High School: Church History Overview (Schedules, etc.)




This sample schedule is provided for the convenience of Church School directors. Feel free to plug in your own dates and teachers.




General Plan of lessons:





Special Notes

Sept.    8










Unit 1: The Beginnings

Pentecost/Philip & the eunuch

Peter and Cornelius

Council of Jerusalem


Unit 2: St. Paul

Paul and his journeys

Movie Night: Quo Vadis


Oct.      7








Paul and his journeys

Paul and his journeys


Unit 3: Apostolic Age



Other Apostles/Dormition






Movie Night: Ben Hur

All Saint’s Party

Nov.      4









Unit 4: Persecutions






Dec.       1












St. Nicholas Festival

St. Nicholas Play/Party


Unit 5: Early Fathers

Canon of Scripture

Council of Nicea



Unit 6: Church Established

Cappodocian Fathers






Memory: Books of Bible





Decorate Theophany jars

Jan.         6








Gregory Palamas/John Climacus


Unit 7: Church Councils

Ecumenical Councils

Ecumenical Councils

Three Kings Party in hall

Memory: Creed



Homeless bags after class.

Feb.         3








Ecumenical Councils



Unit 8: Byzantine Age

Fall of Rome/Byzantine Empire

Rise of Islam

Charlemagne/Holy Roman Empire


Movie night after vespers



Memory Work: Trisagion Prayers












Unit 9: The Schism

The Great Schism

The Crusades

Fall of Constantinople


Unit 10: The Protestants





Art Day





Memory: Jesus Prayer

April       6










Unit 11: Slavic Churches

Cyril/Methodius/Baptism Russia


PASCHA: No class


Movie Night





Bright Monday Egg Hunt

May        4







St. Innocent to OCA


Unit 12: National Churches


No Class: Camping Trip





Memory Work: Lord Have Mercy 5 languages

June         1








Japan/ Finland


Balalaika on the Onion Dome


Rehearsal opening exer.

Rehearsal opening exer.

Rehearsal/Movie Night

Play and Awards Presentation








Stock supplies:

             Your box should contain paper and pencils, pencil sharpener, tape, stapler, glue, magic markers. There is a large flip chart in place of a blackboard and large maps of Europe and Asia and a time line


References for this course:

             Each student should have the Bible. These should either be kept in the class basket or brought each week. Each Bible has maps, but the class also has maps for reference.


Lesson plan:

            We will be dismissed first from liturgy for the students to get refreshments. In about 10 minutes, lessons will begin and should last about 45 minutes. If you are unable to teach on your assigned day, please trade with someone and then let me know (to avoid mid-Liturgy panic when I don’t see you in the congregation).

You will find in this manual the lesson objectives and an outline of the material to be presented. It would be wonderful to give the students each a book to read before class each week, but it will never happen! Hence the need to present the material carefully but with class discussion and participation. If students seem interested, for some lessons each could prepare a small part of the lesson of his choosing – a martyr, a monk, an apostle. The lesson is followed by a quiz of some sort. Remember that for many of our students, this teen class will be their last coherent presentation of Church History; after this, they will hear only the Western perspective in school and college. Help them to learn it well!


Paperwork and insurance regulations:  Each of us must “apply” each year for our volunteer position; our references will be checked as per diocesan regulations.  We will also have a parent volunteer who could come into any classroom at any time as required by the insurance company.  Please be sure to accompany your charges back to the church building after class – again new safety regulations. 


                                                                                    Pat Disharoon (410-233-5337)



Keep track with your students of the dating of the events they study. Here’s a sample timeline with some of the important events already listed. You can give a copy to each student, or keep a large copy for the entire class and add to it each week.



Beginnings: Pentecost



Objective: Students should be able to discuss the beginnings of the Christian era, its place in the Roman world, the major players at the first council, the debate about Jews and Gentiles and its conclusion, the foundation of the sacraments of baptism and chrismation.




Begin with a discussion of the phrase “in the fullness of time”:

  1. God had prepared His people, the people of Israel, for the coming of the Messiah. Abraham was chosen out of Ur and led to the Holy Land. His descendants were saved from starvation by Joseph. Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and received the Law and the 10 Commandments. Joshua took the land of Israel back from the Canaanites. David, the King, anointed by Samuel the prophet, brought back the glory of Israel and its golden age under his son Solomon with the holy temple. A multitude of prophets through the years called the people back to the Lord and His Law. The prophets foretold the Messiah and, in Jesus, all the prophecies were fulfilled. Have each student, in 5 minutes, take one of these Old Testament greats and prepare to tell his or her story and how he or she fit into the plan of God for His people and His preparation for the ministry of His Son:

Abraham         Joshua             Solomon          The 3 youths in the fire

Joseph             Ruth                Isaiah               Daniel

Moses              David              Jonah

            By the days of the Romans, Jewish immigrants had settled all over the Empire, bringing with them synagogues. At Pentecost, the total population of Jerusalem was about 50,000, but 125,000 pilgrims came for the feast. All Jewish believers hoped to be in Jerusalem for the great feasts. The city was full of colorful crowds, speaking all the languages of the world.


  1. The gods of Rome were found wanting; Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Neptune, etc., with their extensive mythology were capricious and uncaring.  Not even most Romans believed in their gods anymore. Many Greek and Roman people had already heard of the Jewish religion and were interested; some had even been circumcised.


  1. The Roman Empire provided a stable political and cultural climate:

The Empire stretched from Britain to Northern Africa to Syria and Judea. Only Persia and the Germanic tribes remained a factor at the borders. Use your classroom or study Bible map to show the borders of the Empire. A network of roads and postal service covered the entire Empire. Travel had never before been easier. Ask students to compare with earlier transportation and today’s. One language/one culture – educated people everywhere spoke Greek (not Latin); one set of laws, of coinage, of trade made the work of the apostles easier. Jerusalem itself was under Roman rule with a Roman governor and Roman soldiers at the time of Pentecost. Can you locate Jerusalem on your map?


Now consider the arrival of the feast of Pentecost in this milieu:

  1. Review the icon; what do they already understand? The disciples are gathered in the upper room (What last happened there? The Last Supper), in some icons each has a flame above his head (Why?), the book of the Gospels sits in the center, by which the Holy Spirit has revealed the spiritual presence of Christ to the world, the little crowned figure seated in the middle is the world! There is an empty place at the top of the horseshoe formed by the apostles; who will fill this place at the Second Coming? The icon shows only 12 apostles; how many believers were actually there?


  1. Scripture readings: Acts 2:1-8, 14-15, 36-47. Read these out loud in class.



  1. Discussion questions:


What happened at Pentecost? Did the apostles obey Jesus’s commandment to “Go forth and preach”? Who descended?  Who is the Holy Spirit? In what sacrament do we receive the Holy Spirit? (Chrismation) How does the Spirit, God Himself, dwell in us? How can we tell He does – did we see tongues of fire? This is a great mystery, as are all the sacraments.  Why is He called “Comforter”? In our prayer, “O heavenly King” we ask the Holy Spirit to come, why? (Jesus commanded us in Luke 11: 9-13.)

What is speaking in tongues? (speaking in other languages as the apostles did at Pentecost) How is this different from the tower of Babel? (Here we see harmony and subjection to God’s action; there we see confusion and disunity from an attempt by man to reach God by his own means, resulting in hatred, racism, and war.)

Why were there so many Jews in Jerusalem from all over the world at that time (50 days after Passover) anyway? (They are also celebrating Pentecost, the giving of the Law 50 days after Passover on Mt. Sinai; it is also the “Feast of Weeks” and the thanksgiving for the harvest) So the Old Covenant Pentecost, the Law, is supplanted by the New Covenant Pentecost, the Spirit (See Jeremiah 31:31-34).


  1. In what way could Pentecost be called the birthday of the Church? How many people were baptized at Pentecost? Describe the life of the very first Church in Jerusalem from Acts 2:42-47 (already read). Compare and contrast with your experience in your Church today. Read Acts 5:1-11 – why were Ananias and Sapphira punished so severely? Read Acts 6:1-7: What is the role of a deacon today?


Quiz Questions:

  1. Name at least 5 Old Testament characters who helped prepare the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah.
  2. List at least 5 characteristics of the Roman Empire that made the spread of the Gospel easier.
  3. Name the twelve apostles. How did Matthias join the others?
  4. Answer the who, what, when, where, how of Pentecost.
  5. List at least 3 characteristics of that first Church in Jerusalem.

Beginnings: Gospel to the Gentiles



Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch:

            Read the story in Acts 84-8, 26-40: This Philip was not the apostle Philip, but one of the seven deacons appointed by the Church in Jerusalem. What is a eunuch? (a courtier of the Queen of Ethiopia) He was one of the many throughout the Roman Empire seeking meaning in the Jewish Scriptures. What did Philip do to set the man apart as a Christian? (baptize him) To this day, we are baptized at the time of belief; it is the sacrament of initiation. Even Jesus was baptized. At which feast do we celebrate Jesus’s baptism? (Theophany) This man was an Ethiopian, a non-Jew. Yet, Philip found that to be of no importance in allowing his baptism. Today, our baptismal service is longer and more formalized. Review it briefly here:




1. We face the East.

Light comes from the East; God gives light to our souls.

2. Priest breathes on the face of the child.

God breathed life into Adam; Baptism will breathe New Life into the soul.

3. Priest’s hand on child’s head.

Child enters the shelter of the Church.

4. Exorcism:

    Face West.


    Spit on Satan.

Drives Satan away:

West means Darkness; Satan is the Prince of Darkness.

Shows our hatred of the devil.

5. Profession of Faith (Creed), facing altar.

Testify to our Faith in God, turning to Him and from Satan.

6. With his hand, Priest makes a cross in the water; he then blows on the water and prays.

All evil is driven from the water, which is made holy.

7. Oil is poured on the water.

Purifying of Baptism (water) is only possible through God’s Holy Spirit (oil).

8. Anointed of parts of body with oil.

Oil of gladness for healing, in preparation for His new life.

9. Dipping 3 times in the name of the Trinity.

All sins are washed away: buried with Christ (under water) and risen with Christ: Child dies to sin and is born again to God.

10. White robe of holiness.

Clean and pure new life in Jesus.


Peter and Cornelius:


Read the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. Read aloud, breaking up the passage around the class. The Jewish people called all other people “Gentiles” and did not associate with them. Can the students recall any instances when Jesus did talk to a non-Jew, or even perform a miracle? (the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman centurion’s servant) . Remind them also (or reread) that God gave a strict law to Moses that included which animals were “clean” and which “unclean”. “Unclean” animals were not allowed to be eaten, just as we do not eat meat during Great Lent. Review the definition of clean: animals that have divided hooves and chew cud and sea creatures with fins and scales. Can the students suggest some animals that are clean? Unclean? Discuss, then, the importance of Peter’s vision and its significance in his willingness to visit Cornelius. But, what action on the part of God Himself prepared Peter to baptize these Gentiles? In our sacrament of Chrismation, the Holy Spirit also descends on the newly illumined. Review for a moment the service of Chrismation. Do we see tongues of fire now?




1. Anointing with holy chrism of the child’s forehead, eyes, nose, lips, ears, chest, hands, and feet

“The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit” – our entire body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit

2.Sponging off of the holy chrism.

God’s work is now invisible, in the way we think and live and act.

3. Tonsure – cutting a lock of hair in the shape of a cross

Dedication of our who life to God forever.

4. Procession – around to baptismal font and then to the Eucharist

The door is now open to full and complete communion


with God.



Quiz questions:

  1. List the who, what, when, where, and how of the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch.
  2. List the who, what, when, where, and how of the story of the baptism and descent of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household.
  3. Which is our sacrament of initiation? List at least 5 parts of the service.
  4. What is our sacrament of the descent of the Holy Spirit? List at least 3 parts of the service.


Beginnings: Council of Jerusalem



  1. The Controversy

Review the discussion of Jews and Gentiles. Read Genesis 17:1-13. How did God express His covenant with the Jewish people – with what act?  Jesus Himself was circumcised on His 8th day. The act of circumcision, of little importance today, was of great importance to the Jews; it set them apart from the other peoples. Anyone who wanted to become Jewish would, according to verse 13, have to be circumcised. But, should this include those who embraced Christianity? Why or why not? Would Christianity be a continuation of Judaism, open only to Jews (either by birth of by circumcision), or was it an entirely new religion, open to all peoples without the need to become Jewish first?


  1. The Council Itself

Read the story in Acts 15:1-35. This was the earliest of the church councils. Who were the major apostles attending? (Peter and Paul) We will be studying St. Paul in the next unit. He had already traveled over much of the Greek world, baptizing Gentiles, and had returned to Jerusalem because of this controversy. Who presided? (James, not the disciple but a relative of Jesus) He was bishop of Jerusalem. Who made the decision? This decision, coming from a pious, orthodox Jew, with a bit of compromise, was acceptable to all the church and opened the church fully to non-Jews, once and for all. How was this decision communicated to the rest of the Church?


  1. The Decision-making Process

How are decisions to be made? First discuss various options; how is it done in your homes. There is probably quite a lot of variation here. The autocratic father? The true democracy? The loudest gets his way? The most important gets his way? The Council of Jerusalem set a precedent for decision-making in the Orthodox Church that has held for centuries. Look at the process: famous apostles (with strong opinions) from all over the world convene in a central location, called by the bishops of the Church. Decision made by consensus, with the presiding bishop stating the decision in written form. Couriers, not the involved apostles, carrying the decision to far-flung believers. Watch later Church councils. Do they follow this pattern? Compare and contrast it with other methods of decision-making discussed above.


  1. Quiz questions:

Begin with verbal review of all the quiz questions from previous lessons in this unit. Be sure you have achieved all the objectives of the unit, at least with most of the students.

  1. List 3 major players in the Council of Jerusalem.
  2. List the 2 Christians sent out with the decision of the council. Watch for these men later…
  3. Write the decision of the Council of Jerusalem in your own words.

St. Paul and his Journeys: Conversion and 1st Journey



Objective: Students should be able to discuss the conversion of Saul, the importance of St. Paul’s ministry, and detail each of his 3 missionary journeys and his final journey to Rome.




Conversion of Saul:

  1. Saul’s early life: Saul was born in the city of Tarsus of Cilicia. Find it on your maps.

Tarsus was a shipping and merchant center and a center of Greek culture. Greek was spoken there, and the citizens of Tarsus had Roman citizenship. Saul’s Greek name was Paul. Saul’s parents were Jewish, strict Pharisees. Saul learned tent-making as a trade. When Saul was 15 years old, he was sent to Jerusalem to study with the great rabbi Gamaliel. His dedication to the Jewish faith led him to violently oppose the new Christian Church. Read Acts 8:1-3. In fact, Philip had fled Jerusalem and was therefore with the Ethiopian minister in the desert because of the persecution of Saul!


  1. Read the story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9:1-25. Saul was chasing fleeing Christians. The road to Damascus was about 150 miles long – a week’s journey. Find Jerusalem and Damascus on your maps. After his conversion, Saul spent three years in the desert in seclusion. His world had been turned upside down! Can you imagine his confusion?


  1. Now imagine the confusion of the other Christians. Saul had been their greatest enemy. He came to Jerusalem. How do you suppose he was greeted? Read Acts 9:26-30. Who vouched for Saul to the other Christians? Where was Saul sent for his own safety? Find Caesarea and Tarsus on your maps.


  1. Read Acts 11:22-26 and 12:25– Who was in Antioch and why? Where did he go to retrieve Saul? Saul had been in Tarsus for 10 years! What do you suppose Saul had been doing in Tarsus – the Bible says nothing. Where did Barnabas and Saul go together? Then they returned to Antioch – something great was about to happen…

Paul’s First Missionary Journey:

Read the 1st part of the story of Paul’s journeys. Follow his course carefully on your classroom map, or have each student trace each journey on the maps on the following pages. Have each student read one passage, tell the class about it, and place a pushpin in the classroom map for the location. In the end, connect all the pushpins with string. Alternatively, draw lines between dots on each individual student’s map – or do both! Have one student read each passage and tell the others what happened in that place. Then summarize the whole journey for the class.


            1. First Missionary Journey, 45—51 A.D., Acts 13:13—14:28

                        A.        Antioch, first called “Christians”, Paul and Barnabas: Acts 13:1-3

                        B.        Cyprus

                                 1.         Salamis, John Mark joins them: Acts 13:4-5

                                 2.         Paphos, Elymas the Magician: Acts 13:6-12

                        C.        Perga in Pamphylia, John Mark leaves: Acts 13:13

                        D.        Pisidian Antioch, shook dust off feet: Acts 13:14-16, 42-52

                        E.         Galatia

                                 1.         Iconium: Acts 14:1-5

                                 2.         Lystra, Timothy’s home, Zeus and Hermes, stoned: Acts 14:6-20

                                 3.         Derbe: Acts 14:20-23

                        F.        Antioch: Acts 14:24-28


  1. Places and their context: As the students move Paul thru his journey, give them a bit of background on the places he would visit. This first journey took place all in the Greek regions of Asia Minor. Paul always taught in the local Jewish synagogue, but he also preached to the Greeks.

      Antioch: the center of Paul’s travels and his “home base”. Here we were first

                  given the name Christian, meant to be derogatory, but accepted in time.

                  Antioch was an important city in northern Syria – the third largest city in

                  the Roman Empire (after Rome and Alexandria).

            Cyprus: Barnabas was from Cyprus. Cyprus is an island. The first Christians in

                        Cyprus were converted by disciples from Jerusalem, fleeing the

                        persecution of Saul! At first, they reached out only to other Jews, but later

                        to Gentiles.

            Galatia: Galatia was not a city but a province, or state. Its capital, Ancyra, is now

                        the capital of Turkey, Ankara. Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Antioch of

                        Pisidia were all cities in the province of Galatia. Timothy was a native of

                        Lystra; he would later join Paul on many of his journeys. Paul began the

                        church in Galatia with appointing priests (presbyters). But, after Paul left,

                        the Galatians began to feel they had to obey the Jewish Law to be really

                        Christian. Paul wrote them a letter, the Epistle to the Galatians, reminding

                        them of the new Law of the Spirit. Can the students find the Epistle to the

                        Galatians in their Bibles?


Quiz Questions:

  1. Name the city where the name “Christian” was first used.
  2. List 3 characteristics from his childhood that would serve Paul well in his ministry.
  3. Give the who, what, when, where, and how of Saul’s conversion.
  4. Name 2 companions of Paul on his first missionary journey.
  5. Name at least 5 places visited by Paul on his first missionary journey.
  6. Identify these places:

Birthplace of Saul

Paul’s “home base”

Island home of Barnabas

Province of Asia Minor

Hometown of Timothy


St. Paul and his Journeys: 2nd and 3rd Journeys



Apostolic Synod in Jerusalem, 50 A.D. – review this from the last unit.

        Who was there?

        What was decided?


Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, 53-55 A.D.: Again, have each student in about 5 minutes prepare one scene. Then follow the journey on your maps with the students telling the stories of each city.


         1. The Journey itself:

            A.        Antioch, Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus: Acts 15:36-41

            B.        Cities in Asia Minor already visited, Timothy circumcised: Acts 16:1-4

            C.        Troas (Troy), dream of Macedonian man, Silas and Timothy: Acts 16:8-10

            D.        Neapolis: Acts 16:11

            E.         Philippi, Lydia, slave girl, earthquake and jailer: Acts 16:12-34 (break this up?)

            F.         Apollonia: Acts 17:1

            G.        Thessalonica, house of Jason, sent away by night: Acts 17:1-9

            H.        Berea: Acts 17:10-14

            I.          Athens, Mars Hill, Unknown God, Dionysius the Areopagite: Acts 17:15-23, 34

            J.          Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla (tentmakers): Acts 18:1-11

            K.        Ephesus, brief visit, left Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos: Acts 18:18-21

            L.         Caesarea in Palestine: Acts 18:22

            M.       Antioch: Acts 18:22


        2.  Places and their context:

Troas: Remember the story of Helen of Troy – well, this is Troy. Paris, prince of Troy,

            stole Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who tried for 10 years to get his

            wife back. The Greeks took the city with a sneaky device known as the Trojan

            Horse to this day. The Greek poet wrote the epic “Iliad” and “Odyssey” about

            the Trojan War.

Philippi: The Church at Philippi became one of the most important established by St.

            Paul. Luke himself, writer of the book of Acts, was left to take charge there. The

            Church there continued to support Paul throughout his ministry. Paul’s Epistle to t

            he Philippians was written to this Church; can the students find this book of the


Thessalonica: A well-traveled Roman road went from Philippi to Thessalonica. The

            Epistles to the Thessalonians (1 & 2) were written to this Church. Can the

            students find them?

Athens: Paul barely escaped Berea with his life. The Greek city of Athens is named for

            the goddess Athena. It contains some of the most beautiful Greek architecture,

            including the famous Parthenon on top of Acropolis hill. Show pictures if you

            have any. The city was full of statues of a multitude of gods and goddesses. How

            did Paul make Jesus known to the Athenians.

Corinth: If Athens was the capital of Greek education and culture, Corinth was a center of

            shipping and trading. Here Paul made use of his childhood skill of tent-maker,

            living and working with Priscilla and Aquila. The people of Corinth,

            unfortunately, were known throughout the Empire for their sinful habits and poor

            moral behavior. This would plague their early Church as well. Find the Epistles to

            the Corinthians (1 & 2) in your Bibles.

Ephesus: This was the major city of Asia Minor. This was a brief visit; Paul would stay 2

            years during his third missionary journey. Ephesus was a center for the worship of

            Diana, goddess of the hunt. Here statues of Diana were a major source of income

            for a large number of silversmiths. Would the silversmiths be pleased when

            people became Christian? Find Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians in the Bible.


Paul’s Third Missionary Journey, 56-59 A.D., Acts 18:23-19: Follow the same procedure as for the second journey.


       1.  The Journey itself:

            A.        Antioch: Acts 18:22-23

            B.        Ephesus, John’a baptism, silversmiths of Artemis: Acts 18:24-26, 19:11-12,   


            C.        Macedonia and Greece, joined by Luke: Acts 20:1-3

            D.        Troas, Eutychus: Acts 20:6-12

            E.         Islands of Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Miletos, Cos. Rhodes, Patara: Acts 20:13-15,


            F.         Tyre: Acts 21:2-6

            G.        Caesarea of Palestine, Philip the Evangelist, Agabus: Acts 21:7-14

            H.        Jerusalem: Acts 21:15-19


  1. Places and their context (As Paul passes thru the cities studied in the first two journeys, mention them briefly and see how much the students remember about them):

Locate the myriad of islands on the west coast of Asia – how would Paul have traveled?

Tyre: Tyre and Sidon were the major cities of Phoenicia, known for their sailing and

          trading. They made a world-famous purple dye called Tyrian purple. But, their

          greatest accomplishment – our alphabet. If it weren’t for the Phoenicians, we

          might be writing this in hieroglyphics!


Quiz Questions:

  1. Name at least 5 cities visited by St. Paul on his second missionary journey.
  2. Name at least 2 companions of St. Paul on his second and third missionary journeys. What happened to Barnabas and John Mark?
  3. Name at least 5 cities visited by St. Paul on his third missionary journey.
  4. Identify the following cities:

                Home of Helen and Paris

                Home of the Parthenon

                Shipping center known for its immorality

                Center for the worship of Artemis (Diana)

                Leading city of Phoenicia

St. Paul and his Journeys: Final Journey to Rome



Paul’s Final Journey to Rome: 59-64 A.D., Acts 22-28 – continue in the pattern of the previous lessons:


        1. The Journey itself:

  1. Jerusalem, vow of purification, arrest, Sanhedrin, plot: Acts 21:26-33, 22:23-27,


  1. Caesarea, Felix and Festus, King Agrippa, appeal to Caesar: Acts 23:23-24, 33- 35, 24:27, 25:9-12, 25:22-25

            C.        Crete, storm: Acts 27:1-8, 18-26, 41-44

            D.        Malta, snakebite: Acts 28:1-6

            E.         Rome, 2 years house arrest, Nero’s persecutions: Acts 28:11-16, 30-31

  1. Death by beheading


       2. Places and their context:

Jerusalem: Capital of the Jewish people and heart of temple worship. Who built the first temple? (Solomon) Who built the temple standing in the days of Jesus? (King Herod) Find Jerusalem on a map. This is the Holy Land, the city where Jesus died and rose again. Look at pictures, if you have them. Today, after centuries of rule by the Turks and later the British, the Jewish people have Jerusalem again in their own land of Israel.

Crete: Island nation. Remember the story of the Minotaur and Jason and the Golden Fleece?

Rome: Capital of the Roman Empire. Look at pictures – the Pantheon, Coliseum, Forum -- all date from the days of the Romans. The Emperor lived here.


Significance of St. Paul:

            Take this discussion where it leads you. Paul is thought by many to have been the prime mover in the spread of the early Christian church. Look at your maps. He went everywhere! He was even hoping to visit Spain before his death. He never knew Jesus in this life, but was a great servant of the Lord after his conversion. What would have been different had Paul never lived?


Final Quiz Questions:

            Begin with a verbal review of all the quiz questions for the previous 2 lessons.

  1. Name at least 4 places visited by Paul on his final journey to Rome.
  2. What characteristics from Paul’s childhood were important in the temple? In Rome?
  3. Identify these cities:

Capital of the Jewish nation.

Large island in the Mediterranean, home of the Minotaur

Small island where Paul was bit by a snake

Capital of the Empire, where Paul was killed.

Apostolic Age: St. Peter



Objective: Students should be able to name each of the apostles, his ministry and death, to discuss the importance of the Dormition and the role of the Theotokos in the early Church, the Revelation to John including his admonitions to each of the 7 churches and the Second Coming, and the existence and nature of angels as evidenced by the Scriptures.



Peter as a disciple of Jesus:

Again, use the Scriptures to review the life of St. Peter; have each student read a passage and summarize for the class:

Mark 1:16-18                    Calling as a fisherman

Mark 3:13-19                    Choosing of the twelve/ nickname Peter (the rock)

Matthew 8:14-17              Healing of Peter’s mother-in-law

Matthew 14:22-33            Walking on water

Matthew 16:13-19            Keys to the kingdom

Matthew 17:1-6                Transfiguration

Luke 22:54-62                   Denial

John 21: 1-19                    Feed My Sheep

Acts 2:14-15, 37-41          Pentecost


Peter after Pentecost – what a change!

Now for some new scenes in his life:

Acts 3:1-10                       Healing the Lame Man

Acts 4:1-3, 18-22              Brought before the Sanhedrin

Acts 5:1-10                       Ananias and Sapphira – review this, already read

Acts 5:17-25                     Freed from Prison, Preaching in Temple

Acts 8:9-25                       Samaritan preaching and Pentecost, Simon the Sorcerer

Acts 9:36-43                     Raising of Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead

Acts 10                              Peter and Cornelius – review this, already read

Acts 12:3-17                     Miraculous escape from prison

Acts 15                              Council in Jerusalem – review this, already read


Peter finally traveled to Rome. He was accompanied by John Mark, to whom he told his memories of Jesus. These are recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Peter also wrote at least 2 letters to the Church, known today as I and II Peter. He was the first bishop of Rome and was crucified upside down (because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus) by the Emperor Nero on the same day St. Paul died.

Discussion: Peter was also one of the Lord’s greatest apostles. Work a bit on the words “disciple” and “apostle”. Peter was both – the disciples were the original followers of Jesus who studied and lived with the Lord during His life on earth. So, a disciple is a student, a follower. How many of the original twelve can the students name? One man was chosen to take the place of the one who betrayed Jesus? Who betrayed Jesus? Who took his place? How was Matthias chosen? Read Acts 1:15-26.  “Apostle” is someone sent out by the Lord to establish His Church. So, an apostle is a leader, a teacher. Peter was a disciple who, on Pentecost became an apostle. What happened on Pentecost? What is different about Peter after Pentecost? Now Peter had something to give to the lame man. What do we have to give when someone asks?


Quiz Questions:

  1. Where was it?

Sermon on Pentecost

Sorcerer struck blind

A vision of an angel and a sheet

Lame man healed

Raising of Tabitha (Dorcas)

  1. Name at least 4 occasions where Peter saw Jesus after his resurrection
  2. Name three books of the Bible that Peter was involved in writing.
  3. List 3 occasions when Peter saw an angel.
  4. How did Peter die?


Apostolic Age: Apostles and Dormition



Apostles and their missions:

            Review the definition of apostle. Where did they all go, these men who followed Jesus so closely? Let’s look quickly at their lives after the Ascension and Pentecost. Copy the page, if you want to, and cut it into sections, giving each student one or two apostles to read and report to the class on. Each student should be able to point out the travels of “his” apostle on a map; you could even use post-it notes on the classroom map to mark their major apostolic destinations:

            St. Andrew, the first-called, a fisherman by trade and brother of Peter, traveled to Scythia, Greece, a small town then called Byzantium (later known as Constantinople!), and to Russia to the River Dniepr, where the cities of Kiev and Novgorod would later be built. He is the patron saint of Russia. He finally traveled to Patras, in Greece, where through his prayers many were healed, including the wife of the governor. But the governor ordered Andrew tied to an X-shaped cross, Andrew continued preaching the whole time he was on the cross for 2 days until his death.

            St. Thomas, better known as “Doubting Thomas” because of his doubts about the Resurrection, surely had no doubts after he saw Jesus with his own eyes. (Review John 20:24-29.) His name in Hebrew means “twin”. He traveled to far-off India to spread the good news of his faith and there, he died.

St. Bartholomew was born in Cana of Galilee and first was sent by the apostles to Syria and Asia Minor. In the city of Hieropolis, there lived a man called Stakhios. Stakhios had been blind for 40 years, but was healed through the prayers of the apostle and was baptized. Soon many were being healed and leaving the pagan gods for Christ. This angered the pagan priests, who had St. Bartholomew, along with St. Philip arrested. Bartholomew survived crucifixion there, left Stakhios as bishop, and also is believed to have traveled to India and began the Christian Church there, translating the gospel of Matthew from the Hebrew for the new believers. He then traveled to Armenia, where he preached for many years and healed the daughter of King Polimios through prayer. King Polimios, his wife and daughter, and many people from the ten cities of Great Armenia became Christians. Finally, at the urging of the pagan priests, a wicked king named Astyages in the nearby city of Al’ban ordered Bartholomew killed.

            St. Simon (the Zealot) left Palestine and traveled first to Egypt to preach about Jesus. St. Jude left Jerusalem after Pentecost and traveled to the land of Mesopotamia. In and around the city of Edessa he preached the good news of Jesus and the resurrection. Finally, he went to Persia with St. Simon and there, in Persia, both of these courageous apostles died for their faith.

            St. James the Greater, son of Zebedee and brother of St. John the Beloved, traveled to Spain to preach; he is the patron saint of Spain to this day and is known there as Santiago (Our own San Diego is named for him.). He returned to Jerusalem to try to influence the Pharisees to accept Christ. But, the Jews still hated the Christians and begged King Herod Agrippa to put James to death. James was the first of the apostles to die and the second martyr (after Stephen).

            St. Philip introduced many members of the Greek community to Christianity. After performing many miracles in Jerusalem, including giving sight to the blind and restoring life to a dead infant, he traveled with is sister, Mariamne, to Phrygia in Asia Minor. There he preached to the people of Hierapolis. These people worshipped a huge snake; Philip prayed and the snake died. Many people who had been bitten by snakes were healed, including the wife of the governor. Many of the people then believed in Jesus, but some were so angry they put Philip in prison. When Philip would not deny Jesus, he was crucified, head down, along with the Apostle Bartholomew. A great earthquake struck, and Philip prayed for the safety of those present. The earthquake stopped, and Philip and Bartholomew were taken down from the cross. Bartholomew was still alive and established a bishop for the newly-converted people of the city, but Philip, through whose prayers the city had been saved, had already gone home to be with his Lord.

            St. Matthew remained for many years in the land of Israel, teaching the Jewish people about Jesus. He wrote the gospel of Matthew to tell the story of Jesus to his people. Finally, he traveled to Ethiopia to preach and was killed by those who hated Christians in that African land.

            St. James the son of Alpheus, also known as James the Less and brother of St. Matthew, traveled after Pentecost first to the city of Eleutheropolis and then to Egypt. There he preached and performed miracles with great success and churches were founded. Finally he was killed in the town of Ostracina, being crucified by pagans.

            St. Matthias was chosen by casting lots to take the place of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. He had been on of the 70 men sent out by Jesus to preach and perform miracles. He was with the other 11 disciples at Pentecost and preached in the land of Judea. Then he traveled to the land of Cappadocia and began the church there. He also died for his faith.

            There are 3 other very special apostles, even though they were not part of the first 12 chosen by Jesus. St. Barnabas was actually named Joseph; the apostles changed his name to Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement”. St. Barnabas was born on the island of Cyprus, and was a fellow-student of Saul (later to be St. Paul) in Jerusalem under the teacher, Gamaliel. He became a follower of Jesus and was one of the chosen Seventy. We see glimpses of his work in the book of Acts. He was one of those who sold all he had in the early church in Jerusalem. Next we see him leading the newly converted Saul back to Jerusalem to meet the other Christians there. He was sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch, where believers were first called Christians. After a year in Antioch with Paul, the two set out on their first missionary journey. They took with them on that journey a cousin of St. Barnabas, John Mark. John Mark, later the Evangelist Mark, left the two apostles part-way through the journey. Barnabas also traveled with Paul to Jerusalem for the first church council. But, when Paul refused to trust John Mark to come on his next journey, Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus. Barnabas then traveled to Rome, perhaps the first to preach there about Jesus. He traveled to Mediolanum (now Milan) in Italy and then returned to Cyprus. There, St. Barnabas and St. Mark preached together for many years until Barnabas was stoned to death in Salamis in about the year 62 at age 76.       

