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)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saints of Russia

Can the Church "make" a saint? The answer is no. Only God can do that. 
We glorify those whom God Himself has glorified, seeing in their lives true love 
for God and their neighbors. The Church merely recognizes that such a person 
has cooperated with God’s grace to the extent that his or her holiness is beyond doubt.  -Fr. Joseph Frawley [source]

Saints are an important part of Russian Orthodox culture!  As a follow up to my last post on the Romanov family -- yes, Tsar Nicholas II and his family are canonized as saints in the Orthodox Church.
For those of you not familiar with how it is that certain devout men, women, and children come to be called "saints" by the Orthodox Church today, here is a quick explanation...

Orthodox theologians classify the saints in six categories [source]:
  • The Apostles, who were the first ones to spread the message of the Incarnation of the Word of God and of salvation through Christ. 
  • The Prophets, because they predicted and prophesied the coming of the Messiah. 
  • The Martyrs, for sacrificing their lives and fearlessly confessing Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. 
  • The Fathers and Hierarchs of the Church, who excelled in explaining and in defending, by word and deed, the Christian faith. 
  • The Monastics, who lived in the desert and dedicated themselves to spiritual exercise, reaching, as far as possible, perfection in Christ. 
  • The Just, those who lived in the world, leading exemplary lives as clergy or laity with their families, becoming examples for imitation in society.
Tsar Nicholas and his family were glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in 1981 for martyrdom, but this was a hotly debated decision [source].
Tsar Nicholas, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, Alexi. [source]
Both within and outside of Russia there were those who claimed that Nicholas' reign was weak and prone to extravagance and indifference to the plight of Russia's needy. On the other hand, there was widespread popular devotion to Tsar Nicholas among those who claimed that he was called of God to lead his people at a difficult time in history and did so to the best of his abilities. The religious devotion and piety of the family is well documented and not seriously contested by anyone.

On August 14, 2000, after some 8 years of study, the council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church (inside Russia) voted unanimously to recognize Nicholas, Alexandra and their five children as saints. They were not named as martyrs, since their deaths did not result immediately from their Christian faith; instead, they were canonized as "passion bearers" (see the last category above).
The holy Passion Bearers.
Icon painted by the sisters of the New Tikhvin Monastery. [source]  
According to a statement by the Moscow synod, they were glorified as saints for the following reasons:
In the last Orthodox Russian monarch and members of his family we see people who sincerely strove to incarnate in their lives the commands of the Gospel. In the suffering borne by the Royal Family in prison with humility, patience, and meekness, and in their martyrs deaths in Yekaterinburg in the night of 17 July 1918 was revealed the light of the faith of Christ that conquers evil. [source]

There is a beautiful children's book about Orthodox saints that I'd like to highlight today -- A Child's Paradise of Saints, by Nun Nectaria McLess, with illustrations by Elen Stefarova.  It's available here.

Product description:
A treasury of saints for the young. Presented in a warm, informal style, suitable for reading aloud, here are stories of the struggles and triumphs of holy Fathers and Mothers from throughout the world. 15 exquisite watercolors by a Russian iconographer bring these beloved saints to life. Each saint story is 3-6 pages in length, taking 5-15 minutes to read aloud.  Ages 5 and up. (You can also hear an audio review here, from AFR).

There are several Russian saints in this book, including beloved St. Herman, a Russian monk and missionary who brought Orthodox Christianity to Alaska and the Aleuts!
St. Herman of Alaska, from
A Child's Paradise of Saints

Another Russian saint in the book is St. Xenia of St. Petersburg. Basically, the story of Xenia is that as a young woman she married an officer, who died suddenly while at a party.  Xenia mourned not only his sudden unexpected death, but the fact that her husband had not been able to go to Confession or receive Holy Communion before he died.  She was dreadfully worried about his soul.

Young Xenia disappeared from society for a long time.  When she returned, she had given away everything she owned (including her house) and was wearing her husband's old army uniform.  She also told everyone to call her by his name, "Andrei".

She went all over the city doing good deeds (many in secret) for others in her husband's name - hoping that her deeds and prayers would honor him in the eyes of God.
St. Xenia, from A Child's Paradise of Saints

Many people thought she was a bit crazy!  Xenia had become very holy and had many spiritual gifts, which were mostly unnoticed because people were so distracted by her strange dress and the fact that she had given away all her money and belongings, basically living a life of homelessness.

There is one story that St. Xenia would spend even the coldest winter nights in the Smolensky Cemetery. There was a church being built there, and she would secretly carry heavy bricks in the middle of the night, to stack them where they were needed the next day.

The workers wondered how the bricks got there, so one night they secretly kept watch.  Xenia finally appeared, climbing up and down the walls of the half-finished church with her loads of bricks!

My husband and I visited Smolensky Cemetery during our visit to St. Petersburg, and we saw the church that St. Xenia helped build...
I took this photo in the Smolensky Cemetery as I looked toward the church that
- according to tradition -  St. Xenia helped build.   
The azure colored church is at one end of the cemetery, and a pale green chapel built over St. Xenia's burial site and dedicated to her memory is at the other end.
St. Xenia's chapel
As we entered the Smolensky Cemetery, we felt as if we'd walked right into an icon of St. Xenia!
During the times of communism in Russia the faithful were not allowed access to the little chapel that was built over the site of Xenia's burial; so visitors wanting to come and pray would lean their heads against the outside of the chapel, or against the Soviet-built fence that was eventually put around the chapel.
Since then, the tradition has been preserved. We saw several worshippers going around the outside of the chapel praying, leaning their heads against or kissing the outside walls before entering the small sanctuary.

The church is restored beautifully inside and out - and many Orthodox Christians make pilgrimage there, to pray, light a candle, and ask St. Xenia for her intercessions. We were blessed to be among them.
I hope you've enjoyed coming along for some "armchair travel" with me to St. Petersburg, Russia!

Remember, today - May 30 - is your final chance to enter my MAY GIVEAWAYS. The Giveaways end at midnight tonight.

How to enter: Comments left HERE on this post (or on any of my "Russia blogs" posted between May 12 and May 30, 2013) will enter you for a chance to win one of the giveaways! Enter as many times as you like.

Winners announced: I'll pick three people who will each win one of my three "Matryoshka Madness"giveaways (three because I'm celebrating three years of blogging!)  I'll announce the winners tomorrow, May 31, 2013.  


  1. What an interesting post! And loved the part about St. Xenia. She was mentioned a few times in that book I told you about, The Winter Palace. I didnt know what her back story was though, very interesting!

    1. The Winter Palace will be on my summer reading list for sure! :)