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