             St. Mark, author of the Gospel that bears his name, is met in the Scriptures with his Jewish name of John, meaning “Yahweh has shown grace”. “Marcus”, while a common Roman name, is an unusual name to find in a Jewish household; it is unclear where this name came from. John Mark’s mother, Mary, was related to Barnabas, the wealthy landowner of Cyprus, who later became an apostle. Mary, a widow, was a woman of wealth and position in Jerusalem and a follower of Jesus. We meet John Mark in the Garden of Gethsemane as the young man wearing only a linen cloth who, when he was grabbed by the men arresting Jesus, fled naked. John Mark’s home was a meeting place of the early Christians. John Mark remained at home in Jerusalem until he was brought to Antioch by Barnabas and Paul. He traveled with the two to Cyprus on their first missionary journey. But, when the group reached Perga in Asia Minor, John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. Paul viewed this as desertion and refused to take John Mark with them on the second missionary journey. Barnabas separated from Paul and took John Mark with him to Cyprus and Paul traveled with Silas.  Later, we find John Mark with Paul the prisoner in Rome, past history apparently forgiven. Paul sends Mark on several missions, first to Colossae and later, with Timothy to Asia Minor. Mark was also a companion and helper of the Apostle Peter in his journeys. While Mark was with Peter in Rome, the faithful asked him to write down for them the life and miracles of the Lord Jesus and Mark wrote carefully that which Peter had witnessed. Peter chose Mark to preach the Gospel in Egypt, and Mark became the first bishop of Egypt. He taught in Pentapolis and then in Alexandria, where he founded a goodly church with priests and deacons. Mark’s teaching in Egypt was confirmed with many miracles. Finally, the pagans brought accusations against Mark and he had to flee back to Pentapolis. He spent two years in Pentapolis, where he continued his earlier work. After two years, Mark returned to Alexandria, to the great joy of the church there, which was growing mightily. But the pagans seized Mark and dragged him over the cobblestones to prison. An angel appeared to Mark in prison and then Jesus Himself appeared and said, “Peace to thee, Mark My Evangelist!” On the next day, the pagans dragged Mark through the streets until, bloody and injured, Mark went home to his Lord. His relics were buried by the Christians and have throughout the ages brought healing to many believers.

Finally, St. Luke, the Evangelist, was also an early companion of Paul. He was a Roman citizen and physician from the city of Antioch. He traveled with Paul through Asia Minor on Paul’s second missionary journey. He wrote down all they did and all he learned about the life of Jesus; we can still read these today in the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke. He painted an icon of the Virgin Mary, which he gave to the Theotokos herself; this is still a prized possession of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Luke lived to be an old man and died in Thebes at the age of 84.


Learning Game: There is an immense amount of material covered this week. Try a game of Concentration, with the apostle and his destination as a pair. Don’t forget St. Peter. Write the names of the apostles and their destinations in a grid pattern 5x6 on a piece of posterboard. Take post-it notes and number them 1-30. Place them over the names and destinations. Students take turns guessing 2 numbers. If the apostle and his destination match (and the student knows they match!), the student gets to keep the post-its and take another turn. Student with the most post-its in the end is the winner.


Dormition of the Theotokos:

  1. Begin with a review of the life of the Theotokos:

Use the icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos to review the story of Joachim and Anna, who could not have children and prayed for a child.

Use the icon of the Presentation of the Virgin to review her life as a temple virgin beginning at age 3.

Use the icon of the Annunciation to review the Incarnation of the Son.

Use the icon of the Nativity of the Lord to review the birth of her son, Jesus

Use the icon of the Crucifixion to review her presence at her son’s crucifixion. Mary

was at the foot of the cross when her Son, Jesus, was dying there. Jesus saw her and knew how sad His pain and suffering made His mother. He called out to His disciple, John. John was to care for Mary as if she were his own mother. And so, for the rest of her life, he cared for the Theotokos as a loving son.


  1. Now continue her story, using the icon of the Dormition:

      After the day of Pentecost, Mary stayed in the city of Jerusalem, living with the disciple John.  She comforted and worked lovingly with the new Christian church. 

      When Mary was about 50 years old, she was sick and dying. She told her friends that she wanted to be buried in Gethsemane, the garden where Jesus prayed.  At that time, all of the apostles were scattered around the world preaching the Gospel.  When they heard of Mary’s dying, they all returned to Jerusalem. Some made the journey by foot; others were miraculously transported by the Lord Himself.  All arrived in time except St. Thomas, also known as Doubting   Thomas. (How did he get the name of “Doubting Thomas”?) The apostles are pictured on either side of Mary, St. Peter at the head of the bier and St. Paul at the foot of the bier. With everyone gathered, Mary “fell asleep” in Christ. She died peacefully, knowing that the resurrection of her Son would also be hers.

      Below the bier in the icon we see Antoninus the Jew.  He was an enemy of the Christian community and tried to break up the burial of Mary by dumping over the bier.  An archangel appeared and cut off the hands of Antoninus to keep him from dishonoring the Theotokos. Antoninus now realized that Jesus was truly God, and His mother to be honored. His hands were healed and he became a believer.

When Thomas arrived, the other disciples took Thomas to the tomb in Gethsemane where Mary had been buried near her parents, Joachim and Anna.  But the tomb was empty!  The Church believes that Mary was resurrected bodily and taken to heaven, just as we all will be in the future.


  1. Discuss the role of the Theotokos in the early Church and today: Clearly, she was honored even in her own lifetime; we are not the only ones to venerate her. In Antoninus we see the fate of those who dishonor the Theotokos – not a pretty sight. How is veneration different from worship? Whom do we worship?


Quiz Questions:

  1. Name at least 10 apostles and their major destinations.
  2. Name at least 4 feasts of the Theotokos.
  3. Name the authors of the gospels and the book of Acts.

Apostolic Age: St. John and the Revelation


John the Disciple

            Review the life of John as a disciple of Jesus. Have the students take turn reading these Scriptures about John:

            Luke 5:1-11                 Calling of the fishermen

            Luke 9:28-31               Transfiguration

            Matthew 20:20-23      Desire to be first in the kingdom

            John 19:25-27             Presence at the cross

            John 20:1-8                 First disciple to the tomb

John was known as the “Beloved”, or the disciple whom Jesus loved. He seems to have been set apart from the start by the Lord.


John the Apostle:

            At the foot of the cross, John stood with the Mother of God and heard the words of the Lord, “Behold thy mother.” From that day on, served the Theotokos and cared for her until her Dormition. After the Resurrection, John was one of the leaders of the early Church. He helped Peter and James in guiding the church in Jerusalem. Then, John traveled to Asia Minor, surviving shipwreck and fourteen days in the sea, and settled in the city of Ephesus. There, his preaching was accompanied by so many miracles, that the number of believers increased each day. From Ephesus he led the church in Asia. John was known for the loving concern he had for his brothers and sisters; he was called the “Apostle of Love.” A story is told that, while traveling in a certain city, John saw a young man and entrusted him to the bishop of the city to teach him about the Lord. But, when John came back to the city, he was told that the young man had made bad friends and had become a robber. This made John very sad, and he went into the mountains where the robbers lived. He was captured by the robbers and found the young man and told him that Jesus still loved him. The young man then cried and said that he was sorry for his evil way of life and went back to the church. So, the apostle John cared for his churches with love and charity.

            When John was already an old man, loved by Christians everywhere, he was the only one of the twelve still alive. When the Emperor Domitian, a cruel and wicked ruler, came to the throne, he ordered John captured by the soldiers and brought to the Emperor in Rome. There, he tried to kill John in a pot of boiling oil, but John was not hurt at all. (Remember the story of the three men in the fiery furnace?) Since he could not kill the apostle, the emperor sent him to the island of Patmos. On the island of Patmos, John continued to preach; his preaching and miracles attracted the people of the island. Sorcerers also came, boasting to destroy the apostle; instead the demonic articles used by the sorcerers were destroyed by prayer and the greatest of these, Kinops, perished in the depths of the sea. Then, John, with his disciple Prochorus, withdrew to a desolate mountain, and fasted and prayed. The earth quaked and thunder rumbled. There John had the great vision of the Lord and wrote the book we now call “The Revelation”, the last book of the Bible. From this wondrous and fiery vision, St. John has been called John the Theologian, and his symbol, the eagle.

            Finally, Domitian died and John was able to go back to Ephesus. From there he wrote down his memories of the life of Jesus in the Gospel of John and also three letters, which we now have in our Bible as the “Epistles of St. John”. As an old man, John told the people over and over to love each other. John died peacefully in Ephesus and joined the Lord he had loved so well. He departed the city with his disciples and their families and lay down in a cross-shaped grave. When the grave was later opened, it was empty!


The Revelation

  1. Read Revelation 1:9-19: The Revelation is the report of a vision John had while in

exile on the island of Patmos. Locate Patmos on your maps. John’s vision was full of angels and trumpets – the major theme is the Second Coming, when Jesus will come again in glory (as He promised) and judge the world. Jesus Himself spoke about the Second Coming both in parable (Remember the story of the virgins and their lamps?) and as a Last Judgment. Throughout the ages, men have looked to Revelation for detail about the end of the world and have argued vehemently about various passages. But, there is much symbolism – a great mystery.


  1.  In Revelation, God sends a message through John to the 7 churches of Asia. This is much more concrete than the later parts of the vision. Look up the names of these churches in Revelation 1:11. Find each of these churches on a map. Draw a small church shape, write the name of the church, and from Revelation 2 and 3 find one important thing God had to say to each church and write it also on the building. Use thumbtacks or post-its to attach the paper churches in the correct locations on your classroom map or bulletin board. Do any of the messages God gave to those long-ago churches apply to us today? Why or why not?


  1. Angels figure prominently in the Revelation. First ask the students what angels are; you may get some surprising answers since the popular culture is also full of angels. Angels are God’s attendants and messengers. The Orthodox Church teaches that there are 9 “choirs” of angels: angels, archangels, powers, authorities, principalities, dominions, thrones, cherubim and seraphim. Do the students remember any of these mentioned in our liturgy? Angels are invisible (most of the time; can you think of an exception? The Annunciation!), of tremendous power and strength. They don’t have bodies as we know them. Of three, we know their names; who are they? We also know (and read in the Revelation) of powerful fallen angel; who is he? (Lucifer, Satan, the Devil) When Lucifer tried to make himself equal to God, the armies of angels, led by the Archangel Michael, threw him out of heaven. Where did he go? Many other lesser angels sided with Lucifer; what are they called? Popular humanistic culture would list angels and demons as fanciful creatures, like fairies and sprites. But, the Bible shows them to be very real – remember the story of Job and the temptations of Jesus. The great saints of the Church throughout the ages have battled demons and been protected by angels.


Quiz Questions:

            First review the quiz questions from the rest of the unit out loud.

  1. List 5 events in the life of John, the disciple of Jesus.
  2. List and identify on the map at least 3 places where John lived.
  3. Name the 5 books of the Bible written by John.
  4. Name the 7 churches God sent a message to in Revelation.
  5. Name at least 3 angels.
  6. Name the 9 choirs of angels.


Persecutions: St. Stephen



Objective: Students should understand the historical and spiritual reasons for martyrdom, be able to name several martyrs (including the first), and know something about their lives, and to discuss the historical significance of Constantine the Great for both Rome and the Church.




Definition of “Martyr”:

Work on this word for a few moments with the students. For what or whom would each of us be willing to die? Are there martyrs today? Where? In what situation might we face the decision to become a martyr today?


Role of a Deacon:

Stephen was one of the first deacons. Let’s look for a moment at the development of the first church in Jerusalem. After baptism, many of the people chose to sell all they had and live together. What a wonderful community life that must have been – all their meals together, everyone talking all day about Jesus. Sort of like a big Christian family. But, as in most families, arguments developed. Someone got the best seat, the bigger piece of bread, the nicer shawl. The apostles were too busy preaching to deal with these constant concerns. Peter and the other apostles chose seven men to help them in caring for the early Church. Read this in Acts 6:1-7. These were called deacons. The apostles continued to spread the gospel. A deacon is a priest’s helper.  He helps in the Divine Liturgy and helps the priest by visiting the sick, praying for people, etc.  Do we have a deacon?


Life of St. Stephen:

St Stephen was the first martyr. Review with the students the role of the Sanhedrin – the supreme council of the Jewish people. Composed of Sadducees (rich landowners) and Pharisees (religious fanatics) and headed by the high priest, the Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus and now will condemn Stephen. Read the story of his life in Acts 6 and 7. Either the students can read around the circle sequentially, or each student can read several verses and report to the class, round robin style.


Quiz Questions:

  1. Define the word, “martyr”.
  2. Name the first martyr.
  3. Define the word, “deacon”.
  4. Who condemned Stephen?
  5. Who held the coats at the death of Stephen?


Close with Prayer

Persecutions: Martyrs




  1. Jewish authorities were the first persecutors of the early Church. The Sanhedrin saw the new sect as upsetting the old traditions and customs. They persecuted the Christians not because they were Christians, but because they were “bad Jews”. Stephen was martyred during this time. Christians fled from Judea, traveling all over the world (and spreading Christianity). The persecution in Judea ended suddenly and permanently with the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. The Jewish people had always resented the Roman taxes and rulers. More and more Jews joined the Zealot cause, attacking the Romans in guerilla warfare. In the year 66, the Roman governor, in exasperation, stole the sacred vessels from the temple. The people of Judea rose in rebellion and the Romans were driven out of Judea. But, soon-to-be Emperor Vespasian sent his son, Titus, against Judea with Roman troops. They took all of Judea and laid siege to Jerusalem. In the year 70, Titus burned Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.


  1. The Romans now get into the act: At first the government did not think the new teaching, an obscure, foreign religion, posed much threat to the Empire. Usually the Romans were very tolerant of the beliefs of the lands they conquered and allowed people to worship their own gods in their own way. Thus, the Jews were allowed the Temple and its ceremonies under Roman government. But, to prove their allegiance to Rome, any subject in any land must recognize the divinity of the Emperor. Each citizen must burn incense before the statue of Caesar. This was required, not so much because of a strong belief that Caesar was god, but to prove the loyalty of the diverse people of the Empire. The Roman government looked upon it sort of like saying the Pledge of Allegiance before the flag of the US. But the Christians viewed it completely differently. They would not burn incense before any other god! The Romans tried to force them, but to no avail. They tried to bribe them, to ridicule them, but to no avail.


  1. First period of Persecutions – second half of the first century: Mostly during this time, the Church was ignored by the Romans. But, if a ruler had a personal grudge or needed a scapegoat for some disaster, local churches often came under fire. Such was the case of the Emperor Nero, who burned Rome and blamed the Christians, leading to the persecutions in the years 64-68 AD during which Peter and Paul were killed. Later, the Emperor Domitian persecuted Christians from 81-96 AD in order to try to acquire the properties of the wealthy Christians. He strictly enforced the laws demanding worship of the emperor as divine. At the very end of the 1st century, the Emperor Trajan, thought to have been one of Rome’s finest emperors, building orphanages and reorganizing the courts to provide better justice, issued a decree that Christians were not to be hunted out, but, if accused, should be punished if they would not worship the Roman god – sort of “Don’t ask; don’t tell.”


  1. Second Period of Persecutions – second century: Early in the 2nd century, Christians were occasionally persecuted in certain regions because of the law forbidding secret societies. But, under Emperor Marcus Aurelius 161-180 AD, Christians were sought out and even tortured to make them give the names of other Christians. But, this persecution ended suddenly and dramatically – in 173 AD the Emperor’s troops were marching through the desert, dying of thirst, when they were saved by the prayers of some Christian soldiers for rain. From that moment on, Marcus Aurelius made it illegal to persecute Christians and the Church had a 20-year period of rest, until the reign of Septimus Severus, when persecution resumed with great cruelty under the pretext that it was illegal to change one’s religion.


  1. Third (and worst) Period of Persecutions – third century: Christianity was deemed to be a dangerous movement that must be stamped out. Christians were persecuted simply because they were Christians. The Emperor Decius (249-251 AD) wanted to restore the old Rome, complete with its pagan gods, to fight the barbarians crowding the Western borders. Christians were tortured and bishops killed to try to rid the Church of its leaders. Christians had to produce certificates proving they were pagans and saying they had offered sacrifice to the gods; it was a terrible temptation for many Christians to buy such a certificate to escape horrible torture and death. Some Christians did fall away; some did not have the courage for martyrdom. Those who had bought certificates (“libelli”) were called “libellatici”; those who had actually burned incense in a “thurifer” were called “thurificati”. At first, the Church was very hard on these lapsed believers, called “lapsi”. But, even Jesus Himself had forgiven Peter when he denied Him. The persecution of Decian was continued by the Emperor Valerian. But, when the Emperor Gallienus came to power in 260 AD, he issued an edict allowing Christians to live in peace, own property, and even serve in government office. When the persecution ended, may “lapsi” asked to come back to the Church. They were received back into the church as penitents and forgiven after a time of penance. But, persecution began again; Emperor Diocletian came into power about 300 AD. He began by reorganizing the entire Roman government and tax system and ended by attempting to organize the entire Empire into the old pagan worship. He ordered all churches and books burned. Christians were deprived of all rights as citizens. The most terrible of the persecutions had begun. But, help was at hand; Constantine was growing up in the court…



            The following is a series of short biographies of a number of well-known martyrs. There were thousands of martyrs in the early Church – too many to include all their stories here. Copy the bios, cut them apart, and give each student a few minutes to prepare a brief presentation on “his” saint. Are any of the students named for one of these martyrs or another? Too many here? Choose the ones that have special meaning to your students or your parish.

1. St. Ignatius of Antioch: Ignatius had known the apostles when he was a young man.  He grew to become a priest and then Bishop of Antioch. As bishop he ordained more men as priests and deacons. The church in Antioch was growing and strong. Ignatius preached wisely to his people and was known as a just and fair man. Unfortunately, he was known also to the pagans, who thought that if they got rid of Ignatius the Church would crumble.

Ignatius was arrested and found guilty of being a Christian. The judge sentenced him to die in Rome. All along the way, guarded by two soldiers, the bishop was greeted by other Christians. He even met St. Polycarp while passing through Smyrna. (Travel with Ignatius from Antioch to Smyrna to Troas, and then to Rome on your map.) All along the way, Ignatius wrote letters to the churches in various cities, telling them to be strong in the Lord. He was not afraid to die; he would be with Jesus. Finally, the good bishop reached Rome. There he was thrown to the lions in the arena – a martyr. He is remembered by the Church on February 1 each year.



  1. St. Polycarp of Smyrna: Polycarp’s parents were martyred when he was a little boy.

He was left an orphan on the streets of Smyrna to find food for himself and a place to sleep at night. But, he had been taught to love Jesus by his parents and know that God would care for him.

There was a widow in Smyrna named Callista. She was very rich but had no children. She lived in a big house with many servants.  One night in a dream, an angel said to Callista, “Callista, there is an orphan whose name is Polycarp. Take him as your son, for you have no children.” Callista got up right away and brought Polycarp into her home. She loved him as her own son and he had a home and plenty of food.

One day, Callista went on a journey. She left her servants to watch over Polycarp. Now, Polycarp, like the Lord Jesus Himself, loved the poor people who, like he had been, had no food and were starving. So, while Callista was away, Polycarp opened all the cupboards and gave away all the food in the house; there was a lot of food since Callista was very rich. The poor people were so happy! But the servants were shocked and frightened. How would they explain the empty cupboards to their mistress?

One of the servants met Callista on the road outside town as she returned home. He told her how Polycarp had given everything away. Callista was very angry with Polycarp. But, when she got home and looked in the cupboards, they were full! She thought the servant had lied and was about to beat him when Polycarp came running up. He explained that, after he had given away the food, he prayed to God and the cupboards were filled with everything good, even more than before! Callista was amazed. She gave Polycarp all her wealth. Polycarp knew what God wanted him to do. He fasted and prayed thru life, giving all to the poor and helping the sick.

Soon the bishop of Smyrna heard of young Polycarp. He grew to love the young man who so loved the poor. Bishop Vukola ordained Polycarp as a deacon. All the people loved Polycarp for his good works! Later Polycarp became bishop of Smyrna. Finally, when Polycarp was 86 years, an old man indeed, the soldiers came and took him prisoner. The judge begged him to say he would worship the emperor of Rome, but Polycarp would worship only Jesus. They tied him to a pole and lit a fire around Polycarp, but, like the three young men in Babylon, Polycarp was not hurt. Finally, one of the soldiers killed Polycarp with a spear in the heart and this gentle and loving saint died as a martyr during the great persecutions of the Romans against the Church.


  1. St. Barbara: King Dioscuros loved his daughter Barbara; she was his only child and

his special joy. He wanted to keep her safe forever and built in the courtyard of his palace a tall tower. At the very top of the tower lived Barbara. There she was safe from sickness, dangers, and enemies. King Dioscuros worshipped the pagan gods of Rome and hated the new beliefs about a man named Jesus that were sweeping across the land. He was certain that, at the top of a tower, Barbara would never hear of Jesus. Her loving father kept Barbara almost a prisoner; she could only see the countryside from the windows of her tower. She had teachers who told her of the world outside. She would look out her window and see the beauty of the world – the sky and the stars and the sun and the birds. Surely a God created this beautiful world.

To keep her from getting too lonely, King Dioscuros would allow young girls from noble families to visit Barbara in her tower. Barbara, with her curious and lively mind, asked her friends about the world. From them she heard of Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, the Creator of the beautiful world Barbara saw from her windows.  Barbara decided secretly to become a Christian, too. Her father had built her a bathhouse with a beautiful pool. While her father was away, Barbara decided to make a third window for her pool for the Holy Trinity and had a cross cut in stone above the pool. Then she was baptized in her pool.

When her father returned, he saw the changes in the bathhouse. Barbara excitedly told him she had made the changes and had been baptized. King Dioscuros was furious! He drew his sword to kill his daughter! Barbara ran down the stairs of the tower and escaped to the mountaintop nearby. There she prayed to God for help.

The next day the soldiers of the king found Barbara. King Dioscuros locked her in a tiny room and came to her every day asking her to give up her belief in Jesus. But, Barbara would not deny Jesus. Finally, her father sent her to the palace of the governor. There she was given a simple choice: worship the gods of Rome or be killed. Barbara told the governor that she would rather die. She was beaten by the soldiers and thrown into jail with another Christian woman named Julia. There a bright light appeared to Barbara and told her not to be afraid; when she woke up, all of her bruises were gone. The governor beat Barbara again, and again she was healed. Finally, he ordered King Dioscuros to kill his own daughter. Dioscuros hated Christians so much, that he was willing to do even this and beheaded Barbara and Julia on the very mountaintop where she had been captured.


  1. St. Agnes: Many Christians suffered and died during the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian around the year 300. One of these was Agnes. She was only 12 years old at the time. Her parents feared for her safety and tried to keep her at home. They tried to explain that one does not have to seek out martyrdom. But Agnes was not afraid. One day, she left the house and went to look for Roman soldiers. She told them about her faith in Jesus. They immediately arrested her and took her before the magistrate. He thought it would be easy to convince such a young girl to offer sacrifice to the gods. But Agnes had no fear of any of the punishments he threatened. She was imprisoned and tortured, protected by an angel of the Lord. While the soldiers and judges felt sorry for the child, the law demanded her death. She is often represented as a lamb, since the name “Agnes” and the word for lamb, “agnus”, are very similar in Latin.


  1. St. Sebastian:  Sebastian was born in Gaul (now known as France) and educated in Milan, Italy. He became a soldier in the Roman army, and rose to be a commander. He was also a Christian. When the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian began around the year 300, Sebastian was dismissed from the army. He traveled to Rome and joined the Christian Church there. As time went on, many of his friends were arrested and killed. Sebastian was saddened but encouraged the other Christians to remain strong in their faith.

Once, Sebastian was arrested. He was tied to a pillar the soldier shot arrows at  him and left him for dead. But the mother of one of his   friends saw that he was still breathing and took him home and cared for him until he recovered. Later Sebastian met the emperor.             He criticized the emperor for his persecution of Christians. The emperor was so angry that he had Sebastian beaten to death and his body thrown into the sewer. The Christians found his body and buried it in the catacombs. There his grave can be seen today. He is always pictured with arrows.


  1. St. George: St. George is always pictured on a horse, with a spear ready to plunge into a dragon. What is his story? Once, long ago, a dragon prowled around the walls of a city. No one could kill the dragon. Finally, the people of the city would put a sheep out each day to keep the dragon from eating all the people. Soon, there were no sheep left. The people had to start feeding their children to the dragon. When his turn came, even the king had to send his daughter out to meet the dragon. But, as the princess walked out the city gates, she met a soldier. He told her he would kill the dragon in the name of Christ. George mounted his horse, made the sign of the cross, and drove his spear into the dragon’s side. He then told the princess to tie her belt around the dragon’s neck. She led the dragon back to the city like a dog on a leash! The people were terrified. George told them that he would kill the dragon if they were all baptized. Soon the king and his people were baptized, and George killed the dragon with his sword. The people rejoiced and built a church in honor of St. George.

But, later, when the Emperor Diocletian came to power, Christians were being arrested. St. George was arrested and tortured; the Lord appeared and healed his wounds. Prefect Dacian offered great riches to George if he would only sacrifice to the Roman gods. But, as George knelt down, he prayed and God destroyed the temple and all its idols were swallowed up in the earth! He told the prefect that, if the gods of Rome cannot even save themselves, how can they save others? Dacian was so angry he had George dragged all through the city and finally beheaded – one of the most famous martyrs of the Church.


  1. St. Perpetua: Perpetua was a young noblewoman born in Carthage, in northern Africa. She lived near the year 200, during the reign of Septimus Severus.  This emperor had initially been tolerant of the Christian Church, but later feared its growth and strength. He arrested many Christians in the large Christian community of Carthage. Most of her family were Christians, but her father was a pagan. Her father loved Perpetua very much. After she was arrested by the Romans, he visited her in prison, hoping to make her deny Christ.

We know about Perpetua’s thoughts because she left a diary. Perpetua worried about her baby, but 2 deacons brought the baby even to the prison for her to nurse. Then she saw a dream. It was a golden ladder leading to heaven. Sharp knives and spears were stuck along the ladder; it could not be climbed without suffering. A dragon lay at the foot of the ladder; its name was “fear”. Her brother, also a Christian, was climbing the ladder and invited her to join him. There was a great light at the top of the ladder.

Even on the day of her trial, Perpetua’s father argued that he would need her to care for him in his old age. The old father wept and pleaded but Perpetua could not renounce God. Even when he brought her baby boy, she would not sacrifice to the Roman gods. Her father cried and clung to her until the prosecutor struck him and knocked him away. St. Perpetua was sadder about her father’s grief than about her own upcoming death; she knew that she would soon be with Jesus. She was taken to the arena to be killed by animals and died with great joy.


  1. St. Agatha: Agatha was born in Catana, Sicily, of noble parents. It was said that she was the most beautiful girl alive. But she was also a Christian and loved Jesus with her whole heart. She promised God as a young girl that she would never marry. She would serve Him only.

A wealthy Roman named Quintan wanted to marry Agatha. She refused him over and over. He was so angry, he told the authorities that Agatha was a Christian. She was arrested by the soldiers. The governor told her she would go to prison if she did not give up her faith. But, Agatha was unafraid of prison.

In prison, Agatha was put in the charge of a wicked woman. She tried t to tempt Agatha to give up her faith, but Agatha told her about the Lord and the woman became a Christian, too! Agatha was tortured over and over and still would not sacrifice to the Roman gods. Finally, Agatha died from all her wounds. Her veil is kept to this day. In fact, when Mt. Aetna erupted, the Church held St. Agatha’s veil before the flowing lava and the flow ceased right there.




  1. St. Irene: Irene was the only daughter of the Emperor Licinius. Her parents named her Penelope for her great beauty. When Penelope was 6 years old, her father built her a tower. Everything inside was made of gold and jewels. He locked his daughter in the tower with 13 girls to serve her and an old professor named Appelian to teach her. But, unknown to the emperor, Appelian was a Christian and taught Penelope about the love of God. Penelope was baptized with the name Irene.

One day, while sitting at the table, a pigeon flew thru the window with an olive twig, then an eagle with a crown of flowers, and finally a crow with a small snake. Irene was frightened! She called Appelian and asked him what the odd gifts meant. He told her that the dove was for her love for God, the olive twig for the grace of the Holy Spirit, the eagle and the crown for victory, and the crow and the snake for the martyrdom that would soon be hers.

A few days later, Licinius came home and found Irene had smashed all the idols in the house. He was so angry, he ordered his servants to tie Irene to the ground and trample her with the horses. But the horses protected Irene and one killed the emperor! Irene prayed and her father was raised from the dead. He became a Christian and was baptized with his wife and 3000 men. He renounced his throne and spent the rest of his life in the tower he built for his daughter.

But, new emperors came to power. Irene traveled from city to city, preaching Christ to anyone who would listen. She was arrested and tortured and finally beheaded for her faith.


  1. St. Cecilia: Cecelia was a rich and noble girl of Rome. Her family were Christian and she grew to love the Lord with her whole heart. She wore a rough dress under her fashionable clothes and often fasted from food. Cecilia decided that she would give her life to God and not marry any man.

But, Cecilia’s father arranged her wedding anyway, to a young man named Valerian. Valerian was not a Christian. During the marriage feast, Cecilia sat away from the guests, singing songs of praise to God. She is usually pictured with a harp. When Cecilia and Valerian finally left the wedding feast, she told her new husband that she was truly the bride of Christ and that an angel would protect her if he tried to force her to his bed. Valerian was angry and asked her to show him this angel. Cecilia told him that if he were baptized, he would see the angel. Valerian was baptized by Bishop Urban. When he returned to their room, Valerian saw his bride Cecilia and, standing next to her, an angel. The angel put a crown of roses and lilies on the head of each.

Tiburtius, Valerian’s brother, also became a Christian after talking to Cecilia. The three young Christians devoted themselves to good works. Because they buried the bodies of Christians who had died for the Lord, the two brothers were also arrested and killed. Cecilia buried their bodies, and she was also arrested. But the soldiers who came to arrest her instead became Christians! 400 people were baptized in her house – a church is dedicated there in her name.

More soldiers came and took Cecilia to court. She would not worship the pagan gods. They tried to kill her, but for three days she lingered alive. During that time, she arranged for her house to be given to the Church. She is buried in the catacombs, the deep caves and tunnels under the city of Rome.


Quiz Questions:

  1. Name at least 5 Roman Emperors involved in the persecution of Christians.
  2. Name at least 5 early Christian martyrs and one fact about their lives.


Persecutions: Constantine the Great



While the teacher, or three of the students, read aloud the week’s lesson, have each of the other students jot down three good discussion or quiz questions for the discussion time.


The Political Situation

As the cruel Roman Emperor, Diocletian, grew old, he decided that when he died the Empire would be divided into four parts. He appointed an auxiliary emperor, called an “Augustus” and two auxiliary “Caesars”. The northern parts, France and England, were given to Constantius Chlorus, a popular general. As a hostage for his father’s loyalty, Constantine was taken to the court of Diocletian. There he saw first-hand the persecution of Christians; many of his friends at court were, in fact, Christians. The bright and warm-hearted young man could not help but compare the spirit of the martyrs with the savagery of the Roman rulers. Constantius, Constantine’s father, on the other hand, was a wise and just man; his wife, Helen, was a Christian. Constantius was saddened by the cruelty of the other kings, especially against Christians. With the abdication of Diocletian in 305 AD, there began a bitter struggle for the emperor’s throne. Constantius took his army against the wicked King Maxentius, ruler of the rest of the Western Empire. In this battle, Constantius was killed and his son, Constantine, became king of France and England.


The Life of Constantine

Constantine was not yet a Christian; he worshipped the gods of Rome.  Constantine himself was now at war with  Maxentius. He knew that the future of the Empire was at stake; would he be able to reunite the crumbling Empire under his leadership? As he was crossing the Moldavian bridge, he saw in the sky a flaming cross. Written beneath this cross were the words in Latin, “In Hoc Signo Vinces,” which means, in English, “In this sign you shall conquer.”  He knew that the cross was the sign of the Christians. That very night, in a dream, he saw Christ Himself, promising him victory. He decided to give the Christian God a try. He had his soldiers carry a Christian cross into battle and they won! Constantine had defeated Maxentius! He now knew that Jesus was the true God. When another of the kings, Galerius, died journeying to Rome, Constantine became ruler of the entire Western Roman Empire. The Arch of Constantine was built in Rome to commemorate his victory. His brother-in-law, Licinius, was ruler of the Eastern Empire. The first act of the two brothers was to issue a new law, the Edict of Milan, which said that Christians and all people could worship freely and build churches. But, soon, Licinius broke their agreement and began to kill Christians again. Constantine took his army and defeated Licinius in battle. Now Constantine was Emperor of the entire Roman Empire.

                  Constantine never forgot Who made him ruler of the Empire. He built many churches, including the first church of St. Peter in Rome. As a king, Constantine was known for his strong and wise leadership. He built a great army and navy. But, he was never fond of the city of Rome. He moved the capital of the Empire to the city of Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople. Constantine established the Christian Church with such strength in the Byzantine Empire that the Christian Byzantine Empire stood for hundreds of years after the fall of Rome and the Western Empire. As an old man, at the very end of his life, Constantine put on the white robes and was baptized. Finally, Constantine died and left his great empire to his three sons. History books have given Constantine the title of “the Great” and the Church also remembers him and his mother Helen as great, saints “equal to the apostles.”





Elevation of the Cross:

The Empress Helen, mother of the great Emperor Constantine, was traveling to the Holy Land, the land where Jesus had lived and died and risen from the dead.  All the palace was in an uproar.  The servants prepared food for the journey, packed the clothing, and made everything ready for the royal family to travel.  The Empress was a Christian – one who believed that Jesus was the true God.  She was going to the Holy Land to find the places and things the Bible told about.

            Soon, the royal party – the empress, her ladies, her soldiers, and her servants reached the Holy Land.  The royal ship, with its sails of purple silk trimmed with gold, landed at the port of Joppa on the Mediterranean Sea.  There, camels and horses and donkeys waited to carry them inland.  The road was hot and dusty; the sun beat down on them.  Finally, they reached the city of Jerusalem.  They could almost feel the presence of Jesus.  These were the very streets He had walked about 300 years before.

            Empress Helen had the servants put up silken tents on a hill outside the city.  The hill was called Golgotha, a dusty mound with a few bent and twisted old olive trees growing nearby.  What was special about this hill?  The Bible says that Golgotha was where Jesus was crucified.  No one had seen the cross on which the Lord died, but, somewhere on that dusty hill, Empress Helen was sure that she would find three crosses.  The Lord had given her many dreams and visions that had started her on this journey.  He would surely show her how to complete her task.  Helen prayed.  Then, she told her men to begin digging, not on top of the hill, but in a little gully to the side.  As they dug, the men became more and more excited.  Suddenly, one of them found something wooden.  It was a cross!  Soon, there were three wooden crosses uncovered.  But, which one was the cross of Jesus Himself?

