Featuring the Lives of the Saints of our Church
Saint Zachariah: June 24
Zachariah was a priest of the Jerusalem Temple, as well as the husband of St. Elizabeth (the sister of St. Anna, Mother of the Theotokos). He and Elizabeth lived a good, holy life but there was a great and powerful sadness between them: they were unable to have children, which in ancient times was considered a punishment from God. Then, an amazing miracle occurred. The Angel Gabriel came to Zachariah while he was in the temple and told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son who was to be named “John.” It seemed impossible to Zachariah (he and Elizabeth were very old), and he didn’t believe the news—because of his unbelief, he was, from that moment, unable to speak even a word. But months later when the child was born, he was asked to confirm the name of his son. He wrote the name "John" down on a tablet. Immediately, the gift of speech returned to him, and he began to prophesy about his son as the Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord.
Getting Practical: Believing is difficult. Faith is difficult. Sometimes we want to believe and have faith, but the things we have experienced make it all seem impossible. We might ask, “How can I come closer to God when I feel far from Him today? How can I trust my parents when they don’t even seem to listen to me half the time?” Like St. Zachariah, we all have to face questions of faith, trust and belief. A big part of the solution is to put all our trust in God—to believe He will show us the way.
Saint Evdokia: March 1
St. Evdokia was from Heliopolis of Phoenicia (which is in present-day Lebanon). She was a pagan in her early years—she worshipped idols and not our God. She also led a life that was based on what she wanted, not what God wanted. It is believed that she was remarkably beautiful and that many men wanted to marry her; in fact, she became very rich from the gifts that they gave her, hoping to win her over. But at some point, something changed. She was taught about Christ by a monk, Germanus, and baptized not long after by a bishop named Theodotus. During her conversion process, she repented greatly over the life she had lived in the past. To help complete this wonderful process, she gave all of her ill-gotten riches to the poor and entered a convent, giving herself up completely to a life of prayer. Over time, several of her former suitors were so angry over losing her to Christ, that they informed the authorities of her conversion, which led to her martyrdom, probably in the late first or early second century.
Getting Practical: St. Evdokia’s life reminds us that it is never too late to build a relationship with Christ. This month, start a conversation with your child about relationships—what they are like, why they’re important, etc. Then bring up how God wants a healthy relationship with us. Together, brainstorm ways to make this possible during Lent!
Holy Theophany and Saint John the Baptist: January 6 and 7
Below is an entry for Holy Theophany and Saint John that is a little different than our usual “Saintly Lives” offerings. I wrote it as a contribution to a friend’s website, and I thought it might be of use to our parish family, as far as providing parents with talking points as they try and engage their children about this inspirational saint and one of the momentous events of our salvation history.
Down by the River, by Fr. Alex
You never knew a person like John before. He was different, energized and driven by a force unlike anything on this earth. Things that preoccupied most people didn’t preoccupy him. He didn’t want to talk with you about money, status or local gossip. He only wanted to talk about things that seemed foreign yet strangely familiar and inviting; and when he talked, you listened.
He was on a mission. He even left town and tore off into the woods, driven by the Holy Spirit into the foreboding wilderness just like our Lord. He went deep, deep into the woods where life wasn’t comfortable or predictable. He dressed like a wild man and ate only locusts and honey. What was he thinking? He called your neighbors to follow him on this same mysterious journey. And he called you. He called you to a baptism of repentance, a powerful experience that would bring you to your knees before the feet of our Lord—finally honest, finally open, finally ready to throw away your burdens … finally with a change of heart.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be in the presence of the Baptist—to envision the scene upon the banks of the River Jordan. Even more so when Jesus approached, the one John had called “The Lamb of God.” Who was this man, who seemed even stranger than John? What was it about Him that drew you to Him—wherever He was, there was an energy. You had to be near Him; you waited to see what was going to happen next; you felt empty when He was out of your sight. Who was this man, and why was John saying he was unworthy to baptize Him?
