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Saint Juliana of Lazarevo (?-1604) was a married laywoman who spent her life as a homemaker, wife and mother in the Murom region of Russia. She was born during the reign of Tsar John IV (1530-1584), who went down in history as “Ivan the Terrible.” Her parents were God-fearing and well-off, as her father was a steward of a profitable estate that belonged to the royal house-hold, and they had several sons and daughters. But when Juliana was six years old, her mother died. She was put in the care of her godly grandmother, who continued the Orthodox Christian upbringing begun by her parents until her own death six years later, after which Juliana had to move in with an aunt and some cousins who were not very churchly and did not understand her strong spiritual bent. They criticized and ridiculed her for avoiding worldly distractions and keeping to herself in prayer and fasting so much. But Juliana bore their chiding and mockery with meekness, patience and respectfulness. Despite hardship and discouragement, Juliana did all she could to live out the twofold imperative of the Gospel: love of God and love of neighbor, embodied and exercised through habitual prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Juliana’s life took another turn when she was 16 years old. Her living faith, charitable nature and concern for others attracted the attention of a local nobleman, who owned an estate that included the village of Lazarevo, and he married her. In time, they started a family and had seven children: six sons and one daughter. Her parents-in-law were so impressed by her virtue, maturity, common sense and modesty, they put her in charge of running the whole household. She ably managed the household and supervised the serfs on the estate with great kindness, dis-cretion, humaneness and personal humility. Despite the ever-present demands and heavy work-load of her domestic duties, Juliana never neglected her spirituality. She always made time for praying, fasting, giving alms and doing good deeds. She usually ate only once a day, giving much of her food away to the hungry. She often went without sleep, spending those extra hours either in prayerful vigil or busily spinning, weaving, sewing and embroidering. This handiwork either went toward clothing the poor or being sold for profit, all the proceeds going straight to charity. Juliana also welcomed orphans, widows and beggars into her own home, waiting on them herself with maternal affection.

SAINT JULIANA OF LAZAREVO | 2 Juliana lived through several famines and epidemics that hit Russia during her lifetime. Yet even in such dire straits, she did not put her own survival and security over the well-being of her fellow human beings. When hunger struck, she always deprived herself and gave generously to those who were starving, even though food and money were in short supply. When contagious disease spread like wildfire, she did not shun others for fear of her own health and safety, but risked infection by secretly visiting the sick, bathing them with her own hands, nursing them and praying for their recovery. When victims of these natural disasters died, she made sure they had a decent burial by making funeral arrangements for them, covering the expenses, offering memorial services in church and remembering them in her own prayers. During the infamous and tragic “Time of Troubles” — when Russia fell prey to widespread crop failures, famines, epi-demics, civil strife and foreign invasion all at once — a rather destitute Juliana staved off starva-tion by making bread for her family, serfs and neighbors from tree bark, for want of any other ingredients, since she had given the rest of her reserves away. Surprisingly, this unusual im-provisation gained a reputation for its unexpected sweetness, and hungry people came from miles around to get loaves of it. Its inexplicably appetizing taste mystified those who ate it, but her children knew her secret. It was a miracle: the bread was made sweet by the grace of Juliana’s prayerfulness and holiness.

Juliana’s spiritual life was not without its trials and tribulations. Bitter infighting among her children and serfs often forced her to soothe tempers and smooth things over to restore har-mony in her household, in the face of great hostility and conflict. Two of her sons died tragic deaths — one fell in military service, the other was murdered. On more than one occasion, she experienced horrific visions of demons threatening her with bodily harm in an attempt to dis-suade her from her spiritual and charitable pursuits. Yet she persevered through the power of strong faith, fervent prayer and utter reliance on God. And God rewarded her for that persever-ance: during her lifetime, she was blessed with two visionary visitations from Saint Nicholas of Myra and a supernatural summons from an icon of the Virgin Birthgiver of God, both of whom she loved and held in particularly high veneration. These extraordinary otherworldly experi-ences strengthened her resolve and gave her the fortitude she needed to overcome hurdles and stumbling blocks placed in the path of her salvation.

