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.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 24 -- Feast of Holy Mother Xenia of St. Petersburg

Xenia with army coat and bricks
Xenia is transliterated from a Greek word meaning guest, stranger and by extension, hospitality.  In the Hellenistic world, xenia was a recipriocal relationship.  Hosts provided food, drink, and a bath if necessary.  They did not ask questions or press guests until these needs were met.  The guests were polite, grateful, and careful not to burden their hosts.  Each was, in her own way, a living emblem of this Greek virtue. This year, the Russian.  Hopefully next year I will remember to write about the Roman. 

Holy Mother Xenia of St. Petersburg (Russia) 
Born in 1730, Xenia Grigoryevna Petrova was a young woman when she married Colonel Andrey Fyodorovich Petrov.  The wife of a military officer in the capital was not unduly hard, and though Andrey Fydorovich may have been at least occasionally inattentive, her life is clear evidence that she loved him.  His death following a night's alcohol-fueled carousing with fellow officers left her a twenty-six year old childless widow.  Oddly, her main concern seems to have been for the salvation of his soul, since he died, to draw from Hamlet, "unshriven... in a drunken stupor... engaged in an act that has no taste of salvation to it." (Act III, Scene III)

Moving bricks at night
She began to give away her property to the needy.  Her family went to court to have her declared incompetent, since plainly any competent person would not be generous to the point of their own detriment.  The judge disagreed and permitted her to continue giving alms until she herself was left with only her husband's uniform.

At that point, she took to the road.  Whether she entered a single convent or wandered from monastery to monastery is uncertain.  It is clear, however, that for eight years she was out of town, strengthening her religious convictions.  When she returned to St. Petersburg, she had become a complete Fool for Christ, i.e. one whose behavior causes derision among others, but whose sincere self-abnegation and focus on salvation is eventually recognized as holy labor.  When those who recognized her called her by name, she insisted that she be called Andrey (apparently because she was working to absolve his sins).  She lived on the streets of the poorest neighborhoods, but still gave away money and food that was given to her.  Eventually, her generosity to the poor was recognized, but she still had other good works she performed in secret.

Call me Andrey
Among the most famous was assistance on the construction of the church near the Smolensk Cemetery.  As the building rose higher, workers would spend more of their time and energy carrying bricks up the staging.  It was backbreaking work, and of course it slowed down the construction.  After a while, workers began noticing that their bricks were stacked up on the staging for them every morning.  They would use them and go home without moving more up, but there would always be bricks ready where they needed them in the morning.  Two workers hid in the graveyard one night and found Mother Xenia busily carrying them up.

After her death, her grave became a very popular site for pilgrimage.  Soil from the grave became a popular relic, so the sexton had to keep filling in the grave site.  To solve this problem, he laid a massive stone over the whole grave.  In time, the stone disappeared, chip by chip, as the pilgrims took small chunks as relics.  The Soviets had a better solution -- a ten-foot high fence all around so that no one could take soil, leave flowers, or venerate the saint.  Since the fall of a more famous wall and the end of the USSR, that wall too has come down.

Xenia made herself a stranger in her own city, and as with many strangers, she found the people hostile to her.  Yet eventually they accepted her.  Then they tried to support her.  Finally, they were inspired by her.  Did this not eventually become a good example of the hospitality relationship denoted by her name? 

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