“Why should I pray to Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg for help?” I asked my persistent friend, Ginny, as we chatted on our cell phones. “After all, she was homeless—like me! Why should she care if I get a home?”
It was an oddball phone call. I’d been living with various family members for eight months after becoming widowed and selling my home in Connecticut during the real estate boom of 2021, and I was tired of living out of a suitcase, and even more tired of disrupting the lives of my children and siblings. I had sought housing out West in an effort to be nearer to my sons and grandchildren, but the high cost of living had deterred me, and the intermittent wildfires and smoke had spooked me.
Now, I was living with my brother in my hometown of Warren, Ohio, taking a break before heading back to Connecticut to seek at least a rental situation. That’s when Ginny gave me a ring and suggested I ask for the intercessions of a saint revered within our Orthodox Christian Church: Xenia, the young widow of a military officer who had lived in 18th-century Russia and who had taken upon herself the extraordinary ascetic disciplines of poverty, prayer, fasting, and even voluntary homelessness as she tended to the needs of her neighbors in the extravagant city of St. Petersburg.
“No, no,” Ginny persevered. “St. Xenia intercedes for those in need of houses, spouses, and jobs. You should at least pray the Akathist (special service of supplication) to her,” she insisted.
That was Super Bowl Sunday 2022. So instead of stuffing myself with snacks and watching the game at a family party, I found the service to Blessed Xenia on YouTube, and began praying along:
“Rejoice, for you comfort all those who turn to you in prayer.”
“Rejoice, for you quickly help in times of trouble and despair.”
Finally I recited the last of the 13 lengthy petitions of the Akathist:
“Rejoice, for you bear our infirmities with all your heart.”
“Rejoice, for you hear our supplications day and night.”
Even if I didn’t end up getting a place to live, I had learned a lot about this incredible woman who had deprived herself of all comfort while ensuring the comfort of all those around her.
The next morning, my cell phone rang. It was Rachel, the marketing director of a lovely independent living facility, Shepherd of the Valley, nearby. I had visited the facility just two days prior and had toured one of the model “villas,” but I had been told that I was at least third on a waiting list, and there was no telling when an opening might occur.
“Mrs. Belonick,” said Rachel, “suddenly we have an opening for a villa, and also, unexpectedly, you’re now first on the list for that home. If you want to see it, be here at 10 a.m.”
Stunned, I went to view the villa, and as I opened the door, glorious light streamed through the south-facing sunroom and filled the beautiful space. “I love this room, I feel at home here, I’ll take it,” I told Rachel.
Barely believing my blessing, I signed the paperwork and called another friend, Darlene, who had kept in touch during my eight-month sojourn. I gave her the address of my new villa.
About half an hour later Darlene texted me: “Deb, I was so curious that I Googled the real property records in your county, and I see that a previous owner was ‘Virginia Malacky.’ Isn’t ‘Malacky’ your maiden name, and wasn’t Virginia your mother?”
“Yes, and yes,” I replied, catching my breath.
Eighteen years earlier, I had helped my mother fill out paperwork to live at Shepherd of the Valley. She had needed to sell her home after my father died, and so we had toured the villas together.
“How do you like this villa?” she had asked when we entered one with a cheery sunroom.
“Oh, mom, it’s so beautiful,” I replied, “I wish I could live here.”
My mother had signed on the dotted line for that villa, but regrettably, she died of complications of ovarian cancer on the day she was to move in. I hadn’t recognized her villa when I first toured it all these years later—but I had just signed a lease for the very same home my mother had once chosen!
Now, an image of St. Xenia sits in my icon corner in my new space. Now daily, I read at least one stanza from St. Xenia’s Akathist, and the wisdom of her life continually instructs and refreshes my spirit:
“Rejoice, for your holy foolishness has taught us to reject the vain wisdom of this age.”
“Rejoice, for you were full of wisdom transcending this world.”
“Rejoice, for you hurry to entreat the Lord in behalf of your neighbors.”
“Rejoice, for you have taught all the faithful to flee to God in prayer.”
“Rejoice, for you counted every material thing as nothing.”
“Rejoice, for you were thereby freed from every loss.”
“Rejoice, our compassionate deliverer from the turmoil of this world.”
“Rejoice, our fervent advocate before the throne of the Most High.”
Indeed! I have no doubt that St. Xenia interceded for me when I had lost hope, and that she (and my mother!) welcomed me home.
Deborah Malacky Belonick was valedictorian of her 1979 class at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, where she earned her Master of Divinity degree, and is the author of Feminism in Christianity: An Orthodox Christian Response (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012). She is a mother and grandmother, and the widow of Archpriest Steven John Belonick. In her hometown of Warren, OH, she co-chairs the Mission and Outreach Team at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church.