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Our Saints Show Us The Way
By Aristea Zekios

Saint Juliana the Merciful by Aristea Zekios

The lives of the Saints have always fascinated me. I was impressed with how many of them suffered a martyr’s death. Some Saints, like the Apostles, traveled to distant lands to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Some Saints performed miracles through faith in Jesus Christ. There were soldiers under ruthless emperors who died rather than deny their belief in Christ. There were young maidens who became Christians and died for their faith. The list is endless, but each Saint joined the cloud of witnesses that surround us (Hebrews 12:1).

One Saint in particular had a profound effect on me. Her name was Saint Juliana the Merciful. She was born around 1530 in Russia and died in 1604. As a little girl she was devout and kind to the ill and poor. She was a good seamstress and sewed garments when everyone thought she was asleep. She would sell these and use the money to buy food and clothing for the needy.

At the age of 16 she was married to a good and rich husband. She had many children and some of them died. She fasted and prayed and secretly helped the poor at night. She treated all the servants of her household as though they were her children. During a great famine, she learned to make bread from bark and ground-up weeds. After her husband died, she gave away all she had to help others. Those who were with her as she lay dying marveled at the joy and peace with which she greeted death. After she had died, they saw a bright halo around her head, the same as we see around the heads of Saints in the icons. Many years later, the Church proclaimed her a Saint. She is commemorated on January 2.

Why did Saint Juliana make such an impression on me? Because she was a Saint who grew where she was planted. Her life showed me that we are not all called to die a martyr’s death, or travel to the ends of the earth to evangelize, or perform miracles in the name of Christ. We can become Saints simply by growing where we are planted. Saint Juliana never learned to read or write, yet from her home, she did that which the Lord called her to do. When I first read the story of Saint Juliana, I was a young mother juggling the responsibilities of family, home, and work. I attended Bible study and taught Church School. But I often felt that I was short changing the Lord. However, Saint Juliana taught me that we can still serve the Lord wherever we are in our earthly journey. When we trust Him for guidance; He will show us how to serve Him by using our God-given talents. Many opportunities will arise for us to grow where we are planted if we “ask, seek and knock” (Mt 7:7) and work with the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s plans for us.

Because the Saints are exemplary role models, I asked my junior high students to select a favorite Saint, gather information, and write a brief biography. Then I asked them to share what they learned from that Saint. Here are their responses.

Martyr Alexander of Rome by Alex Zimny (age 13)

I chose Martyr Alexander of Rome because he is my patron Saint. I learned about him when I did some research on the Internet. He is commemorated on May 13. He lived in the beginning of the fourth century. He was a soldier serving in the regiment of the tribune Tiberian at Rome. He was raised as a Christian, and felt strongly about his faith. One day the Roman emperor Maximian Hercules issued an edict that all citizens were to go to the temple of Jupiter, outside the city, on a designated day to offer sacrifice. Alexander said he would not turn down Christ. He refused to worship the idols. The emperor had him arrested. He was tortured while his mother watched. She told her son to undergo torments for Christ. The soldiers couldn’t believe his strength and said to each other, “Great is the God of the Christians.” When they were transporting him to the place that Christians were persecuted; he often saw visions of angels telling him to remain steadfast. Soon he was going to be beheaded; he knew this and was not afraid, for he had his faith with him. He wanted to go to the Lord. So as soon as he prayed to God to take away the angels that strengthened him, he was beheaded. His body washed down the river; a group of dogs took it out and guarded it until his mother could bury him. Saint Alexander taught me that when you have true faith, it can make you strong.

Saint Sarah by Sarah Hansen (age 12)

My favorite saint is Saint Sarah. She is my favorite because she is my patron Saint, and also because she had a beautiful life and an interesting story. In fact, the disciple Peter noted that she modeled the inner beauty of a godly woman. (l Peter 3:3-6)

Sarah’s name was not originally Sarah (princess), it was Sarai. She married Abram, whose name was later changed by God to Abraham. Sarah always wanted a child but was always unsuccessful. She prayed to God that she would have a child. She was very unhappy. When God spoke to Abraham, he promised them a son and to make her the mother of nations and kings. When Abraham heard this he fell on his face laughing, for he could not believe that Sarah would bear a child at the age of 90. Three messengers from God came and told Abraham that in a year’s time she would give birth. When at last Sarah held her baby in her arms, she believed that God could do anything, and she praised him. It is unknown when Sarah was born, but most sources said she lived to be 127 years old. Sarah lived around 2,000 B.C. She is commemorated on December 17.

The Holy Virgin Saint Mary, the Mother of Jesus by Stephanie Aboutar (age 14)

We generously celebrate Saint Mary’s memories on many occasions such as her birth on September 8th, her Presentation in the Temple on November 21st, the Annunciation on March 25th, and her death on August 15th. There are also special services in her honor. One day, an angel appeared to Mary and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You will have a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. The Holy Spirit will come to you and the Child will be the Son of God.” (Luke 1:30-35). “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it happen to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) said Mary. The Ever-Virgin Mary had to make a long, hard journey to Bethlehem. She delivered Baby Jesus in a manger, where sheep and oxen were sheltered. Although our beloved Saint Mary lived many, many years, an angel appeared to her, telling her that she should prepare for death. She was happy, knowing and hoping she would re-unite with her Son in heaven. She called her friends, family, and neighbors to watch her quietly fall asleep. The Apostles carried her body through the streets of Jerusalem and buried her in Gethsemane. Our Church calls Mary the “Theotokos” because she gave birth to Christ our God. We honor her above all the other Saints because she is the closest to God. I chose Saint Mary because she was the first Saint I ever learned about, and she is the Saint that I know about the most. She is a role model to me because she gave birth to Christ our God, and she could have chosen not to.