            The Bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, suggested a way to find out.  He know of a woman who was sick, so sick she was about to die.  He had his servants carry the woman out to the hill.  The woman was tired and wondered what was happening.  Then, the bishop asked the sick woman to touch the first cross; nothing happened.  She touched the second cross; nothing happened.  Then she touched the third cross; suddenly she was full of energy and life and was well again.  Surely this was the true cross of Christ!

            The Empress Helen sent word to her son, the Emperor Constantine, that they had found the true cross of Jesus Christ.  There was rejoicing in all the Christian Churches.  The emperor ordered that a church be built there on the Mount of Olives.  He reminded all the people that, wonderful though it was to find the wooden cross on which Jesus was crucified, we do not worship the cross but the Lord who died on it.  And so it is to this day.


Discussion – his significance in the history of the Christian Church

Use the students’ discussion questions first. But if little discussion is forthcoming…The reign of Constantine is called a “turning point” in the history of the Christian Church, why? Why is he called “Constantine the Great”? Why are Constantine and Helen called “Equal to the Apostles”? Use specific definitions and historical events to back up your opinions.


Quiz Questions:

First review the quiz questions for the first two lessons of the unit verbally.

Next, use any quiz questions submitted by the students.

  1. Who was Constantine’s father?
  2. What words appeared with the cross in the sky?
  3. Name at least 2 rulers defeated by Constantine in battle.
  4. With what decree was Christianity legalized?
  5. Who was bishop of Jerusalem when the Holy Cross was found?

Early Church Fathers: Canon of Scripture



Objective: Students should be able to recite all the books of the Bible and have an understanding of what constitutes the canon of Scripture and how we got it, to recite the Nicene Creed and understand the positions of Arius and Athanasius at the Council of Nicea, and to list the parts of the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the objects used in the liturgy, understanding the life of St. John and his ministry.




Present the historical material, either as teacher or with students taking turns reading the lesson. Ask frequent questions as you go to inhibit day-dreaming; use the quiz questions scattered thru the reading as a teaching aid, and later as a quiz at the end.


How the Bible came to be:

 In the early Church, the only Scriptures known were the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. It was written in their language, Hebrew. It was written long before Jesus was born. The Hebrew Scriptures tell about the creation of the world, God’s chosen people, God’s promises of a Savior, and the history of the Jewish people. Do you remember some of the stories from the Old Testament? Some of the books we memorized 2 years ago? Jesus Himself read from these Scriptures when He taught. This was the only Bible read by the apostles! But, there is debate even about these Scriptures. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint, includes some books not included in some of the oldest Hebrew manuscripts. These books, known as the Apocrypha, are recognized by both the Church and the Jewish synagogues as inspired but not in the same category as the other books of the Old Testament.

In the first days after Pentecost, the apostles taught the people about Jesus. The people memorized the stories and loved hearing them. So, even while the apostles were still alive, collections of stories about Jesus began to be written down. Peter probably supervised the writing of the gospel of Mark. Luke traveled and talked to many people to learn all about Jesus to write his gospel. And, of course, Matthew and John were with Jesus from the start and wrote what they had personally seen and heard. These books are called the gospels and tell about Jesus. They are the first four books of the New Testament.

Luke also traveled with Paul and wrote a book about the history of the early Church. This is called the book of Acts. The apostles traveled to many cities, starting churches all over the world. When you travel, don’t you send letters or postcards to those you miss at home or in other towns? So, the apostles wrote letters, or epistles, to others of their churches while they were elsewhere. Most were written in Greek. Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude all wrote letters. In fact, they wrote a lot more letters than are in the New Testament. Some letters may have been fake or lies. But, from earliest times, certain ones of their letters went from church to church, copy by copy, by foot or donkey or horse or camel. Each copy was made by hand – each hand-carried with love to the next town to share with fellow believers. Even the apostles, in their letters, talked about the letters of the other apostles they had read! These letters were especially precious in the days of persecution, when they had to be hidden carefully from the Romans. In fact, during the reign of Diocletian, the Romans sent spies all over the empire and tried to destroy all Christian writings!

            But, by the second century, many of these letters were well-known through the church. Early Christian bishops, Clement and Polycarp and Ignatius (Do you remember the story of Ignatius?), refer to them as being read in the churches. Origen, a great scholar and teacher in Alexandria, had by the year 200 made a list of writings that he considered to be really the work of the apostles. Finally, Constantine became Emperor and Christians were free to read the Scriptures in their churches openly. But, which Scriptures? Constantine gave the great historian Eusebius, who had lived through the persecution of Diocletian, a great order – to produce 50 Bibles. Eusebius carefully studied all the letters and gospels he could find and came up with a list of 27 books for the New Testament, the same 27 books we recognize today. Have you ever heard of the Epistle of Barnabas, or the Gospel of Peter, or the Shepherd of Hermas or the Gospel of Nicodemus? These are all writings rejected by Eusebius, although each was loved in a few cities. Eusebius chose carefully those writings accepted by most of the cities – writings known throughout the early Church to be the true work of an apostle or saint. The first are the gospels (Can you name them?), then the Acts, then lots of epistles (or letters), and finally the Revelation of John (Remember what it was about?). The Council of Carthage in 397 AD formally listed these 27 books as the New Testament.

Books of the Bible:

  1. Work on the books of the Bible – Memory work for this week is the books of the Bible. Take the students on a tour of their Bibles; can they find the Torah, the History books, the Poetry books, the Prophets in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha (not in the Protestant Bible) and the Gospels, the History book (Acts), and the Epistles (or letters) in the New?


  1. Try playing Bible relay: Break the class into two teams. Write various Bible references on cards. Place a Bible on the table a few feet in front of each line of students. The first student in each line must find the first reference, then return and tag the next person, who finds the second reference, etc. These “time trials” help the students to learn the books, since looking them up in the Table of Contents is too time-consuming.


  1. Make Bible flash cards for the students to use to learn the books of the Bible at home. Have each student write each book of the Bible on an index card. (This will take awhile but will be more of a learning experience than having the cards pre-printed on the computer.) Can they put them in order?


Quiz Questions:

There are ____ books in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament was originally written in the ________ language.

The Book of ____________ contains beautiful poetry.

The _____ Testament was written before Christ was born.

There are _____ books in the New Testament.

Most of the New Testament was originally written in the ____ language.

The ________ tell of the life of Jesus.

The ________ are letters.

Some of the writers of the Epistles are ____________________.

The list of official books in the Bible is called the _____ of Scripture.

_______________ put together the original list of New Testament books.

The Council of __________ decreed the official canon of Scripture.



(to the tune of  the verses of “Jesus Loves Me”)

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,

Numbers, Deuteronomy,

Joshua, Judges, Ruth God brings,

Kingdoms 1,2,3, and 4,


Two of Chronicles and Ezras two,

Nehemiah,Tobit, Judith

Esther, Maccabees all three,

Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes,


Song of Songs and Wisdoms two

Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel,

Obadiah, Jonah, not all,

Nahum, then comes Habakkuk,


Zephaniah, Haggai,

Zechariah, Malachi

Isaiah, Jeremiah

Baruch and Lamentations, too.


Jeremiah’s Epistle then.

Ezekiel, Daniel, that’s the end,

All of these God’s works foretold

And His promises of old.


Books in bold are the historical books (beginning with the 5 books of the Torah), those underlined are the books of songs and wisdom, and those in italics are the Old Testament Prophets.



(to the tune of the ABCs)

Matthew, Mark and Luke and John,

Acts and Romans, Corinthians 2

Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians,

1st and 2nd Thessalonians,

1st and 2nd  Timothy,

Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James,

2 of  Peter and 3 of John,

Jude and the Revelation.

Now we know the 27 books

Of the New Testament of Christ our Lord. 


Books in bold are the gospels and books in italics are the Epistles (or letters) of St. Paul.

Early Church Fathers: Council of Nicea



Historical Background

            After persecution ended, the Church grew. In early days, Jerusalem was the center of Christianity, later Rome, and now Constantinople. The apostles ordained men to succeed them. Today, these are known as bishops. Bishops were the shepherds of their flocks – rural bishops of small towns and villages, metropolitan and archbishops of larger cities and states, and the Patriarchs were by now five: Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch. The Patriarchates were a position of honor and prestige but not a ruling oligarchy. When a council is called, just as at Jerusalem in the first century, all bishops converge, each with an equal vote.

At the beginning of the 4th century, two disagreements troubled the Church:

1. When should Christians celebrate Pascha (Easter)? Some Christians were celebrating with the Jewish Passover, others on a particular Sunday, and others in a certain week, not on Sunday.


2. What was the nature of Jesus – God or man? No one had yet put into words exactly what the Church believed abut Jesus. Now that peace reigned for the Church, theology blossomed. What is theology? The study of God and formulation of Christian belief. Soon, a serious disagreement developed between Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria and one of his priests, named Arius. Arius thought things through and decided that, if Jesus was born, there must have been a time when He was not, and therefore He could not be equal to God the Father. He was not truly God. Many Christians began to be swayed by his reasoning, splitting the Church.


Life of Athanasius the Great

  1. The facts: Athanasius was born at the end of the third century in the city of Alexandria in Egypt.  At that time, Alexandria was an important center of education and learning in the Roman Empire and its bishop an important leader in the Christian Church. One day, the bishop looked out his window and saw some small boys walking back and forth at the seashore. When he asked what they were doing, they said that they have made their friend, Athanasius, their bishop and are following his order to baptize the other children.  Athanasius had taught the children all about Jesus and they were ready to follow the Lord! The bishop came to love Athanasius and the boy spent many hours in the bishop’s home reading and studying.

      By the time he was 20 years old, Athanasius was writing books about the Lord. His extensive writings all are concerned with the dominant purpose of his life – to defend the divinity of Christ. He believed that Jesus was truly God as well as truly man. He used the word “homoousios” in Greek, meaning “of the same essence”. But, another priest in Alexandria, named Arius, believed just the opposite. Even the Emperor Constantine heard of this great disagreement in the Christian Church and was upset by the arguments. So Constantine decided to hold a council of all the bishops. Athanasius and Arius would both attend and defend their beliefs. Athanasius won!

      Athanasius  became Bishop of Alexandria in 328 AD. But Arius was still alive and even the Emperor allowed Arius to keep teaching. Then he spread rumors that Athanasius had murdered a man. Athanasius went to Constantinople as a prisoner, but he showed them alive the man he was supposed to have killed! Even so, Athanasius was sent into exile – a prisoner in France for many years. When he came home to Alexandria, he again became Bishop. But, when a new Emperor arose who believed with Arius, Athanasius had to escape to Rome. He would try over and over to go back to Alexandria, only to have to flee – finally to the desert. Depending on the whim of the Emperor, some of whom (descendants of Constantine) were Arians, Athanasius would be exiled and return 5 times! But he never stopped writing about his beloved Jesus. Finally, as an old man, he was able to go home to Alexandria as its beloved bishop. Athanasius died in 373 AD.

  1. Discussion: Athanasius is called “The Great” by the Church. Why? He defended Jesus against Arianism for many years. His was the major role in that conflict; he suffered exile over and over for his faith. We, now, centuries later, cannot easily picture the struggle; we are firmly established in Orthodox doctrine. But the entire Christian faith could have been destroyed if Arius had won. Think a bit about how important it is for Christians to know that Jesus is God. Have the students talk about superman (or spider man, batman, etc.) What are they like? What powers do they have? Are they God? What is different about God? Yes, Jesus was powerful and could walk on water, but His birth, death, and resurrection mean nothing if He was just another superhero! Athanasius would argue that only Jesus the God-man could have died for our sins; only if He were truly God and truly man would the crucifixion have meant anything at all. If Jesus, as the Arians taught, were only a creature, then Christianity would be only idolatry.


The Council Itself

Constantine decided to hold a council of all the bishops. This council was held at Nicea in Asia Minor in 325 AD. Constantine himself was the presiding judge. Athanasius, still a young deacon, spoke to the bishops about the dangers of this new belief that Arius was spreading. Arius also spoke. Even Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna was present to defend true Orthodoxy along with Athanasius. The Council decided against Arius and wrote a creed, or statement of belief, that says, “Jesus Christ…being of one essence with the Father” to end the disagreement.

            In addition, the Council decided that Pascha would be celebrated according to the following formula:

  1. After the Vernal Equinox.
  2. After the first full moon.
  3. The first Sunday after the Jewish Passover. (This requirement has been rejected by the Roman Catholic and Protestant Chuches, leading to the difference in celebration dates today.)

The Creed

Work on the creed. The Creed is a magnificent document. If there is time, take it apart with the class, line by line, and examine its beauty. Even to this day, it is used by the Church to distinguish orthodox (true) belief from heresy. Can the students define these two important words? Today, it is unpopular to believe in truth; whatever a person feels is fine. But, the early Church understood that truth exists and must be carefully guarded. Some groups today use the word Christian or Christ but deny the creed; we know they are not truly Christian. For example, the Christian Scientists, following the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, do not believe that Jesus was truly God nor in the Trinity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in only God the Father – Jesus was a “superman”. (And you thought Arianism was gone for good?) And the Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, founded by Joseph Smith) do not believe in the Trinity. All fail the test of the Creed, written by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD! Ask the students, if someone asked you to define your faith as a Christian, what would you answer? The Nicene Creed gives a full and adequate answer, elegant and simple.

The Nicene Creed

The first Ecumenical Council in Nicea adopted this creed, known throughout history as the Nicene Creed:

 We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.

There developed over time disagreements about the nature of the Holy Spirit. The following definition of the Council in Constantinople in 381, which has come to be known as the second ecumenical council was added to the Nicene statement:

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Quiz Questions:

  1. Most important: recite (or sing) the creed.
  2. List the 5 ancient patriarchates.
  3. Name at least 4 major players in the Council at Nicea.
  4. Name at least 3 churches that claim to be Christian but are heretical.


A Song:



Sung by 'Constantine' to the tune of “Maria” in the musical “East Side Story”


I just had brilliant idea!

The bishops I'll invite

And maybe they will write

A creed.



A council I'll call at Nicea.

By means of politics

I'll make those heretics




Different doctrines they've been promoting;

Now at last we can solve it by voting.

Nicea! They'll never stop quoting Nicea!



The crown of my brilliant care-er

Because I'm Emperor,

They've all got to defer

To me!



I'll gather the whole ecclesia,

And suddenly they'll find

They all are of one mind.

You'll see!



I can hear theologians saying:

Let's all go, since the Emperor's paying!


For unity they will be praying...Nicea!





To the tune of "Supercalafragalisticexpialadocius" ...


Um diddle diddle um diddle ay  Um diddle diddle um diddle ay


Superchristological and Homoousiosis

Even though the sound of them is something quite atrocious

You can always count on them to anathemize your Gnosis

Superchristological and Homoousiosis


Um diddle diddle um diddle ay  Um diddle diddle um diddle ay



Now Origen and Arius were quite a clever pair.

Immutable divinity make Logos out of air.

But then one day Saint Nicholas gave Arius a slap--

and told them if they can't recant, they ought to shut their trap!


[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...


One Prosopon, two Ousia are in one Hypostasis.

At Chalcedon this formula gave our faith its basis.

You can argue that you don't know what this means,

But don't you go and try to say there's a "Physis" in between!


[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...


Um diddle diddle um diddle ay Um diddle diddle um diddle ay


Now freedom and autonomy are something to be praised,

But when it comes to human sin, these words must be rephrased,

For Pelagius was too confident that we could work it out--

And Augustine said *massa damnata* is what it's all about.


[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...


Heresies are arguments that you might find attractive,

But just remember in this case the Church is quite reactive.

So play it safe and memorize these words we sing together,

'Cause in the end you'll find, my friend, that we may live forever.


[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis…


Lyrics by Dan Idzikowski


Early Church Fathers: St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy



Life of St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom was born about 300 years after the time of Christ in the city of Antioch in the land of Syria. (Locate Antioch of Syria on your maps.) His parents, Secounthos and Anthousa, were very rich. They became Christians before John was born, and John was baptized when he was very young. Secounthos died when John was a boy, and Anthousa taught him carefully about Christ Jesus and the Christian life.

When he became a young man, John went to Athens to study in the university there. In Athens, he soon became known for his wonderful preaching. He became famous all through the land. In face, his name “Chrysostom” is not his last name at all but means “Golden-Tongued” and was given to him because of his wonderful speaking. One day, John was telling men who believed in other gods about the Lord Jesus. One of these men, Anthemios, fell down to the ground shaking after denying the true God. John prayed for Anthemios and he was healed. Anthemios and many others of the learned men then became Christians and were baptized.

When John finished his schooling, he returned to Antioch and became a monk. During this time, many people who were sick came to him for prayer and were healed. Some farmers even came to him because they were afraid of a lion which killed many people. John told them to pray to God and gave them a wooden cross to place on the road. The next morning, the lion was found dead in front of the cross. St. John lived in the monastery for four years, performing many miracles and serving as an example of Christian life. He then left the monastery to live alone in the desert a life of prayer. For three years he lived in a cave and studied the Bible. But, John became ill and had to go back to Antioch at the age of 41. He was ordained a deacon and served the Patriarch, St. Meletios, for five years.

When Patriarch Meletios died, the new patriarch, Flavianos, saw a vision telling him to take John to Constantinople and there ordain him a priest. The next day, they left Antioch for Constantinople. As the patriarch was ordaining John, a white dove appeared and sat on John’s head, showing the blessing of the Holy Spirit. (What other time did the Holy Spirit appear as a dove?) John went back to Antioch as a priest. Then, a terrible riot occurred in Antioch; the people were angry about the Roman taxes and even killed some Roman officials. Would the Emperor punish the city? As soon as order was restored, the Patriarch of Antioch traveled to Rome to plead for his city. John was left in charge. He preached some of his greatest sermons during that Lenten season. Do you remember the sermon read every Pascha? John became a well-known figure in Antioch, a tall, skinny man with a long beard. He was priest there for 18 years.

Then, the Patriarch of Constantinople died and John was named patriarch. He had to be sneaked away from Antioch in a carriage because the people loved him so much they did not want him to go. During John’s time as Patriarch of Constantinople, John continued to preach the Word of God with great wisdom. He also wrote many books of sermons and interpretations, composed hymns, and gave us the Divine Liturgy still celebrated today. But, John did not just preach. He lived the life of a Christian by example, often helping in the hospitals and prisons. The Church even had its own court system over which John had to be wise judge and untangle complicated family disputes, church quarrels, and injustices.

But, John was never afraid to speak out against those who did not live the way of Christ. Because of this, he made many enemies, including the emperor’s wife, Eudoxia, whom he criticized for her greedy and selfish way of life. Finally, she brought a list of lies against John to the bishops and had John sent away. The people tried to stop this and attacked the palace; hundreds of Christians were killed by the empress’s army. Then an earthquake struck the city and the palace was itself damaged. John’s boat returned in triumph. But John continued to preach in his usual way and the empress finally had a secret council called with only her supporters present. John was exiled to Armenia – taken there under military guard. As John was unjustly removed from the city, the beloved church of Hagia Sophia was destroyed by fire, along with the Senate building.  John spent his last four years as a simple priest in the village of Cacussus. Then the Emperor decided to move the preacher even farther away. John was now 63 years – sick and exhausted. The journey lasted 3 months. At last, the bishop could walk no further and received Holy Communion and passed away peacefully in a small town along the way.


The Liturgy

            To this day, on most Sundays, we celebrate the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The Orthodox Church has maintained its liturgical uniformity throughout many historical shifts and in many languages and cultures. Here is a constant for all Orthodox, no matter where they travel. There is a specific organization to the liturgy; in the early days, when did the catecumens have to leave?


1.   Review the liturgy; see if the students can get the sequence correct from memory:

  1. Litany: Here we pray for the whole world.  Who else do we pray for? (travelers, prisoners, leaders of our country, bishops, priests, deacons, rain and sun, food to eat, and we especially remember Mary the Theotokos) What do we respond? (Lord have mercy. Grant it, O Lord.)
  2. Hymns of worship: 1st and 2nd antiphons, troparia and kontakia, Trisagion -- review these words.  Try singing the antiphons we use each Sunday.
  3. Epistle and Gospel: Here we hear God’s word from the Bible.  The priest carries out the Gospel and tells us to pay attention to God’s word.
  4. Cherubic Hymn: God makes us His special guests, along with the seraphim and cherubim, His angels in heaven.  The priest uses incense as he prays, reminding us that the prayers go up to God the same way the smoke rises. The priest carries the chalice and discos in the Great Entrance, while praying for us all.
  5. Creed: We all recite the creed –review the writing of the creed by the Fathers of the Church in Nicaea under Constantine the Great.
  6. Preparation for Communion: Review the story of the Last Supper.  Here the priest prays for the bread and wine to become the true body and blood of Jesus-a great Mystery.
  7. The Megalynarion: We honor Mary the Theotokos with a special hymn.
  8. The Lord’s Prayer: Jesus gave us this prayer himself. Recite it.
  9. Holy Communion: We receive the body and blood of Christ.
  10. Benediction: The priest blesses us and dismisses us. We all venerate the Cross.


2. As the Church became more organized, certain articles of worship became commonly  used. Review them below, perhaps giving the students the word and having them define or vice versa:


Sanctuary (altar) at the eastern end of the church, why?

                        Iconostasis: icon screen

                        Corporal with Antimins: Altar covering used only during communion and

                                    containing relics of the saints

                        Seven-branched candelabra

                        Tabernacle (or Ark), where are kept the Communion for the sick and for the

                                    Presanctified liturgy

                        Gospel Book

                        Sacramental Fans, representing the Seraphim

                        Table of Oblation, where the priest prepares the Holy Gifts

                        Diskos (or Paten): a plate for the bread

                        Star Cover: to support the veil so it does not touch the bread

                        Chalice: cup for the wine

                        Spoon and Sponge and Spear: the spear is used to cut the pieces from the

                        Prosphora, the spoon to give Communion, and the Sponge to clean

                        Veils: Covering for chalice and paten

                        Censer, for incense


Quiz Questions

            First review the quiz questions from the first two lessons of this unit.

  1. Translate John’s “last” name “Chrysostom”.
  2. List at least 4 places where John lived.
  3. List at least 5 parts of the Liturgy.
  4. List at least 8 of the objects used in the Liturgy.

Church Established: Cappadocian Fathers, Macarius, and Ephraim



Objective: Students should be able to identify several of the early church Fathers and understand their teachings, to discuss the development of monasticism and the monastic way of life, to identify and discuss the importance of such great monastics as St. Anthony the Great, St. Gregory Palamas, St. John Climacus, and St. Mary of Egypt, and to recite the Jesus Prayer.



The St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzus (the Theologian), and St. Gregory of Nyssa are often grouped together of the Cappadocian Fathers (because of their cities); St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzus, and St. John Chrysostom are also known as the Three Hierarchs. Each has his own feast day, but the three have a day together as well. Try again copying the page, cutting apart the biographies, and giving each student 5 minutes to prepare a presentation on one of these great saints:


St. Basil the Great:

Basil was born in the city of Caesarea some 300 years after the time of Christ. He was raised by his grandmother, Macrina, who told him and his brothers and sisters about how his grandfather had been killed by lions because of his faith in Jesus. Basil wondered about this. Why would someone waste his life for just a belief?

When Basil grew up, he went to study in the great university at Athens. There he began to think that he was very wise and argued with the other students about all sorts of things, forgetting about Jesus. Then, one day, a messenger ran up. He told Basil that his brother Naucratius had died all of a sudden. Basil could hardly believe the news. He went right away to Caesarea. Here he realized that Naucratius, while not as smart as Basil, had shown love and joy in his whole life because of Jesus. Basil prayed and told God he was sorry he had forgotten the teachings of his grandmother about Jesus. Now, Basil was ready to serve the Lord, but how and where would he go?

Basil first went to the desert. There he learned about men who served the Lord alone in the wilderness.  Basil decided to begin a monastery – a place where men called monks could live a life of prayer and holiness together. They wore simple clothes and raised their own food. Every day they would pray, but they would also serve the poor and needy. Basil started hospitals and homes for old people and orphanages for children with his monks. The rule of St. Basil about how to run a monastery is still followed all over the world today.

Then, Basil went home to Caesarea. There he was ordained a priest. One day during liturgy the earth began to shake. It was an earthquake! (Try some sound effects and shaking here.) The whole church fell down around Basil, but he was protected by the Lord. The whole city had fallen down and was on fire. Basil gathered the Christians and took care of people who were hurt and brought food for the hungry. Because of his loving service, Basil became bishop of Caesarea. Once, when people had no money or food, Basil asked the rich people for some money and had bakers make loaves of bread with the money inside! He gave it to the poor people. Many people remember this by making a special bread called “Vasilopita”, or Basil’s bread.

Meanwhile, in other cities, many people began to leave the true teachings of the church and believe the false teachings of Arius. Even the new emperor believed the teachings of Arius. Basil was arrested by the soldiers and taken before the emperor. Would he, like his grandfather, have to die for his beliefs? He stood, an old man, before the emperor and proposed to test whose belief was right. The church doors were closed and everyone moved away. Whoever’s prayers God answered would be allowed to worship. First, the Arians would pray and see if the church doors would open; they prayed and nothing happened. Then, Basil prayed and the doors opened all by themselves! Basil and the true Christians were safe from the emperor. God’s power was proof.

In the last years of his life, Basil wrote many books, taught in the monastery, and cared for the poor. He wrote down the Divine Liturgy known to this day as the Liturgy of St. Basil and celebrated on many feast days of the year. Whose liturgy is celebrated most of the time? On which 10 Sundays do we celebrate the Liturgy of St. Basil? Theophany, the day before Christmas, St. Basil’s day (Jan. 1), the five Sundays of Great Lent, and Holy Thursday and Saturday.


St. Gregory Nazianzus:

Gregory was born in the small town of Nazianzus in Asia Minor. His mother taught him about Jesus. But Gregory wondered, why did he never see Jesus? Was Jesus real?

Gregory was a very good student. He first studied in the little school in Nazianzus. Then he went to Alexandria, and finally, when Gregory was 16 years old, he decided to go to Athens. His parents were very sad; he would be so far away. Gregory boarded the ship and set sail. But, soon a storm came. It was so fierce that the captain lost control of the ship. For days they were lost in the darkness and rain. They had no food or water. Gregory prayed and prayed. Finally the storm ended and another ship came, giving them food and supplies. They were saved! Gregory knew that his prayers had been answered and he knew that Jesus was really God.

In Athens, Gregory met his old friend Basil from the school in Alexandria. They were both studying in Athens. Soon the two friends were living together and spent 10 years studying in Athens. Finally, Gregory got a letter from home. His father, now the Bishop of Nazianzus, was old and needed help with his work. Gregory left Athens and his friend Basil and went home. His family were so happy to see him! Gregory helped his father to manage their farm and home, but he became ill. He left Nazianzus to join Basil at a monastery in the mountains and there got well again.

But, all was not well at home. Gregory traveled to Nazianzus for a visit. As he approached his house, he saw a crowd of unbelievers with clubs and logs! They were going to batter down the door and kill his family! Gregory was a small, shy, bald man, but he ran right in front of the crowd and stopped them at the door. He spoke to them for an hour, telling them about Jesus and God, until the whole mob became Christian! After this, the people of Nazianzus loved Gregory and his family. They asked for Gregory to be their priest. Gregory fled back to Basil and the monastery, but Basil sent him back; God had called Gregory to be priest and he must obey.

Several years later, when Basil was Bishop of Caesarea, he ordained Gregory Bishop of Sasima. Gregory was angry; he did not want to go to Sasima. He refused to obey. The next year was a terrible one – first his beloved brother Caesarius died, then his sister, his father and mother, all the animals of the land and even the crops with a hailstorm – even his good friend Basil died. All his family and friends were gone; Gregory cried and cried. He went out alone to the mountains, lost in his loneliness. But, Gregory came back from the mountains a new man, strong in the Lord. He was now not afraid to teach the people. He wrote books and letters about the Lord. Many of his writings we have to this day. Because of his wise writings, Gregory of Nazianzus is also known as Gregory the Theologian.

            After Basil’s death, the burden of defending the Church against Arianism fell to Gregory. He fought for 10 years. Finally the Emperor Valens, an Arian, died in a battle with the Visigoths, barbarians threatening the Western Empire, and Theodosios the Great, an Orthodox Spaniard, ascended the throne. When Gregory was asked by Orthodox believers to come to Constantinople, he could find not a single church that remained faithful to the creed. He settled in the suburb of Nicea and there began to hold services in a small chapel. From there he preached brilliant defenses of Orthodox theology. When the Second Ecumenical Council met in 381, called by the Emperor Theodosios, Gregory defended Orthodoxy and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity triumphed. Gregory was offered the post of Patriarch of Constantinople, but retired to Nazianzus and died there peacefully, his work accomplished, in 389 AD.


St. Gregory of Nyssa:

St. Gregory was born about 300 years after the birth of Christ. He came from a strong Christian family; his brothers, St. Basil the Great and St. Peter of Sebastea, and his sister, St. Macrina, are all remembered today for their holiness. Their parents, Sts. Basil and Emmelia, died when Gregory was very young. Gregory was brought up by his older brother Basil and his sister Macrina. He was taught in the best schools of the day and was especially good at public speaking. But, he was a shy boy, living in the shadow of his famous brother.

Soon after he finished school, Gregory married a Christian girl named Theosebeia and became a teacher. But, it was not long before he left teaching and became a priest. After several years of faithful work, his brother Basil chose Gregory to become bishop of Nyssa. Nyssa was a small diocese, modest but politically important. Its new bishop had a very difficult job. Many of the people of Nyssa believed the false teachings of Arius and constantly argued with their new bishop. Finally, they told the governor that Gregory had stolen some money, and Bishop Grego­ry was arrested by the soldiers during the reign of Emperor Valens. He escaped and had to spend many years in hiding until the emperor made him bishop again.

Soon afterward, his brother Basil died. Now Gregory became one of the leading men of the church, standing firm for the true teachings of Jesus against many false teachers. Gregory tra­veled all over the empire to bring order and discipline into confused churches. He was a leader at the general councils of Antioch and of Constantinople. It is thought that he helped write the second part of the creed adopted at these councils. During his life and after his death, Gregory was recognized as one of the greatest Christian teachers. He wrote several books and letters that we still can read today. Finally, after a long and full life, Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, joined his brothers and sister with the Lord in the year 395 AD.


St. Macarius the Great:

            Macarius was born in Egypt. His father was a priest. He married as his parents wanted, but his wife died very young and Macarius went into the desert near the village of Scetis, where he spent 60 years seeking the Kingdom of Heaven. He prayed and fasted so often that he was very thin. His whole attitude toward the Christian life was one of living it inwardly, without complaint. Even when falsely accused by a village girl of her pregnancy, he quietly cared for her until she told the truth. Macarius so fully succeeded in clearing his mind and heart from evil thoughts and desires, that God began to work miraculously through this great saint. He even raised the dead from the graves.

            Much of what we know of the life of St. Macarius comes from stories told about him by others. Even in the desert, occasionally a visitor would come by camel to collect salt from the lakes nearby. They would take and sell the baskets woven by the various monks and hermits. And Macarius, himself, did not stay put. He had to travel 40 miles across the desert each week to reach the nearest Church for liturgy. He also visited St. Anthony the Great and wove rope with him, talking of various things.

            Macarius became known for his loving and concern. Once, when a fellow monk was ill and asked for sherbet to cool his burning tongue, Macarius secretly crossed the desert to fulfill his desire. Another time he showed such love and concern for a pagan he met on the street, that the man became a Christian. And, despite his greatest wishes to remain secluded with his Lord, Macarius saw the need for Liturgy and allowed the bishop to ordain him so his brother monks and hermits would not have a 40-mile trip each week.

            Arianism also touched the life of Macarius. When Athanasius died, an Arian bishop was installed in Alexandria by the Emperor Valens. Macarius opposed this appointment and was exiled to a small pagan island in the Nile Delta. While there, the pagan priest’s daughter began to have terrible fits; she was possessed by a demon. When Macarius prayed, she was healed. The people tore down the pagan shrine and built a church! The government was quick to send Macarius back to his desert.

            Macarius lived for 90 years. One of his disciples was Paphnutius, another saint. Before Macarius’s death, St. Anthony and St. Pachomius appeared to him and told him he would die in 9 days. Just before he died, Macarius saw a vision of cherubim and the heavenly Kingdom. He died in the year 390 AD.


St. Ephraim the Syrian:

            Ephraim was born in Syria in 306 AD of poor parents during the reign of Constantine the Great. He spent his early years in somewhat wild behavior, but suddenly met Jesus in a time of spiritual crisis. His whole life was changed in that instant. He first became a hermit and then went to a monastery, where he was a disciple of St. James of Nisibis. In time, he became headmaster of the school of Nisibis. 

The city of Nisibis was besieged by Sapor II of Persia over and over. He finally conquered Nisibis in 363 AD. Ephraim, along with most of the Christians, fled to Roman territory. Ephraim lived outside the city of Edessa in a small hut as a hermit. But Ephraim loved work – he wrote constantly, studied the Bible, prayed, and taught the monks and the people of Edessa. A multitude of his books and prayers have come down to us today.  His most famous prayer is the one we say during Great Lent: “O Lord and Master of my life…”

Ephraim the Syrian was a contemporary of St. Basil. The two great men met in Caesarea. Ephraim spoke only Syrian and had come with 2 monks as interpreters. St. Basil was told by the Lord to have the Syrians brought to him. After the liturgy, the two saints talked long and hard. Ephraim told Basil that he needed to speak Greek if he were to spread God’s word to more people. He asked Basil to pray for this gift. Both saints prayed together for hours and, in the end, Ephraim spoke perfect Greek and Basil spoke Syrian!

            The people of Edessa came to love their monk and tried by force to make him bishop. He ran through the streets of the city, pretending to be crazy, with his clothes falling off. Thinking he was mad, the people left him in peace. St. Ephraim died in old age in the year 373 AD.



With the class, compare and contrast these great Church Fathers. Each had a monastic background. Each had a great deal to do with the struggle against Arianism, which did not end with the victory of Athanasius at the Council of Nicea.


Quiz Questions:

  1. Name the Cappadocian Fathers. List 2 facts about each of their lives.
  2. Name the Three Hierarchs.
  3. Name the author of the Lenten prayer, “O Lord and Master of my life…” and tell 2 facts about his life.
  4. Name the Egyptian monk of Scetis and tell 2 facts about his life.