Imagine, now, the Baptism of our Lord. Close your eyes and be there with Him as the Spirit descends—feel that energy and the grace flowing upon you. You’ve never felt anything like this before. Be there with Him.
This is what we remember—what we experience—on January 6, the Holy Theophany of the Lord (the Synaxis of Saint John is on January 7). This momentous day should also lead us to remember our own baptisms. Though most of us were not baptized in the Jordan proper, we nonetheless have been submerged into the spiritual waters of the Jordan; we have been symbolically entombed with our Lord and resurrected with Him. We have dived to the deepest darkness with Him and risen to the brightest light. We have “put on Christ,” been taken into the loving bosom of His Church and sealed with the gift and protection of the Holy Spirit. Through Holy Baptism, we have been taken into Him and become members of His Body. This was our own personal Theophany. We should never forget what was done for us on the day of our respective baptisms.
I pray that the grace and power of our Lord’s Theophany is in your heart and mind in January; I urge you to meditate and pray upon the meaning of your own baptism … I hope, with my whole heart, that you are driven by the Spirit—like Saint John and our Lord—to live an uncommon life of courage and faith. Begin the year with a new and encouraged faith. Tear into the wilderness with Saint John; listen to God; let the Spirit guide you to the banks of the Jordan.
May God bless you with much love, peace, forgiveness and joy in the new year.
Saint Modestos: December 16
Born in 292 in Sebastia, Saint Modestos endured tremendous loss before his 1st birthday: his parents were put to death for practicing Christianity. He was brought into the imperial household and raised as a pagan. As a teenager, though, a spiritual awakening occurred. He learned of his parents’ faith and martyrdom—and that he had actually been baptized a Christian before their execution. A Christian goldsmith began to mentor him, but the man’s jealous sons sold him into slavery in Egypt. After converting his master’s family and ultimately gaining his freedom, he made a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai and was ordained a priest at a local monastery. He quickly became known for his devotion and loving nature. After years of service to the Church, he was selected Patriarch of Jerusalem. It was during these latter years that his long-time appreciation for all of God’s creation intensified and blossomed. He had a particular affection for animals, seeing them as sublime, mysterious gifts from God. Often he would bless livestock, praying for their health and productivity and giving thanks for all Creation.
Getting Practical: In November, our parish held a Saint Modestos Pet Blessing event, and Fr. Alex has copies of the blessing prayer we used (one of several that survive from Saint Modestos) to share with you. Feel free to ask for one, and then take it home to read over your pet(s) on the 16th or any time you like. Our pets are beloved to so many of us; offering them this simple blessing is one more way to bring Church into the home.
Saints Sophia, Faith, Hope & Love: September 17
Saint Sophia and her three daughters—Faith, Hope & Love—were from Italy and gave their lives for God in the year 126, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. Faith was twelve years old, Hope, ten and Love, only nine; even though they were children, the laws of the emperor’s reign were firm: if they did not repent of their Christian Faith, the penalty was death. After their executions, Saint Sophia mourned at their grave for three days, where she also fell asleep in peace. Because of her courageous endurance in the face of her daughters' sufferings, she is also counted a martyr by the Church.
Getting Practical: Did you know that the Orthodox Christian Church recognizes child saints? Sometimes adults mistakenly think of children as only the “future” of the Church when, in truth, they are not only the future but very much part of the “now” of the Church. As the lives of these beloved saints indicate, alongside adults, children have bravely and faithfully given up their lives for Christ throughout the centuries of Christendom, from the earliest times to the most recent. This month, print out the icon of this faithful saint family for your children; show it to them, share their story and remind your children that their contributions to the Church are real and powerful.
