Our venerable Mother Paraskeva the New lived as a monastic in the 11th century. She is beloved in Romania as Parascheva and in Serbia and Macedonia as Petka. 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 as a martyr during the reign of the emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century. Her feast day, October 27th, is observed mostly in Dalmatia.
However, the best known and the most widely revered by Eastern Orthodox Christians is the third one, St. Paraskeva the New (a.k.a. St. Paraskeva the Young), whose relics are sheltered in the metropolitan cathedral in Iași, Romania. Our Saint Paraskeva lived in the 11th century. Her feast day is celebrated on October 14. Saint Paraskeva the New was born into a wealthy and noble Christian family, in Epivat (in the province of Thrace, near Constantinople – now in Turkey), on the shores of the Marmara Sea. Her pious parents gave her and her older brother, Euthymius, a solid religious education, and raised them in the tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church.
One day, while Paraskeva was attending the Divine Liturgy with her mother in the “Church of the Holy Theotokos”, she heard the Lord’s words, “Whoever wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8, 34). These words pierced her heart like an arrow, and had a profound effect on her.
Thus, after a deep meditation, the young girl that was only ten years old, decided to give her rich clothes away to the poor. Thus, to the exasperation of her parents who found the girl’s charity more than they could understand or support, she began to dress poor people in her expensive clothes. As her parents objected and tried to get her to stop, to follow her calling, Paraskeva fled from home. She abandoned her wealth and privileges, left her parents, and ran away to Constantinople. One could imagine how much she was very impressed by the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, a city full of churches with many relics and wonder-working icons. There she met some zealous ascetics who in-structed her in the spiritual life. Thus, near relics of saints, she spent her time in prayer and meditating on the words of Christ.
To find their daughter, the parents began to travel from city to city. Paraskeve succeded in eluding them, by moving to Chalcedon, and then to Heraclea Pontica, near the Black Sea, where she settled at to the church of the Most Holy Theotokos. There she spent five years living an austere life of continuous prayer and devotion. When her parents died, she sold her properties and gave the money to the poor. Thus, she gave up the world for the “desert”, dedicating her life entirely to God through prayer and fasting, while she was still young in years. Her older brother Euthymius became a monk, and later he was consecrated as Bishop of Matidia.
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”, where she lived the remaining two years of her life.
Then she made 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. She undertook ascetic struggles in the desert of Jordan. There she lived the ascetic life until she reached the age of twenty-five. An angel of the Lord ordered her to return to her homeland, saying: “Leave the wilderness and return to your homeland; it is necessary that you render your body to the earth there, and your soul to the habitation of the Lord.” St. Paraskeve obeyed, and returned to Epivat in the village of Katikratia where she lived for two years in ceaseless fasting and prayer.
St. Paraskeva departed to the Lord at the age of twentyseven, and was buried near the sea. 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. Paraskeva. 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. Paraskeva 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. Paraskeva 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 Epivat. 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. Paraskeva’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. She remained there for about 175 years.
St Paraskeva’s relics were moved to Trnovo, Bulgaria in 1238 and placed in the cathedral. Patriarch Euthymius wrote her Life and established the day of her commemoration as October 14. The Turks occupied Bulgaria in 1391, and her relics were given to Mircea the Elder, Prince of the Wallachia (one of the former principalities of nowadays Romania) which, unlike Bulgaria, was not under the turks. In 1393 the relics were given to Princess Angelina of Serbia (July 30), who brought them to Belgrade in the Ružica Church. When Belgrade fell to Ottoman forces in 1521, the relics were translated to Constantinople and placed in the patriarchal cathedral.
In 1641, during the time of Patriarch Parthenius the Old of Constantinople (1639-1644), when the Patriarchate of Constantinople found itself in great financial need, the relics St. Paraskeva were given as a gift to the Prince of Moldavia, Vasile Lupu Voevod (1634-1653), in recognition of his financial support. The holy relics were lowered over the fortified wall of Phanar and were secretly transported to Iaşi (Jassy), the capital city of the Principality of Moldavia (Romania). On June 13, 1641, the relics arrived to Iaşi, and were settled in the Monastery of the Three Hierarchs where many healings took place.
On December 26, 1888, after being rescued from a fire, St. Paraskeva’s relics were placed in the Metropolitan Cathedral at Iaşi, where they remain until the present day. They can be venerated at any time, the Metropolitan Cathedral being usually open every day.
A severe drought in 1946-47 affected Moldavia, adding to the misery left by the war. Then, Metropolitan Justinian Marina took a courageous decision. In that period of Stalinist communism, when in Romania the Soviets were carrying the toughest anti-Christian persecution, Justinian innitiated the first procession featuring the coffin containing the relics of Saint Paraskeva.
The relics wended their way through the drought-deserted villages of eight Moldavian counties: Iaşi, Vaslui, Roman, Bacău, Putna, Neamţ, Baia and Botoşani. The offerings collected on this occasion were distributed, based on Metropolitan Justinian’s decisions, to orphans, widows, invalids, school cafeterias, churches under construction, and to monasteries in order to feed the sick and old or feeble monks.
Saint Paraskeva is venerated as the Protector of Iaşi and Iaşi and all Moldavia. Each year, on October 14, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox faithful and hierarchs from many countries gather in Iaşi to celebrate her feast day and to venerate her holy relics, which continue to work miracles. The line to venerate the relics can last for 12 hours and can be as long as 2.5 km (i. e. 1.553 mi).
Orthodox Romanians have placed many churches under the protection of the St. Paraskeva. Thus, in the metropolias, archdioceses and dioceses of the Romanian Patriarchate there are over 250 churches dedicated to St. Paraskeva. Let us pray the Venerable Paraskeva to intercede for us, sinners, to Our Lord Jesus Christ, saying with St. Nikolai Velimirovich: “By your prayers, help us in the misfortunes of life. Through the clouds of earthly sorrow bring us light, like a rainbow – O chaste virgin, most wonderful, Holy Mother Paraskeva!”
(Edited by Fr. Nicolai Buga)