Church Established: Monasticism



Each of the men discussed last week was, at some point in his life, a monk. What is monasticism? Why would a man (or woman) leave their homes and lives and give up all property and the privilege of marriage and having children to become a monk?


Historic perspective:


  1. Why did men seek the monastic life? In the early days of Christianity, it was hard and dangerous simply to be a Christian. By the 3rd century, Christianity had become a respectable religion. As a respectable religion, many joined with only lip service. No longer called upon at any moment to become martyrs, Christians became wealthy. It was hard to tell a Christian from a pagan. Compare and contrast with today! Those who left for the monastic life wanted something more. They wanted to live for God alone, to love Him alone, undistracted by worldly possessions and other life successes. They withdrew to a life of undisturbed prayer, worship, and meditation. Discuss this sentence: The monk was the martyr of the 4th century.


  1. Early monasticism took three forms and all had appeared in Egypt, the deserts of which were the home of a vast majority of the monks. Egypt became known as the Second Holy Land because of its many monks and monasteries.
    1. Hermit monks – living by themselves in huts or caves, according to their own rules. St. Anthony the Great was the prototype of the hermit-monk.
    2. Community Life Monks – living together in a village-like area known as a monastery. They prayed alone, but ate, worked, worshipped, and lived together according to the rules of an abbot, the leader of the monastery. The pioneer for the community of monks was Pachomius of Egypt. The work of Pachomius was furthered by St. Basil with his set of rules still followed today in the East, while his order was used as the basis for the Benedictine Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia in the West.
    3. Semi-hermetic monks – living in loosely-knit groups of 2-6 monks under the guidance of a superior – a middle road pioneered by Macarius of Egypt.


  1. The “center” of monasticism in the east shifted several times thru the centuries, often because of conquests. Find each of these places on a map.
    1. Egypt, the Second Holy Land of the 3rd and 4th centuries.
    2. Palestine in the 5th and 6th centuries under Euthymius the Great and his disciple Sabbas. St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai and the Monastery of Sabbas in the Jordan valley exist to this day.
    3. Constantinople with the rise of the Byzantine empire and its great monastery of Studium.
    4. Mt. Athos, a rocky peninsula off the coast of Thessalonika in northern Greece, since 964 AD.


Some “sample” well-known monastics in biography format:

This list is not meant, by any means, to be exhaustive. There have been thousands and thousands of monks over the centuries, any one of whose lives would put the lives of most of us to shame. Many of the great saints of the Church discussed historically elsewhere were also monastics, since many monks would leave their monasteries to become preachers, theologians, and bishops. But, to get a flavor of monastic life:


1. St. Anthony the Great:     About 250 years after the time of Jesus, a young man in Egypt named Anthony listened to the Gospel from Matthew 19:16-26. Reread it now. Anthony heard Jesus’s words to the rich young ruler. His parents had died; he cared for his younger sister. He was very rich. The words of Jesus spoke to Anthony. He sold his riches, found his sister a Christian home, and went off to the desert to live in a cave. There he spent his days and nights in prayer and Bible study. He at little food – once every day or two or four. He had many battles with demons. He even got real bruises fighting them. Do you remember Jesus’s battle with the devil after His baptism? Finally, after many years, a light shone through the roof of the cave; from then on his pain was gone and so were the demons. Anthony thanked God for the strength He had given him.

                        He decided to go even farther from other men to be alone with God. He found an old fort on the banks of the Nile. He continued in fasting and prayer. Anthony thought he would never see another human being again. But, after twenty years, other men began to seek out this holy hermit in the desert. They began to leave the cities to seek God alone; they became known as monks from the Greek word for alone. Each lived in a cave or grotto alone; only occasionally would they come together for prayer. Many came to Anthony to live near him and learn from his teachings and example. Because of this, Anthony is known as the Father of Monasticism.

                        As Anthony grew closer to God, people would come to him for prayer. A ruler in Egypt was healed of blindness; a girl who was paralyzed was healed. His wisdom was so well-known that Emperor Constantine the Great wrote to Anthony for advice. Anthony died in 356 AD. He asked the other monks to bury him secretly; they did, and his resting place is unknown to this day!


2.   St. Gerasimus: St. Gerasimus left his home to live as a hermit. He was a kind and gentle man. Animals loved St. Gerasimus. One day, a sick lion with a thorn in its paw visited St. Gerasimus. The saint pulled out the thorn and bathed and bandaged the swollen paw. The lion became his friend and followed the saint like a dog. Each day the lion was told to go with the donkey on its trip to the Jordan River for grazing and water and guard the donkey. But, one day, the lion fell asleep. A caravan of merchants came by and saw the donkey, seeming to be all alone. They took the donkey and rode off. When the lion woke up, he was ashamed and went back to St. Gerasimus without the donkey. The saint thought the lion had eaten the donkey! After that, the lion would carry the barrel of water that the donkey used to carry. One day, a soldier bought the monastery a donkey and the lion was set free.

Much later, the caravan of merchants who had taken the donkey passed by again. The donkey was leading three camels loaded with goods. Suddenly, a lion leaped out and grabbed the donkey’s halter with its teeth. The merchants and camels ran away in fear. The lion led the donkey back to the monastery. The camels, loaded with wheat, followed the donkey and the lion. St. Gerasimus told the lion he was sorry he had accused him unjustly of eating the donkey.

The lion stayed with the monks until the death of St. Gerasimus. It went to the grave of its friend and roared and roared. Then it lay down and died.


3.St. Eugenia: About 300 years after the time of Christ, the ruler of all Egypt, named Philip, had a daughter named Eugenia. Philip was an honest and fair ruler and raised his daughter to love all people and treat them with courtesy and honor. Even her name, Eugenia, means “courtesy”. Eugenia was also learned in Latin and Greek, unusual for a girl in that day. She grew to be very beautiful and many men wanted to marry the beautiful princess.

Eugenia had secretly become a believer in Christianity. One day, she went in her carriage outside the city with her two faithful servants, Protas and Iakinthos. In the dar, the three slipped out of the carriage near a Christian church. When the carriage returned to her father in the city, Eugenia was gone!

Eugenia had become a Christian, along with her two servants. They went to a monastery to devote their lives to the Lord. But girls were not allowed in monasteries. So, Eugenia cut her hair and dressed like a boy and took the name Eugenius. The monk Eugenius soon became known for his holiness and later became abbot of the monastery. No one knew that “he” was really a woman.

One day, a rich and noble woman of Alexandria came to Eugenius for prayer. She was very sick. Eugenius anointed her with Holy Oil and she was made well. After this, Melanthia fell in love with the monk Eugenius, thinking he was a man. When Eugenius would not marry her, Menlanthia called the soldiers, claiming she had been raped. Eugenius was taken before her father Philip and there showed everyone that she was really Eugenia, his daughter. Soon Philip and the whole city became Christians.

But, the happy day was short. The Emperor sent a man to kill Philip. The new governor of Egypt began the persecution of Christians. Among those arrested were Eugenia and her two faithful servants. The soldiers took her to the temple of Artemis and ordered her to worship. Eugenia knelt down and prayed and the whole temple fell down. They then tried to drown her, but Eugenia walked on the water. Next they starved her in prison, but the angels fed her. Finally Eugenia would die a martyr


4. St. Mary of Egypt: Mary was born in Alexandria in the land of Egypt. She was a very beautiful and very rich girl. She didn’t believe in God and said that she could do anything she wanted.

One day, Mary sailed to Jerusalem with her friends looking for fun. Now, it happened to be the time of the feast of the Ascension, and many Christians were going into the Church built over the tomb of Jesus to pray. Mary was curious. What were they doing? She tried to enter the church, but an invisible force pushed her back. She tried again and again, with no luck. She wondered why she could not enter the church. Could it be her sins that were pushing her back?

Suddenly, Mary began to change. She looked at an icon of the Virgin Mary and was ashamed of the way she had been living. She knelt before the icon and cried her heart out. God’s voice came to her and told her to go into the desert beyond the Jordan. At first, life in the desert was hard, remembering all the fun she used to have with her friends and her fine clothes and good food. In the desert, she was hungry and thirsty and had only rags to wear. But the Lord sent her wisdom and peace in her soul.

After fifty years, Mary saw a man walking in the desert. It was a monk, Zossima, who had come to pray. Mary asked Zossima to return the next year on Holy Thursday to give her communion for the first time since her repentance. Then Mary disappeared into the desert.

The next year, Zossima returned as he had promised. He waited on the banks of the river, which was flooded. How would Mary get across? The he saw her on the other shore. Mary prayed and walked across the water! Zossima gave her the beloved communion and Mary prayed the prayer of St. Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…” Can you sing this great hymn? Do it now. Mary asked Zossima to return the next year.

The next year Zossima came and found Mary’s body; she was dead. She had written in the sand that she wished to be buried her, in the desert, where she had found the Lord in her heart. Zossima sang the memorial service for Mary, but he was an old man and could not dig the grave. Suddenly a lion came and dug the grave with his claws. Thus, Zossima and the lion buried Mary’s body while her soul went to be with her Lord in heaven.



5. St. Daniel the Stylite: Daniel was dedicated to God even before his birth by his parents. He was born in the town of Maratha. Even as a child, Daniel showed great holiness and love for the Lord. When he was 12 years old, Daniel went to live in a monastery and, a few years later, took his permanent vows as a monk.

One day, on a trip with his abbot, Daniel saw St. Simeon, the first pillar-saint, on top of his pillar. Daniel climbed up the pillar and was given a blessing by Simeon. Later, Daniel again visited St. Simeon and lived near him for many days. So it came to be that, after ten years in the monastery, Daniel decided to imitate the holy life of St. Simeon. He nearly froze to death on his first pillar-home, so the Emperor built him a higher and better one – two pillars fastened together with a shelter on top. There Daniel lived until he was 84 years old, in spite of wind, rain, and frost.

The life of a pillar-saint, or stylite, seems very strange to us today. But, in those days, around 500 AD many men who wanted to give their lives to God would live alone in a cave – or on top of a pillar. There, after many years of prayer and fasting, the holy man would be visited by the sick, who climbed his pillar to be anointed. Daniel also taught the crowds that came to the foot of his pillar, teaching them about love and care of the poor. Even the Emperor would come to Daniel for his wisdom and advice.

Only once did Daniel leave the pillar. A brother of the queen had tried to take the crown of the true emperor. The bishop asked Daniel to go to the wicked brother, who was spreading Arianism in the Church. Daniel came down; he had not walked for so many years that he had to be carried to the palace. Crowds of loving people followed the holy man. The usurper would not let Daniel in, but later he came to Daniel’s pillar. There, Daniel told him he had done wrong in the sight of God and God would punish him. A little while later, the true emperor came back with his army and the wicked brother had to flee for his life.

Daniel lived for many more years, with both common people and kings visiting his pillar. He was buried at the foot of the pillar that had been his home.


6. St. Sergius of Radonezh: Over 600 years ago in the land of Russia was born a boy named Bartholomew. His family had once been rich, but their wealth had been stolen and their town burned by the Mongolian Tartars. They lived like peasants, but there was always a place for the stranger to eat and sleep in their home. Bartholomew grew and went to school, but he somehow couldn’t learn to read. He was very sad about this; his father was very angry. One day, while he was seeking a lost herd of horses, Bartholomew saw a monk sitting under a tree. The boy told the monk about his difficulties with reading. The holy monk gave the boy a small loaf of blessed bread and told him that the bread was as sweet as the Holy Scriptures would be when he could read them. Bartholomew ate the bread; it was sweet as honey. The monk told him not to worry about reading any more. Bartholomew invited the monk to spend the night with his family. The monk and Bartholomew’s family read the Scriptures that night. Bartholomew could read perfectly!

When Bartholomew grew up, he wanted to be a monk. But his parents were very poor. Who would care for them when he left? So, Bartholomew stayed with his parents and cared for them until they died. Then he went into the woods, and built a small hut and chapel. At first, his older brother, Stephen, also a monk, went with Bartholomew. But, Stephen did not like the wilderness and returned to his monastery. Bartholomew was alone. For months he saw no one. He devoted himself to prayer.

There was little to eat so deep in the wilderness. One day, a hungry brown bear, taller than Bartholomew, came to visit. There was a piece of bread on the table. The man shared it with the bear and they became friends. Later, a visiting monk gave him the new name Sergius.

Word reached the outside world of the holy hermit living in the forest. Other monks came to build huts near his and learn from his example. Soon the bishop named him abbot of the monastery that had grown around him. This was a different type of monastery – a monastery in the wilderness. But, Sergius never ordered the other monks to do anything; he led only by example. He served his brother monks, helping in all the work of the monastery. He was so humble, that people often mistook him for a servant. Once a peasant came to meet the famous monk, Sergius. The other monks pointed out the old, shabby man tending the garden. The peasant was very upset; this could not possibly be Sergius. Then, a prince rode up on his richly decorated horse. He dismounted and bowed before Sergius. The peasant realized his mistake and begged the forgiveness of the famous monk.

Once the Grand Prince Dmitri, ruler of all Russia, came to Sergius. He told Sergius about the Moslem Tartars massing their armies to destroy the Christian army and capture the women and children, forcing them to give up their faith and customs.  Sergius told the prince to humbly offer the Tartars peace and all the riches of the land. But the Tartars continued to gather their armies. The Russian army was small and weak. Dmitri was sure they could not win. But, Sergius told Prince Dmitri to trust the Lord. God would help him win, because he was fighting not for riches but for the heart and soul of his people. And so Prince Dmitri went to battle, a small force against the mighty Tartars. For the first time in Russian history, the Tartars were defeated! Russia was saved.


7. St. Seraphim of Sarov Many years ago there lived in the land of Russia a boy named Prohor. Prohor was very sick as a child, but the Theotokos told him in a dream that he would soon be well. In a few days, a procession with an icon of the Theotokos came by his house. His mother took Prohor out and, when he venerated the icon, he was healed. Soon Prohor wanted to be a monk.

When he was a young man, Prohor set out on a journey. His mother gave him a metal cross. He wore this cross the rest of his life. He walked through the forests of evergreen trees, with streams and flowers and meadows, and finally came to the great monastery of Sarov. There Prohor entered as a novice. He worked in the kitchens; he read and prayed. Especially, he liked to carve crosses out of cedar wood. Finally, young Prohor became a full monk and was given the name Seraphim.

After several years, Seraphim decided to live alone in a hut in the woods – a life of constant prayer. He had only one room with a wood stove. All kinds of animals came to visit. Even a bear became his friend and brought honey. Seraphim fed the bear bread with his own hands. He became so close to God that people said his face shone.

Some thieves came to steal Seraphim’s riches. They beat him up, but found only a few potatoes. Seraphim recovered from his beating but, from that day on, Seraphim was bent and stooped and had to walk with a cane.

Finally, God told Seraphim to move back to the monastery. People all over Russia had heard of this holy man and came for his prayers and advice. Thousands were healed when Seraphim prayed for them. A little girl named Natasha was badly burned with boiling water. She went to sleep with a picture of Seraphim in her arms; that night Seraphim appeared to her in a dream and Natasha was healed. She later visited Seraphim and recognized the old man of her dream. It is impossible to tell all the stories of people who loved Seraphim, the monk who shone with the love of Jesus in the forests of Russia.



  1. Begin with a review of previous monastics studied. Which can the students name? Basil, Gregory, Gregory, Macarius, Ephraim, John Chrysostom…What can they remember about their lives?
  2. Now compare and contrast the lives of the monastics studied today. Which were hermits? Which lived in large monasteries? Both?
  3. From the examples above, how can a monk influence the world around him? Brainstorm a bit here – prayer, healing, teaching (even at the foot of a pillar), discipleship, advice to the rulers, martyrdom.
  4. Monasticism is not dead today. Why would someone today feel called to be a monk? Would it be different from 1000 years ago? Do you feel called to be a monk?


Quiz questions:

  1. List at least 5 monastics and at least 2 details of their lives.
  2. List the three types of monastic life.
  3. List at least three centers of Orthodox monasticism throughout history.

Church Established: St. Gregory Palamas and St. John Climacus




            These great saints, along with St. Mary of Egypt, form part of the Triodion. What is the Triodion? It is named for the service book used for the 10 weeks preceding Pascha. Triodion Season is the preparation for Easter. The lives of these great men and their contributions to Orthodoxy have given them a special place in our services, year after year. St. Gregory is remembered on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent and St. John on the 4th.


Their lives (in brief):

            1. St. Gregory Palamas: Gregory was born in the royal city of Constantinople in 1296 AD. His father was a Senator and a member of the Imperial court. At age 7, both of his parents died, and Gregory was an orphan. But, the orphan boy was a favorite of Emperor Andronicus II, who sent the boy to school, where Gregory studied all about science. Science, howev­er, did not interest Gregory; his interest was in the Lord Jesus. He soon began studying about the Lord and at age 20 gave up his life in the court of the emperor to spend his time in monasteries in Constantinople and Mt. Athos.

When Gregory was 30 years old, he became a priest in Thessalonica. He had learned well from the monks around Constantinople and Mt. Athos. They had taught him the Hesychast Prayer, or Jesus Prayer. The monks would bow in prayer, concentrate on the Lord, and recite, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This prayer came originally from Jesus’s parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. As the monk prayed and prayed, over the years he would grow closer to the Lord and experience the light of the closeness of Jesus. With Jesus as the sun, Gregory and the other monks could feel the light and warmth of His shining rays. “Hesychast” means calm or silence; it’s difficult to come close to the Lord in the busyness of everyday life. Gregory, as a priest/monk, would spend 5 days each week as a hermit, and then Saturday and Sunday ministering to the people.

             But, in those days, a man named Barlaam was teaching also. Barlaam had studied about Jesus but had not spent years in prayer just getting to know Jesus. In fact, Barlaam didn’t believe that people could get to know Jesus, not to really feel Him near, until after they died. He made fun of the monks and called them “Belly-button-gazers” because they spent so much time kneeling and bowing in prayer.

Gregory knew that Barlaam was wrong. Gregory knew Jesus in his heart and had felt His presence with him. Gregory had seen and felt the light of God -- the same light that St. Stephen saw as he was being stoned, that St. Peter saw when Jesus was trans­figured on the mountain, and that St. Paul saw on the road to Damascus. He knew that the Lord was present with all of His followers since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who appeared from heaven when Jesus was baptized in the form of a dove, was just as much a part of

as God the Father or God the Son, Jesus. Gregory defended the monks and their vision in his teachings as a priest and in his writings. He used the metaphor of the sun and its rays to describe what the monks meant – God was the sun but His energies are the rays. We can feel these rays; they give us both heat and light and life. They are not the sun, but are quite real and would still be there, even if there were no one to feel their warmth. Thus, man, with proper preparation in prayer and repentance and purification can experience the divine light of God’s energy. He told the world that Barlaam was wrong -- that every Christian can draw near to God through prayer. He defended the monastic position in his written works, the “Hagiorite Tome” and also in debate at a council held in Constantinople in 1341. The council agreed with Gregory and condemned the beliefs of Barlaam and his followers.

Later in life, Gregory was made Archbishop of Thessalonica. But, the Barlaamites were not finished, since many people still held to their beliefs.  Gregory suffered many times because of his teachings; he was thrown out of his home, was thrown in prison, and was even captured by the Moslem Turks. What did he do while in jail awaiting ransom? He preached to the Turks! But, finally, before his death, two church councils in Constantinople held firm for Gregory’s teachings and told all of us that we can know and feel the presence of God in our daily lives. In the last three years of his life, again in Thessalonica as Archbishop, the prayers of St. Gregory healed many people. Finally, he saw a vision of St. John Chrysostom, calling him home. With the words "To the heights! To the heights!" St Gregory Palamas fell asleep in the Lord on November 14, 1359. St. Gregory is buried at the Cathedral of Thessalonica.

            2. St. John Climacus: John was born in the land of Palestine, about 600 years after the time of Jesus. He was an excellent student in school and would have been able to be rich and important in the court of the king. But, when John was only 16 years old, he left the world of riches and fame and traveled to the monastery on Mt. Sinai to become a monk. He wanted more than anything else to grow closer and closer to Jesus.

In the monastery, on the wild and rocky slopes of Mt. Sinai, John became the disciple of an old and wise monk who was called his elder. Every day, John came to his elder and opened his heart and all his thoughts, good and bad. He followed obediently any advice the elder offered and worked willingly at any task he was given. He was cheerful and friendly with everyone.

After four years in the monastery, John was a committed monk. He moved to a hermitage, or small hut, nearby to be alone with the Lord. There he spent 40 years. John read the Bible constantly and prayed for hours at a time. During those 40 years, his greatest dream became truer and truer – he did grow close to the Lord.

Other monks began to see the holiness in this solitary monk and to come to him for direction and advice. Many began to compare John with Moses. Though he lived alone, John loved people. He was always concerned about them and prayed with all his heart when they were in need. One day, one of the monks he was teaching was working far from John’s cell. He lay down to rest in the shade of a big rock when the sun became hot. Suddenly, he heart John’s voice calling him. He jumped up, but saw no one at all. At that moment, a huge rock broke off and fell on the very spot where he had been resting. The disciple ran back to the cell to tell John what had happened. Joh told him that he, too, had been resting when suddenly he heard the Lord telling him that his friend and disciple was in terrible danger. He immediately got up and began to pray. So his disciple was warned and his life was saved.

John is best known for his book called “Ladder of Divine Ascent” and from the word for ladder, “klimax”, he is to this day called St. John Climacus. The abbot of the monastery asked John to write the book about his own experience of growing closer to God. The book tells of 30 steps in spiritual growth and has been used for hundreds of years as a guide for monks and others wanting greater holiness.

John was also loved by the other monks for his compassion and his healing of their spiritual struggles. They often came to him for advice or prayer when life seemed too hard to face. So, when John was 70 years old, he was chosen to be abbot of the monastery. He led the monks wisely and well.

John was also known outside the monastery. Travelers came from all over to talk with the holy abbot. When a drought came to the land and there was no rain and no water to drink, the people of Mt. Sinai came to John for prayer. John prayed and the rain fell. Finally, as an old man of 80, St. John Climacus died peacefully.



The Hesychast movement vs. Scholasticism


  1. The Hesychast movement in the East was led by the monks. Review the Jesus prayer and the arguments of St. Gregory Palamas against Barlaam. St. John Climacus also clearly taught that closeness to God was possible in his book, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”. The monks of the East developed the form of prayer called “hesychasm”, with intense concentration and certain body postures. The word itself means quietness or calm. The Orthodox Church has always felt that man could draw near to God through prayer and continues to this day.


  1. In the West, a different philosophy prevailed. Around the 12th century, “scholasticism” developed, trying to use reason to understand God and teach Christianity. Thus, the Western Church developed a different way of thinking. Thomas Aquinas was the most famous proponent of this scientific way of proving the nature of God’s existence. Eventually, this way of thinking would lead to the Renaissance in the West and its preoccupation with humanism, human things rather than divine. God began to be an impersonal force or creator, rather than a loving, personal Being who takes part directly in our lives. Man can, by his own efforts and reason, improve his own life and need not “resort” to divine intervention. The great questions of life can be answered by logic and reason, not divine revelation or eternal truth. Since we live in the West, humanism pervades our culture. Try to brainstorm some examples of this human-centered thinking. Can we as Orthodox Christians in a Western society draw near to God? How?


Quiz Questions:

            First review the quiz questions from the last two lessons. Be sure by the end of this lesson, all objectives of the unit have been completed. Then:

  1. Compare and contrast the lives of St. Gregory Palamas and St. John Climacus with at least 3 specific examples.
  2. Define the Hesychast movement.
  3. Define “Scholasticism”.
  4. Recite the Jesus Prayer.





Objective: Students should be able to give date and name to all seven councils, to name the major players in each and to understand the major debates and heresies, and to discuss the decisions reached and their importance.


The teacher can divide the councils into weeks as fits the schedule of the class, since this 3-week unit is really a single lesson. One method would be to have each student research a single council and report to the class. Another would be to present the material in class, with much drill and quizzing. This is “boring” material but absolutely essential to understand the Orthodox Church even today. And, while many of the details argued about seem "obvious" to us, many centuries later, in that day people really cared about the truth. Many people today don't even believe there is a truth! The Church has always been the source of truth, unchanging, sometimes having to be sought for, but solid rock instead of the shifting sand of public opinion.


 First review the two councils already studied: the Council of Jerusalem in the first century and the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Who presided over each? Who was present? What was decided? Do Christians always agree about everything? Even as early as the first century there was disagreement – but one Church. Look again at the decision-making process, a council of all bishops, protecting the Church from the thoughts of any one man.


Historical background: Each of these councils did not occur in a vacuum.  What was happening in the world and in the Church at the time of each council? Be sure to have maps handy for discussion of the various cities and nations.


1st Council: Constantine the Great had just united the Empire, made Christianity legal, and moved the capital to Constantinople. But he found the Church involved in a huge dispute caused by the teachings of a priest named Arius. The Emperor himself called the Council and presided over it in order to reunite His new Church.


2nd Council: After the death of Constantine, his son Constantius tried to bring back Arianism,and, after Constantius, Emperor Julian (the Apostate) tried actually to bring back paganism! He had studied with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus, but now ridiculed Christianity. Instead of killing Christians, Julian tried to tempt them away from their faith – offering favors and privileges to those who would denounce Christianity. He closed Christian Churches and schools, but died fighting the Persians after a short reign. Two brothers followed, Valens in the East and Valentinian in the West. Valens was an Arian, Valentinian Orthodox. They were succeeded by Theodosios. Emperor Theodosios declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Empire. He found the Church’s disputes dividing his empire. He called the 2nd Council to try to confirm the Nicene Creed in the face of the teachings of Macedonius, who was teaching that the Holy Spirit was inferior to the Father and the Son, a new heresy. He is known as Theodosios the Great.


3rd Council: In trying to stamp out Arian teachings, Bishop Apollinarius of Laodicea stated that Christ was really God and only needed a body to appear to men. Thus, Christ’s human nature was unimportant. This heresy was called Apollinarianism. One step further – Bishop Nestorius of Constantinople said that, in that case, Mary wasn’t the mother of His divine (and more important) nature, she was only the mother of His body – Christotokos instead of Theotokos. Bishop Cyril of Alexandria vehemently opposed this interpretation. Emperor Theodosius II called the 3rd Council to settle this issue. The heresies of both Apollinarius and Nestorius were condemned.



4th Council: Now the school of Alexandria, in a reaction to the Nestorians, decided that the divine nature of Christ was His only nature. The major proponent of this idea was a monk named Eutyches. This heresy was called Monophysitism (“mono” meaning “one” and “phys” meaning “nature”). The Bishop of Rome, Leo the Great, asked the Emperor Marcian to call yet another council. The council accepted the “Tome” of Pope Leo the Great of Rome which affirmed the belief that Jesus was one and the same son, perfect in Godhood and perfect in manhood, “truly God and truly man.” But, even after the council at Chalcedon condemned Monophysitism, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria continued to support the one nature of Christ. The emperor Zeno attempted a compromise in an Act of Union called the “Henoticon” but it was rejected by both sides. To this day, the Armenian, Coptic (Egyptian), and several smaller Churches remain Monophysite. And, the Patriarch of Rome, angry over his role in the Henoticon, excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople; in retaliation, the Patriarch of Constantinople refused to mention Rome in his prayers. This further division between East and West lasted until the reign of Justinian.


5th Council: A series of weak emperors followed and Rome fell to the barbarians. Finally, in 527 AD Justinian took the throne. He is known as Justinian the Great and succeeded in conquering back large areas of the Western Empire and uniting the Church. He called the 5th Council in hopes of ending once and for all the Monophysite and Nestorian controversies. The Council condemned the teachings of three Nestorian bishops – Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus and Ibas if Edessa. It confirmed the decision of the preceding councils on Monophysitism. But, as noted above, a few churches, the largest of which was Alexandria in Egypt, refused to give up their cherished beliefs. To this day, the Coptic Church in Egypt, the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Jacobite Churches in Syria remain Monophysite.


6th Council: After Justinian came a series of weak Emperors, leading to a dangerous situation with the Persians on the East. They saw a potential target in the weakened empire with small army, bankrupt treasury, and poor government. They captured Antioch and Jerusalem; even the cross found by Helen was taken back to Persia. Then they took Alexandria and Egypt. They were at the doors of Constantinople itself. Emperor Heraclius took the throne; he was popular and a strong ruler and general. He defeated the Persians near the old city of Ninevah (Remember Ninevah, capital of Assyria, from the story of Jonah?) and all lands were given back. The cross made a triumphal reentry into Jerusalem in 630 AD. The 6th Council was held to decide on the fate of a heresy called “Monothelitism”, an offshoot of Monophysitism, which was condemned and disappeared.


7th Council: While God forbade the Jewish people from making images to worship, God in the person of our Lord Jesus humbled Himself to appear in human form. So, from its earliest days, Christians made pictures of Jesus, Mary, and important events in Christian history. They drew them on the walls of their tombs, deep in the catacombs under the city of Rome. They drew on the walls of their churches and monasteries. Most people could not read in those days. They did not worship these pictures but used them as “windows to heaven” – to remember the life of Jesus, His teachings, and the lives and teachings of His holy ones, the saints. St. Luke even painted a picture of the Virgin Mary and gave it to her; this icon was passed down in the church and resided in Constantinople. The monks were especially devoted to the veneration of icons. But, in 730 AD, Emperor Leo prohibited the use of icons and ordered them taken down. He, and later his son, another Constantine, burned the monasteries and killed the monks and looted the churches, trying to destroy all the icons. Icons were hidden to keep them safe.

At this time, there lived in Damascus, a city under the rule of an Arab caliph (or king), a man named John; we know him now as John of Damascus. John was wise and charming; soon he was the caliph’s second-in-command. The caliph was a Moslem, but John was a Christian. John taught and wrote about his love of icons. Emperor Leo did not like this and tried to have John killed. He told lies to the caliph, saying John was going to betray him to the Greeks, and the caliph believed Leo. He had John’s hand cut off. John prayed and his hand was healed! Then John left the palace and went to live in a monastery. There he wrote many hymns and prayers and even invented the series of eight tones for singing we use today in church.

Finally, in 787 AD, the Empress Irene called for a council of the bishops. This was the seventh and last church council. It was held in the city of Nicea. 375 bishops attended. The church stood firmly for bringing the icons back! But, the emperors were still opposed. On Palm Sunday in 815, a procession of monks for the famous Studion Monastery carried icons through the streets of Constantinople; persecution of monks and destruction of icons was back again. Finally, in 843, the Empress Theodosia brought the icons back into the churches. A bishop who had been imprisoned and exiled during the persecution became Patriarch. On the first Sunday of Lent, 843, the veneration of icons was officially proclaimed at the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople. And, to this day, we celebrate the return of the icons with a great procession of icons on the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”.

            To this day, Orthodox Christians continue to venerate icons, and to remember the godly men and women throughout history. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh suggests further: “By doing this we must not forget that it is not the icons of wood and of paint, but God who reveals Himself in the world. Each of us, all men, was created in the image of God. We are all living icons, and this lays upon us a great responsibility because an icon may be defaced, an icon may be turned into a caricature and into a blasphemy. And we must think of ourselves and ask ourselves: are we worthy, are we capable of being called icons, images of God?”


A synopsis of the absolutely critical data about each council:





Major Decisions



St. Athanasius

St. Nicholas

Emperor Constantine


Condemned the Arian heresy, which 

      taught that Christ was not truly God.

Proclaimed first part of Creed.

Established the date of Pascha.



Emperor Theodosios

St.Gregory Theologian

St. Gregory of Nyssa

Defined the teaching on the Holy Trinity,

      against the heresy of Macedonius,

      who said the Holy Spirit was inferior

      to the Father and the Son

Completed the Creed.

Declared the Bishop of Constantinople

      second only to the Bishop of Rome

      because Constantinople is New Rome




Emp. Theodosius II

St. Cyril of Alexandria


Defined the doctrine about the Theotokos

      against the heresy of Nestorius who

      said she was only “Christotokos”,

      splitting Jesus into two separate


Declared text of Creed finished and

      Forbade any future changes in it!




Emperor Marcian

Leo the Great of Rome

Condemned heresy of the Monophysites,

      led by a monk named Eutyches,

      who said Christ was only God and

      not Man, also.



Emperor Justinian

Stated again teaching about 2 natures of

      Christ and condemned both the 

      Monophysites and the Nestorian

      teachings of Bishops Theodore of

      Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and

      Ibas of Edessa.







Condemned the teachings of  “Monothe-

      litism, which said Jesus’s divine nature

      made all the decisions and His human

      nature carried them out – another form

      of Monophysitism.



Empress Irene

“Icons are to be venerated; God alone is     to be served in faith.”


Quiz Questions:

Where was the First Ecumenical Council held?                                     Nicea

Who called the First Ecumenical Council?                                   Constantine

Whose teachings were condemned at the 1st Council?                 Arius

Which Council set the date of Pascha?                                        First

Who tried to lead the Empire back to paganism?                         Julian the Apostate

Who made Christianity the official religion of the Empire?         Theodosios the Great

Who said the Holy Spirit was inferior to the Father and Son?     Macedonius

Who called the Second Ecumenical Council?                              Theodosios the Great

Where was the Second Council held?                                          Constantinople

What was the New Rome?                                                           Constantinople

Which Council proclaimed the Patriarch of Constantinople        Second

      second only to Rome in importance?

Who called Mary “Christotokos”?                                                Nestorius

Which Bishop opposed Nestorius at the 3rd Council?                  Cyril of Alexandria

Where was the Third Ecumenical Council held?                          Ephesus

Who did the 3rd Council proclaim that Mary is?                           Theotokos

Which heresy taught that Jesus was only divine?                         Monophysitism

Which city was the center of the Monophysite heresy?               Alexandria, Egypt

Where was the 4th Council held?                                                  Chalcedon

What heresy was condemned by the 4th Council?                        Monophysitism

Who called the 5th Ecumenical Council?                                      Justinian the Great

Where was the 5th Council held?                                                  Constantinople

Which two heresies were condemned by the 5th Council?         Nestorian/Monophysite

Name two national churches that are Monophysite?                    Egypt, Armenia

Who stole the Holy Cross from Jerusalem?                                  Persians

What Emperor defeated the Persians?                                          Heraclius

What heresy states that Jesus’s divine nature makes all the         Monothelitism

     decisions and his human nature just carries them out?

