The yearly commemoration of Saint Paraskevi in Debar, always has a special festive atmosphere marked by a particular joy, and the hearts of the people of Debar are filled with tender affection at the Saint’s mysterious and grace-filled visitation. Their deep love and respect for the Saint are so great that it shines outwards, honoring her severe ascetic struggles and battles with the enemy of human souls — first in the harsh, sandy barrens of the Jordanian Desert and then in the no-less harsh deserts of this world. Driven by a love for the Heavenly Bridegroom that burned in her young soul, she despised everything that was her own, all the things the world could offer, all the pleasures and delights, so that she would delight only in the blessed, grace-filled presence of Him Who from the beginning had captured her heart. For His sake and with His name on her lips, she overcame all the snares of the demons, ascending to Heaven as one of its brightest stars. There, she bears witness to the Ineffable Light with her incredible brilliance and sends down her grace-filled help to all the faithful. Innumerable good works, unspeakable miracles, and unimaginable goodness still pour forth today from her powerful prayers and bold intercession before God. This is why the faithful will keep her memory sacred forever and her glory will never fade, neither here on earth nor above in our heavenly Homeland.
The Holy Church of Our Venerable Mother Paraskevi in Debar, led by the God-loving parish priest, Fr. Mile Angeloski, was truly a most beautiful and joyful sight today. What great joy filled our souls at the sight of the illuminated and decorated temple filled with so many faithful, silently pouring forth their prayers to the Saint accompanied by the sweet monastic singing of the sisters of Rajčica Monastery and sacred psalms. However, the crown of all this great festal beauty was the Saint’s holy relics, brought by the Sisterhood of the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos in Kičevo. Assuredly, our jubilations were a great joy to the Saint, who did not withhold her blessings but poured them forth abundantly on all those present. It was a particular joy that our celebrations were led by our beloved Elder, Bishop Partenij of Antania, who has such a great love for the Ascetic. He delivered a beautiful homily in her honor, pointing us to the example of her holy life and unashamed hope in God:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
Today, my beloved, with gratitude and our hearts thirsting for holiness, we celebrate the glorious memory of our Venerable Mother Paraskevi of Epivates, one of the countless multitude of Saints who fill the Kingdom of Heaven and pray for us with their powerful intercessions. The saints of God fill the Kingdom of God because they first fulfilled the Holy Gospel. They heard the words of the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and lived them out, becoming signposts pointing all people to the way to eternal blessedness.
Isn’t today’s saint whom we love and respect so much, the Venerable Paraskevi, a clear and bright signpost to us? What else does her wondrous life lead us to, if not to Christ? The very example of her life invites us to take up the gentle yoke of the One who says: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” What can we learn from this? About the many miracles He performed? About the thoughts, creations, healings, and resurrections wrought by the Divine One? Of course, all these things are His, but when He calls us to learn from Him, He does not point it out to us, but rather says: “for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls; for My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-29).
This means that He calls us to meekness and humility. Let’s patiently take up our own crosses and follow Him, the Only One Who can give true peace to the human soul. Only He can give us that fundamental, authentic peace that is not of this world. Peace is something that we all so desperately need. Consolation, peace, tranquility, and eternal life; these are the gifts that Christ’s gentle yoke gives us. If we have these, then we have purpose and a firm, unending hope with which to live our lives and deal with the problems, temptations, and challenges of everyday life. Unfortunately, we see that today hopelessness often prevails among a significant number of Christians. This hopelessness is something that should never be a characteristic of a believer in the true God.
There is an interesting story in the Patrologion that relates to what we are talking about. An Elder tells his monks how the devil opened a big market and sold all the beautiful things that can and cannot be found in this world. Often, he even gave many things away for free. People were amazed as to why he was giving all this away without any compensation. They asked him: “Devil, why do you offer us all this for free? Will you keep or earn something for yourself?” And he answered: “Nothing of what I give is important to me and I do not need any material compensation. However, there is something that will remain mine at the end, and which they will pay with because this alone can give me pleasure: hopelessness. I give people all kinds of pleasures, but in return, I fill them with despair. I instill hopelessness in them and thus make them my followers and in the end, I fill hell with all their souls.”
It doesn’t take much to see that this wicked demonic suggestion is very strong among Christians today. Why is this? There is no other reason except for the fact that we embrace the pleasures and comforts of this world with much more ease than we accept the One who calls us to peace and tranquility. While we are lukewarm at best, the Saints were uncompromising in their love for the Lord Jesus. Let’s look at just the example of Saint Paraskevi. She placed Christ above everything in her life. First, she gave away all her property to the poor and then set out to follow Christ. She gave herself over to many physical and spiritual struggles, fighting against her egoism, against indulgence and a lack of concern for the salvation of the soul. In the end, was she still plagued by these things when she died? Of course not. Just look at how glorious and celebrated her memory is. To this day, a thousand years after she lived on Earth, she loudly proclaims to us: “Behold, I left everything I had, I followed Christ, I put Him above all earthly cares and here I am with you today, in your distress and troubles.” It seems that there is no large city that does not have a church or chapel dedicated to her, where people go to pray to her. She hears their requests and heals them from their many miseries and temptations.
Beloved, let’s follow the example of our Venerable Mother Paraskevi’s life and walk firmly in the footsteps of our gentle Christ so that we can call ourselves His true disciples and be filled with hope, life, joy, and love. The mission of every Christian is to instill hope in the people around them, or as it is said in one particular prayer: Where there is hatred – to sow love, where there is condemnation – forgiveness, where there is discord – harmony, where there is despair – hope, where there is darkness – light, where there is mourning – joy. In a word, we are called to be imitators of Christ and thus lights to the world (cf. Matthew 5:14).
While they were still living on earth, the Saints who now fill Heaven came to a point where the humble Christ Himself came to live in them, and they ceased to live for themselves, as the Divine Paul says: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, they killed the old man who was decaying in false lusts and instead became filled with Christ. As a result, they began to live eternity from then on. This is the goal of our lives too. St. Paraskevi testifies to this truth with the freedom she has in God, which she acquired through an ascetic life of voluntary repudiation of passions and renouncing sin. With the freedom she obtained, she is constantly helping us and answering our prayers. Like the souls of all the saints, her soul is alive and with us even now.
So, my beloved, let us fill ourselves with hope in the merciful Christ, Who is everywhere present and fills all things, Who is our everything. Similarly, let us give Him the place He deserves, let us put Him above everything else in our lives if we want everything else to fall into place and to defeat every evil and temptation with His help.
May the prayers and blessing of our Holy Mother Paraskevi be with us all.
The glorious Paraskevi chose and called her child Slobodanka Ilkoska all the way from distant Slovenia, inspiring her with the desire to receive the blessing of being the patron of next year’s feast. She and her parents, Tanas and Zorica, will make an effort to celebrate the One who called and blessed their hearts in a worthy and prayerful way.