Xenia of Petersburg, fool-for-Christ.

xeniaIt is easy to forget that our ways are not God’s ways, that there is usually a stark difference between what is popular and what is holy. God has given us some pretty unusual people to make that point clear through the example of their own lives.  They are known in the Orthodox Church as “Fools for Christ” who acted and spoke in ways that made them appear crazy in the eyes of many and went against the grain of their societies.  Through their unique witness, they called their neighbours to the life of a Kingdom not of this world.

If that seems strange, remember how St. Paul said that the cross of Christ is foolishness according to conventional human ways of thinking. (1 Cor. 1:18)  Recall how absurd it seemed to the Jews and the Gentiles to claim that the Son of God was born of a Virgin Mother, died on a cross, rose from the tomb, and ascended into heaven.  We often forget that even the most basic teachings of our faith seemed at first like nonsense to most people.

Today we commemorate Saint Xenia of St. Petersburg, Fool for Christ, who in the early 18th century in Russia became a widow when her husband, a military officer, died suddenly.  A young widow with no children, she gave away all her possessions to the poor and vanished from society for several years, devoting herself to spiritual struggle in monastic settings. When she returned to St. Petersburg, she took up the life of a homeless wanderer, wearing her late husband’s military uniform and answering only to his name Andrew.  She prayed alone at night in open fields, endured the extreme cold with inadequate clothing, lived among beggars, and suffered abuse from many for appearing insane. She secretly carried heavy stones at night to help with the building of a church and gave the alms she received to the poor.  But she embraced her struggles with patience, abandoning pride in all its forms and praying for the soul of her departed husband. In Xenia’s humility, God gave her great gifts of prayer and prophecy, and she foretold future events such as the death of a Russian empress.

During her lifetime, some recognized her holiness and sought out her blessing and guidance. After Xenia’s own death at age 71, her grave became a source of miracles with many people taking dirt, and even pieces of a stone slab, from it as a blessing.  (If it seems odd that a grave could be a source of blessing, recall how the bones of prophet Elisha brought a dead man back to life in 2 Kings 13:21.) St. Xenia is a well-known and much-loved saint whose prayers are sought especially for employment, housing, or finding a spouse.

Across the centuries, the Lord has raised up such unusual saints in order to shock us out of our complacency, in order to remind us that there is far more to becoming a partaker of the divine nature (2. Peter 1:14) than leading a conventionally respectable life.

Christ surely does not call us all to the rare ministry of a Fool for Christ like St. Xenia, but we may all learn from her example that the humility of embracing our constant need for mercy is at the heart of faithfulness to a Lord Whose Kingdom is not of this world.   There must be something of the holy fool in us all, if our eyes are to be opened to a truth that the world does not yet see.  So let us not be afraid to live accordingly and to be out of step with the conventional wisdom, for that is how we will follow Jesus through the folly of the cross to the glory of the empty tomb. For Christ’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of the world, and He is its salvation.

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • The people of St Petersburg.
  • Widows.
  • All who wander.
  • All who seek to lose the identity they were born with.
  • All who help others despite their own struggles.
  • All who give generously, seeking no praise.
  • All who make us uncomfortable.
  • All who make us think.

Geneviève of Paris – 3rd January

Geneviève  was a peasant girl born in Nanterre. On the deaths of her parents, she went to live with her godmother Lutetia in Paris. There the young woman became admired for her piety and devotion to works of charity, and practiced corporal austerities which included abstaining from meat and breaking her fast only twice in the week. “These mortifications she continued for over thirty years, till her ecclesiastical superiors thought it their duty to make her diminish her austerities.”

Geneviève had frequent visions of heavenly saints and angels. She reported her visions and prophecies, until her enemies conspired to drown her in a lake. Through the intervention of Germanus, their animosity was finally overcome. The Bishop of Paris appointed her to look after the welfare of the virgins dedicated to God, and by her instruction and example she led them to a high degree of sanctity.