Where was the 6th Ecumenical Council held?                               Constantinople

What heresy was condemned by the 6th Council?                        Monothelitism

Who called the 7th Ecumenical Council?                                      Empress Irene

Where was the 7th Council held?                                                  Nicea

What veneration was upheld by the 7th Council?                         Icons

Who defended icons to the Arab caliph?                                     John of Damascus

Which emperor began the destruction of icons?                           Leo

Which Empress led the Triumph of Orthodoxy?                          Empress Theodosia


Songs to help in learning:



Sung by 'Constantine' to the tune of “Maria”


I just had brilliant idea!

The bishops I'll invite

And maybe they will write

A creed.



A council I'll call at Nicea.

By means of politics

I'll make those heretics




Different doctrines they've been promoting;

Now at last we can solve it by voting.

Nicea! They'll never stop quoting Nicea!



The crown of my brilliant care-er

Because I'm Emperor,

They've all got to defer

To me!



I'll gather the whole ecclesia,

And suddenly they'll find

They all are of one mind.

You'll see!



I can hear theologians saying:

Let's all go, since the Emperor's paying!


For unity they will be praying...Nicea!




To the tune of "Supercalafragalisticexpialadocius" ...


Um diddle diddle um diddle ay  Um diddle diddle um diddle ay


Superchristological and Homoousiosis

Even though the sound of them is something quite atrocious

You can always count on them to anathemize your Gnosis

Superchristological and Homoousiosis


Um diddle diddle um diddle ay  Um diddle diddle um diddle ay


Now Origen and Arius were quite a clever pair.

Immutable divinity make Logos out of air.

But then one day Saint Nicholas gave Arius a slap--

and told them if they can't recant, they ought to shut their trap!


[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...


One Prosopon, two Ousia are in one Hypostasis.

At Chalcedon this formula gave our faith its basis.

You can argue that you don't know what this means,

But don't you go and try to say there's a "Physis" in between!


[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...


Um diddle diddle um diddle ay Um diddle diddle um diddle ay


Now freedom and autonomy are something to be praised,

But when it comes to human sin, these words must be rephrased,

For Pelagius was too confident that we could work it out--

And Augustine said *massa damnata* is what it's all about.


[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...


Heresies are arguments that you might find attractive,

But just remember in this case the Church is quite reactive.

So play it safe and memorize these words we sing together,

'Cause in the end you'll find, my friend, that we may live forever.


[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis…


Lyrics by Dan Idzikowski


Byzantine Age: Fall of Rome


Objective: Students should be able to discuss the reasons for, importance of, and changes caused by the fall of Rome and the rise of Islam, the beliefs of Moslems today, the glory of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian, and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire in the West, and the role of Charlemagne in the changing of the creed.



Barbarian Invasions:

Actually, the beginning of the end for old Rome was the Emperor Constantine. He founded a new city, named for himself, Constantinople, and moved the capital of the Roman Empire to his new city, far to the east of Rome. The new city was Christian from the start, full of churches. Councils were held there.

Far to the west, in Rome, things were not going so well. Many wild tribes lived to the north. They were fierce warriors and knew nothing of Christianity or the great Roman cities and culture. They were called “barbarians” by the Romans because they didn’t even speak Latin or Greek. They lived in little villages and tribes. But, they wanted more and more land. Have a map handy to trace the events that follow:

Unfortunately, Theodosius the Great was the last Emperor to rule both the eastern and western halves of the empire. His two sons, Arcadius in the East and Honorius in the West were incompetent and weak. The barbarians saw their opportunity. First came the Visigoths out of Germany under King Alaric; they marched into Rome and looted everything in sight. Alaric died shortly thereafter, but many Goths remained in Italy and became Christians. Another of these tribes was called the Huns; their chief was Attila the Hun. Attila moved his army down Italy toward Rome itself. They burned and destroyed everything in their way. Finally they were at the gates of Rome. The bishop of Rome in that day was named Leo I (the first). Leo means “lion” but this Leo was not a soldier or a fighting man. But he wanted to save his city and his people. He went out the gates of the city, dressed in his gorgeous robes, with all the bishops and priests. He carried no shield or sword or spear. Would Attila and his men slaughter them like lambs before the wolves? Attila and Leo met outside the walls of Rome. Then, Attila and his army turned around and left Italy – marched away without even entering the city or killing anyone. Leo may not have been a fighting man, but he had the courage of a lion! The Huns moved back to the Balkan area and became part of the state of Bulgaria.

Soon after, the Vandals, another wild tribe, captured northern Africa. A man named Augustine was Bishop of the city of Hippo at this time. Augustine had been a great teacher and writer of the western Church. His “Confessions” and “City of God” are read to this day. But, Augustine was old and ill and died while the Vandals were attacking the city. They sailed up the Tiber River to Rome. They captured the city and stole all its treasures! The Angles and Saxons took Britain; it is “Angle-land” to this day. Then another tribe called the Teutons divided up the empire. Just like Humpty Dumpty, Rome had a great fall – broken into many pieces by the barbarian tribes and never to be put back together again. Each tribe had its different customs and wanted to rule its land in its own way. The last Emperor was named Romulus Augustulus. Old Rome was beaten. It was the year 476 AD.


The Dark Ages:

            Review with the students their probably extensive knowledge of the Dark Ages in the West, even if they think they know nothing. Show pictures from any history book. It was a feudal time, of small lords ruling from their castles over fiefdoms full of poverty-stricken serfs. Think of King Arthur, of knights and squires and pages. But, while this time may seem romantic in the movies, castles were drafty and cold, there was no more plumbing or running (as had been the case under Rome), people were dirty and smelly, hardly anyone could read. Why is it called the Dark Ages in the West?

Rise of the Papacy:

The common language, coinage, communications, mail service – all disappeared in the West. Each small area became a tribal state.  Only in the Church was the Roman culture preserved; the monks wrote the Scriptures in Latin and taught in monasteries. The Bishop of Rome, the only Patriarch in the West, became the only central figure in a sea of small lordships. Under Leo the Great and Gregory I, the Bishops of Rome became known in the west as Pope, or Father. With a vacuum in leadership, the Pope was recognized as the successor of St. Peter and of the Roman Caesars as well. Small kings and lords turned to Rome for decisions, not just spiritual, but temporal as well. The Pope was a symbol of stability and authority in an age of darkness.

            This movement in papal history is personified in Gregory the Great. Gregory was a politician, who left politics, gave all his possessions to the poor, and became a monk. He rose to become Pope of Rome. He made official the church music known today as Gregorian chant. But, in the political realm, unlike bishops in the old Rome who ruled spiritually under the political leadership of the Emperor, Gregory managed the estates of the Church to earn money, raised an army to drive the barbarian Lombards out of Rome, and insisted that the rulers of Spain and France swear loyalty to him.


The Glory of the Byzantine Empire:

About 50 years after the fall of Rome, Justinian became emperor in the East. In this day, Constantinople was the greatest city in the world. The waters around the city were filled with boats; it had high walls to protect it from enemies. People came from all over the world to see the beautiful city and study in its many famous schools and worship in its churches. Justinian saw his city as the Second Rome, greater and finer than Rome ever was.

Justinian also began to collect all the laws of his land. Until this time, each city and state had its own rules and judges. Justinian sent wise lawyers throughout the land and gathered all these laws. They chose the best from each city and wrote a law that would be true throughout the land, the Code of Justinian.

Justinian wanted to take back the lands of the west that had been lost to the barbarians. He first sent his mighty army against the Vandals in North Africa. He took back northern Africa and went from there to Italy and southern Spain. His empire went around the Mediterranean, although he never retook France or England. Review the map on the next page to see the extent of Justinian’s empire. Note that his capital of Italy was not Rome, but Ravenna – closer to Constantinople, perhaps, but a political move not ignored by the Bishops of Rome. How was his plan to reunite the West and East and re-form the Roman Empire stopped prematurely? The Plague of Justinian struck the empire in 541 AD at the peak of its conquest. This plague, caused by the same bacterium that struck later in Europe as the Black Death, killed thousands each day in all parts of the Byzantine Empire. Justinian himself contracted and survived the disease, but his armies and food supply were weakened and enemies quickly moved in to reconquer lands he had annexed. 

How was his plan to reunite the West and East and reform the Roman Empire stopped prematurely? The Plague of Justinian struck the empire in 541 AD at the peak of its conquest. This plague, caused by the same bacterium that struck later in Europe as the Black Death, killed thousands each day in all parts of the Byzantine Empire. Justinian himself contracted and survived the disease, but his armies and food supply was weakened and enemies quickly moved in to reconquer lands he had annexed.

Justinian also had architects throughout his empire build beautiful churches. The greatest of these was Haggia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople. This magnificent church is topped with a huge dome. Artists painted beautiful icons and worked mosaics of tiny pieces of stone and glass. A mosaic could cover the entire wall of a church or monastery. Frescoes were painted in wet plaster right onto the walls of churches. Goldsmiths made beautiful jewelry set with precious stones. The Byzantine Empire became the art and cultural capital of the world.


Quiz Questions:

  1. Identify these people: Theodosius the Great, Attila, Alaric, and Gregory the Great.
  2. Identify these places on a map: Gaul, Balkan peninsula, Constantinople, Rome
  3. Trace on a map the major invasions and conquests of the barbarian tribes.
  4. List at least 5 characteristics of Western culture during the Dark Ages.




Byzantine Age: Rise of Islam



Historical Background:

            Review the history of the Arabic peoples. Remember the Old Testament patriarch, Abraham. The children of his first son, Ishmael, became the peoples of Arabia. They were a nomadic people, living in a desert environment. They did not worship the One God of Abraham, but a variety of primitive gods – stars, stones, trees, etc. The Arabic tribes were divided; there was no central leadership.

            Small cities developed along caravan routes. The richest of these was Mecca, Medina the second. Jewish merchants and later Christian passed along these caravan routes. Thus some Meccan Arabs were exposed to the belief in One God.  Find Mecca and Medina on your maps.



In this world of the Arabs in northern Africa, a world of camels and deserts, there arose a new teacher. His name was Mohammed. Mohammed was born in the city of Mecca in 570 AD. He was just a poor camel driver, a servant of a wealthy Arabian lady. The lady fell in love with the servant and they were married. And for many years, the camel driver and his wife lived a quiet life in the town of Mecca. Then, when he was forty years old, Mohammed thought that an angel told him that he should write a new book of teachings about a god he called Allah. He called his book the Koran. Mohammed did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God or that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, Mohammed believed that he himself was greater and wiser than Jesus! His wife believed Mohammed and became his first follower.

At first, the Arabic people laughed at Mohammed and plotted to get rid of Mohammed. But, Mohammed heard of the plot to kill him, and ran away with his wife and friends. He fled to the town of Medina. The word for “flight” in Arabic is “hegira”; his journey is called the “Hegira” by his followers to this day. For awhile Mohammed taught his new ideas in the city of Medina. In Medina, Mohammed won a large number of followers. He called his new religion Islam, meaning “submission”, and his followers were called Moslems, “those who submitted”. The first Moslem church, called a mosque, was built in Medina. Mohammed began a war on the caravans, intent on capturing Mecca and all Arabia. He returned to Mecca in 630 AD and made it the center of Islam.


Islamic Teachings:

            The religious teachings of Islam are very simple:

  1. The belief in One God, called Allah, is imperative.
  2. Jesus was one in a line of prophets, extending back to the Old Testament, and culminating in himself, Mohammed.
  3. Prayer 5 times a day, facing Mecca, is compulsory, as is a trip at least once in a lifetime to Mecca.
  4. The final revelation of God is embodied in the Koran.
  5. Paradise awaited faithful believers after death, especially if they died in battle against non-believers.
  6. Giving alms to the poor is mandatory.
  7. Pork and alcohol are forbidden.


Islamic Conquests:

Mohammed was not content to have only the followers who liked his new teachings. And, with his teaching on Paradise, he had no shortage of men willing to die in battle against non-believers. They began to force people in Arabia and in other lands to become Moslems or die. Mohammed died, but his followers continued to fight wars to conquer lands for their new ideas. Mohammed had founded a religion that united the Arabian peoples as never before and fired them with fanatical zeal. The political map of the entire world was changed in less than 100 years. (See next page for map.)They conquered Persia easily, captured most of India, took all of northern Africa, overran Spain and continued on to France, conquering the Christian lands, until they were stopped in France by the great warrior, Charles the Hammer, at the Battle of Tours. They even conquered Jerusalem and the Holy Land where Jesus had taught and lived! Soon they were at the doorstep of Constantinople, the capital of the great Christian Byzantine Empire built by the Emperor Constantine 400 years before.

For many years the Arabic followers of Mohammed tried to conquer Constantinople. Battle after battle was fought. The people of Constantinople poured boiling oil on the attacking Moslems. Finally, Emperor Leo III defeated the Moslems in 717 AD and made them flee behind the mountains. They did not attack Constantinople again for hundreds of years. Christians were safe to worship the Lord in the lands of the Byzantine Empire again.


Moslem Empire:

            Since Mohammed named no successor, at first a series of his associates succeeded him. Soon a new type of tribal government, the Caliphate, came into existence. Each Caliph ruled a city-state. The great Caliphates included Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, and Tunisia. The entire Empire, like the Roman before it, was united by a single language, now Arabic, and a single religion, Islam. Christian Churches in the newly conquered countries had to deal with a different Empire, but, again, one that had conversion to Islam (instead of paganism) in mind for all its citizens. Christians who did not become Moslem were second-class citizens much of the time, and, in many Islamic countries, are to this day.



            Look at the world of Islam today. Holy wars and conquest continues. The belief that a believer will go to Paradise if he dies killing unbelievers continues in the suicide bombings. What has changed? What has not? How should we as Christians react to these acts? What is happening today to Christians in Muslim lands?


Quiz Questions:

  1. Summarize the origin of the Arab peoples in 5 sentences.
  2. Summarize the life of Mohammed in 6 sentences.
  3. Summarize the teachings of Islam in 7 sentences.
  4. Summarize the conquests of the Moslems in the 7th century in 8 sentences.


Byzantine Age: Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire


While we are not embarking on a detailed study of the history of Western Europe, the events discussed today will have great influence on the chain of events leading to the Great Schism, one of the saddest days of the Church. How could this have happened, when Jesus prayed so eloquently that His Church be one.


Historical Background:

            All through the dark ages, the Popes of Rome were being attacked by various tribes. This had not ended with the Fall of Rome. And, through the centuries, the Popes had asked for, and often received, help from the Byzantine Emperors. The Bishop of Rome had always considered himself a subject of the Byzantine Emperor. But, in the days of Leo III, an iconoclast Emperor, the Byzantine Empire punished Rome for supporting icons by taking the province of Illyricum in the Balkans. From that time on, the Popes sought help closer to home.

            A new kingdom arose in Germany in the mid-700s– the Frankish Kingdom. Its ruler was Pepin the Short. When Pope Stephen II was threatened by the Lombards who were approaching from southern France and northern Italy, he asked Pepin to help. He crowned Pepin King of the Franks. Pepin defeated the Lombards and returned all the land taken to the Pope – the Donation of Pepin. The precedent was now set for the Pope to involve himself in the secular politics of Europe without the support or even involvement of the Byzantine Emperor or the Patriarch.



            Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, was the son of Pepin the Short. He was a great general who soon defeated the Lombards once and for all, took the Saxon territories in England, captured the Slavic tribes as far east as the Adriatic Sea, and marched south into Spain. He established an empire, with a common civilization and government, for the peoples of Europe – an empire continued by his descendants for almost 200 years.

            Unfortunately, just as the Pope inserted himself into secular affairs, Charlemagne had a deep interest in Church affairs. He considered himself the head of the Church, as Constantine had in the old Roman Empire. He found a different Liturgy in each area of his kingdom; after reviewing them all with the scholar Alcuin he imposed the use of the Roman rite that is used to this day in the Roman Catholic Church. He also began using a version of the creed from Spain which contained one extra word, “filioque”; the Holy Spirit was said to proceed from the Father “and the Son”. A small change, perhaps, but in a creed declared by the Ecumenical Councils to be final and unchangeable.

            Charlemagne initially did not intend to create a new Western Roman Empire. In fact, his daughter was to have married the Crown Prince of Constantinople. But, the Empress Irene, the Prince’s mother, dethroned her son and set up her own Empire, unrecognized by the West or most of the East. Thus, Charlemagne saw the seat of Emperor as vacant! He imagined himself the successor of the many illustrious emperors who had ruled both East and West – Constantine, Theodosius the Great, Justinian the Great. The coronation of Charlemagne in the year 800 by Pope Leo III as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was a bold act, regarded by the East as a revolt of its western provinces and designed to cement the supremacy of the Pope in the west and establishing the precedent that Western kings must be approved by the Pope.

Quiz Questions:

            First review the quiz questions for the previous lessons of this unit. Have the students met all the objectives of the unit?

  1. Identify these people: Pepin the Short, Charlemagne, Empress Irene, Alcuin, Leo III
  2. Locate these kingdoms on the map: Lombard, Frankish, Byzantine, Illyricum.
  3. Identify these things: Donation of Pepin, Holy Roman Empire, filioque.
  4. List three events from this period of history that would be involved in the schism.

Great Schism: Schism



Objective: Students should be able to give dates and reasons behind each of these major historical events and their importance to history and the Church.




Historical Background:

      Many of the political reasons for the Schism have been discussed previously; review them:

  1. The fall of Rome and the Dark Ages
  2. The rise of the Papacy
  3. The ascendancy of Ravenna under Justinian
  4. The coronation of Charlemagne
  5. The temporal properties, armies, and power of the Western Church under the Popes, making them more like Emperors than like spiritual leaders of the East
  6. Significant cultural differences between the Eastern and Western churches, even to the point that Latin was the language of the Roman Church and Greek the Eastern Churches.
  7. A new one: The tribe of Normans, at first invited by Pope Benedict VIII into Italy to help him against the Arabs, penetrated southern Italy and continued marching northward. But, since the days of Justinian, the clergy of southern Italy were under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. This would further complicate the drama about to unfold…


      Doctrinal reasons for the Schism to be reviewed include:

  1. The “filioque”
  2. The supremacy of the Pope
  3. Scholasticism in the West and Hesychasm in the East
  4. A new one: the celibacy of the priesthood – a change in the Western Church brought about by the Cluniac Monks in Germany/France


Pope Leo IX:

            Leo was a German Bishop, born in Alsace. He was elected Pope in 1048 AD. He was trained by Cluniac monks and firmly believed in the “filioque”, the supremacy of the Pope, and the celibacy of clergy. An able administrator, he insisted on these doctrines being strictly followed in all his territories. As he sought to extend his territory, he deposed the clergy who were married in Southern Italy and closed all Eastern rite churches that would not conform to his demands.


Patriarch Michael Cerularius:

            An equally rigid monk had ascended to the Patriarchal seat in Constantinople. He was alarmed by the Pope’s deposing his archbishop and priests and retaliated by closing the Latin Rite churches in his jurisdiction. Leo responded by demanding that the Patriarch and the Emperor both accept his Papal Claims. The stage is now set…


The Bull of Excommunication:

            A delegation from Pope Leo of three men – Cardinal Humbert, Archbishop Frederick of Lorraine, and Bishop Peter of Amalfi – arrived in Constantinople in 1054 AD. They met only with the Emperor, viewing the Patriarch as the inferior of the Pope. Remember that, in the West, the Pope held both temporal as well as spiritual power; he was ruler as well as bishop. They demanded the Papal claims and also the return of the province of Illyricum. The Patriarch was, understandably, infuriated by the snub.

            Now the Normans come into play. As they invaded Rome itself, Pope Leo was imprisoned and died. The legates were no longer empowered by the new Pope, but news traveled slowly in those days. They continued to press their demands.

            Patriarch Michael refused to agree to any of the demands of the delegation or to negotiate a compromise. So, on July 16, while the patriarch was celebrating the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of St. Sophia, the delegation entered the Church and placed a “Bull of Excommunication” on the altar itself. They then stormed out of Constantinople.

            Patriarch Michael convened a council within a few days and excommunicated the delegation. Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria sided with Constantinople. The Latin West and Greek East were separated in 1054 AD. This is known in the Church as the “Great Schism”.

            Still, many people hoped for reconciliation – some sort of compromise. No one really believed in 1054 that the Schism would be last 1000 years. The events of the next two lessons would, unfortunately, cement the Schism without hope for resolution.



What about reunion today? The Bull of Excommunication issued by Cardinal Humbert and the counter-excommunication issued by Michael Cerularius were mutually lifted by Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI in 1965. Are the churches now ready to unite? Why or why not? Under what conditions? Do you foresee this in your lifetime?


Quiz Questions:

  1. List 5 political causes for the Great Schism.
  2. List 3 doctrinal causes for the Great Schism.
  3. Identify these men: Justinian, Leo IX, Michael Cerularius, Humbert
  4. Identify these things:  Bull of Excommunication, Great Schism
  5. What was the date of the Great Schism?

Great Schism: Crusades



The Islamic threat:

             Review the story of Mohammed, the camel driver? What were his followers called? Review the conquests of his followers in the century after his death. All thru the ages, Christians from all over the world would come to see the places where Jesus had lived, but these lands were now in the hands of Moslems.


Response of the West:

              Christians in the Western lands of Europe were very angry about the rule of the Moslems in the Holy Land. Pope Urban called on his people to leave their homes and families behind and go to attack the Moslems. These new soldiers sewed great crosses on their clothes and painted them on their shields and armor; they were called Crusaders. Crusade means a war for the cross. While the Eastern Emperor had many times used Western soldiers in his battles with the Turks, he never expected the West to send an army across his land, complete with generals and bishops carrying weapons.


The Crusades, One by One, in Broad Strokes: As with the martyrs, the monks, etc., copy this page and divide into a crusade for each student to read and report on. Follow the progress of the Crusaders on your maps.


             1. The First Crusade: Before long, thousands and thousands of people, young and old, men and women had joined the Crusade to go to Jerusalem. Poor people left their farms and huts, nobles and princes left their castles. Some rode on horses; some walked by foot. Emperor Alexius looked on these invaders with alarm and created a special body of police to accompany them across his territories. They traveled for four years and finally reached the walls of Jerusalem in 1099 AD. There they thanked God for bringing them safely to the end of their journey and then they attacked the city. The first Crusaders captured Jerusalem! They built castles and claimed the land for themselves. Godfrey of Bouillon named himself King of Jerusalem. But, the Crusaders showed little concern for Eastern Christians; cities along the way were pillaged (in spite of the police force) and the Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem were deposed in favor of a Latin bishop.

             But, soon the Moslems won the city back. It didn’t stay captured for many years. So, over the next two hundred years, every so often there would be another Crusade. Sometimes the Western Christians would win the city back again, but not for long; sometimes they didn’t win it back at all.


2. The Second Crusade: A monk named Bernard of Clairvaux appealed to the French and Germans to launch another Crusade to defend the Latin territories in the East. The armies, under the leadership of Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany set out in 1147 AD. Emperor Manual of Constantinople was as nervous as his grandfather had been. But the German troops arrived before the French and Manual hurried them through his land by offering them transport. They were defeated by the Turks, as were the French who arrived later. But, in the years after the disastrous Crusade, Norman armies attacked Macedonia and the Balkans. They took advantage of the confusion of the Crusades to take Athens and Corinth and impose Latin worship and bishops in Greece itself. They sacked Thessalonica and burned the city. They finally threatened Constantinople itself, but were turned back in a decisive sea battle.

3. The Third Crusade in 1189 AD was a famous one – three kings led the Crusade. The talented Turk, Saladin, had taken back the Holy Land. Frederick Barbarossa (Red Beard) of Germany started out, but drowned in a river along the way. Philip of France ran away back home because he was jealous of the third king. The third king was Richard of England. He was known as Richard the Lion-Hearted and loved by all. In fact, Richard even made friends with Saladin, the Moslem ruler of Jerusalem, who decided to let the Crusaders worship at Jesus’s tomb without even fighting with them! But, on the way home, Richard was captured by his enemies. He took so long coming home, that Robin Hood had to save England from his wicked brother, Prince John. Do you know the story of Robin Hood and his merry men? Did you know that the Crusades were the reason for King Richard’s disappearance?

4. The fourth Crusade will go down in infamy. The famous Pope Innocent III ruled in Rome and called for another Crusade. The Crusaders, under Boniface, depart from Venice, where Enrico Dandalo, doge (ruler), offers free transport and his fleet if they will first take Constantinople. Meanwhile, Philip of Swabia, has asked Boniface to return his son-in-law, Alexius, to the throne in Constantinople that was taken earlier from his father Isaac II Angelus by Alexius III. Boniface and Innocent see an opportunity to reunite the Empire under the leadership of Rome. The Crusaders broke into the city on Good Friday of 1204 and sacked Constantinople for 3 days. Irreplaceable treasures of classical antiquity and relics were destroyed or stolen. A wild crowd of drunken soldiers pillaged, killed, and raped the citizens of Constantinople. Even monasteries and orphanages were sacked. The Crusaders proceeded to install their own Emperor and Patriarch, both of whom recognized the supremacy of the Pope. The Latins ruled Constantinople for 50 years; the Eastern bishops and Patriarch moved to Nicea. The Venetians made out well; they took the most important harbors and islands. Boniface ruled Thessalonica and Macedonia.


The Children’s Crusade -- it was a crusade of children only in 1212 AD. Children from all over France left their homes and mothers and fathers and marched to the sea. There some sailors told them they would take them to Jerusalem. But, they were really pirates and sold the children as slaves! (Do you remember another child sold by pirates as a slave? St. Patrick)

5. Fifth Crusade – in about 1220 AD took the city of Damietta in Egypt but gave it up to the Turks in a truce.

6. Sixth Crusade: Emperor Frederick II led the Crusade himself in 1228 AD and negotiated a treaty with the sultan giving Jerusalem to the Christians.  The Moslems took it back in 1244.

7. Seventh Crusade: launched by King Louis IX of France to try to take Jerusalem back. The Moslems captured Louis and his army and held them for a huge ransom.

8. Eighth and final Crusade: Louis again tried, this time landing at Tunis in northern Africa. Louis himself died of the plague soon afterward and the Crusade fell apart.


Results of the Crusades:

  1. There were eight Crusades in all, and in the end the Holy Land was still ruled by the Moslems!
  2. The weakened Byzantine Empire would last another 200 years – a slow and agonizing death. The Christian East has been delivered to the oppressors.
  3. The Moslems developed a lasting hatred and scorn for the Christian name.

             Did anything good come out of the Crusades?


Quiz Questions:

  1. Identify these people: Pope Urban, Emperor Alexius, Richard I, Pope Innocent, Doge Dandalo, Boniface
  2. Identify these places on a map: Constantinople, Rome, Venice, Tunis, England, France, Germany
  3. Give the date of the sack of Constantinople. Which Crusade sacked it?
  4. List 3 results of the Crusades.

Schism: Fall of Constantinople



Historical perspective:

             Review last week’s lesson with a special view to the 4th Crusade and the sack of Constantinople. How did this make things easy for the Turks? Why did it take them 200 years, then?


The act itself:

In 1451 the Moslem Turks had a new king, Mehmet. Mehmet was only 19 years old when he ascended the throne. Mehmet had only one idea in his mind; he told his generals, “There is only one thing I want: Give me Constantinople!” Mehmet was sure he could conquer the great capital of the Byzantine Empire. So, he gathered a great army to prepare for his attack, and built huge numbers of ships until he had the greatest navy in the East. He also built a great cannon, so big that it had to be drawn by 60 oxen and loaded by 200 men. The cannon was a new weapon; could the walls of the city withstand it?

Constantinople, weakened by the Crusaders, had only an army of 8000 soldiers and 30 ships. But, the city was built on a peninsula -- a strip of land surrounded on three sides by the sea. There were huge walls around the whole city; these had held off many Moslem armies over hundreds of years. A huge chain stretched across the Golden Horn, protecting the city walls and the city’s navy.

Mehmet moved his army into place on the day after Easter in 1453. He asked the Emperor Constantine XI to surrender and give the city to the Moslems; the Emperor would not give up that easily. Soon the huge cannons were pounding the walls, but the walls held. Mehmet’s ships held the waterways and kept food from reaching the city. But, he could not enter the city. Finally, Mehmet built a huge pontoon bridge across the water. Now his armies could attack from both sides. The Christians were hungry and weak. But, they continued to fight.

Finally, the Turks prepared for their last big attack. The Emperor spoke to his people and told them to be ready to die for their Lord and their homes. Then the Christians all took commun­ion in the many churches of the city and went to the walls to be ready for battle. In the middle of the night, Mehmet attacked. The thick walls of the city were no match for the huge cannon. The first two waves of attackers were repulsed, but now the defenders were exhausted. Mehmet sent in his favored corps of fresh soldiers. This time his troops rushed up the walls of the city and charged into Constantinople. Emperor Constantine was killed. For three days, the Moslems sacked the city, killing all Christians they could find, stripping all the riches of the homes and churches, and burning whole sections of the wonderful city. The great Church of St. Sophia was renamed a Moslem mosque. The Byzantine Empire, outliving Rome by a thou­sand years, was finally defeated.



  1. Mehmet installed himself as ruler, rebuilt the city, renamed it Istanbul, and made it the capital of his Turkish Empire.
  2. Mehmet invited the Christians to return to their desolate home and allowed them to worship in their own churches. Many had been taken captive or fled to Genoa or Venice. They were afraid to return, but were promised freedom from massacre.
  3. Mehmet installed a Greek monk, George Scholarius, as Patriarch and instituted a Holy Synod to hear any civil cases involving only Christians.
  4. The Ottoman Empire lasted until 1923, but Turkey, as a modern state, is Moslem to this day.
  5. With the exception of Russia, the Eastern Orthodox Church fell behind a Moslem “curtain”.
  6. Thousands of Christians fled to the West, still in the “Dark Ages”. Soon followed the Renaissance, the rebirth of culture and education and art in the West – perhaps the lasting gift of these Eastern immigrants.
  7. The Eastern trade routes to India and China, opened by Marco Polo 300 years before, were now closed. Shortly after the fall of Constantinople, the countries of Europe began seeking a route to the east by ship. Italians, Portuguese, and Spanish ships went in search. So…how was the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 tied to the discovery of the New World by Columbus in 1492? WOW!


Quiz Questions:

First review the quiz questions from the previous two weeks of the unit. Have the students met all the objectives of the unit?

There are two questions today: List all the major factors leading to the Fall of Constantinople, beginning with the Fall of Rome, in chronological order. And discuss the consequences of the Fall of Constantinople, especially as regards to the Orthodox Church and to the United States today.







Objective: Students should be able to list each of the major Protestant denominations, the historical and theological basis for each, the major founders of denominations, and the similarities and differences between their beliefs and the Orthodox position. What’s a cult?


Since this is one unit, there will be no weekly divisions. There are three weeks to overview the entire material, with frequent quizzes to ensure comprehension. This should be an interesting unit for the students; most will know at least one friend in each of the denominations mentioned. Ask in each presentation if anyone has attended a service; what was it like and compare and contrast with our own.

Orthodox students don't need to know about Protestantism? Already they are probably being questioned by other teens at school about their beliefs, and need to be able to understand their own position in history and belief!


The Roman Catholic Church before the Reformation:

            Nothing happens in a vacuum. Why was there felt to be a need for a Reformation in the West? Nothing similar happened in the East. There were several practices that developed in the 12th –15th centuries in the Roman Catholic Church that led many men to believe there was a need for serious reform. In each case, what safeguard do we have in the Orthodox Church that prevented such practices from even developing?:

  1. Temporal authority of the Pope: The Pope had acquired massive properties, conducted battles, and was involved in the feudal system as a sort of  “overlord”. To maintain his vast treasuries, he levied taxes from all the Christian provinces of the West – a practice opposed as early as the 1300s by an Englishman named John Wycliff. The Pope also claimed the right to approve the succession of the kings of the various lands – not to the liking of many kings or their offspring!
  2. The Bible: In the West, the Bible was available only in Latin and it was unthinkable for any but the clergy to read or study it. John Wycliff in the mid-1300s is best known for translating the Bible into English so the people could read it for themselves. No longer did the clergy have the only access to Scripture. And, in 1455, Gutenburg used his printing press to print the first Bibles in mass production. 
  3. Original Sin: Augustine of Hippo (Remember, he died during the barbarian siege.) wrote his “Confessions” very early. Over the centuries, a theory developed that man “inherited” sin from Adam and therefore was guilty from birth. This is a huge jump from the beliefs of the Church Fathers that, while we may have inherited the propensity to sin, we have the free will to choose – we are not born already guilty.
  4. Black Death: 1347-1349 were the years of the Black Death in Europe, coming to the West on the rats of ships traveling from the East. Half of Europe’s population died; 80% of people infected died. With no known cause or treatment at the time, people turned to the church. But the church had little to offer, leading to a decline in the trust of the people for the church and its leadership. So many priests died that people were left without shepherds, without the sacraments, and without burial. The feudal system succumbed to loss of nobles in death and increased availability of unclaimed land for serfs. This instability on all fronts, in a setting of fear and death, left the culture ripe for new ways of thinking. Wycliffe, in particular, was heavily influenced by the Black Death.
  5. Indulgences: In the Early Church, when a “lapsi” (remember that term?) repented and wanted to rejoin the church, he was frequently assigned a “penance” – good works, prayers, etc. These penances demonstrated the sinner’s true repentance; they did not “pay for” his sin. Jesus paid for our sin with His blood on the cross fully and completely. With the advent of Scholasticism, the Western Church developed an entirely new and novel theology of Purgatory – where, after death, a soul would pay for sins committed. People could in this life buy “indulgences” to pay their way out of Purgatory sooner, the indulgences supporting the ever-hungry papal treasury.
  6. The Inquisition: The Church of Rome sent out “inquisitors” to examine the views and teachings of anyone thought to be heretical. These inquisitors, not a Church Council, had the power to mete out punishment. John Huss (Jan Hus) in 1415 was burned at the stake for opposing the sale of indulgences. A century later, Huss's writings were a strong influence on Martin Luther. 
  7. Papal Infallibility: A natural consequence over the centuries of Papal Supremacy, but a dangerous one – that the Pope, when speaking on any matter of doctrine, could make no error. Thus were changes in doctrine easily made, for good or bad.