Saint Mary Magdalene the Holy Myrrh-bearer & Equal to the Apostles: July 22
Saint Mary was from Magdala, a city in Galilee on the Sea of Tiberias; the word Magdala means “tower” or “castle,” very appropriate for this saint of “towering” faith. The Bible tells us that for part of her life, she suffered greatly from spiritual pain and that Jesus had cast seven demons from her. As of that moment, she became one of his most devoted disciples, following Him and ministering to Him even to the time of His crucifixion and burial. She also helped prepare the fragrant spices for anointing His body during those difficult times and was the initial witness of His Resurrection. Within the Gospel of John (20:1 – 18), we learn that on that miraculous morning so long ago, she found the stone in front of the tomb rolled away and His resting place empty. After running to tell Peter and John, she returned to the tomb, weeping. Then she saw something even more amazing: two stunning angels sitting where the body had been—and then, behind her, Jesus Himself, who advised her of His coming Ascension and directed her to go and spread the news to the rest of the disciples. Little is known about the rest of her life, but because of her tremendous faith and steadfastness, the Church honors her with the title “Holy Myrrhbearer and Equal to the Apostles.”
Getting Practical: What does it mean to be a true friend to Jesus? To others as well? Saint
Mary’s life provides an amazing example. Discuss with your children how Jesus helped her in her time of need and how she did not forget this—how she followed and ministered to Him faithfully, even to the time of His death … and beyond! Bring home to your children how we are all called to be true and faithful friends of the Lord; in addition, stress how we are called to be true and faithful friends to one another, inspired by His grace and love.
Saint Glyceria the Holy Martyr: May 13
Saint Glyceria was a martyr, which means that she actually gave her life for love of Christ. While not much is known about her early life, we do know that she had great faith in our Lord and that the day of her martyrdom was May 13, 141. On that powerful day, Saint Glyceria was in Thrace and saw a festival going on. The royal governor was offering a sacrifice to pagan Gods. Filled with spiritual courage, she entered the temple and declared herself to be a follower of Christ. The governor commanded that she rebuke Christ and offer a sacrifice to the pagan gods. So she went to the statue of Zeus and overturned it, dashing it to pieces. Immediately, she was subjected to many horrible tortures, and finally was cast to wild beasts.
Getting Practical: Displaying our faith in public can be intimidating. Even when it comes to simple things like praying at a restaurant or answering a question about our Church when we’re with friends, we sometimes think twice about acknowledging our belief in Christ. But we should be proud of who we are: there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Being an Orthodox Christian is pretty awesome! Next time one of these moments comes up, just think of Saint Glyceria—her public display of bravery was inspiring, courageous and true to God. We can act on her holy example.
Saint George the Great Martyr and Triumphant: April 23
(If April 23 falls on or before Holy Pascha, the Feast of Saint George is moved to Bright Monday)
Saint George, called a “great martyr” and “triumphant” in the Church, was born of a father from Cappadocia and a mother from Palestine. He was a military tribune, or chiliarch (that is, a commander of a thousand troops), and he was famous for his battle exploits and highly honored for his courage. When he learned that the Emperor Diocletian was preparing a persecution of the Christians, Saint George, already a Christian, presented himself publicly before the Emperor and denounced him. When threats and promises could not move Saint George from his steadfast faith, he was tortured repeatedly and horribly, which he endured with great bravery, overcoming these trials by his faith and love for Christ. In fact, during his gauntlet of tortures, many wondrous and inspiring signs were witnessed—these events guided many to knowledge of Christ, including Queen Alexandra, wife of Diocletian. After enduring so much for His Lord, he was finally beheaded in 296 in Nicomedia. He is often pictured in armor or upon a white horse destroying a serpent or dragon (symbols of evil), and his life story continues to direct and inspire us today.
Getting Practical: Children seem naturally drawn to the life of Saint George—perhaps it’s the armor, horse and triumph over the serpent or dragon shown in his icons. Take advantage of their interest: repeat the story of St. George with your children; then encourage them to draw their own “icon” of Saint George, highlighting his faith and bravery!