Shortly before the attack of the Huns under Attila in 451 on Paris, Genevieve and Germanus’ archdeacon, persuaded the panic-stricken people of Paris not to flee but to pray. It is claimed that the intercession of Genevieve’s prayers caused Attila’s army to go to Orléans instead. During Childeric’s siege and blockade of Paris in 464, Geneviève passed through the siege lines in a boat to Troyes, bringing grain to the city. She also pleaded to Childeric for the welfare of prisoners-of-war, and met with a favorable response. Through her influence, Childeric and Clovis displayed unwonted clemency towards the citizens.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • all who trust in the power of prayer.
  • all with courage despite apparent powerlessness.
  • all who are faithful to their work in the face of criticism
  • all whose homes are under attack or siege.

St Seraphim of Sarov – 2nd January

 

After experiencing visions and miraculous healing as both a child and a young monk, Seraphim  began to withdraw into his “farther hermitage”—the forest wilderness about five km from Sarov Monastery. Wild animals—bears, rabbits, wolves, foxes and others—came to the hut of the ascetic. The elder of the Diveevo monastery, Matrona Plescheeva, witnessed how St. Seraphim fed a bear that had come to him out of his hand: “Seraphim’s face was particularly miraculous. It was joyous and bright, as that of an angel,” she described. While living in this little hermitage of his, Seraphim once suffered greatly at the hands of robbers. Although he was physically very strong and was holding an axe at the time, St. Seraphim did not resist them. In answer to their threats and their demands for money, he lay his axe down on the ground, crossed his arms on his chest and obediently gave himself up to them. They began to beat him on the head with the handle of his own axe. Blood began to pour out of his mouth and ears, and he fell unconscious. After that they began to hit him with a log, trampled him under foot, and dragged him along the ground. They stopped beating him only when they had decided that he had died. The only treasure which the robbers found in his cell was the icon of the Mother of God of Deep Emotion (Ymileniye), before which he always prayed. When, after some time, the robbers were caught and brought to justice, the holy monk interceded on their behalf before the judge. After the beating, Seraphim remained hunched over for the rest of his life.

Soon after this began the “pillar” period of the life of Seraphim, when he spent his days on a rock near his little hermitage, and nights in the thick of the forest. He prayed with his arms raised to heaven, almost without respite. This feat of his continued for a thousand days.

Because of a special vision of the Mother of God he was given toward the end of his life, St. Seraphim took upon himself the feat of becoming an elder. He began to admit everyone who came to him for advice and direction. Many thousands of people from all walks of life and conditions began to visit the elder now, who enriched them from his spiritual treasures, which he had acquired by many years of efforts. Everyone saw Seraphim as meek, joyful, pensively sincere. He greeted all with the words: “My joy! Christ is risen” To many he advised:

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”

No matter who came to him, Seraphim  bowed to the ground before all, and, in blessing, kissed their hands. He did not need the visitors to tell him about themselves, as he could see what each had on their soul.

One winters day, an follower of Seraphim, called Motovilov, was sitting on a stump in the woods.  Seraphim was squatting across from him and telling his pupil the meaning of a Christian life, explaining for what we Christians live on earth.

“It is necessary that the Holy Spirit enter our heart. Everything good that we do, that we do for Christ, is given to us by the Holy Spirit, but prayer most of all, which is always available to us,” he said.

“Father,” answered Motovilov, “how can I see the grace of the Holy Spirit? How can I know if He is with me or not?”

St. Seraphim began to give him examples from the lives of the saints and apostles, but Motovilov still did not understand. The elder then firmly took him by the shoulder and said to him, “We are both now, my dear fellow, in the Holy Spirit.” It was as if Motovilov’s eyes had been opened, for he saw that the face of the elder was brighter than the sun. In his heart Motovilov felt joy and peace, in his body a warmth as if it were summer, and a fragrance began to spread around them. Motovilov was terrified by the unusual change, but especially by the fact that Seraphim’s face shone like the sun. But St. Seraphim said to him, “Do not fear, dear fellow. You would not even be able to see me if you yourself were not in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Thank the Lord for His mercy toward us.”

INTERCEDING

On this day, lift before God:

  • all who seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • All who seek to live peaceably.
  • All who pray for healing.
  • All who have compassion.
  • All who lead others into the Christian life.

 

Catherine of Sienna

🙁 Oh, unfortunately nobody has helped us to tell Catherine’s story yet.
Could that be you?

In the meantime, this video can introduce you to her.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All involved in nursing.
  • All who see visions.
  • Women described as ‘outspoken’.
  • All who have difficult relationships with food.
  • All who live the religious life.