Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


A LENTEN BOOK recommendation for little ones: THE JESUS PRAYER AND ME, by Vasiliki Tsigas-Fotinis, illustrated by Joanne Dallis.  This book, written to reflect the spiritual reality of God's perpetual presence that children often times experience, is perfect for ages 5-8.  Children encounter the Lord in such simple ways.  We, too, need to refresh that encounter.  What better way than through the eyes and heart of a child of God and the "Jesus Prayer"?

Princess Ileana of Romania (read about
what happened to her crown, below)
Parents, if you are unfamiliar with the Jesus Prayer, below is a quote from an "Introduction to the Jesus Prayer", written by PRINCESS ILEANA OF ROMANIA.  She lived behind the Iron Curtain, ended up moving to the U.S., and eventually became a nun.  I'll get to that but first her words...

Princess Ileana took the name
Mother Alexandra when she
became Abbess of a women's
monastery in Ellwood City, PA

"The Prayer goes back to the New Testament and has had a long, traditional use.  The method of contemplation based upon the Holy Name is attributed to St. Simeon, called the New Theologian (949-1022).  When he was 14 years old, St. Simeon had a vision of heavenly light in which he seemed to be separated from his body. Amazed, and overcome with an overpowering joy, he felt a consuming humility, and cried, borrowing the Publican's prayer (Luke 18:13), 'Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me.'  Long after the vision had disappeared, the great joy returned to St. Simeon each time he repeated the prayer; and he taught his disciples to worship likewise.  The prayer evolved into its expanded form: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.'  In this guise it has come down to us from generation to generation of pious monks and laymen."

Princess Ileana was the youngest daughter of Ferdinand I of Romania and his consort Queen Marie (who was a grand daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria). During the Communist era in Romania, Ileana escaped with her husband and six children (who had been born to them within a 10-year period!) to Vienna, then Switzerland, and eventually Argentina.  In 1950, she sold her heirloom sapphire-and-diamond tiara in order to move with her children to the United States.  You can read her fascinating "Cinderella story in-reverse" here from this series of articles printed in the LADIES HOME JOURNAL, during 1951.

She begins the articles by describing her new life in Massachusetts and recalling what brought about her decision to sell her jeweled diadem in order to live in the United States and support her children.  Here's a short excerpt:
As a 1950's housewife in the U.S. doing laundry
(Ladies Home Journal)
"On one wall of my kitchen is a picture of Mamma in Romanian dress amongst her flowers. For the background of the picture stands Bran, our fairy castle upon a rock, where once I lived. On another wall I have an old icon of Christ, the symbol of that faith which has carried me through all my troubles, and has landed me here on my feet in New England, with the strength to live again.. Yes, to live again; because after I left home, which for me has always been Romania, I was as one dead. It was not that for a moment I doubted the physical necessity of my presence for my six children: my love for them was as strong and potent as ever. But inside, the 'me' that was me independently of the mother, the wife, the friend—the essential 'me' upon which all the rest is built—suffered a mortal shock when my life was severed from my people. So I had to start again, not only outwardly but especially inwardly. Getting down to brass tacks in my kitchen helped me greatly. The need to busy my hands quieted my mind. The effort to cope with simple things and to do them well helped me to overcome...'duty' had completely changed its face.  Lunch for six hungry children had to be served."

She opened two hospitals and was a
nurse in both Austria and Romania.
Near the end of the article, she recalls the Communist take-over of Romania. I shed tears reading her poignant account: "The service at the hospital over, I went to take a share of the eggs and gifts to the men who could not leave their beds. At this moment the general's aide told me that enemy planes were heading for Brasov. I prepared to remain inside the hospital, but the general refused his consent. I stepped out into the courtyard on my way to the dugouts on the hillside just as the first wave of planes was overhead, silver and beautiful against the blue sky. Then suddenly the air was rent by a tremendous sound. It was as if a huge, impersonal hand pushed me down flat on my face. I was roused by the shrieks of a woman whom I saw running downhill and away from safety, carrying a child in her arms. I scrambled to my feet and caught up with her. There was no time to argue even if she could have heard me, so I chose an easier way to stop her. I snatched the child from her arms and turned and ran up the hill, while she followed me, still screaming. We reached the dugouts and jumped into a trench just as the second wave of bombs fell. When the dust cleared a little I found myself surrounded by weeping women and terrified young girls. I was surprised that I felt no fear, and that I could repeat the 91st Psalm; slowly it calmed the others. It was then that my own self-control was most threatened, for I saw when I opened my eyes that on each side of me they had taken hold of my long head veil, and had spread it over their heads as if for protection; as if they were my children."

Ultimately, Princess Ileana's marriage did not survive the trauma of war and her family's exile and many moves.  After her children were grown, she left America and entered an Orthodox women's monastery in France.  She later moved back to the United States and founded the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA.  She took the name Mother Alexandra and served as Abbess there until her retirement in 1981, remaining at the monastery until her death in 1990, at the age of 82.

You might also enjoy this book, ROYAL MONASTIC, Princess Ileana of Romania, by Bev Cooke.  I love good princess stories, and Princess Ileana was the supreme example of what a real Princess should be.  As hardworking, kind, and selfless toward her people and country, she had the best qualities of some of my favorite princesses: Sara Crewe, Cinderella, and Queen Esther - with a little bit of Maria VonTrapp thrown in!  This is an amazing story of a Godly woman - better than a fairy tale!

Want to read more about the "Jesus Prayer"?  Look for THE WAY OF A PILGRIM - This classic work of Russian spirituality tells of an anonymous peasant's quest for the secret of prayer.  The Pilgrim searches high and low to know what St. Paul meant when he said that Christians should pray always.  Each new stop becomes a home for a moment for this happy wanderer who has only a knapsack and a few crusts of bread, but who finds goodness and plenty wherever he goes. 

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