In these fast-changing times, our values are in flux, and even the most basic questions can create confusion. For example, parents and educators often wrestle with this one from their children: "Why am I studying? Why am I poring over these textbooks, solving problems, and writing essays? What is the meaning of all this?" To answer, we emphasise the benefits of a good education, such as the prospect of career growth, personal advancement and wealth that good education can bring. Yet, right when we think that we have convinced our offspring, he shoots back at us with a seemingly irrefutable counter-argument: "But I know many people who never went to university but are happier, richer and better off than those who did!”
In the first week of June, we commemorate Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk, an Orthodox saint and enlightener. She lived more than eight centuries ago, but her life can enrich our argument with numerous ideas on the value of education from a Christian perspective.
She was one of the best-educated people of her time. She read the works of the church fathers in Greek and Latin and was well versed in the writings of Byzantine philosophers and scholars. She was of noble lineage and also intelligent and beautiful. She could expect scores of royals from across the world to line up at her door to offer her a hand in marriage. But she preferred the life of a bride of Christ to the good fortunes of a royal.
By today’s standards, her choice looks different from the one a successful woman would make. But her example cautions us not to equate success with its external manifestations. It teaches us to think for the long term and not expect immediate results from all of our choices.
Saint Euphrosyne was only twelve when she came to the mother superior of the Polotsk monastery and asked to be tonsured as a nun. At first, the Hegumeness refused. She was afraid that Euphrosyne was too young, and she anticipated her father's wrath. But Euphrosyne convinced her of the seriousness of her decision. She said, “In this world, all visible things are beautiful and pleasing to the eye, but inevitably they will wither like flowers and fade away like dreams. But the eternal things will remain. I pray you will reconsider, out of reverence to the Lord, the master of all things, and let me spend the rest of my communing with those of the angels." How many well-educated people of today could reason with the same depth and maturity as this twelve-year-old girl? Education teaches us wisdom and helps us understand our purpose in life.
For Euphrosyne, the purpose of education was more than wisdom. It was to become a better servant of God and others. As a tonsured nun, she copied books and distributed her earnings to the poor. She established two monasteries that became centres of literacy, arts and religious enlightenment for the nearby lands and beyond. As a Hegumeness, she ordered a series of church murals with depictions of the most well-known biblical stories. That way, she contributed to the spread of the faith in Christ when Pagan influences were still strong. She became a prominent figure in church history, and also the secular history of Belarus and Russia.
St Euphrosyne spent her life in fasting, prayer and unceasing work. With her example, she showed how education helps us understand God's providence for ourselves and the world, appreciate His wisdom and love, and learn to put our trust in Him.
Saint Euphrosyne is a beloved saint of Saint Elisabeth Convent. She is the guardian angel of our Hegumeness, Mother Euphrosyne and the patron saint of the school "Ichthys" based at the Convent. We pray that all of our students will take the same attitude to learning and will be as thirsty for knowledge as she was. We hope that they will appreciate the beauty of God’s creation and the wisdom of His providence and see the world as His temple.
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