There are saints we know a great deal about. That’s especially true of modern saints like St. Innocent of Alaska or St. Maria of Paris. But there are saints who lived many centuries ago that we also know a lot about. These tend to be saints who were bishops or kings. Nevertheless, we know enough about them that we could write a proper modern biography.
There are saints that we know very little about. We might know their name, perhaps when and where they lived, or how they died. St. Phanourios is one such saint. He’s a popular saint, but we don’t know any more about him than can be gleaned from a single old icon that brought back his memory long after he had been forgotten.
And then there is the Uncondemning Monk.
What We Don’t Know about the Uncondemning Monk
We know that he was a monk. But we don’t know where he was a monk, or when. We remember him as the Uncondemning Monk because we don’t even know his name.
But we celebrate his memory every year on March 30, which is likely (but not certainly) the anniversary of his death.
And it’s his death that we remember him for.
In life, he was a terrible monk. He was lazy and undisciplined. He didn’t keep the fasts; he wasn’t much at prayer. His brother monks expected him to be taken from the monastery straight to Hell when he died.
And yet, as he lay dying, his face shone with joy.
His brother monks asked him why. He told them that he’d seen angels with a sheet of paper on which were listed all of his many sins. He told the angels, “God told us not to judge, so that we wouldn’t be judged. I have never judged anyone in my life, and I pray that God in his mercy won’t judge me.”
On hearing that, he said, the angels ripped the paper to shreds.
And the other monks thought about his words, and were filled with wonder.
That’s all we know about him. But it is enough.
St. Moses the Black: How a murderous highway robber became an icon of humility and self-control.
In this family, we don’t judge: What I’ve learned about judging others from the lives of the saints.
St. Dorotheos of Gaza on what God hates most: St. Dorotheos taught his brother monks by telling stories. Some of his best stories were from his discourse, “On Refusal to Judge Our Neighbor.”
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These delightfully diverse books provide disability representation (Elizabeth, one of the main characters, is an ambulatory wheelchair user). They also give Orthodox Christian children the rare opportunity to see themselves in books, and children who are not Orthodox the chance to see cultural practices they may not be familiar with.
FINALIST IN THE 2015 USA BEST BOOK AWARDS
Catherine doesn’t like vegetables. She doesn’t like naps. She doesn’t like it when her mom combs her hair. She loves hot dogs, chocolate cake, and her best friend, Elizabeth. Most of all, she loves Pascha! Pascha, the Orthodox Christian Easter, is celebrated in the middle of the night, with processions and candles and bells and singing. And Catherine insists that she’s not a bit sleepy.
The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
Shoes or stockings? Horse or sleigh? Does St. Nicholas visit on December 6 or on Christmas Eve? Will a little girl’s prayer be answered? When Elizabeth has to stay at Catherine’s house, she’s worried about her grandmother, and worried that St. Nicholas won’t find her. The grownups, though, are worried about snow.