This past weekend we commemorated one of the most beloved and revered Saints of Russia, whose veneration has spread now throughout the Orthodox world; the blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg. What is remarkable about her, is that she was one of those Holy fools for Christ, whose life and actions if experienced now in our own communities, would be considered totally insane, not anything to be associated with the ordered and richly adorned Church, let alone society. But if we dig a little into what makes a fool “Holy” we see that those like St. Xenia, profoundly reveals the richness of God’s love.
St. Xeina’s journey to sanctity has its start -so to speak- with her marriage to a rising star in the Russian Army, Andrew Petrov, and a life of privilege and status in their future. Yet as their marriage began to bloom it was shaken by the tragedy of Andrew’s sudden death with friends during an evening of drinking and games, without good-bye’s and without preparation of repentance.
Our blessed Xenias’ life was turned upside down in the grief of losing her beloved, and losing him in such a manner. She started to sell her estate, giving proceeds to the poor of St. Petersburg despite the protests of her family. She clothed herself in her husband’s uniform, and would only answer to his name. She would walk the streets of St. Petersburg, sleeping outside, labouring with others or in secret for others, rejecting the hospitality of those wanting to help her, or giving any charity received to others in greater need. She prophesied, and interceded for those who came to her seeking guidance and help; she prayed, and performed miracles, all on behalf of her departed husband. All she would ask is that they would turn to God, and say a Panikhida (memorial) for her departed beloved.
Strangely this devotion to her departed husband is something that is generally overshadowed by the many wonders she performed, and her proclamation of the Lord’s saving love. Certainly she is the patron of those in need, especially for those seeking homes and employment. But I would add to this that she is in many respects a patron of marriage.
In every marriage the love between husband and wife is generally manifested by the mutual offering of emotional and material support of the other. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the daily challenges of life (work, kids, chores, ect.) can strain a relationship and especially its love. In it all we tend to forget that husband and wife have been brought together in Christ. For each other’s salvation in a mystery and divine vocation, it reconciles in Christ, the amenity between men and women brought on by the sin of humanity’s fall. It is a union that reveals the Lord of Glory in one’s home; it reveals true love.
St. John the Theologian speaks catecorgily that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8), and that the love shared between husband and wife expresses this love in the mystery of marriage, as a reflection of Christ’s love for the Church (Eph. 5:21-33). The tragedy St. Xenia losing her husband indeed purified her love (Ps. 66:10) revealing the source of the love, the Lord.
This is the point; that all that our blessed Xenia did, was out of love for the salvation of her husband. Her wearing his uniform, answering only to his name, doing good works for his salvation, and asking for prayers for him, speak volumes to her love of Andrew Petrov. Perfected with the mercy of God.
The question is, whether husbands and wives can be like St. Xenia; prioritizing the sole purpose of marriage. The salvation of each other, in life and even in death. Are we poor for our spouse’s salvation, do we fast for our spouse’s salvation, do we pray for our spouse’s salvation, do we offer charity for our spouse’s salvation, and profoundly, are we humble for our spouse’s salvation?
Indeed, it is well and good that husbands and wives offer emotional and material support to the other, out of love. But those things which are seen, and valued by the world as being “sane” are ultimately transitory, limited by sin and eventually by death. The offering of a spouse to the other for their salvation in contrast, participates in the eternal and uncreated love of the Trinity, that not even death can tarnish or end. St. Xenia’s devotion of love for her husband’s salvation was in the eyes of the world very “insane”. Yet she has shown us the only thing that matters in marriage; the love of God. This might be the only thing that keeps a marriage “sane” in a very insane and broken world.
By the prayers of our beloved Mother Xenia, may our marriages be strengthened by the love of God, poured into our hearts by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and that our love for each other might be perfected and transformed from that of simple biology and sociology, to that which is of God, unending and eternal love revealed here and now, and in the Kingdom of Heaven.