Saint Longinus by Nick Lisowski (age 13)

Imagine! The man who watched over our Lord’s Crucifixion, the one who stabbed Jesus in the side, became a believer. Saint Longinus is this man. He was a Roman military officer under the control of Pontius Pilate. When Jesus was crucified, Longinus and his soldiers were to watch over the event. When Jesus left his earthly life, Longinus said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mt 27:54). Longinus and three of his fellow soldiers resigned from military service and went on to preach the Word of God. Pilate sent some of his men to execute the former soldiers. When the men arrived in Longinus’ town, Longinus himself let the soldiers in and gave them a meal. The soldiers told the kind man their purpose and Longinus revealed himself to them. The soldiers recommended that Longinus and his men run. However, they refused and they had the soldiers carry out their duty as they were determined to suffer for God. Longinus and his men were buried at the spot where they were martyred. He is commemorated on October 16.

I chose this Saint because I think it is amazing that the man who was in charge of the Crucifixion could become a believer and preach and die in the name of Christ.

Martyr Alexandra the Empress by Alexandra Evangelopoulos (Age 12)

Empress Alexandra was the wife of Diocletian. She was not thought of as a martyr until several years after her death. In 305, Diocletian resigned his throne to his co-ruler Maximian Galerius. Galerius was a fanatic pagan and also a brave and fierce soldier. He married St. Alexandra’s daughter St. Valeria. St. Valeria had been forced to marry Galerius by Diocletian.

St. Alexandra raised her daughter to be a Christian. Maximian Galerius died and the new emperor, Maximinus, asked for her hand in marriage. He was refused so he banished St. Valeria to Syria where she lived with her mother.

After the death of Maximinus in 311, St. Alexandra and her daughter arrived in Nicomedia. Even though the new emperor, Licinius, had approved a law (the Edict of Milan) giving Christians freedom of religion, he secretly was an enemy of Christians. Licinius gave orders to execute St. Alexandra and St. Valeria. They were beheaded and their bodies were thrown into the sea.

I chose St. Alexandra the empress because she is my patron Saint. I didn’t know much about her but now I do. If she weren’t my patron Saint, I would still have chosen her because she displayed amazing bravery. She held on to her Christian faith through all of the pagan emperors. She is a role model to every one of us because that is what we need to do—stick to our faith.

St. Kevin by Kevin Szpakaowicz (age 13)

St. Kevin was born in Ireland around 489 A.D. (the date is not very certain). He was the son of Coemlog and Coemell; he was born to a wealthy family. He was born under the name of Coemgen (Irish for Kevin), which means fair-begotten (of gentle birth). He was baptized by St. Cronan and at the age of seven was educated by St. Petroc. After studying under St. Petroc for five years, he went to study with monks for three years. During his stay with the monks, he was studying the Holy Scriptures.

Some time later after studying the Holy Scriptures, St. Kevin founded what is now a famous monastery in Glendaloch. This monastery had become famous and attracted many pilgrims, turning Glendaloch into a great holy city. He soon became a bishop and established a church under the invocation of the Saints Peter and Paul. His monastery is also the “parent” of many other monastic foundations.

St. Kevin died on July 3, 618. It is said that he died at the age of 120. St. Kevin’s feast day is celebrated on July 3rd in the Orthodox and Western calendars. In Ireland, it is celebrated on June 3rd.

It is said that St. Kevin was more comfortable around animals than humans. He performed miracles and some were related to animals or nature. Once a bird laid an egg in St. Kevin’s outstretched hand. St. Kevin held the egg in his hand until the egg hatched and the bird could fly away. Another time a boar came to him to protect him from hunting dogs. When the dogs saw Kevin with the boar, they lay at his feet. Once Kevin healed a king’s aging goose and made the goose fly again. When praying and reciting psalms near a lake, an otter would bring him enough salmon to feed the monastery. Whenever Kevin dropped his book of psalms in the lake, the otter would retrieve it. The book was never damaged.

When we were taking about patron Saints in my Church School class, I didn’t know that much about Saint Kevin. So I was glad to learn about him. I was impressed with his miracles and how he kept working at keeping his faith.

Saint Joanna the Myrrh Bearer by Joan Betsanes (age

The Saint I chose to write about is Saint Joanna the Myrrh Bearer. I chose her because she is my patron Saint. All I knew about her was the fact that she was a myrrh bearer. There is very little information about her. Sometimes it can be aggravating to be missing information, like missing the last puzzle piece, but it also leaves the story open to interpretation.

So I was thinking that if I were one of the myrrh bearers, I would feel special because God had chosen me to find Jesus’ missing body. If some random non-believer just happened to find the empty tomb, he could have just left it and nobody would have known that the tomb belonged to Jesus. If the apostles hadn’t found out that Jesus had risen, they might not have made some of the missionary journeys which would have resulted in a smaller Christian population.

Saint Joanna was, and still is, a very important role model of the Christian faith. Without her we might not be where we are today. In honor of her good deeds, June 27th of each year is dedicated to Saint Joanna the Myrrh Bearer.

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