St. Nina, Equal-to-the-Apostles

A homily by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco to the St. Nina Brotherhood

[Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Nina] was a relative of the Patriarch of Jerusalem and a niece of the Great-Martyr George the Victory-Bearer from the other side of her family. Since early childhood, she was burning with love for Christ and His Church. She felt grieved when she learned that there were certain nations to the north of Palestine (where she resided) not yet enlightened with the light of true faith, who didn’t know Christ and worshipped false gods. Praying to the Lord one day at the church in Jerusalem for those nations to be enlightened, she had a vision of the Mother of God Who bestowed her with a cross made from a grapevine and a scroll with sayings from the Holy Scripture, blessing her to go and proclaim the gospel. Twisting a lock of her hair around the cross, Nina went up north carrying this precious gift received from the Mother of God. As she passed Armenia, she stayed at a monastery headed by Abbess Gaiana for some time only to continue further on her trip north towards Georgia. Soon after she left the monastery, the nuns, numbering more than thirty, suffered martyrdom, while Nina was preserved by God’s Providence to continue on her apostolic path. When she arrived in Georgia, she at first led the life of a recluse, remaining unnoticed by the locals. One day, when they celebrated a feast in honor of one of their pagan gods, she went to pray to God, grieving deeply about their spiritual blindness. All of a sudden, a violent thunderstorm destroyed the idol, which fell to the earth and broke into pieces. The heathens, attributing its destruction to the strange newcomer, were going to kill her but she remained alive, protected by the hand of God.

As she continued to reside at a widow’s house, she healed a few sick people and the news of the healing spread throughout the area. The nation’s queen became ill at the time and Nina healed her as well. Many residents of Iberia believed in Christ and came to be baptized. Their queen was baptized, too. When St. Nina was still living in Jerusalem, she learned that according to the church tradition, the Robe of Christ woven by the Mother of God and won by casting lots by one of the soldiers at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, was later taken to Georgia. Since she was in Georgia, St. Nina wanted to find it; she found out that it was buried in the grave of the soldier’s sister but no one remembered exactly where. There was a large cypress tree encompassed by a brilliant light there. Nina thought that the Robe of the Lord could be located underneath, and after praying devoutly, she indeed uncovered it under the cypress tree.

The miracles and healings that took place at the Robe of the Lord gave further momentum to St. Nina’s preaching. She went to various parts of Iberia visiting the Orthodox people who arrived there from Greece, including the bishops and priests. St. Nina was vouchsafed to see the country of Iberia enlightened by the light of Christ. Over the course of the next centuries, though subject to many attacks from nations hostile to Christianity, Georgia was able to protect the purity of the Orthodox faith. To this day, its people hold St. Nina in deep reverence as the enlightener of their country.

That’s how Nina, weak in body but strong in spirit, performed the great work of faith, enlightening the pagan people with the faith in Christ. She arrived there having nothing to call her own except for the cross, the scroll given her by the Mother of God, and the clothing she was wearing at the time. She was able to perform this deed using the power of her faith and unceasing prayer, working untiringly with Christ’s help, Who saw her love for Him and the purity of her heart. Possessing neither scholarly knowledge nor earthly treasures, she saved the whole nation from the gloom of false beliefs and delivered them to the Light of Truth.

[It serves as] an edifying example for the Christians of all generations of the power of strong faith and religious fervor. It is thus just that a brotherhood in her name to be founded here. There are many people today who don’t know Christ, who don’t live according to His teaching. We are in dire need of at least a fraction of St. Nina’s perseverance in prayer.

The Orthodox proclamation of the Gospel began in America one hundred and fifty years ago, in particular, with the enlightenment of the pagans of Alaska by Venerable Herman. In our days, it isn’t just the pagans who need to hear the good news, but to an even greater extent, those already baptized who call themselves Orthodox. If we compare our lives with the teaching of the Gospel, or even with the spiritually inadequate life in our Motherland during these recent times, oh, how far we have strayed from what every Christian needs! Despite having anything and everything in this life, we have steered away from living the godly life, that bastion of the strength of the Holy Rus’. We are often ashamed of being called Russians or using our real Russian names lest someone should think that we are the Russian Orthodox people. We swap our traditions steeped in the spirit of Orthodoxy not only for foreign ones but also to those hostile to Christianity. We build beautiful churches, but do we visit them diligently enough? They often stand empty even during the great feasts, and not because of necessity, but willfully so; moreover, some of those who call themselves Orthodox, falsely pretending to follow noble causes, organize themed parties on the eve of the feasts and the feast days designated by the Church for prayer and church services. Thereby the people get distracted from prayer, the most essential part of the Christian life, which allows a Christian to have a conversation with God.

When Christians come to pray to God during the major feasts, their spiritual power is recharged and it helps them to avoid and vanquish temptations. If we spend the feast days outside the church, and what’s even worse, if we attend parties and otherwise enjoy ourselves, we succumb to spiritual death and fall easy prey to all sorts of malice. It is particularly perilous for our young people who, faced with exclusively bad examples, will decidedly steer away from living their lives in Orthodox piety. That’s when the dreadful prophecy of the Holy Scripture will likely come true before our eyes, And I say to you that many will come from east and west … in the kingdom of heaven, but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness (Matthew 8:11-12). May it not happen! We rejoice when other nations join the Church of Christ but we also grieve for our people who have abandoned the faith despite being rightfully called a God-bearing nation and the keeper of the true Christian faith. May the pious life consistent with the Christian faith be renewed in our people again! The newly formed St. Nina Brotherhood is also called to work in this field, and may St. Nina as its patron saint strengthen its members with her prayers and lead by example.

May the blessing of the Lord be on the brotherhood and all of us!

From: Vladyka John. Enlightener of the Russian Church Abroad.
Moscow: Sretensky Monastery Publishing House, 2008.

St. John of Shanghai
Translation by Liubov Ambrose


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