The reformers had some real issues. But, their method of reform by selecting which of the Church’s teachings to follow and which to reject has led to the division of Christ’s Church. In fact, when two German theologians sent a copy of the Augsburg Confession to Patriarch Jeremiah in 1575, he replied succinctly that Christians are not free to pick and choose what they will retain and what they will discard in the Church’s Tradition.


Major Protestant Doctrines:

            Don’t list these right away, but as each is presented, be sure the students understand the meaning of the term and how it fits with Orthodox Theology:

  • Sola Scriptura: Holy Tradition helps us to interpret the Bible, preceded the Bible, and gave authority to the Bible! Who gave us the Canon of Scripture anyway? Review if necessary the lesson on Canon of Scripture. This doctrine alone, with the consequent individual pick and choose method of theology, has led to the myriad denominations we see today!
  • Justification by Faith Alone: What happened to the book of James, “Faith by itself, if it has no good works, is dead”?
  • Predestination: While salvation is God’s gift given to us through His grace, we must exercise our God-given gift of free-will to accept or reject His salvation.
  • Infallibility of Scripture: While all believe Scripture is fully inspired by God, a logical progression from Sola Scriptura commands it to take central authority, with no interpretation allowed at all!
  • Apocrypha: The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches include these books in the canon, but not as having equal standing with the other Old Testament books. Thus, our Old Testament has 49 books and the Protestant one only 39.
  • Symbolic Eucharist: Jesus commanded us to celebrate the Eucharist and from earliest times the Church has believed that something real occurs and the bread and wine become His body and blood. This is a mystery. Of course, if it is only a symbol, the next step is to have communion infrequently, if at all.
  • Congregationalist: While the Pope may have abused his authority, the swing toward total independence of each congregation is a logical outcome of Sola Scriptura and a risky business.
  • Separation of Church and State: This is an American phenomenon and has significant repercussions in the Supreme Court on a regular basis. The decisions on abortion, prayer in schools, etc. have all hinged here.


Major Reformers:


  1. Martin Luther: Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, German in 1483. He became an Augustinian monk and by the age of 25 was already professor of philosophy at the University of Wittenberg, one of the youngest members of the faculty. He was regarded as an authority on the Scripture and had received and studied one of the few copies of the Bible in Greek printed in 1516 by Erasmus.

At the same time, Pope Leo X was looking for funds to build St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. He sent out monks and bishops to sell indulgences. Whenever someone had an announcement to make in that day, he stuck it on the front door of the Cathedral. Martin Luther opposed the sale of indulgences on spiritual grounds and also opposed the support of Germany in building a church in Rome. He made a public announcement of his views by nailing a paper with 95 “theses” or points on it to the door of the cathedral, or church, of Wittenberg. Quickly, he was supported by the people and the king of Germany.

           But, the Pope was not happy with Martin Luther. He sent Cardinal Cajetan to debate with Luther in Augsburg, Germany – a tactical error of the Pope since the talk was on German soil, Luther’s “turf”. Luther not only refused to take back his 95 theses, he added his opposition to papal infallibility.  The Pope in 1520 issued a “Bull of Excommunication” (remember that term?) throwing Luther out of the Church! Martin Luther built a bonfire and burned the decree. Luther had meant only to talk the church into going back to the old teachings of the apostles, but now he had no church at all. The Pope asked King Charles of Spain to talk to Luther. King Charles ordered Luther to come to the city of Worms – funny name for a city, right? When Luther got there, King Charles ordered Martin Luther to stop talking about the things he believed. Martin Luther refused. Some of Charles’s nobles thought Luther should be burned at the stake, Charles let him go and his friends hid him from the angry nobles.

           Luther formed his own church, soon called the Lutheran church. German princes, happy to seize church lands and wealth and to stop paying taxes to Rome, joined the new movement; soon half of  Germany was Lutheran. But, Luther was not finished. He translated the Bible into German, the language of his people. Slowly, his theology moved in the direction of believing only what was directly written in Scripture – “sola Scriptura” – and rejecting any teaching or tradition held by the Church if not in the Bible. Thus he accepted baptism and communion, but dropped all the other sacraments! Martin Luther, in rejecting the authority of the Pope, also rejected the authority of any church teachings. Each believer should read the Bible for himself and decide what it means. Risky business! And, in opposing the sale of indulgences to buy one’s way into heaven, Luther came to believe that faith alone is the only necessary ingredient for salvation. Good works are unnecessary. He even changed in his translation Romans 1:17 by adding the word “alone” at the end of the passage, “man is saved by faith,” and proposed removing the book of James from the canon of Scripture. 

             The “Reformation” continued long after the death of Martin Luther in 1546. And the Protestants, those who “protest,” were here to stay. But, the original goal of Luther – to “reform” the Roman Church? At the Council of Trent in 1545 the Church responded with many of the changes proposed by Luther – too late. And, Luther’s “pick and choose” approach to Scripture and Church Tradition would set a precedent for future generations of Protestants.


  1. John Calvin: In other countries, other men were also protesting the teachings of the Pope. John Calvin was born in Paris in 1509. He was never a priest. At the age of 26 he published what is probably the most influential book of the Protestant Reformation – “The Institutes of Christian Religion” – known popularly as “Calvin’s Institutes.” He attempts to set forth a clear and forthright catechism of the Christian faith as taught by the Reformers. On its basis, John Calvin formed the Reformed Church in Switzerland. The important doctrines stressed by Calvin can be remembered by the mnemonic TULIP:
  • T: Total Depravity – man is born enslaved to sin and unable by his own efforts to choose God
  • U: “Unconditional Election” or Predestination: Man, after the fall in the Garden of Eden was capable only of sin; therefore only God could “elect” those who would be saved and those who would be damned. This stems logically from the doctrine of original sin developed by the Roman Catholics, since, if man is guilty from birth, he cannot choose good and only God can choose him.
  • L: Limited Atonement – Jesus’ death on the cross atoned only for the sins of the elect
  • I: Irresistible Grace: Those who were chosen by God had no free will in the matter to accept or reject the “election”
  • P: Perseverance of the Saints: Once chosen, the saints cannot fall away; God’s election is permanent

Calvin set up for his followers a moral code of life based on the Scriptures as he read them. For example, Calvin got rid of all monks, bishops, and priests. Soon his followers, known as Calvinists, had stripped their churches of all pictures, stained glass, candles, and robes; they would not dance or play games or go to the thea­ter. The only songs allowed were psalms. Baptism and the Eucharist were the only sacraments, and the Eucharist was only a symbolic memorial, which came to be celebrated only occasionally. In opposing the authority of the Pope, Calvin developed a system of government for his churches with no bishops; he kept only the “presbyters” (or priests), who were held accountable by a council of church members called a “presbytery.”  And, even though at first Calvin had been attacked by the Pope, soon the Calvinists were punishing those who disagreed with their beliefs in Switzerland. John Calvin ruled his church from the city of Geneva from 1541 until his death in 1564. The Presbyterian Church today is the descendant of these Calvinists.

             3. King Henry VIII:

In the land of England, the church of Rome was also losing power; but for a different reason. King Henry the Eighth wanted to get rid of his wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry his new girlfriend, Anne Boleyn, and Pope Clement VII wouldn’t let him. So, in 1533, Henry declared himself head of the new Church of England, or Anglican Church, and took from the bishops and monks all the lands and churches of the Pope. He issued the Book of Common Prayer in English and replaced Latin with English in worship. The Archbishop of Canterbury, bishop of the new Church of England, annulled his marriage to Katherine and allowed him to marry Anne. But, all did not go smoothly with the death of Henry in 1547.

Henry was succeeded by Edward VI, 10 years old at the time, son of Henry’s 3rd wife, Jane Seymour (He’d had Anne beheaded after he got tired of her!). Edward was young and was his guardian, Archbishop Cranmer of Canterbury, was a secret Calvinist. Soon Calvinism was introduced in the Church of England – robes, statues, and altars were removed and the Book of Common Prayer was changed. But, Edward soon died and was succeeded by Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon and a staunch Roman Catholic. Archbishop Cranmer was executed, Protestant practices were forbidden. “Bloody Mary” tried to destroy Protestantism in England, but unsuccessfully. She died after only 5 years of reign.

Now, Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, came to the throne. She ruled from 1558-1602 and cemented the power her father had had. She was a Protestant, but not a staunch Calvinist, and tried to pacify both sides with a series of compromises. But she took 3 actions that were to permanently affect the Church of England:

  1. Supremacy Act: restoring her position as the head of the church
  2. Uniformity Act: insisting on the 2nd Book of Common Prayer in all churches
  3. The 39 Articles, the most important of which state:

           The Apocrypha is not a part of the Holy Scripture.

           Papal authority is rejected.

           Purgatory is rejected.

           Baptism and the Eucharist are the only Sacraments, and the Eucharist is

                       only symbolic, as believed by the Calvinists

           Veneration of icons or statues is rejected.

           Predestination is rejected.

           Justification by faith alone is accepted.

           Bishops are the only order of clergy; priests are just ministers or preachers

           Symbols of Church ritual such as robes, altars, crosses, can stay.

When people from the Church of England came to the new land of America, they became known as the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. Episkopos is the Greek word for bishop, hence the name, Episcopalians. As the decades passed, the Episcopal Church here in America divided itself loosely into two forms of worship, both found today: High Church with much ritual and Low Church with relatively little ritual.


4. Robert Browne: Anyone in the Church of England who would not accept the Uniformity Act and the 39 Articles were called Non-Conformists. They wanted each local church to be independent. Since Jesus Christ was the head of the Church, we needed no priests, bishops, etc. Each local congregation would interpret the Scriptures as it pleased. Robert Browne organized these Non-Conformists into the Congregational Church.

The Congregationalists were persecuted in England, and fled to Holland. They arrived on the Mayflower in America in 1620, the Pilgrims! These Pilgrims and Puritans played a major role in the Revolutionary War.

Two decades ago the Congregational Church and the Disciples of Christ Church merged, forming the United Church of Christ.


5. John Smyth: In Germany, there were in the days of Calvin, a group of people who believed that rejected infant baptism; they were called “Anabaptists” meaning “to be baptized again”. The Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterian churches scattered through America are German descendants of these early Anabaptists.

But, in England, a group of Anabaptists emerged out of the Church of England in 1606 under the leadership of John Smyth. They believed in baptizing only adults (who are capable of belief).  Roger Williams brought the first Baptist Church to America in 1631 in Rhode Island. He had already been run out of Massachusetts by angry Puritans. Since those days, the Baptists, have split into countless different groups, all sharing the same major doctrines:

  1. Calvinist Predestination
  2. Sola Scriptura with infallibility of Scripture
  3. Justification by faith alone
  4. Symbolic Eucharist
  5. Universality of the priesthood – each person is a priest unto himself, therefore there is no need for an hierarchy or priesthood
  6. Baptism of adults only by immersion


6. John Wesley: In 1729, two brothers were attending Oxford University in England, John and Charles Wesley. They and their friends pursued a strict way of life with prayer, Bible-reading, and meditation methodically planned to help them become more godly. The other students, in making fun of them, called them Methodists – and the name has stuck to this day.

In 1740, John and Charles organized the first Methodist Church in England. By 1766 there were Methodists in America. Francis Asbury, missionary and first bishop, held the church together during the Revolutionary War, and, after the war, the American Methodist Church (now the United Methodist Church) officially separated itself from its British roots. Asbury’s church, Lovely Lane, is here in Baltimore! It has a museum of Methodist memorabilia. Essential beliefs of the Methodist Church include:

  1. Justification by Faith alone
  2. Symbolic Eucharist
  3. Infallibility of Scripture
  4. Free Will – not Predestination


7. William Miller: In Europe, Christians with a strong belief in the Second Coming of

the Lord first emerged in the early 1800s. Its beliefs traveled with Protestants of many different denominations – Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist – to America, where it was brought together under the leadership of William Miller. When the date they had chosen for the Second Coming, October 22, 1844, came and went, those who remained together formed the Seventh Day Adventist Church, because they worshipped on Saturday instead of Sunday. This is a fairly strict Church with some interesting beliefs:

  1. Sabbath on Saturday, hence the name
  2. Sola Scriptura
  3. Baptism for adults only by immersion
  4. No alcohol or tobacco
  5. Little if any Eucharist
  6. Complete separation of Church and State
  7. Jesus will live with the righteous in bodily form for 1000 years after He comes again.


Use this table to help you in the memory work for this unit:





 Formational Beliefs

Roman Catholic

Pope Leo IX


1054 AD

Pope as head


Martin Luther



No pope

Justification by faith

Sola Scriptura


John Calvin




Democratic decisions

Communion a symbol

Episcopal/ Church of England

Henry VIII



Divorce his wife





Local Congregation



John Wesley



Regular Bible study

Communion a symbol


John Smyth



Adult baptism

Communion a symbol

Justification by faith

No priests

Seventh Day


William Miller

New York



Saturday worship

No Communion

Adult baptism


Summary of Beliefs: With the students’ presentations, use your wall chart or blackboard to summarize the beliefs of each of the denominations as presented. When looking at the churches listed as having “no ritual”, see if the students have visited one of these churches; what “ritual” or “order of worship” have they seen.You might do a chart similar to the one below, with the students filling in the spaces with checks and Xs:



















Roman Cath.































































7th Day Adventist










Heresy: These denominational Protestants at least accept the Creed and are regarded as Christians, while they may not have the fullness of faith. But, the students will meet as they go to college and on in life true heretics, as unpopular as that word is today. Another word for these groups is “cults”. Have the students already run into one or more of these? While there are too many to even enumerate, and they come and go with different names and leaders, a few seem to be here to stay, some even calling themselves Christian in hopes of trapping an unwary orthodox believer. Use the Creed as your “litmus test”:

  • Christian Scientists, following the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, do not believe that Jesus was truly God nor in the Trinity.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in only God the Father – Jesus was a “superman”.
  • Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, founded by Joseph Smith) do not believe in the Trinity.

Slavic Churches: Baptism of Russia



Objective: Students should be able to identify Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Vladimir, St. Olga, St. Alexander Nevsky, St. Innocent, St. Herman of Alaska, St. Peter the Aleut, St. Tikhom, and understand their importance in Russian and American history, the development of the OCA and the Russian Orthodox Churches, and the present organization and leaders of the OCA.




Historical Context

                 In the west, Roman had fallen to the “barbarians” – Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, etc. The Slavs were the barbarians of the East. Have a map ready to locate these tribes, and the places mentioned later in the lesson. Pushed by the invasions of the Huns (Remember Attila the Hun?), some tribes moved west (becoming Czechs and Poles), some moved north (becoming Russians), but the Balkan Slavs constantly pressed against the Byzantine Empire to the South, occasionally invading the city of Constantinople itself. They were conquered in the 7th century by the Bulgars, a Mongolian tribe, who adopted the Slavic language and formed a powerful kingdom that often came into conflict with the Byzantine Empire. The eastern Slavs were conquered by the Swedish Varangians under their leader, Rurik. Rurik, also called Rus, founded a kingdom with Novgorod as its capital; the people of this new kingdom were called Russians. These new kingdoms were constantly at war with each other as well as with the Byzantines, and shared no part of the Greco-Roman civilization common to the Christian Church until then. Would they even be interested in Christianity?


Cyril and Methodius:

In the city of Thessalonica lived two brothers named Constantine and Methodius. They lived about 800 years after the time of Jesus. They had friends who were Greek and friends who were Slavic, from countries to the north who spoke a different language. Some of the Slavs had come as slaves, but had now settled in the city as tradesmen. The Slavic language was heard commonly in Thessalonica. In this city, lived a Christian family with seven highly educated sons, men who were expected to make good careers in the Empire. Methodius, the oldest, a quiet, conscientious man, became governor of a province in Asia; his youngest brother, Constantine, a thoughtful and dreamy boy, went to Constantinople to study with the young Emperor and later to work for the Patriarch defending the veneration of icons. Constantine even spent a period of time in Syria as minister to the Arabs; he had many discussions with the caliph about Christianity. But, soon both brothers decided to become monks.

Later the king of the Khazars, in southern Russia, sent a messenger to the Emperor asking for someone to be sent who could tell them about the Christian faith. The people were confused by so many different religions. Some had adopted Islam, and some Judaism. Constantine and Methodius left their monastery and went to Russia along the Dnieper River. There they taught the king all about the Christian faith. Many people were baptized. Finally, the brothers headed back to Constantinople. They went back to their monastery.

The next year, another messenger came, this time from the land of Moravia, to the Bulgarian people. Prince Rostislav there wanted someone to come who could teach the people in their own Slavic language. The emperor immediately thought of Constantine and Methodius, who had learned from their friends in childhood. But, how to teach in the Slavic language? There was no alphabet for the sounds, so Constantine had to make up an alphabet to write down the teachings of Jesus. Then, the brothers wrote down the liturgy and parts of the Bible in the new alphabet. When they got to Moravia, they taught the people to read in their own language and started churches with liturgy in their own language. People flocked to hear the missionaries; the Slavs were truly ready for Christianity.

After several years, the brothers went back to the monastery. Constantine was very sick, and was tonsured a monk and given the name of Cyril. So the alphabet he invented is known to this day as the Cyrillic alphabet. Cyril died soon after, and Methodius went back to the Slavic countries as a bishop. He started more churches and trained Slavic priests. Finally, as an old man, Methodius died, still serving Jesus in the Slavic countries.

Baptism of Russia:

The Varangian Russians were first known as the Kievan state. Kiev stood at the center of river traffic in Russia; merchants faced with the Islamic pirate ships in the Mediterranean found these new routes safer. They brought with them their Christian religion. And the Cyrillic alphabet and Slavonic language infiltrated across their southern borders with Bulgaria. In fact, none of the other barbarian tribes had their own alphabet, written Scriptures, and Liturgy in their own language.

The Russian ruler, Igor, died, and his widow, Olga, became regent for her son Sviatoslav. Olga made a visit to Constantinople in 955 AD and became a Christian and was baptized. But her people were still worshipping gods made of wood. Olga tried to spread Christianity, but not even her son was interested. Svyatoslav married the captive daughter of a great enemy of the Kievan state, Malusha; this enraged Olga, who sent the captive servant away to her native region. There, a son was born to Svyatoslav and Malusha, named Volodomir, or Peaceful Ruler. And, later, when her son was grown and away at wars, Olga cared for her grandson, now called Vladimir. She taught him about Christianity.  St. Olga is known as “Equal to the Apostles.” At first, Vladimir rebelled and lived a life of pleasure and sin, while still a pagan. Svyatoslav divided his kingdom before his death in battle between his three sons, with Vladimir inheriting Novgorod in the north, but by peaceful means and battle, Vladimir conquered the entire land.

Vladimir became ruler in 980 AD. He wanted a state religion for the Russian people. Missionaries had come from Islam, Judaism, the Latin Church, and from the Eastern Church. He was not sure what religion was true. So Vladimir sent a group of men to each country to see if its religion was true. The men found beauty and truth in the Christian churches of Constantinople. But, Vladimir was still not sure what was best for his people. Vladimir offered to marry the sister of the Emperors Basil and Constantine. Her name was Anna. Anna did not want to go to Russia, but hoped that she could help the land of Russia to believe in Jesus. Vladimir, meanwhile, had gone blind; he could not see. He was told that he would not see until he was baptized. Vladimir decided this would be a test to prove the true God and was baptized. He was healed!

Now Vladimir wanted his people to know the true faith also. He burned their idols of wood – nothing happened. These were false gods with no power. In 988 AD he told all the people of Kiev, rich and poor, young and old, to meet him on the banks of the Dneiper River the next morning. Prince Vladimir told them all about Jesus and their need to be baptized. They waded right into the river -- mothers, fathers, children, babies – thousands were baptized that day. Churches were built where once had stood the pagan altars, and the Liturgy was held in the Slavonic language of Cyril and Methodius. A prayer of St. Vladimir at the dedication of the magnificent cathedral in Kiev devoted to the Theotokos is preserved to this day: “O Lord God, look Thou down from Heaven and behold, and visit Thine vineyard, which Thy right-hand hath planted. And make this new people, whom Thou hast converted in heart and ind – to know Thee, the True God. And look down upon this Thy church, which Thy unworthy servant hath built in the name of the Mother Who hath given birth to Thee, She the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. And whosoever doth pray in this church, let his prayer then be heard, on account of the prayers to the All-Pure Mother of God.” In 991 the population of Novgorod was also baptized. By the end of Vladimir’s reign in 1015 AD, there were three bishoprics in Russia, reaching the upper Volga. Even pagan enemies in the far steppes were often defeated not in battle but with baptism!  Prince Vladimir is remembered as the “Baptizer of Russia”, equal to the apostles.


Quiz Questions:

  1. Identify these people in one sentence each: Rurik, Cyril and Methodius, Rostislav, Olga, Vladimir, Anna.
  2. Locate these places on a map: Dnieper River, Kiev, Bulgaria, Novgorod, Volga River
  3. Define the term: “Equal to the Apostles”.


Slavic Churches: Russian Church



Each of these sections, divided by importance and presented chronologically, would make a good class presentation; as before, copy beforehand and cut apart, give each student 5 minutes to read his “piece” and present to the class in order, following on the maps the Russian and Mongolian places.


11th and 12th Centuries:

            For 200 years after the Baptism of Russia, the people became imbued with Orthodox Christianity. While the country was politically disunited, with constant warfare between princes and assaults of nomadic tribes, the Church was the bond that held the country together. The Patriarch of Constantinople appointed the Metropolitan of Kiev, the head of the Church. The early Metropolitans were spiritual advisors and peacemakers and slowly Christianized the princes and people. They were the “conscience” of the country.


Mongolian Invasion:

            In the summer of 1223 a horde of unknown, wild people swept across the country. They were the Mongols, a nomadic people from the plains of Asia who lived on horseback. For the first time they had been united under the fearsome leader, Genghis Khan. They advanced across Russia, destroying every village in their way. Then, without warning, they left.

            13 years later, the Mongolians returned. They conquered the country completely and burned and looted the towns and cities. They established a capital city of leather tents in Saraj, where the Volga meets the Caspian Sea. Find it on your maps. They levied heavy taxes and collected ruthlessly.

            The Mongolians did allow the Christian Church to continue to hold services. Where their rulers offered no hope or unity, the Church became the one consolation for the Russian people.


St. Alexander Nevsky:

            Alexander Nevsky was born in 1219, just before the first Mongolian invasion. He was carefully trained by his father to be a warrior and a statesman, and was taught to read using the Bible as a text. One of his tests was to face a huge brown bear in single combat. But his home was also filled with icons and he attended Divine Liturgy every day.

Alexander was prince of Novgorod when the Mongolians conquered the land in 1237-38. The 18-year-old prince prepared to defend the city by strengthening the walls and digging trenches. But, spring came early that year. The sodden, muddy forests as the snow melted made the Mongolian horsemen helpless and they turned south. Alexander’s city was not invaded!

Alexander’s Novgorod also faced challenges from the West. Western knights, finished with the crusades, turned east to convert the Eastern Orthodox to their own Roman Catholic Church. After crossing Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, Novgorod was the obvious destination. Their attacks were of small scale, looking to take the hearts of the Russian people one village at a time, building medieval castles and imposing Latin services. Alexander’s first victories were against the Knights Templars and their Swedish allies at the river Neva, from which he gets his name Nevsky. He prayed before each battle. In one instance, the sons of Prince Vladimir, Boris and Gleb, were seen in a vision coming to Alexander’s aid.

At the death of his father, Alexander inherited the ancient principality of Vladimir. The Khan of the Golden Horde summoned Alexander to his new capital to swear loyalty. What would Alexander do – submit to the Khan? He was the hero of his people; if he defied the Khan, many would follow him in revolt. But, after consulting with Metropolitan Cyril, he chose the way of humility. A revolution would bring only defeat and suffering to Russia. He traveled to Saraj, taking several months on horseback. He was told he must walk thru the purifying fires, a pagan ritual, before reaching the Khan; Alexander refused. Prince Michael of Chernigov had been executed the year before for just such a refusal. But, Alexander met the Khan with such humility and honor, that the Khan allowed him his Christian witness.

The local Khan was so impressed with Alexander that he sent him to Tibet to the Great Khan himself. The journey took 3 ½ years; but, in the end, Alexander Nevsky was named Great Prince of All Russia by the Great Khan himself. The Great Khan promised Alexander that there would be no more bloodshed if the Russian people would only pay their taxes and obey the Mongolian laws. Alexander spent the last 13 years of his life traveling throughout Russia and back and forth to the Khan’s capital, maintaining the tenuous peace and protecting the people of Russia. His letters show clearly that he felt the duties of a Christian prince in governing his people were part of his service to God.

Alexander Nevsky died in 1263 on his way back from yet another visit to the Khan. He was a sick man when he left the Khan and, in a monastery on the way home, Alexander took his vows as a monk on his deathbed. He is remembered to this day by the Russian people as the ideal Christian Prince. He was proclaimed a saint in 1380 for his contribution in safeguarding the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian people.

By the 15th century, the Mongolians themselves were having internal problems. The Russians began to overthrow them. During this time, Kiev declined in influence and Moscow rose as the political center of Russia. In 1480, Ivan (the Great, or the Terrible?) of Moscow refused to pay taxes and the rule of the Khanate was no more. Moscow became the capital of Russia and their rulers the Czars of all Russia.


Metropolitan to Patriarch:

            Throughout the centuries, the metropolitans (bishops of large cities, remember?) of Russia were appointed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Finally, in 1448, a Council of all the Russian bishops elected Bishop Jonah to be Metropolitan of All Russia. The Russian Church was self-governing. And, in 1589, the Patriarch of Constantinople elevated the status of the Metropolitan of Moscow to that of Patriarch. In fact, after the fall of Constantinople, with the other ancient patriarchates under Turkish rule and Russia freed from the Mongolians, Moscow became for the Orthodox world the 3rd Rome.


The Unia:

            After the Mongolian invasion, southwest Russia became a part of Poland. In Southwest Russia – the Ukraine, Galicia, Volynia – Orthodoxy was the religion of a minority in the primarily Roman Catholic Polish state. The Latin rulers first lured the rich nobles to the Roman Church with favors; those who remained Orthodox were discriminated against. Soon Orthodoxy became the religion of the serfs. The bishops had the difficult job of appointing priests that were acceptable to the Latin rulers while approved by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

After a trip to Rome by some of the bishops and a council opposed by the Patriarch, the Unia of Brest-Litovsk was proclaimed. The Orthodox were allowed to keep their Church rituals and married priests but must submit to the authority of the Pope. Those who submitted were called Uniates. Any Orthodox who refused to become Roman Catholic under the Unia were severely persecuted for centuries. Orthodox priests were hunted down with dogs, had their fingers cut off, their feet broken. For almost 20 years, the Church remained without any bishops at all, until several were sent in 1619 by the Patriarch of Constantinople to minister to the Orthodox faithful in southwest Russia.

St. Job of Pochaiev became the guiding light of the Orthodox people in these difficult times. He was born in Galicia in 1550 and lived to be 109 years old. St. Job was not a statesman or politician. He lived a life of asceticism and humble work in a monastery – a symbol of Orthodox piety and a living prayer for his persecuted people.

Finally, when the Polish kingdom fell, the Ukraine fell again under the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow. But under the Austro-Hungarian rule, Carpathian and Galician Orthodox were still persecuted. Many became Uniat – today the Byzantine rite of the Roman Catholic Church. Interestingly, many of these Uniat Christians immigrated to the US in the late 1800s. Here they found their Orthodox roots; Father Alexis Toth led one of the first Uniat parishes, St. Mary’s in Minneapolis, back to Orthodoxy in 1890.


Ivan the Terrible to Peter (the Great?):

            After the fall of Constantinople, the rulers of Moscow felt themselves to be the Czars (or tsars), heirs to the Byzantine and Roman empires (from the word Caesar). They grew despotic and powerful. From the days when Prince Dmitry sought the advice of St. Sergius and Alexander Nevsky sought the advice of Metropolitan Cyril before any major decision, being the conscience of a Russian czar became a risky business. Metropolitan Philip of Moscow was killed, along with all his friends and relatives, for opposing the bloodshed of Ivan the Terrible in 1568.

            This pattern was broken when, after a troubled time of civil war and internal disorder, Michael Romanoff was named czar and his father, Philaret, was named Patriarch. The Patriarch again became the trusted counselor of the czar, almost a co-ruler. This continued under Michael’s son, Alexis. Russia was an Orthodox state and Orthodoxy was a national way of life, including all social customs, for both rich and poor. Millions of people lived in sincere piety.

            But the son of Alexis was Peter. Peter had traveled to Europe; Russia seemed old-fashioned and peasant-like to him. Peter had great dreams of changing his country – Westernizing it. He made sudden changes in schooling, dress, speech, furniture, and state administration. But, in many cases, Peter “threw the baby out with the bath water.” Many traditions and pious customs of the past, valued by the so-called “Old Believers,” were upset. Russian society was secularized and education, art, and literature – all once deeply intertwined with the Church – became separate. In Old Russia, the goal of life was to be a good Christian; the new Russia sought industrial development, higher economic standing, and a social life patterned after Western Europe. Peter was afraid that the Patriarch would oppose his reforms. Therefore, when the old Patriarch died, he refused to allow the Church to elect a new Patriarch. In 1721, the Patriarchate was abolished and Peter established the Holy Synod to administer Church affairs. This was the ruling body of the Church for 200 years. Would you call Peter “the Great”? Why or why not?

In the early 1800s lived one of the most beloved of Russian saints, St. Seraphim of Sarov. He was born Prokhor Moshnin of a family of shopkeepers. A a child, Prokhor became very ill. The Theotokos appeared to him in a dream and promised to heal him; from that time on, his life was devoted to the church. From childhood, Seraphim was modest and unassuming. He became a monk, then deacon, and priestmonk. His life was so godly, that even the animals would come to eat from his hand; he is often pictured with a bear. As a young and vigorous monk, while holding an ax, he was attacked by robbers; he offered no defense and was left for dead. From that day on, his back was hunched. But, his joy was intact! He greeted all with, “My joy; Christ is risen!” He lived an ascetic life of seclusion far in the wilderness, eating and sleeping little, yet people came from all over Russia for his wisdom and advice. While he himself lived a life of deep prayer, he did not place heavy burdens on others. For lay people for whom lengthy prayer several times a day was impossible, he developed the Seraphim rule – the Jesus prayer morning until evening while attending to necessary tasks.



The Russian Revolution:

            In February, 1917 the government of the czar was overthrown and in November the Bolsheviks, or Communists, seized power. In a council during that brief period of temporary government, the Church reinstated the Patriarchate. Chosen as Patriarch was Metropolitan Tikhon of Moscow. Tikhon was a mild and simple man who had been Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in the US for many years. He had returned to Russia as Metropolitan of Moscow. Now, in these revolutionary times, Tikhon became the first Patriarch in 200 years. Patriarch Tikhon, knowing the whole central church organization might soon be destroyed, established new rules for local parishes and bishops, giving them the right to govern fully within their spheres. This flexibility would prove essential in the times to come.

The Communists tried to establish a state with no spiritual values at all and violently opposed any religion. No religious education was allowed; atheism was taught in the schools. The Communists arrested priests and executed them. They entered the churches and stole the consecrated objects, then arrested and executed the 1000s of faithful who flocked to protect them. When 50 bishops and priests were brought to public trial, Patriarch Tikhon was brought from prison as a witness. He told the authorities that he alone was to blame – that the priests had only obeyed their God-given leader. The 50 knelt down for his blessing and sang “Christ is Risen” as they were led to their deaths. Under Lenin some 50 bishops were executed, 700 priests were imprisoned or executed. Under Stalin in the 1930s the bloodbath began again with 1000s sent to Siberia or executed – neo- or new-martyrs. 1937 saw 85% of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church imprisoned, exiled to Siberia, or executed. A church has now been built on the site of the Butovo firing range where thousands and thousands were killed. Prior to 1937, there was some semblance of a trial; in 1937 the “conveyor belt” was switched on and dozens could be arrested, tried, and convicted with one complaint. Why this change? Some suggest that the “Great Terror” came about as a result of the realization that, in 1937, two decades after the rise of the atheistic state, more than half of the people were still Orthodox! The goal was no longer the silencing of the church, but its total destruction! Priests and Christians were denounced as enemies of the state, even though most had no political interest at all. About many there are few records and no photographs at all, but a picture emerges of these heroic neo-martyrs. Quickly denounced by others telling lies, they denounced no one and gave no names to their torturers. Baptismal crosses torn off? They had crosses tattooed on their chests. As spoken by Fr. Yakov Noskov to his accusers, “Let it be as it will be. Where can one hide? Let them shoot me, I am not afraid. If I suffer at the hands of the Soviet authorities I will receive a reward from God: paradise.”

Meanwhile, with the Patriarch in prison, the Church had no leader, no head. Odd groups sprang up, urging reform and changing canon law. Tikhon signed an agreement with the Communists appealing to the Christian people to be loyal subjects of the Soviet government. In return, he was released from prison. The “reform” movements died out and the Church was reunited. Patriarch Tikhon died in 1925 on the Feast of the Annunciation.

Many Orthodox escaped the country between 1918 and 1922. The majority settled in Europe. In 1921, Patriarch Tikhon appointed Metropolitan Eulogy as head of the Russian Churches in Western Europe.

After Tikhon came several Metropolitans and Patriarchs. Metropolitan Peter died in prison. Metropolitan Sergius reached a compromise with the Soviets that shocked some Orthodox believers. Metropolitan Alexis continued the attempt to walk the tightrope between effective leadership and martyrdom. He was elected Patriarch in 1942.

Many of the exiles in Europe, feeling betrayed, severed ties with Moscow and formed their own Holy Synod. They are the Russian Orthodox Synodal Church to this day, or ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia). Among the most revered is St. John Maximovitch, of Shanghai and San Francisco. John was born in the Ukraine, with the name of Michael Maximovitch. His family fled the Russian Revolution to Yugoslavia, where Michael was tonsured a monk and given the name John. As bishop, he was first sent to Shanghai in China, where he established churches and worked tirelessly for the people; as Archbishop of all China, with the coming of the Communists, he arranged for the safety of 5000 Christian refugees to the Philippines. Indeed, he first came to the US to lobby for the asylum of these same refugees. John next became Archbishop of the ROCOR parishes in Belgium and then France.  After being transferred to San Francisco in the USA, John again worked for the unity of the Orthodox in his new land, where he reposed 1966. During his life, he was known for his ascetic lifestyle and charitable works, but even more known as the Wonderworker, through whose prayers miracles and prophecy were the fruits.