After the death of her two sons, a distraught Juliana wanted to retire to a monastery and end her days as a nun. But her husband persuaded her to remain “in the world” and continue tending to his home and his family. As a compromise, they agreed to live a chaste marriage, without any further physical intimacy. During this period of her life, she stepped up her efforts at prayer and asceticism. She gave up her conjugal bed for an uncomfortable roost atop the stove, with fire-wood for her mattress and pillow. (Russian houses of the time featured huge built-in, furnace-like stoves that accommodated cooking, baking and heating, with plenty of surface area on which people could lie down or sit for warmth.) While still keeping up with her domestic duties and occupying herself with her handiwork for the benefit of others, she spent longer hours in prayer and vigil. She became an unceasing practitioner of the Jesus Prayer, which evidently en-tered into the rhythm of her breathing and her heartbeat: her grown children reported witness-ing her lips moving and her fingers manipulating the knots of her prayer rope even while she slept.

SAINT JULIANA OF LAZAREVO | 3 After ten years of their arrangement, Juliana’s loving, faithful and understanding husband fell asleep in the Lord. She distributed her portion of the inheritance he left to the poor and hon-ored his death with a multitude of prayers, church services, alms and free meals for the needy. Alone now, she withdrew from worldly interests and affairs even more intently, seeking to keep better watch over her soul and imitate the holy women of ancient times. She went to church everyday, prayed profusely, fasted intensely and gave so much to charity, she often had to bor-row money from her children to distribute alms! Whatever they gave her for her own upkeep went directly through her hands to the poor and needy. As time went by, she grew older and poorer in the extreme, but she never complained nor bemoaned her lot. To the contrary, she grew even more cheerful, joyous and full of life instead — much more so than she had ever been in her earlier years!
Eventually, Juliana fell ill and was confined to bed. As she felt her end drawing near, she called for her parish presbyter, confessed and communed, gave her final instructions to her gathered family and kissed them farewell. She made the sign of the Cross and breathed her last, dying the death of a righteous woman. Everyone who was present saw a golden halo shining around her head; and while her body was laid out for the funeral vigil, it shone with an unearthly light and gave off a pleasant perfumed fragrance. Marveling at these signs of God’s favor, her family members put Juliana in an oak coffin and buried her next to her husband alongside the walls of Saint Lazarus Church in Lazarevo in 1604.
In 1615, eleven years after the repose of Juliana, further evidence of God’s favor emerged. In the process of preparing for the burial of one of her sons, Juliana’s grave became uncovered. Her body was found to be free from decomposition and corruption, and her coffin was full of thick, oily fragrant myrrh. This myrrh proved to be a healing balm for those who anointed themselves with it in faith, and soil from her burial site applied to the sick and the injured also brought re-lief and recovery. Even in death, this remarkable woman of charity and practitioner of the Gos-pel was still giving gifts of God’s grace to those in need and tending to those who were suffering, just as she had done while she was alive on earth. Both her life and her death embodied the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Saint Juliana of Lazarevo stands as an important example for Orthodox Christians today, espe-cially among the laity. She breaks down stereotypes that can muddy our thinking about salva-tion and sanctity and inhibit our reach for them. So many examples of saintliness that we right-fully venerate, admire and ponder nonetheless can seem far removed from our everyday experi-ence: heroic martyrs, miracle-working hermits, faith-defending bishops, globe-trotting mission-aries, God-fearing rulers who were grand patrons of the Church and Christian civilization. But Saint Juliana was none of these: she found salvation, sanctification and divine life simply as a married laywoman who lived her life “in the world” as “just” a homemaker, a wife and a mother. She is, simply put, “one of us.” And she is living (and everliving!) proof that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ really does “work,” even in the most mundane, ordinary and “everyday” of situations, circumstances and lives — but only if we open ourselves to it, allow it to do so and let it transform our existence: whatever we may be, wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

SAINT JULIANA OF LAZAREVO | 4 The Church remembers Saint Juliana of Lazarevo every year on January 2. One of the hymns she sings in her memory and honor (the troparion for Saint Juliana of Lazarevo, in the fourth tone) beautifully sums up the content and meaning of her moving story and righteous life:

Your righteous deeds revealed to the world
an image of the perfect servant of the Lord.
Your fasting, vigil and prayers
inspired you in your evangelical life
of feeding the hungry and caring for the poor,
of nursing the sick and giving strength to the weak.
Now, holy Juliana, you stand at Christ the Master’s right hand,
interceding for our souls!
God is wondrous in His saints! Saint Juliana of Lazarevo, pray to God for us!

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