This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20 -- Feast of Saint Paraskevi

Paraskeve means preparation, and refers to Friday, the day before the Sabbath.   It refers to the day she was born, but might also be ready to die for God.  How's that for setting your kid up? 

hot oil spa treatment
Since a share of this post must be given to the Roman Emperor, Antoninus Pius, I thought I'd open with the nice things that his adopted son and successor Marcus Aurelius said about him the Meditations.  Having taken a second look at the section, I find it better to post a link here

Paraskevi was the long-awaited daughter of devout Christians, Agathon and Politia.  They had promised to raise their child (if they were granted one) to be a devout Christian, and they kept the promise.  Kind, well-educated, and beautiful, she caught the eye of many wealthy young bachelors, but declined all offers of marriage.  Usually, most of the virgin martyrs were denounced by spurned suitors, but not so this time.  Instead, she sold off her folks' estate upon their deaths and distributed most of the money to the poor, keeping enough to give to the common purse at an abbey.  After a few years of quiet life as a (proto-)nun, she got permission to evangelize, and of course that was the beginning of her end.

Antoninus Pius
The reign of Antoninus Pius was bracketed by general persecutions of the Christians.  Antoninus' predecessor, Hadrian, helped many of the faithful find their way to martyrdom.  His successor, Marcus Aurelius, also waged an unsuccessful and one-sided war of attrition against Christians.  Antoninus Pius, however, reigned during a period of unrivaled domestic and foreign tranquility. 

Yet even he couldn't ignore the unrestrained monotheistic proselytizing of folks like Paraskevi.  Such cases were treated most severely.  She was arrested, taken before the Emperor for judgment, and found... enchanting.  He cajoled her to give up her faith.  He offered her inducements to give up her faith.  Eventually, they say (though I don't believe it) he offered to marry her and give her half his empire to give up her faith.  She refused every time, of course. 

Frustrated, he told the guards to give her a good thrashing and bring her the following morning.  They beat her senseless, but by morning she was as fresh as if she'd spent a night at a spa.  Antoninus assumed the guards had failed to follow his orders and made himself clear -- beat the girl to a pulp.  They did, and yet again by morning she was fresh as a field of sweet clover.  Sensing something was up, Antoninus ordered the girl to be deep-fried in a cauldron of hot tar and oil. 

A shrine with offerings
Once immersed, she chuckled about how relaxing it was.  Angered, the Emperor went to inspect the oil, demanding to feel whether it was in fact hot.  She scooped a handful and splashed it in his face, scalding and blinding him.  He begged for healing, so she climbed out, gathered some water, and rinsed his face.  Immediately his sight was restored and he proclaimed himself a believer.  He accepted baptism and reversed orders to try even the most public Christians. 

After resuming her mission, she was arrested by a city prefect named Asclipius.  He ordered her thrown into a pit in which a large carnivorous snake was kept (some say dragon).  She kept the reptile at bay with the sign of the Cross, which made a believer out of Ascipius as well.

But everyone's luck runs out at some point.  The Roman Empire changed hands  -- Antoninus Pius went on to civic divinity and Marcus Aurelius came to the throne.  Busted a third time, the prefect Taracius tried the deep-frying thing again, and once again it was no worse for her than a hot oil spa treatment.  He followed up with having her beaten, placed under a large rock, and finally taken to the Temple of Apollo and shown the instruments.  At the Temple, she asked for a moment to pray with resulted in all the idols spontaneously bursting.  They'd had enough, so they dragged her out and cut her head off. 

Seems to me that starting with a beheading would have been the way to go.  Given the number of folks in the Empire, the coercion for apostasy was misguided.  Dictators in the Mid-East, Latin America, and China may not have all the answers, but they could have taught the Roman Emperors from Nero to Diocletian a thing or two about repression. 

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