the sun shone once again, and the people came looking for their idols. Of course they found no trace of them. This made the Iberian king wonder if there is another God greater than the gods that they worshiped.

Nina was welcomed into the palace garden by the gardener and his wife, who allowed her to live in a corner of the garden (some sources say in a hut; others say under a bramble). The couple was unable to have children, but Nina prayed for them, and God blessed them with many children after that! They became Christians, and so did many others in the land, as Nina prayed for them and told them about Christ. She became well known because of her godliness and her kindness. God worked other miracles through her prayers as well. For example, once a mother was carrying her dying son through the city, begging for help so that he would not die. St. Nina took the boy, laid him down on her leaf bed, and prayed for him. As she prayed, she touched him with her grapevine cross, and he was healed!

Nina preached even to the Jewish people of Iberia. Interestingly enough, it was through the Iberian Jewish High Priest (who converted to Christianity as well through the teaching of Nina) that she learned about the one thing that she had come to Iberia to find in the first place: the robe of Christ! He told her the story of his great-grandfather Elioz, who had gone to Jerusalem to witness Christ’s death (His death was considered by the Jewish people to be a victory for their nation, so invitations were sent out prior to its happening). Elioz’s mother had warned him not to ally himself with those who killed Christ, because she knew that He was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies! Elioz went to Jerusalem and was present at the crucifixion, and managed to get Christ’s robe from the soldier who had won it. He brought it back to Mtskheta, where he found out that his mother had died around the time that Christ did (after feeling in her heart the pounding of the nails as they were pounded into Our Lord and proclaiming that she sensed that He had been killed). Elioz’s sister Sidonia took the robe of Christ when she saw it in his hands, and began to venerate it with kisses. She hugged it to herself and immediately died! Elioz tried to pull the robe from her grasp but was completely unable to do so. He felt afraid about what could happen to the robe at that point, so he secretly buried her, still clinging to the robe, in an undisclosed location. Some say it was in the middle of the palace garden in Mtskheta, where a cedar tree suddenly grew, but no one knows for sure.

When Nina learned this, she was still uncertain of the actual location of the robe of Christ, but began to pray at that cedar tree in the middle of the royal garden in case the robe was truly under there. One night after her prayers, Nina saw many black birds perch in the cedar’s branches. They flew from there to the river, bathed, and came back as white as snow! The now-white birds sat in the cedars branches and sang beautifully. God revealed to Nina that this was to help her to realize that the people of Iberia would come to know Him, be baptized, and continue their lives cleansed of sins. It encouraged her to keep telling all the people around her about Christ, and to pray for them and for their salvation.

The queen of Iberia, Queen Nana, who did not like Christians and worshiped false gods like the Roman goddess Venus, became sick around this time. She went to doctors, but just got worse and worse. It looked like she would die. Although she did not like Christians, Queen Nana had heard that Nina could heal people through her prayers. She commanded that Nina be brought to her. Nina replied that if she wanted to be healed, the Queen would need to come to her humble dwelling instead. The queen was desperate and so she humbled herself and they carried her to Nina’s little living space, where her servants laid the queen on Nina’s bed of leaves. Nina prayed for her, and touched her head, feet, and shoulders with the grapevine cross. As soon as Nina finished making the sign of the cross over Queen Nana in this way, the queen was completely well. She was so grateful to be healed that she stopped worshipping idols and became a Christian instead. Queen Nana and Nina became close friends.

The king of Iberia, King Mirian, was not happy that his queen converted to Christianity. He was ready to have all of the Christians in Iberia killed, even though that meant that his own wife would die. While he was thinking of this plan, he went out hunting on a beautiful day. As he hunted, suddenly a dark cloud came up where he was. It was so dark that the king could not see! Winds began to blow, lightning was all around, and it was all very similar to the frightening storm that hit back when Nina first came to Iberia and the idols had been destroyed. All of the king’s hunting companions left him because they were afraid. Alone, King Mirian cried out to his gods to save him. The storm got worse, and of course the gods did nothing. Finally, King Mirian cried out to the God of Nina, asking Him to save him from this storm and promising to follow God if He did. At that moment, the storm stopped, and the sun shone! King Mirian returned to the city, found Nina and told her of his experience and his promise, which he kept. And that is how the  Light of Christ entered into King Mirian’s life and the lives of his people as well. His joy at his conversion led the king to build many churches to help his people to be better Christians.

After the king’s conversion, Nina continued to preach and teach about Christ to the Iberian people. Her hard work, and the cooperation of the people around her, established Christianity firmly in that part of the world. (Even today, 82 % of the people of the nation of Georgia are practicing Orthodox Christians!)