The Church Today:

            The fall of the Communists nearly 20 years ago, has allowed the Church to enter a period of rebuilding. The faithful have flocked back to the Church. Churches are being rebuilt. Monasteries are being rebuilt. The young are being educated again. While the central government and the economy of Russia exist in a state of near-anarchy, the Church is growing and alive, just as it was in Rome after its times of persecution.

            Many of the martyrs and confessors under the Communists have now been named as saints. What is the difference between a martyr and a confessor? A martyr has given his or her life for the Lord; a confessor has suffered persecution but was not put to death. One such saint is St. Luke of Simferopol and Crimea. He was born in Crimea and trained as a doctor and surgeon. But, he insisted on an icon in his operating room and resisted the Soviet authorities, caring for the poor and teaching the Orthodox faith. After the death of his wife, he was ordained priest and then bishop. Charged falsely with crimes against the government and tried in trumped up courts, the loving bishop and doctor was sent three times in exile to Siberia, separated from his children and developing severe heart problems. The love of the people for this physician bishop was so great that thousands came to his funeral in 1961, risking imprisonment themselves for just being present, and throwing clothing and roses onto the road.


Quiz Questions:

            Fill in the blanks:

  1. The _____________ from the plains of Russia conquered Russian in 1236 AD.
  2. _______________was the leader of the Mongolians.
  3. ______________was named Prince of All Russia by the Great Khan.
  4. The Metropolitan of _________ was elevated to Patriarch just before the fall of Constantinople,
  5. The agreement whereby Orthodox believers in Latin states could keep their rituals but had to obey the Pope is called the _______.
  6. ____________________killed Metropolitan Philip of Moscow for  opposing his reign of bloodshed.
  7. _____________ westernized Russia.
  8. People who clung to their tradition Orthodox piety were called _______________.
  9. The ruling council of the Orthodox Church established by Peter was called the _____________.
  10. The Patriarch at the time of the Communist rise to power was ______________.

Slavic Churches: New World



Historical Background:

            Remember Peter the Great? Well, he sent two sailboats to discover a passage from the Arctic to the Pacific. And, in 1741 the Russian flag was planted on the shores of Alaska. A small settlement of hunters and traders was established and the Russian-American Trading Company opened trading posts to deal in furs. A fort was built as far south as San Francisco, technically under Spanish rule at the time (Remember Cortes and DeSoto from your American history books?)

            During the 18th century, Russian monks were pushing eastward in a missionary effort to reach Siberia. They advanced to Kamchatka, the last outpost of the Russian Empire in the east. From there, missionaries were sent to Alaska, across the Bering Strait.


St. Herman of Alaska:

St. Herman was one of a group of monks from the great monastery of Valaam in Finland sent to Alaska. He traveled on a sailing ship to Kodiak, Alaska; the land was beautiful with the snow-covered mountains and children playing on the beaches. Herman wanted to teach them all about Jesus and His love for all people, even the people of Alaska. Soon all the other monks had either died or returned home to Russia. But Herman learned the language of the Aleuts (Who else have we studied who did this?) and put the prayers of the church into their language so they could understand them. He wore deerskin as they did. He built a church at Kodiak. But, then a great sickness came – the flu. Herman helped the people, but still many died. Many children were left as orphans. What could he do to help them?

Herman, the monk, moved to Spruce Island. Spruce trees are big and beautiful evergreen trees that grow in the far north. There he lived for 40 years. He built an orphanage and a school for the children who had lost their parents. Little children especially loved Herman. He taught them to love Jesus. When the children saw a great wave coming in from the sea, a tidal wave, they ran to “Apa” Herman, “Grandfather” Herman. Herman took his icon of the Theotokos to the beach and placed it in the sand. He told the children that the huge wave would stop there – and it did!

Fr. Herman planted the first seeds of the Orthodox faith in North America. He died at the age of 81 in 1837. Herman was one of the first saints of the Alaskan church.


St. Juvenal, the Protomartyr

            St. Juvenal was born in 1761 in Siberia. He was born John Hovorukhin, and took the name Juvenal when he was tonsured a monk in 1791. He was sent to Alaska from St. Petersburg as a missionary. St. Herman would tell the story of monks Juvenal and his friend Macarius traveling all over the area around Kodiak in little hide boats, teaching about Christ and baptizing. In 1795, Fr. Juvenal baptized more than 700 Chugatchi, and then crossed the Kenai Bay and baptized there. Then, in 1796, he reached the village of Quinahgak, where he was martyred by the natives there. He was struck from behind, yet prayed for those he had baptized. After his death, he got up and came after the killers, urging them to repent. Finally, he was hacked to pieces, the first martyr in North America. His brass pectoral cross was taken by a local shaman, who found there a power greater than his own, and wore it proudly.



St. Peter the Aleut:

            One of the Eskimo boys who heard about Jesus from Herman was named Chunuknuk. When he was baptized, he was given a new name, Peter. Peter learned about God and loved Him with all his heart and soul and mind. Peter also learned from his father and grandfather how to hunt and fish from his little kayak. He even hunted whales!

            Peter went with the Russian fur traders to far-off California, hunting sea otters, with a group of fourteen Aleuts. There, he was captured by Roman Catholics who tried to make him change his faith. Remember the Uniats? They even cut off his fingers. But Peter would not deny his Church and faith. Finally, they killed Peter. His final words? “I am a Christian.” The next day, an order was received from the Spanish government in Monterey, to free the prisoners and bring them to Monterey, but Peter was already martyred.


St. Innocent, Equal to the Apostles:

About 200 years ago there was born in Russia a man named John Veniaminov. John, like many young men, got married and decided to become a priest. He had a baby boy. Life was fairly normal – but not for long.

One day Bishop Michael of Irkutsk asked for a priest to volunteer to go to far- away Alaska in the wilderness. There was a need for priests and teachers among the Eskimos and Aleuts. John volunteered; the bishop was so happy he called John the “son of obedience”. Soon John with his wife and little baby boy were on their way. Their ship landed in Unalaska, a damp, cold, windy, treeless place where lived Eskimos called Aleuts. John made friends with the Aleuts, learning their language. He even translated parts of the New Testament and the Liturgy into Aleut. He also rebuilt their church, hammering and sawing himself till it was done. The Aleuts were so happy; they loved their new priest. John and his wife also cared for the poor and sick and built a school and orphanage for children.

John wanted to tell all the Aleuts about Jesus. So, he traveled to all the surrounding islands by kayak. The water was cold and full of icebergs. But John spent days traveling by kayak and dogsled, telling people about the Lord and building churches.  His legs became bent into the shape of a kayak, but still he traveled. Then, John and his family were sent to another tribe called the Kolosh in Sitka, Alaska. There he learned another language and was able to tell his new friends about Jesus. Slowly the Kolosh also became Christian.

Later, John was called to Russia. He was ordained a bishop after the death of his wife and took the new name Innocent. He went back to Alaska as bishop. His territory included all his old friends, the Aleuts and the Kolosh. Bishop Innocent traveled by dogsled and kayak all over his diocese. He would spend the night cooking on a fire and roll up in his blanket with his Eskimo friends to sleep. Bishop Innocent was a true missionary and is remembered as the evangelizer of the Aleuts and the apostle to America.


Metropolia to OCA:

            As the settlement of the western parts of the US continued in the 1800s and Alaska was sold to the US by the Russians in 1867, the Russian Church needed a permanent presence on the mainland. They established the diocese of San Francisco, where there were many Russian settlers, in 1870. Slowly the bishops worked to represent Orthodoxy to the predominantly Protestant nation and to translate the Liturgy and music into English. Soon a church was established in New York. From 1898 to 1906, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in America was Bishop Tikhon. He was a far-sighted man and founded a monastery to provide spiritual leadership and training; that monastery is St. Tikhon’s in Pennsylvania. He moved his diocesan see to New York. He founded the first seminary in Minneapolis. And, he tried to minister to all the Orthodox in America, not just Russians. Bishop Tikhon, a soft-spoken, good-natured man, was beloved in America. But, in 1907, he was recalled to Russia as Metropolitan of Moscow. Review his subsequent life in the last lesson.

            Many Carpatho-Russians immigrated to the US at this time. Most were Uniats; review this in the last lesson. First under Fr. Alexis Toth, Bishop Vladimir received his entire parish of 361 parishioners into the Orthodox church in 1891. Then with torrential speed over the next 50 years, over 200 Uniat parishes reunited with the Russian Orthodox Church. They were even given their own bishop in 1938.

            The Russian Revolution in 1917 had repercussions in America. In the past, because of its early missionary efforts in Alaska, the Russian Orthodox Church was the only Orthodox Church in America. But, after the Communist take-over, with the hierarchy in prison, the Russian church could no longer administer effectively abroad. Greeks, Syrians, Serbians, and other immigrants began to look to their home countries for leadership. Within the Russian community, some remained loyal to the Patriarch of Moscow, some to the new Synod created in Europe by the exiles who escaped the Communists (See last lesson.), and some wanted self-government for the North American Churches. Ties with Russia were severed in the 1920s and the “Metropolia” declared herself autocephalous, or self-governing. In 1970, the Metropolia petitioned and received autocephaly from the Patriarch of Moscow and renamed itself the Orthodox Church in America. The majority of Russian Churches joined the Metropolia, but some remained with Moscow and are known as the Patriarchal Church with a Bishop in New York. The OCA now has two seminaries, St. Tikhon’s and St. Vladimir’s. But, to further complicate matters, neither the Patriarch of Constantinople nor the Greek Orthodox Church recognized the right of the Patriarch to grant autocephaly.

            Most recently, on May 17, 2007, the Act of Canonical Communion between the Patriarchal Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) was signed. This reunited the Russian Orthodox Church, with President of Russia Vladimir Putin attending, hierarchs of both churches, and thousands of the faithful.


Slavic traditions:

            This part of the lesson should be fun. Have the class share foods they have eaten, types of music they have heard, etc. Bring in a speaker of Slavic descent or a CD with music. Bring some Slavic food. Learn a dance or two. Remember that the tradition of Pascha baskets is a Slavic one.


Quiz Questions:

  1. Identify these people in one sentence: St. Herman, St. Peter the Aleut, St. Innocent, St. Tikhon.
  2. List the 2 divisions of the Russian Church today in America.
  3. Why did all Orthodox in America fall under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church? What happened in 1917 to change that?

National Churches: Antioch



Objective: For each church discuss its founding, its history since 1500, and its present status abroad and in the US. Students should understand the difference between culture and ethnic orthodoxy – Tradition vs. tradition.


            The academic material for the “country of the week” can be easily copied and divided for each student to read one section and present to the class. The inclusion of geography and political history may seem strange, but Church history does not happen in a vacuum. Take every opportunity to tie the two together – e.g., why did St. Nicholas of Japan take a boat from Russia to his mission? Because Japan is an island nation situated next to Russia.

While the lesson contains the usual dry academic matter, these churches are alive in our Orthodox culture in America. Make them alive to your students, too, while not ignoring the facts to be presented. Can each student bring in a sample of his favorite ethnic food from that culture? How about a speaker from the parish who is of the national background being discussed? Samples of ethnic clothing to try on? A trip to a restaurant? As you sample these “traditions”, try to help the students distinguish this ethnic milieu from Holy Tradition – the writings of the Church Fathers and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils.





            The See of Antioch is today the See of the Arabic Christians, a minority in each of the Arabic nations. The Arabic peoples live in 19 countries in northern Africa and southwestern Asia.  Look at the map on the next pages and locate Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine (Israel) – the Middle East. Vast deserts cover larges expanses of land; each country has some mountainous regions as well. Climate has wide ranges of temperature, from freezing at night to 120 degrees in the daytime. Thus, most of the people make their homes along the Mediterranean or in the river valleys. Forests are scarce, transportation varies from camel to airplane, and everything in between. Most of the people are farmers; some are nomads (or Bedouins). If you have time to go to the library, get a book with pictures of the various Arabic countries and peoples.


Early Roots:

            In the days of the apostles, Antioch was an important city in northern Syria. Locate it on a map. It was the capital of the Province of Syria and the third largest city of the Empire, after Rome and Alexandria. From here, St. Paul was sent out on his missionary travels; it was his “home base.” And, in Antioch, believers were first called Christians. Where is the city of Antioch today? This once-thriving metropolis has returned to the desert from which it sprang.

            As the Church developed a hierarchy, five of the bishops of the early Church became recognized as “Patriarchs.” This was a title of honor and respect, not of authority. Antioch (along with which 4 others?) was one of the original 5 Patriarchates.


Moslem Rule:

            In the year 683, the city of Antioch fell to Moslem invaders. The earliest Moslem invaders were of the Caliphate of Abu Bakr, who united Syria with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Alexandria and Jerusalem were captured. With three of the four Eastern patriarchates captured, only Constantinople remained free. It grew in importance. Often the Patriarch of Antioch had to reside in Constantinople in exile. Soon the Patriarch of Antioch was appointed from Constantinople, a situation that continued even after the Turks conquered Constantinople.

            Another invader came in the 12th century – the Crusaders. Review the Crusades if time allows. The Crusaders occupied Antioch in 1099 and replaced the Orthodox Patriarch and bishops with Roman Catholic ones. For 150 years the See of Antioch was ruled by the Romans.

            By the 7th century, the caliphs had moved their capital to Damascus in Syria. The seat of the Patriarch of Antioch had also been moved to Damascus, the new capital of Syria. This move, forced by the conquerors, led the Antiochian Orthodox Church to be identified with specifically the Arabic Christians, as it is today. By the mid-1500s, the Ottoman Empire led by a group of Turks, ruled most of the Arab lands. In 1603, the great Balamand monastery and school was reopened in an ancient building used first by Orthodox, then by Roman Catholic monks, and then vacant for 300 years. In the 1800s a seminary was added here to train priests and deacons for Arabic Christian churches. The Ottoman Empire began to decline in the 1700s; would the Arabic peoples now be free of foreign domination?

            Next, European powers carved up the Arabic peoples. France and England were especially interested in enlarging their spheres of influence. France took Algeria and England took Egypt. With the 18th century, the Jesuits came to Syria seeking converts to Roman Catholicism. They took some Orthodox away from their roots; this became known as the Melkite schism. The see of Antioch was further weakened and diminished in numbers. But, Orthodox brethren in Russia were ready to help, offering financial support in the 1800s and inviting men to come to Russia for theological education. They helped set up schools, hospitals and rebuilt churches and monasteries, shining the light of Christ for all to see.

            The Ottoman Empire fell with their defeat in World War I (on the side of Germany). The League of Nations gave Iraq and Palestine to England and Lebanon and Syria to France. In the 1920s and 1930s rebellion broke out all over the Arabic world, seeking independence.

            The most recent threat to peace in the Arab world has been the formation of the Jewish state of Israel, given its independence by England in 1948. Jewish people around the world argued forcefully for their right to their ancient homeland as a safe haven from the persecution and slaughter experienced under Hitler. Palestinian Arabs violently protested this move and continue to violently oppose the very existence of a Jewish state in land that had been theirs for centuries. Many have been made refugees due to the numerous conflicts in the last decades. How will it end?


St. Raphael Hawaweeny:

Raphael was born in Syria in 1860 – just 150 years ago. But, in Syria Christians were still being persecuted, now by the Moslems and not by the Romans, and his family had to flee to Beirut, Lebanon, when he was a baby. Later, they returned to Damascus in Syria. There Raphael was a very good student in school. His parents were too poor to pay for his schooling, but the Deacon Athanasios asked the church to pay. Young Raphael was studying to be a priest. In fact, he was such a good student, that soon he was helping to teach. In seminary, Raphael was ordained a deacon; remember what a deacon was? He then studied in Halki, near Constantinople. But, he still wanted to learn, and he was sent to the Academy of Kiev in Russia. There he learned Russian and was ordained a priest, head of the Arabic Antiochian church in Russia. He stayed in Russia as a teacher.

But a call went out for someone to go to the new lands in America. Arabic Christians had begun to immigrate to the US in about 1878 because of persecution by the Ottoman Turks in their homelands. Most of them stayed initially in the New York area. There were Arabic Orthodox Christians there without a pastor. Fr. Raphael set off across the ocean under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church. In less than 2 weeks, he had set up a chapel in New York and was celebrating services. The chapel was blessed by the Russian Bishop Nicholas – the head of all Orthodox in America. Remember from the last unit that, until 1917, all Orthodox in America were under the Russian hierarchy. So, Fr. Raphael, from Syria, was a Russian Orthodox priest!

Soon, Fr. Raphael heard of small communities of Arab Christians all over the continent. Many of these had no priest, no church. Who would help them maintain their Orthodox faith in this strange land, full of Protestants and Roman Catholics? Fr. Raphael set out across the country – to San Francisco and back. Follow his journey on your world map or globe. Remember there were no airplanes or cars in 1896; all travel was by train or boat. He performed marriages, baptisms, confessions, liturgies – often in homes where there was no church. For these Arab Christians, he produced an Arabic language service book. Later he would also begin the Arabic Christian magazine, “The Word”, still published today.

Fr. Raphael saw the need for more Arabic-speaking priests and received the Russian bishop’s blessing to bring many over from Syria. He traveled again around the country, visiting 43 cities and towns. He ministered to Greeks and Russians, too, all part of the Orthodox flock in America. Back in New York, he worked hard to provide a real church for the Syrian Christians in New York and a cemetery of their own. Bishop Tikhon himself (Remember him from the last unit?) came to consecrate the new St. Nicholas Church in Brooklyn. Fr. Raphael loved America and, even when offered the role of bishop back in Syria, chose to stay in his new country. He learned English and began to use English in services and Church School.

After many years, the new Russian bishop said that he needed more bishops for the ever-growing church in America. Fr. Raphael was ordained a bishop in 1904 in New York – the first Orthodox bishop ever consecrated on American soil – Bishop of Brooklyn.  As bishop, he ordained priests and started new parishes. He consecrated the grounds of St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania. He even traveled to Canada and Mexico. Finally, in 1915, Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny went home to be with his Lord, dying in his sleep. In the year 2000 he was named a saint, to be remembered on February 27, the day of his death.



            With the Russian Revolution, coming on the heels of the death of their beloved leader, the Church in the US was without the financial and spiritual support of Moscow. When Metropolitan Germanos came from Syria to collect money to help the See of Antioch, many Arabs wanted him for their own leader and he proclaimed himself as representing the Patriarch of Antioch.

By 1934, most of the Arabic parishes were aligned with the Antiochian Patriarch, who sent Archimandrite Antony Bashir from the Balamand Academy to be their leader. The Arabic community drew together under this capable man, who was then consecrated bishop in 1936. He worked tirelessly for the idea of American Orthodoxy – welcoming converts, using English in services, promoting Christian education. He helped to found SCOBA, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas – a unifying force among the various ethnic traditions. Bishop Antony died in 1966.

            Philip Saliba succeeded Antony Bashir. Philip was also educated at Balamand. He spent years as a parish priest in Cleveland. In 1966 he was elected Metropolitan of New York and North America for the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Philip worked to support youth ministry, ecumenical activities, missions all over the world, and Middle East relief. He welcomed the churches and priests of the Evangelical Orthodox Church, who sought in 1986 to reunite with its Orthodox roots. Metropolitan Philip died in 2014 and was succeeded by Metropolitan Joseph.


Cultural tradition:

            What wonderful foods do we enjoy that are of Arabic tradition? Tabouleh, hummus, pita bread, lamb, dates, and almonds come to mind. Share experiences with the students.

            Look with your speaker, or in your library books, for pictures of people in traditional dress, traditional dancing, traditional housing.


Quiz Questions:

  1. List at least 5 foreign powers who have ruled the Arabic people.
  2. Describe the life of St. Raphael in 4 sentences.
  3. List the three bishops who have led the Arabic Christians in America.

National Churches: Greece and Constantinople




            Greece is a small country, a peninsula and a group of islands in the Mediterranean. Its capital is Athens, home of the Parthenon and cradle of democracy. Its highest peak is Mt. Olympus, where the gods were to have dwelt. Since no point is more than 85 miles from the sea, Greece has a Mediterranean climate – cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The whitewashed homes with thick tile roofs are a product of the climate. Much of the land is stony and grows only thorny shrubs, but the valleys are fertile, growing cotton, grapes, lemons, olives. Look at pictures in an atlas or library book; a map is included in the next few pages but is too small to be of great value.


Turkish Rule:

            In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Turks. Review the lesson if need be. For 400 years, Greece and the Balkans were ruled by the Ottoman Empire. The Greeks were constantly caught in the crossfire between the Turks and the Europeans, especially Venetians. (Remember their role in the sack of Constantinople?)

The Turks did follow the practice of the Koran allowing the Orthodox to continue their religious observances. But, they recognized only the Patriarch of Constantinople as the head of the Orthodox Church, regardless of the nationality of the Orthodox. Thus, the position of Patriarch was both an exalted and a precarious one; he depended on the good will of the Moslem rulers to hold office. He was also required to give a sizeable monetary donation to the Sultan upon appointment to the office of Patriarch. Thus there were frequent changes of Patriarch and a violent end for many Patriarchs. In fact, during the Turkish rule, only 21 of the 159 Patriarchs died a natural death! After Haggia Sophia was turned into a mosque, the Patriarch also had to move from church to church. But, through it all, the Patriarchate of Constantinople preserved the Orthodox Church.

As the Ottoman Empire declined in the 17th century, they recruited Greeks to assist their Empire as bankers, shipbuilders, merchants, and even in the government. These resettled Greeks lived in the lighthouse quarter of the old city, the Phanar, and were known as Phanariotes. There the Patriarchate relocated in 1601 in the Church of St. George, where it resides to this day. Here, among the Phanariotes, emerged the “Philiki Hetairia,” or “Society of Friends.” This movement slowly and secretly prepared to fight for Greek independence by setting up an intricate network of messengers, training troops, and amassing funds. The Turks themselves had set up the means for Greek independence.


St. Cosmas Aiotolos:

About 250 years ago there lived in the land of Greece a monk named Cosmas Aitolos. Cosmas lived for 17 years in the monastery on Mt. Athos. But, God told Cosmas to leave the monastery. The Greeks had been ruled for many, many years by the Moslem Turks. Many had forgotten the Lord Jesus. God asked Cosmas to bring His people back to Him.

Cosmas traveled for 20 years all around the land of Greece. He built schools and churches and gave people crosses and icons. Soon, people heard of this holy man and came to hear him preach. Wonderful things would happen while Cosmas was teaching – a tailor with a withered hand was healed, a rich noble could hear again.

Many times Cosmas had to preach outdoors because of the huge crowds. They would stick a large cross in the ground where Cosmas was going to preach to let people know. But, one day, a Turkish soldier pulled out one of the crosses. Suddenly the earth shook and the soldier fell down foaming at the mouth. When he woke up, the soldier knew he had been punished for taking down the cross. He put it back up.

But, many of the people, especially of the Jews and Turks, did not want Cosmas to keep preaching about Jesus. So, the ruler ordered Cosmas to be killed. The soldiers took the old monk and killed him by tying his neck to the trunk of a tree. Cosmas is also called “Equal to the Apostles” because he brought the Greek people back to the Lord.


Greek Independence:

With the late 1700s, came an era of nationalism all over Europe. America declared her independence in 1776 and France in 1798. The Greeks were watching…and waiting for their own opportunity. By 1814, the Philiki Hetairia was a formidable political organization, ready for revolution. On the Feast of the Annunciation, 1821, the revolt began, and soon all Greece was in revolt. Americans even came to help fight in the Greek War for Independence, just as the French had helped fight in ours.

The Turks were outraged! How dare the Greeks rise in rebellion! They murdered countless bishops, priests, nuns, and citizens; on the island of Chios alone, 40,000 Greeks were put to death. Patriarch Gregory V was seized as he celebrated the Paschal Liturgy and hanged. But, his martyrdom only spurred the Greeks on to greater courage.

Finally, after three years, Europe began to support the Greeks. England offered a loan. England, France, and Russia sent battleships and won the decisive Battle of Navarino in 1827, a total defeat for the Turks. In September, 1829, the Turks recognized the independence of Greece, although only the southern part. It would be another 75 years before the northern provinces, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean islands would be freed.


Greek Church in America:

The earliest Greeks in America came as servants, farm laborers, to Florida. They were treated very badly and many escaped to St. Augustine. By 1793 there were 100 Greek names as citizens of St. Augustine. But, everything changed with the Greek Revolution…

Soon, Greek people were coming to our country – cotton merchants in the South, sponge divers in Florida – all wanted to have Orthodox Christian churches to worship in. They built churches and priests came from Greece. Holy Trinity Chapel in New Orleans was the first Greek Orthodox Church in America, but it was not alone for long. In the 1890s even larger numbers of Greek immigrants came and by 1920 there were 50 Greek parishes in the US. But, there was no bishop – no shepherd to lead the Greek people in America. Power struggles in the new country of Greece were replayed in America, with each immigrant faction supporting a different political faction back in Greece. Each church in each town just did what its priest thought was right. People argued; no one decided.

Finally, in 1930 Archbishop Athenagoras was elected by the bishops of Greece to be the first bishop of the Greek Church in America. He was a tall man with a long, flowing beard. He brought the churches together, built schools, started new churches. The Greek people in America had a leader for their flock. He founded new parishes, built schools and Holy Cross Seminary, and even began mission parishes in South America. Bishop Athenagoras loved his people as a shepherd and cared for them until he died about 50 years ago.

After the death of Athenagoras in 1948, Archbishop Michael assumed leadership of the Greek Orthodox in America. He joined the World Council of Churches, a bold move that brought Orthodoxy to national attention.  He was succeeded by Archbishop Iakavos. He has worked to help the Greek Church effectively serve both its immigrant and its American-born members. 



Cultural Tradition:

            Food: In recent years, Greek food has become popular well beyond the Greek community. Brainstorm some foods the students enjoy – baklava, gyros, spanikopita, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, Greek salad. Take a field trip after class to a Greek restaurant?

            Dance: Greek music has an unusual 7-beat rhythm and Greek dancing is well-known even to non-Orthodox. Visit the next Greek festival to feast your eyes.

            Language: Greek is everywhere! Fraternities, sororities, alphas and betas abound. Look for them this week as you go through your daily activities. Do you enough Greek letters to at least sound out the names on the icons? If not, try to learn; this skill alone will be essential as you visit other churches or travel in Europe later in life.

            Clothing: Have one of our Greek members bring some outfits to try on; you see these regularly in use at the Greek festivals.


Quiz Questions:

  1. Identify these people: Athenagoras, Cosmas, Gregory, Iakovos.
  2. Identify these things: Ottoman Empire, Phanariotes, Philiki Hetairia, Battle of Navarino, spanikopita
  3. Locate Greece and its capital Athens on a map.

National Churches: Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania


Try to spend a bit of time on each country, maybe with a student preparing each section in 5 minutes as before. At the end, take some time to compare and contrast these interesting but little-known countries.




                        Romania, meaning land of Romans, lies in Eastern Europe. They are the only Eastern European people to trace their ancestry back to the Romans and to speak a Romance language and not a Slavic one. The Western alphabet is used, not the Cyrillic. Bucharest is the capital and largest city.

            Mountains of the Carpathian Ranges curve through Romania, providing beautiful scenery and hiking trails, as well as skiing in the winter. And the sunny Black Sea coast has dozens of sandy beaches. The Danube River flows along Romania’s southern border. Romania has fertile soil, vast forests, and mineral deposits, yet is one of the poorest countries in Europe.              



            Romania was first settled by the Dacian people in 300 BC. The country was called Dacia at this time. The Romans, under Emperor Trajan, conquered Dacia in 106 AD. The Dacians adopted Roman customs and the Latin language. Barbarians forced the Romans to abandon the country in the late 200s. Huns, Goths, Bulgars, Slavs, and Tartars – all marched back and forth across Romania all the way till the 1100s. For hundreds of years various groups invaded and fought for control of the region. Finally, around the year 1300, the Walachians in the south and the Moldavians in the east formed principalities. Hungary took and held Transylvania.

Romania, like all the Balkan countries, suffered under the Turks. The Walachians were conquered in 1476 and the Moldavians in 1504. The Turks ruled for 300 years. The peasants, who were poor and hungry before, had to pay huge taxes to the Turks. When Russia defeated Turkey in 1829, the Romanian provinces of Moldavia and Walachia were liberated. In 1862, these two provinces were recognized by the rest of Europe as the Nation of Romania.

Romania sided with the Allies in World War I and, at the end of the war, received back from Austria-Hungary the provinces of Transylvania, Bukovina, and Banat with largely Romanian citizens.

In World War II, Romania tried at first to remain neutral. Bulgaria bit off a piece of Romanian territory in the south, the Soviets bit off a piece in the north, and Hungary grabbed back northern Transylvania. Fed up, Romania first sided with the Germans, then with the Allies. In the end. Bulgaria and the Soviets kept their pieces, but Transylvania was returned to Romania. Soviet troops remained in Romania until the late 1950s, after which the Communist party in Romania took over the government. Romania remained under Communist rule until 1990.


            Romanian Orthodox Church:

                        The Romanian Orthodox Church had its beginnings with the missionary work in the 9th century of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Review their story in the Slavic lessons. Because of this, the Romanian Church has always been under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. In 1885, Romania received autocephaly (self-government) from the Patriarch and, in 1925, the Metropolitan of Bucharest was elevated to Patriarch.

            As Romanian Orthodox emigrated to America, Romania, too, founded churches for their people. Today, some of these parishes retain their ties to the Patriarch of Bucharest, while many have joined the OCA.

            Ethnic traditions:

            The Romanians constructed over the centuries beautiful churches and painted beautiful icons. Being forbidden by their rulers to paint icons on wood, the artists developed the fine art of painting on glass. Have one of our people who traveled to Romania in 2002 show you pictures of the churches and examples of the icons. We have 2 Romanian families who can share with you Romanian food, clothing, music, etc. The Romanians grilled meats, especially ‘mititei,” meatballs shaped like cylinders, and “patricieni,” sausages. Another favorite food is a bread or mush made of corn meal called “mamaliga.” Wine and a plum brandy called “tzuica” are popular drinks. Folk dancing is colorful and quick, with red and white traditional costumes.



                        Bulgaria is sandwiched between Romania and Greece, with the Black Sea on the east. The Danube River forms its northern border. Its capital is Sofia. The terrain is mostly mountainous, but with fertile valleys between. The climate is mild on the coast, with temperate summers.


                        The earliest inhabitants of Bulgaria, the Thracians, were conquered by the Romans in 40 AD. Rome ruled until the 6th century, when the “barbarian” Bulgars (a group of Huns – remember Attila?) and Slavs took the land. In 681 the first Bulgarian kingdom was established; it became the most powerful state in the Balkans and reached a “golden age” of trade and art under Simeon I in 893. In 1018, in decline after Simeon’s death, the Bulgarians were conquered by the Byzantine Empire. In 1186, Bulgaria regained its independence. During the 1200s, Bulgaria was again the dominant Balkan power.

But, Bulgaria, also, was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the late 1300s. Many Bulgarians who opposed their rule were killed. The story of St. Zlata tells of one of these martyrs. Russia helped Bulgaria gain independence from the Turks in 1878 and Bulgaria became a nation in 1908 under King Ferdinand. But, under the treaties of the Balkan Wars, Bulgaria lost much of its land. It entered World War I on the side of Germany, intent on regaining its lost territory. But, with the defeat of Germany, Bulgaria lost even more land. The same thing happened in World War II. The Soviets invaded in 1944 to defeat the Germans and in 1946, Bulgaria came under Communist rule. In 1990, after a decade of demonstrations, the Communist Party was overthrown.


            St. Zlata:

      Zlata lived in the village of Slatina in the country of Bulgaria. She was very poor, but loved Jesus with her whole heart. She was also beautiful and kind. All the village loved Zlata.

In those days, the Moslem Turks ruled Bulgaria. They hated all Christians. One day, a Turk saw Zlata as she was gathering firewood for her family. He decided he wanted her for his wife and captured her. He took her to his home. There he decided she must first become a Moslem before he could marry her. But Zlata would not deny Jesus Christ her Lord.

The Turk promised Zlata riches and slaves to do her work for her. But, she would not deny Christ. She told him that she was waiting for the mansion in heaven Jesus promised. Then the Turk threatened her with terrible tortures, but she told him she was not afraid to suffer for Jesus. Then he had her live for six months with his Turkish women; they tried to trick her into denying Jesus and even tried magic. But nothing would get Zlata to deny Jesus. The Turk then went to her family and told them they would all be killed if she did not become a Moslem. They tried to get Zlata to at least pretend to be a Moslem, but she told them that she would not lie to God.

The evil Turk was beaten. He tortured Zlata, but all she did was pray. The Turk was furious. He hung her in a tree and cut her into pieces. So St. Zlata became a martyr and went home to heaven with her beloved Jesus.


            Bulgarian Orthodox Church:

                        Missionaries and disciples of Sts. Cyril and Methodius traveled to Bulgaria sporadically. The Cyrillic alphabet was used and Slavonic was their own language. But, King Boris began the systematic conversion of the Bulgarian people to Orthodoxy. Boris dreamed of his own nation, separate from the Byzantine Empire, and hoped by requesting his own independent Orthodox Church to make that a reality.  Finally, in the mid-10th century, Bulgaria was recognized as the first independent Slavic nation.      

            One of the foremost theologians of the 12th century was Theophylactus, Archbishop of Ochrida. He wrote commentaries on the Old and New Testaments; his most important work, however, was entitled, “On the Error of the Latins.”

            In the later 12th century, a heretical group of Dualists (who believe in two Gods, good and evil) called the Bogomils shook the Church. The Bogomils, naturally, rejected both Eastern and Western Christianity and were declared heretics by the Byzantine Church. While they shook the Bulgarian church for nearly 100 years, eventually their influence and numbers dropped off.

            After the sack of Constantinople, when Latin kings were ruling the Empire and sat in the Patriarchal seat, Prince Kaloyan of Bulgaria was given the title of Bulgarian Tsar by the Pope. He promised loyalty to the Pope in return. But, the clergy and people wanted to remain Orthodox and the union did not last long.

            In 1235, the Bulgarian Prince was recognized by the Byzantine Emperor as Tsar and the ancient Patriarchates recognized the Bishop of Bulgaria as Patriarch. The Bulgarian Church was independent. The Church was allowed to continue its worship under the Turks, although in a limited way.

