St. Petersburg, 3 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Each day, hundreds of people flock to the grave in St. Petersburg, Russia, of a homeless woman who died 200 years ago, St. Ksenya Blazhennaya, in the belief that she works miracles.
St. Ksenya is the patron saint of family happiness. And many come to her to overcome family problems.
Others seek help with a variety of other sorts of problems. Father Viktor, Russian Orthodox priest in charge of the site and the adjacent Church of Our Lady Of Smolensk, told RFE/RL that students preparing for exams and those with alcohol problems also especially seek comfort here.
After an initial euphoria in Russia over post-communism's relative freedom to worship in the late 1980s and 1990s, interest in religion has leveled off. But increasing numbers of the faithful are making pilgrimages to certain monasteries and other holy places, such as the grave of St. Ksenya.
Reverence for St. Ksenya unites people from all walks of life. On a recent wintry weekend, both new Russian and beggar, young and old, male and female stood up to a half hour in the cold on the line to visit the small chapel built on St. Ksenya's grave.
Word has spread of prayers answered. Sasha, a haggard beggar with knuckle tattoos of a type common among prison inmates, told RFE/RL that he suffered for years with pneumonia. He says that after rubbing his chest with holy oil from the grave of St. Ksenya, he now breaths more easily. "Imported medicines didn't help me," he said, "but Ksenya did."
Father Viktor says that in the past 200 years many miracles have taken place due to St. Ksenya's intervention, and that a book documenting some of them will be published soon.
Little is known about Ksenya's life. According to Church literature, she was born sometime in the 1720s, and lived 71 years. She came from a well-to-do family. But when she was 26, her husband, a colonel and member of the Czar's choir, died. She never recovered from the loss. She gave away her possessions to the poor, and led the life of a yurodivyi -- an itinerant holy person.
Yurodivyi were homeless, spent their lives in prayer, and possessed the gift of prophecy. They often appeared insane or deformed. Typically, they were not afraid to speak the truth, even to the high and mighty. Father Viktor says that those in power especially despised and feared yurodivyi because they were not afraid to speak the truth and expose the hypocrisy and evil of those who thought they could act with impunity.
Ksenya was canonized by the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Pimen and the Church's Holy Synod on February 6, 1988. Aleksey, current Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, then headed the Church in the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) region. Ksenya's feast day is celebrated each February 6.