Holy Mother Paraskevi was and remains a shining example for all mothers, teaching them with her life to hold fast to the right path and to place Christ above all else.
A homily by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania, given on the feast of Holy Mother Paraskevi at Divine Liturgy in the Church of St. Paraskevi in the city of Debar, Macedonia on October 27th in the year of Our Lord 2021
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today, my beloved, we are gathered together in this holy church with joy and gratitude to God, celebrating the memory of our Venerable Mother Paraskevi of Epivates, who was a saint from the monastic family. This famous saint is especially beloved by all Balkan peoples because, by God’s providence, her incorruptible relics blessed many places throughout the Balkans in the territories of the former Byzantine Empire. She first rested in her hometown, then her body was transferred to Constantinople, from there to Trnovo in Bulgaria, then again to Constantinople. During the Ottoman wars, her holy relics were taken to Belgrade and finally ended up in the Romanian city of Iași, where they remain intact to the present day, still performing many miracles.
Departing from the the vanities of the spiritual desert of this world, Saint Paraskevi went to the deserts of Jordan to become a nun, offering herself to Christ as a burnt offering. There she showed herself to be a great ascetic, constantly pushing herself towards ever greater ascetic struggles, both physical and spiritual. Of course, at the same time, she was careful to never neglect doing works of mercy. After all, mercy is the oil that burns in the human heart for the enlightenment and salvation of the soul, without which virginity and all other ascetic struggles are in vain, as we heard a little while ago in the Holy Gospel about the five foolish and the five wise virgins. Although they were all virgins, only those who unreservedly surrendered their hearts to their Bridegroom Christ and who had works of mercy, charity, and love for their neighbors would enter into the joy and glory of their Lord, the Kingdom of Heaven.
This venerable woman chose to perform many ascetic struggles throughout her life out of her great love for the Lord, and thus she became so famous that for over a thousand years her name has been celebrated and remembered with veneration and honor by innumerable faithful. We pray to her and she helps us. She is there for us in our misfortunes, troubles, and trials. Although she did not physically give birth to any children, in a way, we are all her spiritual children. We call her our Venerable Mother Paraskevi. She is a mother because she received motherhood as a gift and dutifully fulfilled her call to spiritual motherhood. To be born physically is something natural and relatively easy, but to be born spiritually implies great sacrifice and brave struggle. How much self-denial and dedication is needed to properly raise a spiritual child and establish them on a good path towards salvation so that they become a true person in Christ! Being in the likeness of Christ is our original purpose. Having been originally created in God’s image and likeness, man lost his image and likeness to his Creator after the Fall. Consequently, we must strive to regain it, raising ourselves up in the law of love, written in our hearts through baptism and the Holy Gospel.
The Divine Apostle Paul says that in Christ there is no longer male and female, but all are one in Him (cf. Galatians 3:28). Indeed, Saint Paraskevi was a woman according to her biological nature, but we see clearly that she was braver than thousands of men. She was victorious over herself, the passions, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, and became an advocate for all the faithful. How glorious is her name today, written in our hearts, through which we feel her maternal help! You all know that there isn’t a single city in our country that does not have a church dedicated to this venerable mother. Her veneration among the faithful is so strong, and her miracles innumerable. The faithful are always flocking to her as a mother, seeking her prayerful intercession before Christ. At the same time, she never leaves us, but is always ready to help us and bless us.
Therefore, let us pray to our beloved Mother Paraskevi to intercede for us, that we might become real Christians. Let us acquire the gift of spiritual parenthood, which bears fruit for eternal life. Both monks and married people should look up to the Venerable Paraskevi. Especially women who are mothers, as they are called to be spiritual athletes and unshakable pillars of Christian virtue. If we examine history, we will see that it is always women, the pillars of Christian families, who were the sources of strong and healthy communities and societies. Mothers, as educators in Christ, were the ones who instilled and nurtured the Gospel in their sons and daughters and inscribed the name of Christ in their hearts. Mothers have an enormous responsibility.
Holy Mother Paraskevi was and remains a shining example for all mothers, teaching them with her life to hold fast to the right path and to place Christ above all else. Unfortunately, few truly carry out this ideal, and this is why in our own time we have lost the most basic life values. All worthy principles, aspirations, and lofty ideas have Christianity as their foundation. Today all these things have been shaken to their very foundations because people have lost faith in Christ and do not live their lives according to Christian teachings. In order to return to true values that dignify and uplift mankind, it is necessary to crush our ego, that horrid, vicious beast that destroys all it comes into contact with, and from which all destructive passions arise. A selfish and cruel man is no longer a man in the ontological sense, but rather a miserable being who is enslaved by evil. Only a man who has taken on the likeness of Christ is a true man, Whose Nature is the fullness of being. This is demonstrated by countless saints, deified men and women, such as today’s saint, the Venerable Paraskevi. Let her life be a model for us that we can follow to conform our footsteps to those of Christ, as her Troparion tells us: “You followed the footsteps of Christ, your Chosen One, and you took up His gentle yoke from your youth, you armed yourself with the Cross against the enemies of the soul, with fasting, prayers, and tears, you quenched your passions, O glorious Paraskevi.”
May her prayers and motherly embrace be with us all! Amen!