            After the Macedonian revolution in 1903, Bulgarian immigrants began to come to America. Small Bulgarian mission parishes sprang up. These were declared a diocese with a bishop under the Bulgarian Patriarchate in 1938. Today, some Bulgarian Orthodox parishes retain their allegiance to Bulgaria, and many have joined the OCA.


            Ethnic traditions:

            Bulgaria is best-known for its music, including several famous opera singers.

            Bulgarian food is known for thick stews, often of beef or lamb, and yogurt.



                        Serbia is known for its many beautiful rivers – the Danube and the Morava being primary. The mountains on its eastern and western borders provide coal, zinc, lead, and copper. Farmers grow grains, fruits, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, cattle and sheep. Textiles are a major product. The Serbian people use the Cyrillic alphabet while their neighbors, the Croats, use the Roman.


                        In the 600s AD, various groups of Slavs settled in center of the Balkan Peninsula, in what would later be Serbia. They were first united under Stephen Nemanja. The Serbian kingdom grew until it threatened even the Byzantine Empire under King Stephen Dusan in the 1300s. But, Serbia was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Kossovo in 1389.

            The Ottoman Empire ruled Serbia for nearly 500 years. By the early 1800s, the Serbian people were poised for independence. Uprisings developed in 1904 under a peasant named Black George and another under the peasant Milos in 1815. By 1878, Serbia was independent with the Russian defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

            The assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by a Serbian began World War I. At the end of the war, Serbia helped form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which became Yugoslavia in 1929. At the end of World War II, Communist rule under Tito began in Yugoslavia and continued until the death of Tito. Most recently, the country of Yugoslavia has been torn by civil war and has split back into its ethnic tribes.

            St. Sava (or Sabba):

                        In 1174 was born to Stephen I, the first Serbian Emperor, a son named Rastko. At age 17 Rastko went to the Russian monastery on Mt. Athos and took his monastic vows with the name Sava. Sava’s father also took monastic vows and relinquished his throne. Together they founded the Serbian monastery on Mt. Athos.  Sava’s brother, Stephen II, came to power. This was during the time when the throne in Constantinople was held by the Latins after the 4th Crusade, and Stephen asked Pope Innocent III for help. The pope crowned Stephen king; Stephen agreed to obey Rome. The people were very angry. They asked Sava to return. He did and convinced his brother to return to Orthodoxy. The Patriarch of Constantinople, in exile in Nicea, consecrated Sava Archbishop of the new independent Serbian Orthodox Church. St. Sava, who died in 1237, shaped the early Serbian Church through both political and religious strife. But, he was a humble man – a monk – as this well-known story will illustrate:

One day, as the devil was walking down a steep mountain path, he saw the good and gentle St. Sava, a priest of Serbia, coming up the path. St. Sava greeted the devil warmly and asked him what he would like best to do. The devil answered, “I would like to grow vegetables, if you would help me.”

So St. Sava and the devil became partners. They decided to grow onions. Soon there were beautiful green shoots coming up all over the field. Since they were partners, St. Sava asked the devil which half he would prefer.  The devil answered, “I’ll take the half above ground and you can have the part under the ground.” St. Sava agreed. Soon the onions were ripe. Above ground were dried up stalks, but underground were beautiful red onions!

The devil was furious. Next they grew cabbages. The devil insisted on having the part under the ground this time. St. Sava again agreed. Soon the cabbages were grown. St. Sava cut the beautiful heads above ground; all that was left was the brown roots underground for the devil.

Now the devil was even angrier. They decided to grow potatoes. The devil asked for the part above the ground. And, again, the devil got worthless leaves, while St. Sava had a crop of beautiful underground potatoes.

                  Next they decided to grow wheat. The devil chose the underground part, and Sava was happy to get the beautiful yellow stalks of wheat. The devil was left with worthless stubble.

The devil was in a terrible rage. St. Sava crossed himself and the devil vanished from sight, never to return to match wits with such a good and godly priest.


            St. Lazar:

                        The year 1389 marked the bitter defeat of the Serbs in the face of the Turks. But, why do the people of Serbia rejoice on that day and celebrate it as a national holiday? Instead of independence (Remember our 4th of July?), the Serbian people on that day lost their freedom.

                        The Tsar of all Serbia in that day was named Lazar. The ruler of the Turks was Sultan Murat. Murat sent to Lazar a letter. He demanded that Lazar turn over the country to him. If not, he would meet him on the Field of Kossovo and their armies would decide the fate of the nation. But, Lazar know that even more was at stake. The Turks had taken Constantinople and Greece. Serbia was the only country standing between the Turks and the rest of Europe. Lazar had asked for troops to help his small nation fight the mighty Turks. But the other European countries didn’t see their danger; they would not help little Serbia in its time of need. What should Lazar do now? He could not give up without a fight.

                        The evening before the great battle, as Tsar Lazar had dinner with his wife, Tsaritsa Militsa, she asked him if one of her nine brothers could stay home from the battle tomorrow. Both of them knew that death awaited the men on the battlefield. The Tsar agreed that a brother could stay behind to care for his sister. The next morning, the Tsaritsa waited at the city gates. One by one her brothers and father passed by; one by one they refused to stay behind. They would fight with their Tsar for the beloved land of Serbia!

                        On the evening before the battle a grey falcon flew away from Jerusalem, carrying a letter from the Virgin Mary on its back. The falcon was Elijah the Prophet. Do you remember his story? He dropped the letter on the knees of the Tsar. As Lazar read the letter, he grew sad. The Theotokos gave him a choice: if he chose an earthly kingdom, he would win the battle, but if he wanted the heavenly kingdom, he should build a silken church on the Field of Kossovo, take Communion, and prepare to die at the hands of the Turks. Lazar knew that an earthly kingdom would last only a short time, but a heavenly kingdom for eternity. He built the silken church and took Holy Communion with all his soldiers.

                        The next day, at first it seemed as if the Serbian forces could win the battle. The Tsaritsa’s 9 brothers and old father rode gloriously into battle, but all died. As each of Tsar Lazar’s forces entered the fight, they killed many Turks, but there were so many Turks! Then, one of the Tsar’s generals betrayed him and turned and fled from the battlefield. His men followed him. Tsar Lazar lost the battle and his life. But, all was not lost. When all of Europe heard of the Battle of Kossovo, they united and prepared to fight the Turks. The rest of Europe was safe because of the sacrifice of the Serbian nation.


            Serbian Orthodox Church:

                        As with other Balkan countries, Christianity was first introduced in Serbia by the influence of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. The Serbs have, therefore, been mostly influenced by Orthodoxy. But, located between Rome and Constantinople, Serbia has been a target for Latin expansion.

                        The Crusades affected the political division of Serbia. In 1076, Pope Gregory VII named a Croatian chieftain in the north Bishop of Croatia in the Roman Catholic Church. The southern region, Serbia proper, remained Orthodox, and was first united by Stephen, father of St. Sava.

                        The Serbian Church suffered the same consequences as those of the other Balkan states under the Turks. Even though they had been given autonomy in 1221 under St. Sava, the Turks insisted on the supremacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and it wasn’t until 1897 when the Serbian Church again became self-governing.

            The Serbian Church had to face other problems as well. With the growth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, parts of northern Serbia were annexed and Latinized. Orthodox Christians were oppressed. But, with the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I, Serbia regained most of her land. In 1922, the Orthodox Church of Serbia was recognized as a Patriarchate with its Seat at Belgrade.

Into the early 20th century, the Serbian church was inspired by St. Nicholas of Zhicha. Nicholas was born in 1881 on a farm in Lelich. Sickly as a child, he excelled as a student and studied first at St. Sava Seminary in Belgrade, and then at Bern, London, and Russia. He was tonsured a monk and ordained to the priesthood in 1909. Known as the “Serbian Chrysostom,” he was renowned for his sermons, short but taught in a language the people could understand. He traveled during World War I to both England and America as an ambassador for the Serbian church, and returned to Serbia to be consecrated Bishop of Zhicha. He traveled again to American in 1921, but returned to Serbia, now called Yugoslavia, just before the German invasion of World War II. He was an outspoken critic of the Nazis and was sent to the death camp, Dachau. Nicholas survived and returned to England after his liberation. Later, he traveled again to America, where he served as Dean of St. Tikhon’s Seminary. In 1956, St. Nicholas fell asleep in the Lord, being found kneeling in prayer.

In 1863, there was born to Serbian immigrants in San Francisco a son named Jovan Dabovich. This man became the first American-born Serbian ordained to the priesthood, and later tonsured as a monk, taking the name Sebastian. He is known as the Father of Serbian Orthodoxy in America because of his unceasing apostolic labors, founding many of the Serbian Orthodox churches throughout the USA. He worked with St. Alexis Toth to bring Uniate Christians back to Orthodoxy and opened the doors of Orthodoxy also to Episcopalians. In 1905, Fr. Sebastian was named by Archbishop Tikhon to head the Serbian Mission of the church in North America. He traveled the length and breadth of our continent, by railroad, stagecoach, and by food, visiting parishes, both Serbian and of other ethnic communities. He also compiled one of the earliest English translations of the Divine Liturgy; his books and sermons mark him as an inspired teacher of Orthodoxy. Fr. Sebastian moved to Serbia and ministered there serving the church of Yugoslavia until his death in 1940. In 2007, his remains were moved to San Francisco, to the Church of St. Sava he had founded, and, in 2015, he was canonized as St. Sebastian, with a feast day of November 30.

            In the early 20th century, Serbians began migrating to America. There they founded parishes and organized as a Diocese under the Patriarch of Belgrade. Today in the US, some Serbian churches remain under the jurisdiction of Belgrade and some have joined the OCA.

            Ethnic traditions:

            Serbian food is known for grilled meats, thick soups, goat cheese, and spicy salads. Thick, sweet Turkish coffee is the preferred drink, along with plum brandy.

ALBANIA:    Geography:

            Albania is a small country located between Serbia and the Adriatic Sea. Mountains cover most of the land, with a narrow coastal plain along the Adriatic. Tirana is the capital. Mount Korabit is the highest point in the country. The mountains are rich in minerals and Albania mines chromite, copper, lignite, and nickel and produces petroleum and natural gas. But, most of the population still lives by farming, growing corn, grapes, olives, potatoes, wheat, sheep and goats.



            The Illyrian kingdom ruled Albania from 1200-300 BC; in 358 BC they were defeated by Philip of Macedon and ruled by the Greeks until 312 BC. The Romans conquered Illyria in 167 BC and Albania remained in the Byzantine Empire after the fall of Rome. The Ottoman Turks tried over and over to conquer Albania, but failed until about a decade after the death of the national hero, Skenderbeg, in 1468, after even the fall of Constantinople! The Ottoman Turks ruled Albania for 400 years afterwards and 2/3 of all Albanians converted to Islam. To this day, Albania is 70% Muslim and 20% Orthodox (and 10% Roman Catholic).

            During the first Balkan War, in 1912, Albania was freed from the Turks, but was occupied by a multitude of foreign powers on both sides during World Wars I and II. The treaty of Bucharest in 1913, ending the Balkan Wars, gave the ethnically Albanian province of Kosova to Serbia; this was repeated after World War I in the Treaty of Paris, giving Kosova to Yugoslavia. Briefly, from 1928-1939 Albania became a monarchy as Ahmet Zogu, the prime minister, names himself King Zog I.  In 1944, the Italians and Germans occupied the land but were driven out and the communists under Enver Hoxha took power. They ruled Albania with an iron fist, making all religion illegal and viciously persecuting Christians and Muslims alike, until their fall in 1990. With the fall of communism in both Yugoslavia and Albania, conditions were ripe for the ethnic warfare that broke out in Kosova between Serbs and Albanians.


            Albanian Orthodox Church:

            With the fall of Communism, the Albanian Church found itself in dire straits. All 1600 churches had been closed or destroyed and only 22 elderly priests remained of the 440 before communism. The Patriarch of Constantinople sent Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos to assess the situation. Archbishop Anastasios had been active for decades in countries all around the world. But, this was a challenge – to revive the church without any funds in an impoverished country unstable politically. But, in only 12 years,  Archbishop Anastasios has succeeded in building 83 churches, repairing 140 more, restoring 5 monasteries, building a seminary and a convent, as well as schools, medical clinics, children’s homes, nurseries, and camps for all Albanians.

            The new democratically elected government tried to get rid of Anastasios with a new constitution demanding that the head of the Orthodox Church be Albanian in origin, but the constitution was defeated by the people. Multiple assassination attempts have failed. When refugees from Kosovo came by the thousands, even though they were Muslims, the Church provided refugee camps, food, and shelter.

            In 1998, the Orthodox Church of Albania was granted autocephaly – self-government. Archbishop Anastasios is now Archbishop of Tirana (the capital), Durres, and all Albania, with a Holy Synod composed of other bishops and metropolitans.


Ethnic traditions: Albanian food is mostly made up of bread and dairy products – milk and cheese. Ethnically, Albanians are divided into two groups, Ghegs and Tosks, depending on the Albanian dialect they speak. There are also ethnic Greeks.


Quiz Questions: Compare and contrast the history, religion, and culture of these four countries.

National Churches: Armenia, Georgia, and Ethiopia




                        Armenia is a small country, south of Georgia and north of Iran; historically it was much larger. Its capital is Yerevan. Armenia has some of the most rugged terrain in the region – the Caucasus Mountains. The climate is dry, with long, cold winters and short, hot summers. Most of the population is Christian. They grow apricots, peaches, grapes, walnuts, barley and wheat and mine copper in the mountains.



                        Armenia was ruled by Persia and then Greece for centuries. Finally, King Tigran ruled an empire that stretched from the Caspian to the Mediterranean in 95 BC. But, it was not to last. Armenia was conquered by Rome in 55 BC.

            Shortly after the fall of Rome, Armenia was again conquered, this time by the Arabs in the 600s. But, she gained independence as an Armenian kingdom again in 884. The Kingdom of Armenia lasted for centuries.

            In the 1300s, the west of Armenia was conquered by the Turks and the east by the Persians. The Turks were to rule until their defeat in World War I. Their rule was one of genocide and discrimation. The Persians were replaced by the Russians in 1828. During World War I, the Turks deported most ethnic Armenians to the desert, where a million were killed, the rest fled to the eastern half of the country. In 1918, eastern Armenia formed an independent republic, only to be annexed by the Soviet Union until its collapse. Western Armenia remains a part of Turkey.


            St. Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia:

                        For many years, Tirdat, young King of Armenia, lived in Rome. His father, King Khosrov of Armenia, had been killed by an angry murderer in 224 AD. He grew up with a good friend, Diocletian – later to be the Diocletian of the most vicious persecution of Christians in the history of the Roman Empire. Finally, King Tirdat was coming home to his land of Armenia. On the way, he met a young man named Gregory, who had been raised in Caesarea by a Christian nurse. Young King Tirdat liked Gregory and invited him to come to Armenia with him and be in his court. Gregory went with Tirdat. Neither Gregory nor Tirdat knew a terrible secret: Gregory was the son of the murderer!

                        Soon they were home to Armenia. What a celebration! The Armenian people cheered for their young king as he rode through the streets. Tirdat went right away to the statue of the goddess Anahid, goddess of the earth. He put a wreath in front of the statue and worshipped the statue. All the other people did the same – all but Gregory. Gregory was a Christian. He told King Tirdat that he worshipped only Jesus, the Son of God.

                        King Tirdat was very angry. How dare Gregory disobey him, the king? He even found out that Gregory was the son of his father’s murderer.  He ordered Gregory thrown into prison. There Gregory stayed for 15 years in a dark pit. Have you been alive even that long? An old woman secretly brought the Christian prisoner food. After many years, King Tirdat became ill. His sister loved her brother and had dreams about the young man in prison. Maybe Gregory could help her brother, the king. She made up her mind to send for Gregory to be brought to the palace. There Gregory prayed for King Tirdat and he was healed.

                        Now that Gregory was out of prison, he began to tell the Armenian people about Jesus. He wanted to build churches for them to worship the Lord. One day he saw a vision of a column of fire with a cross on top. Here he would build his church Etchmiadzin – the first in all Armenia. Soon there were churches all over the country. Gregory went everywhere, telling people about the Christian faith, building churches, and helping the poor.

                        King Tirdat and all his family gathered by the river. One by one they were baptized by Gregory, now a bishop, and had communion for the first time. Armenia was now a Christian country. And the king who had thrown Gregory into prison became his greatest helper and friend. Gregory died at age 82. We call Gregory “Enlightener” because he brought God’s light to the Armenian people.


            Armenian Orthodox Church:

            Armenia was originally evangelized by the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew – remember their journeys from earlier in the year? The country became the first Christian nation with the ministry of St. Gregory.

            In the 6th century, the Armenian Church adopted the Monophysite heresy and broke away from the Orthodox faith, along with the Egyptian Coptic Church. Later, the Georgian branch returned to orthodoxy, but the Armenian church, with its Patriarch in Echmiadzin, remained heterodox. While under Turkish domination, the Turks insisted that the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople extend to all Orthodox Christians in his Empire, regardless of jurisdiction. But, since the Turkish downfall, the Armenian Church has again organized with the supreme Patriarch in Echmiadzin (where St. Gregory built his first church) and bishops in Istanbul, Jerusalem, Syria, and Lebanon for the Armenian populations of those countries.

            Small numbers of Armenian students arrived in the 1830s to study in American universities. But immigration began in earnest in the 1880s to escape Turkish oppression. In the aftermath of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, peak numbers of immigrants arrived. While Armenia remained under Soviet domination, few people were allowed to leave the country, but immigration has started again with the demise of the Soviet Union and the establishment of a free Republic of Armenia. There are now two Armenian dioceses in the US, serving about a million Armenians.


            Ethnic traditions:

            Armenian food is complex to prepare and includes various shish kebabs and pilafs, lots of lamb, stewed dried fruit as a New Year’s pudding, baklava, and stuffed grape leaves. Perhaps try lamb kebabs in class with students choosing their own ingredients and grilling on the church grill.



            Geography: Georgia is located in the South Caucasus mountains; in fact, most of the land is made up of mountains and plateaus. The deepest cave in the world, the Krubera Cave, is located in Georgia. The climate varies from humid, subtropical in the western lowlands, to frost throughout the year in the highest mountains. The capital of Georgia is Tbilisi.


            History: In very ancient times before Christ, Georgia was comprised of two kingdoms, Colchis and Iberia. In fact, Colchis is named as the site of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and his Argonauts in Greek mythology. The two kingdoms were united under one king in the 4th century BC, and later became part of the Roman Empire.

            Because of the Christianization of the Georgian state, it remained a faithful ally of the Byzantine Empire until it was captured by the Arabs in the 7th century. Bagrat III reunited the country in the 11th century, and Georgian culture flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Golden Age of Georgia was presided over by King David the Builder, and later his granddaughter, Queen Tamar. But, in the 15th century the country, attacked on all sides by various enemies, disintegrated into many small kingdoms and regions, passing from hand to hand with one conqueror after another.

            In 1800 Georgia was annexed by treaty as a part of the Russian Empire. But, after the Russian Revolution in 1917, Georgia declared its own independence from Russia in 1918. But, in 1921 the Russian troops attacked and conquered Georgia, establishing it as the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia was again independent.


            Georgian Orthodox Church:

St. Nina, Equal to the Apostles

St. Nina was of godly parents, a descendant of St. George. Her parents moved to Jerusalem, where there were many Georgian people living, and she spent her education reading the Bible and praying. One day, she wondered where the tunic of the Lord had been taken? She was told that it was in the land of Georgia (then called Gruzia), and that that land had not yet heard of Christ. From that day on, she prayed that the people of Georgia would become Christian and that she would be able to find the tunic of the Lord. One night, she had a dream; the Theotokos appeared to her, gave her a cross woven with grapevines, and told her to go to Georgia to tell the people there about her Son. When Nina awoke, the cross of vines was in her hands. She received permission from her uncle, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to travel to Georgia, and arrived there in 319 AD. There, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, St. Nina prayed while the pagan priests held a service to the idols of the people on a high mountain, and a storm came and toppled the idols. Then, the wife of the emperor, Queen Nana, became very ill; Nina prayed and touched her forehead with the twig-cross and she was healed. But, still, the emperor did not believe in the Lord Jesus. Finally, the sun became dark, and he was struck blind! The terrified king and his people prayed first to their idols, but all remained dark. They then called out to the God preached by Nina, and light returned. And, so, on May 6, 319 AD, the emperor Mirian, and all of his courtiers, were baptized; by 324 the entire country had been converted to Christianity. Thus Nina is known as Equal to the Apostles. St. Nina did find the tunic of the Lord, and the first Christian church in the country was built on its site.

            To this day, the vast majority of the country belongs to the Orthodox faith. The Georgian Orthodox Church gained autocephaly (or self-government) in the Middle Ages, but was abolished during the Russian rule. The church was again recognized officially in 1990 by the Ecumenical Patriarch.


            Ethnic traditions: The country of Georgia is so-named by the Western world, possibly due to their reverence for St. George. They call themselves Kartvelians and their country Sakartvelo. The Georgian language is an ancient language of the Caucasus region unrelated to other European or Asian languages, and Georgia boasts three unique alphabets.

            Winemaking and agriculture are a major part of the economy. The best known dish is Khinkali, or meat dumplings, and, of course, wine. At a Supra, or Georgian dinner/feast, a “tamada” or toastmaster is selected to keep the toasts moving and the party interesting.  Perhaps you might try a small Supra in class, with a student or the teacher serving as tamada and each toasting the others with glasses of grape juice.






                        Ethiopia lies in northeast Africa, bordering the Red Sea. Its name, “Ethiopia,” comes from the Greek for “sunburned faces.” The people of Greece, accustomed to the Egyptians, were puzzled by the black skin of the Ethiopians! Ethiopia was also known early as Cush or Abyssinia. Most of Ethiopia consists of rugged mountains with a high plateau. It has a dry, hot climate and has suffered through many droughts, causing severe famines. Its plains are populated with giraffes, elephants, lions, and antelope. Tropical rain forests cover parts of the southwest near equatorial Africa.

                        The capital of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa. It has a population of about 1 ½ million people. Most of the people of Ethiopia live in rural areas. They farm with wooden plows pulled by oxen, just like their ancestors and live in mud huts with straw roofs. Textiles are the main export industry. The northern part of the country is composed mostly of Semitic people and the southern of Cushite. There are also several thousand “Black Jews”.



                        Ethiopia had until recently the oldest existing kingdom in the world. Its first emperor was Menelik I, son of the Biblical Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Israel. Review this story, if time permits. The Aksum Kingdom was well-established even in the days of the Romans; it reached its height in the 300s under King Ezana. Under Menelik II in the 1800s, expansion by Italy was stopped and Addis Ababa became capital. But, in 1935, the Italians conquered Ethiopia and Emperor Haile Selassie had to flee to exile in England. The British in World War II helped the Ethiopians drive out the Italians and returned Haile Selassie to Addis Ababa. The descendants of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba ruled for 2000 years, until, in 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown by a military junta.


            St. Frumentius:

Once there lived a boy in the land of Phoenicia named Frumentius. Now, Phoenicia is on the sea and the people of that land are good sailors. So, a rich man named Meropius decided that he would sail to India to learn of the wisdom of that land. Meropius took with him 2 boys, Frumentius and his friend Edesius. But, the ship ran out of food. They came to a town on the coast of Africa and landed the ship to buy food. But the people of this region hated the Romans. They killed Meropius and the sailors and took the two boys to the king as slaves. This is how Frumentius came to the African land of Ethiopia.

Now, there were already Jews and Christians in Ethiopia. Do you remember the story of the Queen of Sheba? She visited King Solomon and their son became king of Ethiopia. Many Jews settled there. And, do you remember the story of Philip and the eunuch of Ethiopia? He also returned home and taught people about Jesus. But, the king was not a Christian.

The king could see that the boys were smart and well-mannered. He decided to let them live as his servants. Edesius became his cup-bearer and Frumentius a keeper of scrolls. They served the king well. But, the king died young. The queen asked Edesius and Frumentius to help her young son learn to rule the land and they agreed to serve the people of Ethiopia. Frumentius was now free to travel around the country. He gathered the Christians together and told people about Jesus. Soon, there were more and more Christians in the land.

Frumentius traveled to Alexandria to meet with the young bishop, Athanasius. Review the story of Athanasius and the council of Nicea. Frumentius told Athanasius how much the people of Ethiopia needed a bishop to build churches and teach. Athanasius could see the love of the Lord and His people of Ethiopia in the eyes of Frumentius. Frumentius himself was ordained bishop and sent back to Ethiopia!

King Ezana, the young boy, had grown into a man. He also became a Christian because of Frumentius. We know this because of the coins of the land. Those from his early reign have pagan half moons on them; those from his later life have crosses.

Like his friend Athanasius, Frumentius did not follow the false teachings of Arius. Do you remember what those were? He continued to build churches and teach the true faith. When Athanasius was taken prisoner, the followers of Arius came also for Frumentius. But, the people of Ethiopia so loved their “Aboona”, or father, that they would not let him be taken prisoner. He is remembered in Ethiopia to this day as the “Revealer of Light”.


            Coptic Church:

            Jewish beliefs (and Jewish believers) were common in Ethiopia from the days of the Queen of Sheba. Review this story in your Old Testament.

            The first evangelization of Ethiopia occurred with the conversion of the queen’s minister by Philip on the Road to Gaza. Review this story as well in the book of Acts.

            The country became Christian under King Ezana with the evangelization of St. Frumentius, discussed above. Even in the days of St. Frumentius, the Church in Ethiopia looked to the Patriarch of Alexandria for spiritual guidance. Thus, with the Monophysite controversy, the Church of Ethiopia, along with the Alexandria and the Egyptian (Coptic) Church, refused to accept the teachings of the 4th Council and separated from the Orthodox Church.

Ethiopians have settled heavily in Bermuda, where there is an active Coptic church. From there, more than directly from Ethiopia, immigrants have come to the US.


            Ethnic traditions:

                        Ethiopians eat a thick, spicy stew called “wat”, often picking it up with a sour bread called “injera”.


Quiz Questions:

  1. Compare and contrast these two very different cultures.
  2. These churches are not Orthodox: explain.

National Churches: Japan and Finland





            Japan consists of a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Russia, China, and Korea. Its capital is Tokyo. Mountains and hills cover most of the land, leaving the majority of the population in the narrow coastal plains. The elevation of the land varies from sea level all the way to the top of Mt. Fuji at 12,388 feet. The mountains and thick forests contribute to the natural beauty of Japan. Most of the many steep, wild rivers that cross the surface cannot be navigated, but provide water for irrigation and hydroelectric power. And, many of the peaks are volcanoes; earthquakes and tsunami from quakes underwater or volcanic activity have caused much destruction every few years.

The four major islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Honshu is the largest, with most of the country’s population and the wonderful farming of the Kanto Plain. The climate of Japan varies with the warmth of the Japan current coming from the South Pacific and the cold of the Oyashio Current coming from the Arctic. Rain is abundant, but typhoons are common and destructive. As a land of coast after coast, it is not surprising that Japan has the world’s largest fishing industry. With the abundant rain comes the most important crop, rice. With a lack of flat land, the mountainsides are terraced; mulberry bushes that feed silk worms grow on the hillsides.



            In the 200s AD, Japan was ruled by warring clans, each headed by a chief. By the late 400s, Chinese influence began, with its system of writing and calculating the calendar. Buddhism came to Japan from China abut 550 AD. The Taika Reform of the 600s was an attempt by the Japanese imperial family to adopt the Chinese system of ruling. But, as the imperial family lost power, lords with their warriors called samurai really ruled the land, with the leading family at the time named shogun, or general, and really ruling Japan, but always in the name of the Emperor.

            Japan for centuries was left alone by potential conquerors because of its island location. Kublai Khan (Remember Genghis Khan and Alexander Nevsky?) tried twice to conquer Japan; each time his fleet was turned back, destroyed by a typhoon – called by the Japanese kamikaze, or divine wind. Marco Polo first told Europeans of this rich land; Christopher Columbus had Japan in mind when he set sail. In 1543, Portuguese sailors reached Japan. And, in 1549, a Spanish priest named Francis Xavier converted many Japanese to Roman Catholicism. But the Tokugawa shoguns were afraid of the influence of Christian missionaries and threw them out of Japan, killing any Japanese Christians who refused to give up their faith. The Tokugawas also cut political ties with the outside world in the 1630s. Thus things remained until about 1800. Into this world came St. Nicholas, Evangelizer of Japan.

            Finally, in 1853, the US, under Commodore Perry, sailed to Japan and concluded a treaty. Soon, other European nations had treaties, too. The shogunate came to an end and the Emperor reasserted his rights as ruler. But, as Japan grew more industrial, she became more imperialistic. In the late 1800s she attacked Russia and won Korea. By 1937, she attacked China and signed agreements with Nazi Germany. Most of eastern China was in Japanese hands by 1938. In 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The US entered World War II and by 1946, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan was defeated. Japan lost its territory on the mainland of Asia, including Korea, and many of its smaller Pacific islands.



            St. Nicholas, Evangelizer of Japan:

John Kasatkin was born almost 200 years ago in the land of Russia. John’s mother died when he was only five years old. John and his father were very poor, but John was smart and studied hard in school. In school, John heard about many lands far away – China and Japan. He wanted to tell the people of these lands about Jesus.

Then one day a note was put up on the bulletin at John’s school. The Russians in Japan were asking for a priest. John had finished his studies to be a priest. He first became a monk, and was given the name, Nicholas. Then he was ordained a priest. He was ready to go to Japan.

But, the samurai who ruled Japan hated all foreigners! They had their Shinto religion and did not want anyone talking about Jesus. One samurai appeared before Nicholas, angry at very thought that foreigners would come to change their beliefs. But Nicholas showed such love, the man could not hate him. Nicholas spent several years waiting, but while he waited he learned the language and customs of the Japanese people. Officially, Nicholas taught Russian to Japan’s future ministers and teachers. But, a few came to him in secret and learned about the Christian faith. Finally, Takuma Sawabe, the angry samurai, became Fr. Nicholas’s first convert. Many of these early believers including Sawabe were thrown in prison, just as the Romans had the earlier Christians. Not one of these Japanese Christians denied his faith.

Finally, the rulers allowed the Christian faith. Nicholas could print Bibles in the Japanese language and open churches and teach priests. Foreigners were still not allowed in most parts of Japan, but these new Japanese priests could tell the people all over the country about Jesus. Soon there were hundreds of Christians all over Japan. Nicholas opened schools, both for boys and girls. This was new for the Japanese; girls usually did not go to school. 

Nicholas became the first bishop of Japan. He built the beautiful Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo. He traveled all over Japan visiting Churches. He loved the Japanese people, so much so, that he stayed in Japan during the Russian-Japanese war, even though many of the Japanese rulers thought he was a spy! Nicholas died at the age of 76 in his beloved Japan and is called “Equal to the Apostles”.


            Cultural traditions:

Japanese food is centered around beautiful presentation and ceremony. The Japanese have perfected the art of tea service. Fish is the chief source of protein; thin slices of raw fish are called sashimi and rice topped with raw fish and sliced vegetables and wrapped in seaweed is called sushi. Bring some sushi to class to share. Meals are eaten at low tables with elaborate lacquerware or porcelain dishes. Rice is served at almost every meal, along with the ubiquitous soy sauce and various types of seaweed.

            Traditional Japanese dress is the kimono, a silk garment tied around the waist with a highly decorated sash called an obi. Wooden clogs and sandals complete the traditional outfit; all shoes are removed at the door.

            Japanese poetry is called haiku; can you write a haiku poem now? Calligraphy is also a favorite pastime. Sumo wrestling is a favorite sport.




                        Finland is located in Scandinavia, next to Russia and Sweden. Its capital is Helsinki. The terrain is notable for its variety – coastal lowlands with moderate climate due to the Gulf Stream, lake district in the center, and the upland tundra with its snow and midnight sun. Forests cover 2/3 of the land; plywood and paper are major products. Dairy farming in the lowlands and hydroelectric power are also major factors in the economy.



            The earliest people of Finland were the Lapps. They lived as nomadic hunters and still inhabit the northern tundra to this day. The ancestors of the modern Finns arrived from the areas of the Volga River and Ural Mountains in Russia. They formed loosely organized tribes living by hunting and fishing.

            Sweden conquered Finland in the 1100s and 1200s. Many Swedes settled there, Swedish was made the official language, and Roman Catholicism the official religion. To this day, Finnish and Swedish are official languages and Finns and Swedes make up the majority of the population. In 1540 the Swedish king proclaimed Lutheranism to be the state religion.

            In the 1500s to 1700s, Sweden and Russia fought many wars over possession of poor Finland, caught between them geographically. By 1809, Russia had conquered the country and organized it as a Grand Duchy with the Czar as overall Grand Duke. The duchy had self-rule. From this time came the Orthodox population of Finland. But, in 1899, Czar Nicholas II took away the self-rule and tried to force the Finnish people to accept the Russian language and culture. Finland stayed out of World War I and finally declared its independence at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. There were both Communist (Red) and non-Communist (White) political factions in Finland after the Russians were expelled, and it took a bloody civil war won by the Whites in 1918 to ensure a free Finland.

            Finland never officially entered World War II, but both Russia and Germany marched thru Finland and at times occupied parts of it. Towns and forests alike were burned by the retreating troops. At the end of the war, the Allies granted to the Russians the territory they had invaded.

The Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian church in Finland, even though it comprises a small percentage of the population (about 60,00 Orthodox Finnish)  There are Orthodox summer camps and even special religion classes in the public schools.


            Cultural traditions:

            Finland has a rich folk culture. In 1835, a country doctor named Elias Lonnrot published a collection of Finnish peasant poems and chants called the “Kalevala.” This work inspired the music of Jean Sibelius (Listen to some of his music in class?) and the poetry of Longfellow was patterned after the Kalevala.

            Finnish food is strongly influenced by the sea and the dairy industry. Look for strong-flavored cheeses and a multitude of seafood options. Especially interesting, and shared with Sweden and Denmark, is the Smorgasbord, with a variety of breads, cheeses, seafood, toppings to be chosen and sampled. Make your own class Smorgasbord?


Quiz Questions:

  1. These are nations with a Orthodox minority, but a strong Orthodox presence. Compare and contrast with each other and with our own country.
  2. Compare the ministry of St. Nicholas with that of St. Innocent, St. Frumentius, St. Gregory of Armenia, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius. What made these men so special?