Holy Blessed Xenia of Petersburg

Photo: rasfokus.ru Photo: rasfokus.ru Christian wisdom, supported also by Holy Scripture, says that a village won’t stand without a righteous person, nor a city without three. This saying reveals a well-known Gospel truth, that the saints and righteous ones are the salt of the earth, the meaning of its existence, and the fruit for the sake of which God continues the life of the world. Every Christian country, every people, every city is called to give birth to saints and righteous ones, who are the very foundation and source of God’s good will for that country, people, or city. For St. Petersburg, the leader of this host of righteous ones was Holy Blessed Xenia, the first to shine forth in holiness of life in that still young city, the northern capital of Imperial Russia.

Foolishness for Christ is one of the highest Christian ascetical labors, perhaps the highest of all. Why is that so? Because fools-for-Christs, fulfill God’s commandments more than all other ascetical laborers, namely those that no (or almost no) other Christians fulfill. After all, who can say that he fulfills Christ’s commandment, “Take no thought for tomorrow?” What Christian trusts God so much that he lives likes the birds of the air, having absolutely no care for his own needs—what he will eat, or drink, or where he will live? Only the greatest of saints have fulfilled this, such as Prophet Elias, or St. John the Forerunner, or a very few other great desert-dwellers. The majority of Christians throughout all times, of course, could not fulfill this commandment—or at best, fulfill it only to a small extent. For, all we do is care for tomorrow, for what we’ll eat, drink, and what clothes we will wear. People are afraid of obscurity; but in the words of one eldress, obscurity is nothing other than grace, faith, love, and joy…

Yet another commandment, which St. Xenia and great souls like her fulfilled unlike most other ascetics, is, “store up not treasure for yourselves on earth.” People constantly gather treasures for themselves on earth—they save money, possessions, are drawn to various pleasures, have their weaknesses and lusts—not necessarily even of a coarse and sensual nature. Someone, for example, is attached to books, films, music, theater, the acquisition of knowledge, or erudition. All these things are not directly sins, but nevertheless are part of gathering treasures on earth. Even strict ascetics and monks were not free of such gathering, for they had certain possessions: a cell, clothing, books, and other things. But fools-for-Christ have nothing, they do not gather any treasures for themselves on earth, imitating in this respect Christ Himself, Who was a stranger on this earth and had nowhere to lay His head.

Yet another commandment that we observe very poorly is: “Deny yourself, and take up your cross.” We are too attached to ourselves and therefore we deny ourselves and take up our cross only with great difficulty and for a short time. It is very hard for us to renounce our weaknesses and attachments for Christ’s sake. But the life of a blessed fool-for-Christ is uninterrupted self-denial and carrying of the cross. All the things by which people usually live—money, power, glory, and fleshly pleasures—they rejected, they laughed at it all. But these blessed ones walked the path of self-denial and renunciation of the world to the end. Even the most precious thing given to man for life on earth—his reason—they voluntarily renounced.

Reason for man is the same as the sun is for creation; with the help of reason a man sees and learns about the world, establishes his prosperity on earth, and acquires goods. But in their renunciation of the world the blessed ones as if do not want to use their reason, they renounce this priceless gift, this sun; they renounce it for the sake of the true Sun, the Sun of Righteousness, Christ. And this is sacred madness, the madness of love for God. The saints renounce the whole world and all that is in it in order to more strongly love Christ. If the world did not receive Christ, if with all its reason, wisdom, and culture, the world did not recognize Him but betrayed Him to crucifixion (and we must remember that it was the Romans who sentences Christ to death, and they were a nation of high intellect and culture), then I renounce this world who killed Christ, renounce it with its greatest treasure, its sun—human reason. I do not want this world, I do not want its truth and wisdom, but I seek only one truth—the truth of the crucified Christ.

Seeking the truth of the crucified Christ, the blessed ones crucified themselves and carried throughout their lives the truly great cross of labors, sorrows, and trials. It is difficult to even imagine what Blessed Xenia endure through those long years of her homeless life of wandering in Petersburg. The fierce and long northern frosts, hunger, sickness, mockery, insults, beatings… She drank this great cup of suffering to the dregs. In the Gospel it says that Christ overcame the world and that His faithful followers will likewise overcome the world. What does it mean to overcome the world? For a Christian, overcoming the world means preserving his love and unity with Christ, carrying this love through all sorrows, sufferings, and the darkness of this age, and not rarely through the open enmity and evil with which the world attacks, with truly diabolical evil. But this evil could not extinguish the flame of love for Christ. This is also how the fools-for-Christ overcame the world, carrying their love through sorrows and trials.

St. Silouan the Athonite said that the more love the soul has, the more it suffers. From these words is seen that true love for Christ is always tested, and the more the love, the more trials it undergoes. We do not have great sorrows because we love Christ little. But to those rare souls who are capable of loving Christ with great love, great trials are sent—but the saints are not overcome by them. Love is not extinguished but only burns the greater, and attains perfection. These souls can say with the apostle Paul, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?.. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35–39). So, this is what it means to overcome the world as a Christian…

On this path of Christ’s love that overcomes the world did Blessed Xenia walk. There were many great and glorious people in St. Petersburg in her day: excellent nobles, brilliant princes, famous generals, aristocrats, and ladies of the court. Beautifully brought up and educated, with impeccable manners and taste, these noble people shone like stars in the capital city’s skies. In their lives they were indulged and praised by all. But who now remembers their names? No one, with the possible exception of some scholars who might note some of them in the course of their research. But Holy Blessed Xenia was a poor, homeless wanderer, despised and rejected by all. People, society, and state took no notice of her, and when they did it was only to insult her, laugh at her, cause her offense, and increase her suffering. It would seem that if in her lifetime no one remembered her, then all the more would did they forget her after her death. But two hundred years later we see that Blessed Xenia is glorified by God in heaven and on earth, people pray to her, honor her, and build churches dedicated to her. Her name is glorious throughout all Russia, and far beyond its borders. And this would seem to be an impossible miracle if we forget what the Lord says in Holy Scripture: “I love those who love Me, and glorify those who glorify Me.” And, “The glory that Thou gavest Me did I give to them…” The Lord Himself glorifies the saints with His own glory—the glory that He Himself had. Therefore does Holy Blessed Xenia shine with eternal and undying glory—because she is not forgotten by God or by people.

And we, brothers and sisters, are also called to this eternal, timeless glory. And although we are far from the labors and perfection of the saints, we should nevertheless emulate them to the measure of our ability, we should walk the path that they walked—the path of self-denial and Christian love. And if we work and strive to live that way, then we will be vouchsafed with them that eternal heavenly glory, by which the Lord glorifies those who love Him. Amen.

Priest John Pavlov
Translation by OrthoChristian.com



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