On Tuesday, we overheard theologian Peter Bouteneff say how much he loves the saints of that particular day, so we asked him to tell us more:
On January 24, the Church remembers two great women named Xenia.
The first is Xenia of Rome, a Deaconess from the fifth century. A brief version of her life says that "While her parents were preparing to wed her, she stole away secretly, taking two handmaids with her, and departed for Mylasa of Karia in Asia Minor, and there she completed her life in asceticism. She was ordained deaconess by Paul, her spiritual father, who became Bishop of Mylasa. Although she was originally named Eusebia, to conceal her identity, she took the name Xenia - which means "stranger" in Greek - because of her estrangement from her country.”
Another Xenia that many of us know even better is Xenia of Petersburg, from the 18th century. She was widowed at the age of 26 and disappeared for eight years. When she came back it was in the identity of her departed husband. She dressed in his clothes and would only answer to his name, Andrew. She takes her place among the “Fools for Christ,” who lived as homeless wanderers, mocked and abused by society. After her death, her veneration grew and grew, at first locally and then more widely, until the Church joyfully canonized her a saint.
The festal hymnography by which we remember and venerate these two Xenias both employ a play on words, noting that “Xenos” is Greek for “strange” or “foreign.” Both lived the lives of wandering strangers, seeking a homeland with God. Yet if we think of them as “not of this world,” we recall that Xenia of Rome "helped everyone: for the destitute, she was a benefactress; for the grief-stricken, a comforter.” As for Xenia of Petersburg, her help is felt especially in the time since her death, where she has been stunningly powerful in her help for people suffering addictions, people seeking employment, a vocation, a home, or a spouse. However estranged they were from the world’s society, they were and remain powerfully engaged in the struggles of the needy and disenfranchised.
Holy mothers Xenia, pray to God for us!
Wondering how to celebrate? ByziMom suggests commemorating St. Xenia of Rome by rolling out cookie dough and cutting one cookie in the shape of a cross and the others as stars to surround it. St. Xenia of Petersburg is said to appreciate prayers for the soul of her husband, Andrey.
Icon of St. Xenia of Rome is by Nataliya Zharsky and that of St. Xenia of Petersburg is by Philip Davydov.