Orthodox America

  Lives of the Saints - Martyr Parasceva and St. Petka-Paraskeva of Serbia

Looking at the Church's menology, we find three glorified saints by the name of Parasceva: a second-century martyr of Rome, especially venerated among the Greeks; a third-century martyr from Iconium, a favorite of Russians, who consider her the patron saint of traders and guardian of family happiness; and their name-sake, the eleventh-century Serbian ascetic, beloved particularly by her countrymen and also by Romanians, the keepers of her incorrupt relics. Here we give the lives of two of these renowned women saints.

Martyr Parasceva of Rome Commemorated July 26

Living in Rome, the devout Christian couple, Politea and Agathon, prayed fervently for a child.  When God blessed them with a daughter, they called her Parasceva, the Greek word for "Friday," the day she was born.  In addition to a good education, she received a thorough religious training. When her parents died, she gave away her goods to the poor and, following the example of the holy apostles, began walking about the countryside preaching the Gospel and converting many people to Christ.  This took considerable courage, because at that time Christians were being persecuted by both Jews and Romans.

With her learning and strong faith, Parasceva spoke persuasively and brought many people to forsake their pagan idols and commit themselves to the true God.  Her success as a missionary eventually brought her to the attention of the Emperor, Antoninus Pius.  He summoned Parasceva to the palace, and when, in spite of various threats and cajolings, she refused to denounce her faith in Jesus Christ, she was put to the most cruel tortures. Finally she was thrown into a vat of boiling oil and pitch.  Seeing her standing in the vat as though it were a bath of fresh water, the Emperor asked if she had employed some magic to cool the oil.  In response, Parasceva scooped up some of the boiling oil and tossed it towards the Emperor, telling him to test it himself. Some of the burning liquid splashed into his eyes and blinded them.  Screaming out in pain, the Emperor begged the servant of God to heal him. Parasceva called aloud upon the name of the Lord, and instantly the Emperor regained his sight.  This miracle moved Antoninus to put a stop to the persecution of Christians throughout the empire, and Parasceva resumed her preaching unhindered. Antoninus died in 161.  Under his successor, Marcus Aurelius, a plague broke out.  The Romans took it as a sign that their gods were angered by the soft treatment of the Christians, and another wave of persecution was unleashed against them.  Parasceva was heedless of any danger and continued her missionary labors, everywhere spreading the holy Gospel. In one city, the governor Asclepius threw her into a pit with a poisonous serpent, convinced the beast would kill her.  Instead, Paresceva made the sign of the Cross over the serpent and he stiffened and split in two, as if slain by a sword.  As a result, Asclepius and those with him came to believe in the true God.

Again at liberty, the Saint resumed her preaching. In one city, she was brought to trial before the ruler, Tarasios, and began telling him about Jesus Christ.  Tarasios subjected her to various tortures, but when he saw that nothing would persuade her to deny Christ, he ordered that the saint's head be cut off with a sword.  She received her martyr's wreath in about the year 180.  The martyr's holy remains were later taken to Constantinople, where they were venerated by the faithful. Saint Parasceva is venerated as a healer of the blind.

St. Petka-Paraskeva of Serbia Commemorated October 14

The beloved Serbian saint Paraskeva, more popularly called by her worldly name, Petka, or Petka-Paraskeva, was born in the town of Epibata on the shore of the Sea of Marmara, near the imperial city of Constantinople.  Her parents were faithful in fulfilling God's commandments and well-known for their charitable deeds.  By their prayers and example, Petka and her brother both decided at an early age to dedicate themselves wholly to Jesus Christ. Petka's brother received his parents' blessing to become a monk and he was later made a bishop.  Petka, like most girls of her time, was educated at home. Here she matured in her desire to imitate the saints and enter into their company in heaven.

In church one day, Petka heard the Gospel reading, If any man will follow Me, let him deny himself . . .  Christ's words so impressed themselves on her heart that on leaving the church she gave away her good dress to a poor woman on the street, exchanging it for the woman's rags.  She did this several times.  When she was scolded, she replied that she could not live otherwise.  To be a disciple of Christ meant to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only.

After her parents died, Petka went to Constantinople, a city full of churches with many relics and wonder-working icons.  There she met some zealous ascetics who instructed her in the spiritual life. Settling in an isolated place outside the city, she spent five years in concentrated prayer and fasting before making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she had long desired to venerate those places where our Saviour had lived and walked.  She did not return to Constantinople but, yearning to withdraw still further from the world and its distractions, she crossed the River Jordan into the wilderness.

Like St. Mary of Egypt, who had lived there four centuries earlier, St. Petka struggled hard to regain that likeness to God, which mankind lost when Adam fell.  She sustained her body with desert grasses, eating only after sunset.  Her spirit she nourished with prayer, her mind constantly on God, Who is mighty to save from faintheartedness and from tempest (Ps. 54:8).  As her body grew withered, her soul blossomed with virtues as befits a true bride of Christ.  In her were fulfilled the words of the Psalmist, And the King shall greatly desire thy beauty (Ps. 44:10).

Years passed, and Petka grew old.  One night she was praying as usual when an angel in the form of a radiant youth appeared to her and said, "Leave the wilderness and return to your native land, for there you are to leave your body on the earth and ascend with your soul to the Lord."  The Saint, discerning in this God's will, rejoiced that she was soon to part from the earthly temple of he body, although she was sorry to leave her desert solitude, for nothing so cleanses the soul and draws it near to its original likeness as the desert and silence.

Back in her native town of Epibata, St. Petka lived for another two years in asceticism before God called her into the next world, to join the choir of the righteous.  She was given a Christian burial, but as no one knew who she was or where she was from, she was buried in an unmarked grave.  It pleased God, however, to reveal the glory of His saint. Years after her repose, the body of a dead sailor washed ashore.  It had already begun to decay and give off a horrible stench before a stylite saint nearby detected it and asked the villagers to bury it. They unknowingly dug the grave right over the relics of St. Petka. That night, one of the grave-diggers, a pious man by the name of George, had a dream. He saw a queen seated on a throne, surrounded by a glorious company of soldiers.  One of them said to him, "George, why did you disdain the body of St. Petka and bury a stinking corpse with it? Make haste and transfer the body of the Saint to a worthy place, for God desires to glorify His servant on earth." Then St. Petka herself spoke: "George, dig up my relics at once. I can't bear the stench of that corpse."  And she told him who she was and that she was originally from Epibata.  That same night, a devout woman, Euphemia, had a similar dream.

On being told about these dreams the next morning, the villagers took lighted candles and went to the cemetery, where they dug down and discovered St. Petka's relics, fragrant and incorrupt. The relics were taken to the church of the Apostles Peter and Paul, where, by the prayers of the holy ascetic, many people were healed of various diseases and the blind received their sight.

Due to historical circumstances-the Crusades and the belligerent expansion of the Ottoman Empire -the relics of St. Petka-Paraskeva did not remain in Epibata.  They were transferred several times for safe-keeping before coming to rest, on October 14, 1641, in the Church of the Three Hierarchs in the Moldavian capital of Jassy, where they are venerated to this day. Water from St. Petka's spring in Belgrade has effected many cures for those who with faith call upon her intercession.