Nina reposed in the Lord in the early 4th century, in the village of Bodbe, in what is now eastern Georgia. King Mirian had a church built at the site of her repose. Her body is buried there.

O handmaid of the Word of God,

Who in preaching hast equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew,
And hast emulated the other Apostles;
O enlightener of Iberia and reed-pipe of the Holy Spirit,
Holy Nino, equal to the Apostles:
Pray to Christ God to save our souls!
(troparion to St. Nina, in tone 4)

Sources:

http://www.antiochian.org/node/17330

https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/01/14/100191-st-nino-nina-equal-of-the-apostles-and-enlightener-of-georgia

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

http://www.stnina.org/st-nina/life-st-nina-karen-rae-keck

Here are additional sources that can help us learn and teach about St. Nina:

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This picture book is a great way to help younger children learn about the life of St. Nina: http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-life-of-saint-nina-equal-to-the-apostles/

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Share this 8-minute video about the life of St. Nina with middle-years children: http://trisagionfilms.com/project/life-st-nina-enlightener-georgia/

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This book full of saint stories includes the story of St. Nina: http://www.stspress.com/shop/books/livesofsaints-holypeople/childs-paradise-of-saints-a/

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Create a grapevine cross together to help you remember St. Nina. First, procure some grapevine (from your own plants, or a friend’s, or from a craft store or nursery). Cut sticks of two different lengths and use strands of embroidery floss “hair” to tie them into a cross. Your cross can be small, made of just two grapevine twigs, or large, crafted from multiple strands of each size: it is up to you and your family! Place the cross where it will remind you to be faithful to God and to trust Him as St. Nina did. (Here’s a blog post that can give you an idea of how to tie the cross together. The cross in the blog is made with twigs from a tree, but would apply to grapevine as well: http://www.gratefulprayerthankfulheart.com/2012/04/little-wooden-cross-from-sticks.html)

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Together as a family, study the Republic of Georgia. (Check a book about the country out of the library, or look online for informational sites like this one: http://www.ducksters.com/geography/country.php?country=Georgia, or this one http://www.encyclopedia.com/places/commonwealth-independent-states-and-baltic-nations/cis-and-baltic-political-geography-24) Where is the Republic of Georgia located? Would you like to visit? Decide whether or not St. Nina had a huge impact on the country by just looking at its flag! Then cook something from Georgia and enjoy it together! (For example, this cheese bread looks delicious: http://www.food.com/recipe/georgian-cheese-bread-308047, as do all of these desserts:http://georgiastartshere.com/top-10-georgian-desserts/! For more recipes, see https://georgianrecipes.net/tag/republic-of-georgia/)

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Study the Gospel verses that were written on the scroll miraculously given to St. Nina in her dream when she was feeling most discouraged about her journey. Here they are:

“Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matt.26:13).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28).
“Then said Jesus unto them (the women), Be not afraid: go tell my brethren… (Matt.28:10).
He that receives you receives me, and he that receives me receives him that sent me (Matt.10:40).
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist (Luke 21:15).
“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul… (Matt.10:28).
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt.28:19-20).”

After reading the scriptures together, talk about how these words must have encouraged Nina. Do any of them stand out to encourage you? Select one (or several) to write on a chalkboard or whiteboard in your home, so that it can continue to encourage you. Or print it out in a readable font, have your children decorate the edges of the paper, then frame it and hang it up in your home.

 

On Mark 11:17, “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All Nations.”

Note: the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts Festival 2017’s theme is the inspiration for this blog post. We will take a closer look at the theme, to help them to better prepare for the festival in case they participate. Whether or not they do, what we can gather from this passage of St. Mark’s Gospel is applicable to all of us, not just the children participating in the festival!

Have you ever thought about that time when our Lord went into the temple, overturned the tables of the money changers, and drove out the salesmen? Why did He do that? What can we learn from His actions? How can we apply this passage to our own life?

It all began with the Triumphal Entry, the glorious reception that Jesus was given when He arrived in Jerusalem. Even the fact that He was riding on a lowly donkey did not stop the crowd from singing His praises. But instead of glorying in that acclaim, He went straight to the temple and “looked around at all things.” (Mark 11:11) His means of entry into Jerusalem modeled humility and His choice to go directly to the temple exemplifies the priority that should be given to being in God’s house.

Something else is tucked into this passage that could easily be missed. The passage says that He “looked around at all things” but “as the hour was already late He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” This shows us something else: it models self restraint. After all, as He looked around, our Lord saw all of the greedy money-making happening in what should have been a very holy, completely God-focused place. He knew that it was wrong, and had every right to be furious about it. But instead, He left to be with His disciples, calmly choosing being with people over being frustrated about stuff.

