Bartholomew dreaded other boys finding out he couldn't read. He often prayed secretly about it: "O Lord, help me to understand books."
Born in 1314, he was the son of a poor farming family who lived near a place called Radonezh, in the Russian countryside.
One day, he met an old man, hungry from travelling. Bartholomew took him back to his parents for a little soup and the old man asked him what he wanted most. Bartholomew said he wanted to be able to read. "Read aloud from the Bible," said the old man. "Read with confidence." After a few stumbles, the boy began to read more easily, beaming with pleasure.
When he grew up, he became a monk and was called Sergius. Like many monks, he got on well with animals. A bear took to visiting him. Sergius used to place a small slice of bread on a log and the bear would take it without harming the monk. Sometimes Sergius had no bread, and both of them would go hungry. Other times he gave his only slice to the bear.
One day, Dimitri, Prince of Moscow visited Sergius in the monastery in which he now lived. The huge army of a foreign tribe, known as the Tartars, was outside Moscow. Should Dimitri fight or surrender to save a battle? Sergius wasn't sure. Finally, he blessed the prince. "Go forward. God will help you," he said. Dimitri was victorious.
Later, Sergius was asked to be patriarch (or bishop) of Moscow. He refused, saying:"I've never worn gold." He lived in his monastery until his death in 1392. It was one of the last monasteries to remain open when the Communists came to power and opposed all religious activity.
Younger pupils might retell the story in picture-strip form. Older ones could investigate the art of icon-painting.
Develop a scheme in which students encourage younger pupils or siblings to read aloud with confidence.
The website of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain is at www.sourozh.org
The Greek Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain will answer teachers'
queries and help arrange school visits, tel: 020 7723 4787. It offers a comprehensive article about the Greek Orthodox in Britain at www.nostos.comchurch