Saint Paraskeva of the Balkans

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On Friday, October 14th the Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Paraskeva of Iasi, Romania.
Hundreds of thousands of faithful are heading to Iasi these days, to be there for the feast of Saint Paraskeva. This feast became a pilgrimage not only for the Romanians but also for other people from other parts of the world. People can venerate her relics every day, and they do it. However, when her feast day comes people from all over the place all go there to be with her. It is impressive to see the multitude of faithful staying in line to get to her reliquary, sometimes for 20, 30 or even 40 hours. They wait patiently whether it rains or it snows. Nothing discourages them. They have an aim: the get to her whom they love. When they are asked about her they speak of her as if she would be there in person. And she is because God makes her present. They all receive great blessings from God through the prayers of Saint Paraskeva. No one goes back home without being blessed.

I had the blessing of being there many times. I witnessed the devotion and the love of people for Saint Paraskeva year after year. As the feast of this great Saint is approaching I would like to invite you to participate in this celebration also.

Every year before the feast day the vestment Saint Paraskeva is wrapped in is changed. Parts if this vestment is given away to Churches or Monasteries as a precious gift. People venerate this vestment and receive great blessings. By the grace of God and due to the great generosity and love of one of the priests who serves at the Cathedral where the relics of Saint Paraskeva are, I was blessed with a whole vestment of Saint Paraskeva. Those who will attend the services on Thursday and Friday will have the blessing to venerate it as well.

The Pious Saint Paraskeva of the Balkans

Saint Parascheva was born in the village Epivat in Eastern Tracia, at the beginning of the XI-th century, in a family of Christian believers. By the age of 15, she dedicated herself to the monachal life. Currently, she is recognized mostly by the Orthodox Churches from Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Russia and Serbia.

Saint Parascheva’s relics were brought to Iasi in 1641, during the reign of the ruler Vasile Lupu, and they were placed in the Church of the Three Hierarchs (Trei Ierarhi Church). People also call her Saint Friday.

Saint Parascheva’s Dedication Day falls in the same day with the Feast of theMetropolitan Cathedral from Iasi. Her feast day has become in the past 15 years, an important Christian manifestation for the region of Moldavia. On this occasion about 1 million pilgrims arrive in Iasi, most of them waiting for hours in a line which covers 2-3 kilometers in order to reach the relics of the Saint and pray.

Generally, on the 12th of October the holly relics are brought out of the church and they are exposed on the esplanade of the Metropolitan Cathedral. Then, on the 13th of October, Her feast day, a procession is being organised on the streets nearby.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition there are three different saints known as St. Parascheva.

The first one was born in Rome, in the 2nd century, and is considered a healer and a protector of cattle and crops. She is commemorated on August the 8th. The second one was born in Iconia and she died during the reign of the emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century. Her feast day, October 27th, is observed mostly in Dalmatia. The third one, the one whose relics are sheltered in the metropolitan cathedral in Iasi, Romania, lived around the year 1000 A.D. and she is the best known and the most widely revered by Eastern Orthodox Christians. Variations of her name include St. Parascheva of Tirnovo, St. Parascheva the Serbian, St. Parascheva of Belgrade, St. Parascheva the New, St. Parascheva the Young, and St. Parascheva of the Balkans.

St. Parascheva was born at the beginning of the 11th century A.D. into a wealthy, noble, and pious Christian family in the town of Epivat (now in Turkey) on the shores of the Marmara Sea. At the age of ten, while attending the liturgy in the “Church of the Holy Theotokos”, she heard the words, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me.” The words of the Lord had a profound effect on the young girl, and they became the subject of her meditations. The future St. Parascheva began to dress poor people in her expensive clothes – her good deeds later earning her recognition as a patron saint of such trades as spinning, sewing, weaving, and knitting – but her parents objected, finding the girl’s charity more than they could understand or support, and trying to get her to stop. To follow her calling, Parascheva abandoned her wealth and privileges, left her parents, and ran away to Constantinople. There, near relics of saints, she spent her time in prayer, meditating on the words of Christ.

To elude her parents, who were traveling from city to city trying to find her, she moved to Chalcedon, and then to the “Church of the Most Holy Theotokos”, in Heraclea Pontica, near the Black Sea. She spent the next five years there, living an austere life of continuous prayer and devotion. During her prayers she received visions of the Holy Virgin Mary and in one of the visions, she was instructed to go to Jerusalem. After spending some time in the city, she joined a convent in the Jordanian desert. A few years later, she returned to Constantinople and then, at the age of twenty-five, moved to the village of Katikratia where, at the “Church of the Holy Apostles”, she lived the remaining two years of her life.

Legend has it that many years later an old sinner was buried near her grave. Parascheva appeared in a dream to a local monk, showed him the place of her burial, and asked him to “take that stinky corpse away from me. I am light and sun, and I cannot bear to have near me darkness and stench.“ The monk, with some local help, began to dig out the place he had seen in his dream and when they found the remains of the Saint, her uncorrupted body was emitting spiritual fragrances. Then they interred the Saint in the “Church of the Holy Apostles”, where she had spent the last years of her earthly existence.

Later on her relics were moved to Tirnovo, in Bulgaria, then to Belgrade, in Serbia, and finally to Constantinople. In 1641, they were given as a gift to the Prince of Moldavia, Vasile Lupu, in recognition of his support for the Ecumenical Patriarchy of Constantinople. Her intact relics have remained in Iasi ever since. She is venerated as the Protector of Iasi and all of Moldavia and each year, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox faithful and hierarchs from many countries gather in Iasi to celebrate her feast day and venerate her holy relics, which continue to work miracles.