Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5 (Epistle of the Feast of St. Paraskevi)
Why study the lives of the saints? There are so many. They lived so long ago. Isn’t studying their lives just like religious trivia? That’s depends on the way we approach our study. One could probably list many reasons to study their lives, but there are two reasons that jump out at me. One reason is the historical context of our faith. There have been saints in every century and their witness for Christ has allowed the faith to survive and to thrive for two thousand years.
For instance, there are various saints in Russia in the 20th century whose witness for Christ allowed the Church to survive there during decades of Communist oppression. However, the saints of the early centuries, though we are far removed from them, are also important. Without their contribution, we wouldn’t have our church today—they persevered through earlier centuries of persecution. More importantly, we study the lives of the saints for inspiration. We build faith through experience—our own experience and the experience of others.
Have you ever had the experience of trusting someone you don’t know? We all have—we have all had the experience of meeting a new doctor and trusting him or her with our health. Why would we trust a doctor we don’t know with our health? Either because someone referred us to the doctor—they are vouching for the doctor’s competence. Or because we’ve had our own experience with good doctors, even ones that we don’t know well, which allows us to trust other doctors that we don’t know well.
Reading about the lives of the saints gives us encouragement to be like them. Let’s take a pause and think about baseball for a minute. Anyone who is a baseball fan knows who Babe Ruth is. He lived in the 1920s, before just about all of us were alive. He was a prodigious home run hitter. He helped shape the modern game. Without him, we probably wouldn’t have the game we have today. Many kids want to be just like him, even though they never saw him play. It’s the same way with the saints. We recognize people who are pillars of Christianity, without whose contribution we wouldn’t have the church we have today. And we then want to emulate their example, even though we didn’t personally know them.
Today’s saint, Paraskevi, lived in the second century, during a time when Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. She was born to wealthy Christian parents who desperately wanted a child. When their prayer was answered, they named their daughter “Paraskevi,” which is the Greek word for “Day of Preparation” or Friday (the day before the Jewish Sabbath). It was the day on which Christ was crucified, and they wanted to dedicate their daughter to him. She had a solid Christian upbringing.
When her parents died, Paraskevi was 20. She divested herself of all of her wealth by helping other people. News of an attractive young lady going from place to place and helping people with great generosity quickly reached the ears of the Roman authorities who were persecuting Christians. Captured by the Roman Emperor Antoninus, she was tortured so that she would renounce her faith. One of the tortures involved boiling her in hot oil and tar. She was unscathed. The emperor was so upset that he went to the vat to see what kind of sorcery Paraskevi was doing and he was blinded by the steam. Paraskevi healed his blindness (which is why she has become the patron saint of those with eye problems). The emperor released her. The next emperor, Marcus Aurelius, was not so kind to Paraskevi. He ordered her tortured and when the tortures didn’t work, he had her beheaded.
The Epistle lesson from the Galatians, which is read on her feastday, reminds us that before Christ came, there was a Law (Mosaic Law, based on the Ten Commandments) that guided God’s people. However, it also confined them. There was a lot to learn about the Law and people were frustrated just trying to learn it. When Christ came, the Law was summarized into two commandments—love God and love neighbor. And faith is based not on obedience and knowledge but on loving God, and loving others. Galatians 3:27 has become a hymn that is sung at every baptism, and at other liturgical services of the year: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” And, as the Epistle continues, if we have put on Christ, we are “no longer Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (3:28) Thus, each of us should have, as our priority, to do the work of Christ.
And what is that work? We receive that answer from the life of St. Paraskevi and two words that summarize her life—preparation and sight. We are spend our lives preparing for see Christ. Every day of our lives should be a “paraskevi”, a day of spiritual preparation. Every day should be a day of prayer and a day to do works of Christian love and charity. There are opportunities for charity at work and at home every day. Secondly, our life’s work is to see Christ with more and more spiritual clarity, and to help others do that as well. When we are actively sinning, we cannot see Christ. For we cannot see Christ and hurt Him (or others) at the same time. It’s like if we have an icon of Christ in our hand, we have to flip it over or put it in our pocket in order to sin, and when we sin, we are putting it away, instead of keeping it front and center. To see Christ clearly means to keep Him front and center in our minds and hearts so that our actions follow. When we spend our lives serving Him, we will see Him more clearly. He won’t be a mystery. We won’t have to have faith because of others, or have to trust without experience. We will have faith and trust in Him because of our own experience.
Your diligence corresponded to your name, Paraskevi, which denotes preparedness. Through faith you inherited the promised dwelling that was prepared for you, O prize-winning Martyr. Therefore you pour out cures and healings, and you intercede on behalf of our souls. (Apolytkion of St. Paraskevi, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make today a day of preparation to see Christ by spending time with Him in prayer and purposely and intentionally looking for opportunities to serve others. Saint Paraskevi didn’t set out to go and convert people to Christ. She set out to serve others. Her witness for Him is what has brought untold numbers of people to Christ. May we do the same!
St John the Baptist Greek Orthodox, Tampa, FL