The next day our Lord returned to Jerusalem, and went back to the temple. This time He “drove out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.”  (Mark 11:15-16) He thus demonstrated the importance of keeping what has been set apart for God free from greed and from earthly stuff.

Once the temple was restored to its intended state, it could also return to its intended purpose of worship and godly teaching. And so Christ taught the people, saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” This teaching was appropriate for the people who had gotten so accustomed to seeing (and doing) marketing in the temple that they perhaps didn’t even think about how inappropriate it was. It turns out that this teaching is also appropriate for those of us living 2000+ years later. Concepts that we can take from this passage include: honoring God’s house as a place to pray; welcoming all because God’s house is for everyone, regardless of nationality; and guarding against deceit and greed that can steal us away from right relationship with God.

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians pushes us to look at this event in an even more personal light. 1 Corinthians 6:19 reads, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?” Reconsidering the account of our Lord’s cleansing of the temple from the perspective of our own body being a temple, set apart for God, offers us even more insights for our Christian life. First and foremost, we need to aim to live humbly as our Lord did, especially when things are going well and others are lauding us. Secondly, God should always be our first stop, whether we are looking for personal guidance or we are prioritizing our schedule (being in church at the Divine Services should be at the top of our list). Thirdly, we need Christ Himself to cleanse our hearts, drive away the greed and selfishness in us, and restore us to the way we were intended to be. Finally, we need Him to teach us: how to guard the holiness of His temple, keeping our bodies from being marred by greed; how to welcome all around us to worship Him as well; and how to keep ourselves pure so that we do not house thoughts and desires that steal our focus away from Him.

May the Lord indeed cleanse us, that we may each become a worthy temple that properly worships Him and welcomes others to do the same.

Here are some ideas of ways to help our children (whether or not they will be participating in the aforementioned Creative Arts Festival) to learn about this passage:

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If your parish will be participating in the Creative Arts Festival, you can find information about it here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf

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Together as a family, read this easy-to-understand version of the story. If your children would enjoy them, print some of the activity pages or play some of the related online games found at the bottom of the page. http://gardenofpraise.com/bibl39s.htm

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This series of 5 devotional readings can help your family learn more about the temple, Christ cleansing the temple, and being the temple of the Holy Spirit. Note: the readings are not written from an Orthodox perspective, but can still be very helpful discussion-starters. http://children.cccm.com/NTDevotionsPDF/DEVNT261.pdf

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If your children enjoy doing activity pages related to family discussions, you will want to peruse the printables in this pdf about the cleansing of the temple: http://freesundayschoolcurriculum.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/5/0/12503916/lesson_11_jesus_clears_the_temple.pdf

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These commentaries on the Mark passage offer insights into the passage: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/coffeecup/mark_1115_intro, http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/coffeecup/mark_1117_19, and http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/transforminglives/part_59_mark_1115_19.

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“The first and most important temple for the holy spirit is us.” Listen to this short podcast on keeping our bodies, our temples, clean: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/living_as_a_temple

Learning About the Saints: St. Phanourios (Commemorated on August 27/September 9)

This morning when I checked my plans for what I would be writing about for this blog post, I immediately got goosebumps. Months ago I had planned that today I would write about St. Phanourios, but I had forgotten that plan until I was ready to begin. Mind you, St. Phanourios is one of my favorite saints, and I frequently request his prayers for myself and for my family. I am indebted to this saint for his multiple intercessions on our behalf. Time after time, his prayers have worked miracles for us, and we are grateful. But the reason for my goosebumps was because St. Phanourios’ prayers just worked a miracle for our family yesterday, so the timing is impeccable. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about this wonderful saint!

Very little has been passed down about the life of St. Phanourios. Around 1500, a previously-forgotten chapel was unearthed in a building project in Rhodes. All the icons in the chapel were disfigured or crumbling, but one was still intact. In fact, it almost looked freshly-painted, it was in such good shape. It features a young man named as “St. Phanourios,” holding a candle-topped cross. Surrounding the central icon are a series of twelve smaller icons depicting the saint’s refusal to give up his faith and the tortures that he endured in the process.

