by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
In early Rome, while Christianity was quite illegal, a pair of Christian parents gave birth to a little girl. They named her Paraskevi—the Greek word for Friday, because she was born on that day. The word, Paraskevi, also however means, Preparation. Her father was rich and her mother was beautifully charitable with everything they possessed. The Christian life her parents lived stirred up a desire in Paraskevi to love and serve Christ…wonderfully preparing her for the challenges that lay ahead.
She pursued a crucial education for herself in the secular books of her day, including philosophy and rhetoric. However, she also hungrily studied the bible. She made use of all this knowledge to strike up conversations with people, whereby she might strengthen their faith in this newly held way of life, called Christianity.
While several wealthy suitors sought to have her take on a domestic role as their spouse, she was so focused on leading as many people as possible to an encounter with Christ that she just refused to become tied down into the role of housewife.
As a young adult, both of her parents perished, leaving her with a sizable estate. By this point of her life, however, she was so filled with Christ’s loving Spirit, that she sold all of her possessions. She gave part away to the poor and used the other part to establish a Christian community to care for widows.
It wasn’t long before this courageous young lady set out into the world to teach others about Christ, knowing that her eventual martyrdom would be the guaranteed outcome of such an endeavor. After a few years of this ministry to her surrounding community, she eventually left the city of Rome to continue on in her holy mission to people in every village and city beyond.
Initially, the Lord provided an enormous amount of evangelistic freedom to Paraskevi by having Emperor Antonios Pius to rule the Roman Empire during this time (Romans 13:1). Antonios’ reign is remarkable for the way he kept peace in the empire, having had no major revolts during his time. He was an effective administrator, artfully steering around any political conflict, creating a large treasury surplus, expanding the empire’s access to free drinking water, standardizing legal practices, and aiding freed slaves to become naturalized citizens. Under Antonios’ new system of law, a Christian could only be brought to trial if a Roman citizen went through the trouble of lodging a formal complaint against them. Since Antonios wouldn’t execute or torture Christians without a fair trial, Paraskevi was able, for a while, to move about more freely, avoiding persecution for her efforts at evangelization. However, since Christians openly maligned the pagan Roman gods as false…most Romans citizens accused Christians of being “atheists.” Thus, Roman citizens were quick to blame the “atheist” Christians for angering the Roman gods when any natural disaster, or military defeat occurred. Eventually, after a series of natural disasters hit Rome, public outcry blaming Christians for angering the gods, forced Antonius to dismantle the law that allowed Paraskevi so much freedom to share her faith.
Of course, many Jews of that time also despised Christians for their belief in Christ. Two Jewish men, after having seen miracles associated with Paraskevi’s ministry, resented her powerful witness and thus betrayed her to Emperor Antonios as a Christian. So, the emperor had his soldiers bring her to him. As the consummate politician, he offered her what he thought would be a diplomatic solution to the predicament. If she denied Christ and worshipped the Roman gods, he would make her his queen. He thought to himself, “How could anyone resist such a generous offer?” Her reply however, caught him completely by surprise. She said: “I could never be so foolish as to deny my Christ and to go to the devil with you…to leave Life and go with you to death. May you leave behind such darkness and instead come to the light of Christ.”
Still trying to come up with a political solution, the emperor then made another offer to Paraskevi, “I’ll give you three days to come to your senses and avoid death.” But Saint Paraskevi rebuffed him further, “O Emperor, you might as well do now whatever you planned to do in three days, because I can’t ever renounce serving Christ as the one and only true God.” By this point, the emperor had no choice but to order his men to light a big fire underneath a giant kettle filled with water. When Paraskevi saw the pot, however, she expressed delight that the emperor afforded her the opportunity to depart from this world’s worship of false gods and to enter the everlasting worship of Him who is real and eternal. The confounded emperor then ordered that Paraskevi be put into the pot to be boiled alive. She, however, made the sign of the cross and entered the pot on her own volition. Emperor Antonios stood by for two long hours waiting for her demise, however she wasn’t being boiled. So, he came up close to inspect the pot and asked, “Paraskevi, why isn’t the hot water burning you?” She replied, “Because Christ Himself cooled the water to keep me from burning. The emperor responded, “Then sprinkle some of this cool water on me so that I can see what it feels like.” So, Saint Paraskevi cupped her two hands and splashed some of the water out onto his face. The water immediately scalded his whole face, so that it blistered up and completely blinded him.
So, she climbed out of the kettle and went to Emperor Antonius, telling him that only the Christian God could cure him. Emperor Antonios then shouted, “The God of the Christians is great indeed! Now, I too believe in Him!” Immediately, his face was healed and he regained his eyesight. Having been humbled by this wondrous miracle, he requested baptism, freed the Saint, and ended all persecutions against the Christians throughout the Roman Empire. Saint Paraskevi then baptized the emperor and his entire household.
Now, Saint Paraskevi was free for a while longer to travel about with greater zeal to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. Eventually, however Emperor Antonius passed on from this life into everlasting rest with the saints, leaving Marcus Aurelius to rise to power. During Marcus’ reign an epidemic outbreak of some disease devastated Rome, killing thousands of people. Once again, Christians were blamed for angering the gods, and the emperor was forced to change the laws dealing with these “atheists.”
Paraskevi was soon captured and taken to the Temple of Apollo. To everyone’s great surprise, she went enthusiastically. Her willingness to go to the pagan temple fooled everyone into thinking that her faith in Christ had finally been broken. However, she had something else in mind to leave an unforgettable impact. As she entered the temple, Saint Paraskevi made the sign of the cross. Suddenly, a loud rumbling went all throughout the entire temple and each of the temple’s idols collapsed into a pile of crumbled rock. Both the priests and pagan worshippers who were present became enraged. They all joined together to drag her out of the temple and beat her. They all demanded that Paraskevi be publicly executed. She was convicted, condemned to death, and beheaded.
Because of the miracle she performed in restoring the sight of the Emperor, Antonius Pius, Saint Paraskevi is the patron saint of eyesight and of helping others hearts to see Christ as God.