At the age of 26, St. Xenia (whose name means “foreign” or “strange”), was widowed when her husband died suddenly at a party. Immediately, she withdrew from society, eventually disappearing without a trace. When she reappeared in St. Petersburg eight years later, she took her place among the “Fools for Christ,” living as a homeless wanderer, mocked and abused by society. For forty-five years, she embodied the pilgrim values of dispossession and trust, surviving through the generosity of strangers and in turn giving most of it away to the poor that surrounded her. However estranged she was from the world’s society, she was powerfully engaged in the struggles of the needy and disenfranchised.
Slowly, St. Xenia’s community began to recognize her unique holiness, asking her blessing over children in particular. “Xenia does not belong to this world,” they began saying to others; “she belongs to God.” After her death, her veneration grew, at first locally and then more widely, until the Church joyfully canonized her a saint. She has been stunningly powerful in her help for people suffering addictions, people seeking employment, a vocation, a home, or a spouse.
Whether wandering the streets of St. Petersburg or the streets of our neighborhood, we walk in the company of women like St. Xenia, seeking a homeland of the heart, allowing the strangeness of the world to compel us towards compassion to those on the margins. St. Xenia reminds us today that pilgrimage is a state of the heart just as much as a place, and that this journey is meant to shift our hearts away from self-preoccupation into generosity and love.
Join us on this pilgrimage to build Axia as we continue in the footsteps of Orthodox women past and present, raising up one another’s gifts for the well-being of the whole Church.
Having lived as a stranger in the world, / you outwitted the deviser of evil / by your pretended foolishness, O Xenia. / You received the grace from God / to foresee and foretell things to come. / Now, as you have been translated from earth to heaven, / you are numbered with the choirs of the angels.
You gave your wealth to the poor, O Xenia, / and accepted poverty out of love for Christ; / having lived a life rivaling the angels, you were accounted worthy of glory on high.
Graphic with image of St Xenia taken from an icon by Philip Davydov; icon of St Xenia by Kattiraiska on DeviantArt