Because of the icon’s miraculously fresh appearance in the midst of rubble, as well as the evidence that St. Phanourios maintained the Faith through his tortures all the way to his martyrdom, the Church leaders in Rhodes agreed that he should be revered as a saint. A church was built in his honor on the site of the ruins. People began to venerate the icon, and they became aware that the prayers of St. Phanourios are blessed with miraculous intervention. Because his icon was found after being lost for so long, and because his name is derived from the Greek word  φανερώνω, or phanerono, which means “I reveal,” people began to ask St. Phanourios to pray that they would again find lost items and/or that they would regain their health. Time and time again, he has done so, and many people have been blessed through his prayers. Somewhere along the line, people began to bake a special sweet bread to share in thanksgiving for the saint’s prayers. (Some have said that he wants this bread to be baked, accompanied with prayers for his mother, who died outside of baptism, but that is not the official reason for baking it. Phanouropita should be baked as a request to the saint for help, or in thanksgiving after he has helped, then shared with an account of the miracle God has wrought through the prayers of His servant.)

Our family will be baking phanouropita very soon because of the most recent miracle God worked for our family through the prayers of St. Phanourios. It’s a long story, so hang onto your hat: Two and a half weeks ago, our son’s computer refused to turn on. Part of his schooling includes online classes, so he uses that computer to connect with his classes and his schoolwork is stored on that computer. He’s also a budding photographer and his most recent work is only on that computer. We really need that computer to work for him, so we prepared to send it to the company from whence it came so that it could be fixed. Unfortunately, this happened on the day before we left for vacation, and we had little on hand to properly package a computer, but wanted to get it off as soon as possible. So we grabbed old packing envelopes and tissue paper, thoroughly wrapped the computer in them, and packed it into a box so that when someone came home a few days later, the shipping company could schedule a pickup and it would be off for repairs before we all got home from vacation. After the pickup, we waited for confirmation that the computer made it to its destination, but we heard nothing. A week later, vacation over, we began to wonder where the computer was, so my husband began to call points along the shipping route to try to track down the package. Through a long and tedious process, we discovered that it had gone missing. We suspected that it had lost its shipping label, and my husband spent hours on the phone, daily, for many days, trying to learn all that he could. And of course we prayed, asking St. Phanourios to help us find the package.

We had many false leads, and there were a few times that we thought it had been found. But every time we’d realize that we had misunderstood or we had received automated confirmations that did not match up to reality. Two weeks after its shipping date, we were becoming convinced that the computer and all of our son’s work which it holds were gone. We continued to pray and ask St. Phanourios to intercede on our behalf, but it was beginning to look like the answer this time would be “no, you do not need to have that computer anymore.”

Yesterday morning my husband spent another hour or more trying to track the computer down: at this point, we were running into the limit of days when they may still be able to access images, etc., of the package. And then, suddenly, I had an odd email show up in my inbox. It was from a company from which I had purchased a humble bag of chai in support of a school choir fundraiser for one of my favorite choir buddies from church. The email told me that a computer had been mailed to their company because one of their mailing envelopes was found in the computer’s packaging, although the package itself had lost its label. Upon further contact, we’ve confirmed that the computer is ours. Glory to God!

I have no idea why the shipping company sent the computer to one of the many addresses stuffed in its packaging instead of looking at all of the packing envelopes, finding the common address on all of the labels (ours), and sending it back here. However, I am thankful that they sent it to an honest company who went to the extra lengths to find our contact information and reconnect us with this much-needed computer! We are grateful to St. Phanourios for his intercessions for our computer, and to God for allowing us to find it once again. We have the recipe for our phanouropita ready and waiting to be baked upon the computer’s return. And in the meantime, we gratefully pray, “Lord, have mercy on the soul of St. Phanourios (and on the soul of his mother), save them, and save us!”

Through the prayers of St. Phanourios, Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

To learn more about St. Phanourios, visit these sites:

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See a photo of the actual icon of St. Phanourios that was found in the rubble so long ago, here: http://orthodoxtraditions.blogspot.com/2013/12/st-phanourios-great-martyr-newly.html

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Want to know more about St. Phanourios? Read this account of how he miraculously intervened and saved three stranded priests: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/08/the-veneration-of-saint-phanourios-on.html

(Also on this page, you will find pictures of shrines that have been built to commemorate the saint, as well as the stories behind some of them!)

