Paraskeve the Righteous Martyr of Rome
St Paraskevi was born in Rome about 140 AD of Greek Christian parents. Her father, Agathon was rich and her mother, Politia, had many attributes, the greatest of which was her charitability. Agathon and Politia had been married for many years but they were childless. They prayed to God to bless them with a child which they would raise in a true Christian atmosphere. Their prayers were answered with the birth of a girl and because she was born on the sixth day of the week, they named her Paraskevi, the Greek word for Friday.
What impressed Paraskevi the most was not her parents’ guidance, but the Christian life which they led. Thus, she knew from a young age, the way of life she would one day lead. She obtained her education from secular books and from the Scriptures. She was also very knowledgeable in the field of philosophy. Bolstered by her Christian upbringing and philosophy, she often conversed with other women about Christianity, trying to strengthen their faith in this new religion.
Many noblemen wanted to marry this beautiful, educated and rich woman. Her understanding and kindness made her even more desirable, but having a higher goal in life, Paraskevi rejected any marriage proposals.
When she was 20 years old, both her parents died. Filled with the spirit of Christ and Christian ideals, she sold all her worldly goods and dispersed most of her money among the poor. The remainder was contributed to a community treasury which supported a home for young virgins and widows who had dedicated their lives to the teachings of Christianity. These women had, however, strayed far from the word of the Gospel and, therefore, Paraskevi remained in this home for many years and taught them the true meaning of Christianity.
This was not enough for her, however, and unprotected she went out to teach the way of Christ, knowing that death was waiting for her at the end of her journey. It was during this period that the Jews and Romans persecuted the new religion with the greatest intensity.
She left Rome at the age of 30 and began her holy mission, passing through many cities and villages. She was not caught immediately and put to death because Antonius Pius ruled Rome at this time, and he did not execute Christians without a trial. Instead, he protected them against the blind mania of the Jewish and Roman inhabitants. A Christian could only be brought to trial if a formal complaint were lodged against him by another citizen. However, at one time Antonius had to repeal this law because of the many disasters which had befallen Rome, and which were blamed on the Christians.
Eventually, Antonius heard of St Paraskevi’s holy mission. Upon her return to Rome, several Jews filed complaints about her and Antonius summoned her to his palace to question her. Attracted by her beauty and humility he tried with kind words to make her denounce her faith, even promising to marry her and make her an empress. Angered by her refusal he had a steel helmet, which fitted tightly around her head, lined with nails and placed on her head. It had no effect on the Saint and many who witnessed this miracle converted to Christianity. Hearing of this, Antonius had them put to death.
Thrown into prison, Paraskevi asked God to give her the strength to face the terror which awaited her. Antonius again continued the torture by having her hung by her hair and her hands and arms burned with torches. The Saint suffered greatly, but had the will not to submit to the pain. Antonius then prepared a large kettle of oil and tar, boiled the mixture and then had Paraskevi immersed in it. Miraculously she stood as if she were being cooled rather than burned. Angered, Antonius thought that she was using magic to keep the contents cool, but the Saint told him that he could test it. She took some of the boiling liquid and threw it in the Emperor’s face. It burned his eyes and blinded him. She stepped out of the kettle and went to Antonius, telling him that only the Christian God could cure him. Immediately, he regained his sight and humbled by the miracle he freed the Saint and ended all prosecution against the Christians throughout the Roman Empire.
Free now, Paraskevi went forth with greater zeal to accomplish her apostolic mission. As long as Antonius was alive she taught without fear, however the Emperor died at which time Marcus Aurelius came to power. During his reign a pestilence befell Rome and many people died. Once again the Christians were blamed. The Emperor was forced to change the laws dealing with “non-believers”.
Paraskevi was captured in a city which was ruled by a man called Asclipius. Refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods, she was thrown into a pit with a large snake. The Saint made the sign of the cross and the snake did not harm her. Asclipius, realising that a great and mighty power guarded Paraskevi, she was again set free to teach others about Christianity.
She soon arrived at the city in which she would meet her death. Taracius was the ruler here, and he summoned her to the palace for trial. As Antonius, he also ordered his soldiers to prepare a kettle filled with boiling oil and melted tar and the Saint was placed in it. Once again, nothing happened, and many of the onlookers converted to Christianity. Paraskevi was then tied and beaten and afterwards imprisoned and a huge rock placed on her chest. She prayed to Christ to help her be strong.
The next morning Paraskevi was taken willingly to the Temple of Apollo. Everyone praised Taracius, thinking that he had succeeded in breaking Paraskevi’s faith. However, upon entering the temple, the Saint raised her hand and made the sign of the cross. Suddenly, a loud noise was heard and all the idols in the temple were destroyed. The priests and idolaters dragged her from the altar, beat her, and pushed her out of the temple. The priests demanded that Taracius kill Paraskevi. She was convicted and condemned to death.
When the Saint was taken out of the city to be beheaded, she asked to be left alone for a few moments so that she might pray for the last time. Afterwards, the soldiers returned and executed the Saint. St Paraskevi is considered to be a healer of the blind, because of the miracle she performed in restoring the sight of Antonius Pius.
Dismissal Hymn (First Tone)
Appropriate to your calling, O Champion Paraskevi, you worshipped with the readiness your name bears. For an abode you obtained faith, which is your namesake. Wherefore, you pour forth healing and intercede for our souls.
Kontakion (Plagal of Fourth Tone)
O most majestic One, we have discovered your temple to be a spiritual clinic wherein all the faithful resoundingly honour you, O famed and venerable Martyr Paraskevi.