Sveta Petka    


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.

Two centuries after her death (1238 A.D.), the Bulgarian emperor John Asen decided to move St. Petka's relics from Epivat, which then was under the Crusader's control, to Trnovo, the capital of Bulgaria. After the Turkish occupation of Bulgaria, the relics were moved again--this time to Vidim on the Danube (Vlaska). In 1396 when the Turks also conquered this area, the Serbian princess Milica acted to bring the holy relics to Belgrade. In 1417 the Church of St. Petka was built in Belgrade and her holy relics were placed there. In 1521 after the mighty Sulleyman II conquered Belgrade, St. Petka's remains, along with many Serbian families, were moved to Constantinople. There her remains were received with great respect and solemnity and the Sultan brought them to his castle. Numerous miracles occurred there, which caused the holy Mother Petka-Paraskeva also to be worshipped by Muslims. In 1641, with permission from Constantinople's patriarch Partenije I, the pious Moldavian ruler Vasilije Lupul brought St. Petka's remains to Moldavia's capital, Jash, where on 14/27 October they were placed in the church of the Three Holy Hierarchs, where St. Petka's holy relics continued to glorify the Lord with wonders and miracles.

Water from St. Petka's spring in Belgrade has effected many cures for those who with faith call upon her intercession.