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Did St. Phanourios ever help you find something? You may want to make a batch of phanouropita and share it, telling about the miracle as you do! Here’s a recipe: http://myocn.net/tradition-thanks-st-phanourios-finds/

Find another recipe for phanouropita in this lovely blog post: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2010/08/27/st-fanourios-the-martyr-and-miracle-worker/

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Read a non-Orthodox testimonial to St. Phanourios’ help (and yet another recipe) here: http://leitesculinaria.com/51916/writings-greek-phanourious-cake.html

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Find a prayer to Christ, thanking Him for St. Phanourios’ help, and a prayer to bless a phanouropita here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/prayers-to-christ-and-st-phanourios.html

Find the akathist to St. Phanourios here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/prayers-to-christ-and-st-phanourios.html  

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This beautiful child-sized book tells the story of the finding of the icon of St. Phanourios: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/18-Paterikon-for-kids-Saint-Phanourios/flypage-ask.tpl.html. You can also hear Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of this book in her “Under the Grapevine” podcast, here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/saint_phanourios

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Print the icon of and troparion to St. Phanourios found here: https://app.box.com/s/uvph2nn833y8gr1fj7yd

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Host an end-of-summer “Lost and Found” party that can help you teach your children about St. Phanourios. Invite other friends to join you, if you like. Read or tell the story of St. Phanourios. If you have personal examples of miracles that his prayers have caused, share them with everyone. Before (or together, during!)  the party, bake a St. Phanourios cake to share. Play some games like “Sardines,” “Hide and Seek,” have a scavenger hunt, or play a version of hide and seek where you have hidden items around the room ahead of time and the children must find them . For a craft, have the kids each make their own “lost and found” game such as  http://www.catholicinspired.com/2010/11/st-anthony-lost-and-found-game.html, only smaller (as suggested here http://www.kidspot.com.au/cute-diy-find-it-jars/ ). Be sure to pre-print and perhaps even laminate the list of items that will be put into the jar, so that your party guests will have a nice game (the jar and the list) to take home with them. Every time they play with this game, they will be able to remember St. Phanourios and how he helps people find lost things!

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This page points to many resources about St. Phanourios: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/08/saint-phanourios-resource-page.html

On the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be Thy name”

‘Hallowed’ means holy. God’s name is already holy, whether or not we say so! But when we pray “Hallowed be Thy name,” we are saying that we want other people to recognize the holiness of His name. We want them to know that He is holy. The best way for others to learn about God’s holiness is for us, the Body of Christ on earth, to live in a holy way. After all, as CHRISTians, we have taken on Christ’s name as a descriptor of the life we intend to lead! So, how we live reflects back on Him, in the eyes of our family and friends. Our life either shows His holiness, or we have much work to do (and forgiveness to ask from God and from those around us)!

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“When I pray saying ‘Hallowed be Thy Name,’ the meaning of these words apply to me actualizing God’s blessings. Lord, through the cooperation of Your help, may I become blameless, just and pious. Abstaining from every evil, may I speak the truth, practicing righteousness and walking on the straight path. May I shine with prudence, be adorned with incorruption, and be beautified with wisdom and discernment. Overlooking earthly things, may I set my mind on the things above (Col 3:2) and be radiant with the angelic manner of life.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. Read more in this blog post: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2014/08/what-does-hallowed-be-thy-name-mean.html

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“‘Hallowed be thy name’ —this is the cry of the one who has seen and recognized God, and knows that only in this vision and encounter can he find the fullness of life, full inspiration, and full happiness.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p. 29

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“‘Hallowed be thy name’ —may everything in the world, beginning with my own life, my deeds, my words be a reflection of this sacred and divine name, which has been revealed and given to us…

“‘Hallowed be thy name’ — this is also a petition for help in the difficult effort in this ascension and transformation, for we are surrounded and held captive to darkness, evil, pettiness, superficiality, turmoil…” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p.30

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“How rarely we pronounce these words, acknowledging all this, and yet how good it is that we repeat them again and again. For it is only while these words, ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ remain heard in the world, while they are not forgotten, that man will not be entirely depersonalized, that he will not totally betray the vocation for which he was created by God.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p.32

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Idea: Gather a mirror (smudged with dirt or dust) and a polishing rag. Pass the mirror around so everyone can look at themselves, to see how clearly they can see their image. Then, take the polishing rag and clean the mirror completely. Pass it around again and allow each person to see if their image is clearer now.

Then discuss this part of the Lord’s prayer, and the following quote: “… it’s like we each have a mirror inside of us, and if that mirror is no longer filthy but has been polished by the sacraments and by love, when God’s love shines on us we can reflect it, magnifying it and spreading that light to the world. If we wish to make God’s name hallowed when we say it, then we too must be clean and bright, free from sin and iniquity and filth, so that we can reflect and even magnify God’s glorious name, hallowing it.” https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/teaching-lords-prayer/

Talk again about the mirror. Which way was it easier to see the details of your face? If we are living as described in the quote, “polished” by the sacraments and by love, we will reflect God’s love more perfectly, and His name will be hallowed, as it should be.

Pray the Lord’s Prayer together, and then ask Him for help, that you may live a life that indeed hallows His name.