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Of the many saints commemorated in the Orthodox Church throughout the liturgical year, two are very unusual ones - Saints Peter and Fevronia. In Belarussian Orthodox Church, we celebrate their feast day on July 8th.
The story of the saints starts a long time ago in the ancient Russian city of Murom which was ruled by Duke Paul and Duchess Maria at the time. Paul had a brother named Peter - the prince of Murom.
One day, the devil, who hated to see Paul’s happy marriage and the love between him and his wife, decided to send an evil serpent to seduce Paul’s wife Maria. The serpent turned into Paul and started to visit Maria when the real Paul was away.
Maria knew it wasn’t her husband because she was a faithful woman and saw the serpent for what it really was. However, she didn’t know how to get rid of it. She told everything to her husband, asking for advice.
Paul said: “I cannot discern how I am to deal with this evil spirit. I don’t know any means of killing it. But we shall do the following. When you talk with him, ask him cleverly whether he knows how he is destined to die. And when you learn this, tell me, and you will not only be rid of this evil spirit and its debauchery, of which it is disgusting even to speak, but also in the next life you will gain the mercy of our righteous judge, Jesus Christ.”
The duchess did manage to fool the serpent and it told her the following: “My death will come from Peter’s hand and Agric’s sword.”
Paul found out about it and asked his brother Peter to think of a way to kill the serpent. Peter was brave enough to agree to help, even though he had no idea what the sword of Agric was and where to find it.
One day, Peter came to a church to pray when an angel of God appeared before him and showed him the exact location of the sword. Peter took the sword, returned to his brother’s palace, and killed the evil serpent. When its blood spilled on Peter, the prince’s body got covered with sores and ulcers and none of the best doctors of the kingdom knew how to cure this illness.
Prince Peter decided to go to Rizan because he knew there were the best doctors in the region. At that time, he was so ill, he couldn’t ride his horse.
On their way, they haphazardly met a young beautiful girl named Fevronia. She said that she will cure the prince if he agrees to become her husband. Peter didn’t believe her, thinking she was joking. After all, no prince could ever get married to a peasant girl.
But Fevronia actually healed Peter from his terrible illness. The prince was so amazed and thankful, he just had to marry Fevronia. The couple then went to Murom where Peter became the ruler of the city after his brother’s death.
The boyards of Murom didn’t like Fevronia and resented her because of her origin. They wanted her to go away and return to where she came from. Peter loved his wife so much that he gave up his rule over Murom and followed Fevronia.
While the couple was gone, the lords of Murom nearly killed each other fighting for the empty throne. Those who survived begged Peter to come back with his wife and become the ruler of the city once again.
Prince Peter and Princess Fevronia became great rulers. They always helped their people, they treated every citizen as their family. They practiced good deeds, such as giving shelter to the homeless and feeding the hungry. They gave alms, and they prayed continuously.
Once they both felt like their time here on Earth was coming to an end, Peter and Fevronia prayed to God that He might let them die in the same hour.
They took monastic vows and later died on the same day, in the same hour, just like they requested. The people of Murom put their bodies in separate caskets, wanting to bury them separately. The next morning they found their caskets completely empty. Sts Peter and Fevronia were found together in a common tomb that they prepared for themselves earlier.
The example of Saints Peter and Fevronia shows us the love that we are all called to. Love is making sacrifices for each other, being forgiving, being united in God. Love is also about caring for one another and helping those in need.
Even though marriage is not the only path for all people, it is an institution that was established by God Himself. It is a sacred unity of two people on the way to salvation. However, nowadays many disregard the importance of it. People get into relationships and live together without being married. They are not ready to sacrifice themselves in order to make the marriage work, so they decide to not get married at all.
People also disregard the importance of fidelity. It is no longer seen as a virtue. Many destroy their families and hurt their loved ones by being unfaithful. It is the worst betrayal that can happen to a wife or a husband, but it actually happens more often than we might think.
We need positive role models to show us the joy of a faithful unity in God. Saints Peter and Fevronia can definitely be such role models for us, even centuries after their death.
The day of the feast has been an official holiday in Russia since 2008. It is also called the Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness. On this day, events like concerts and festivals are being held throughout the country. The holiday promotes traditional family values and reminds us of the importance of love and family in our lives.
At Saint Elisabeth Convent, we start celebrating the feast on the 7th of July. We serve a festive All-Night Vigil service and start singing special hymns:
“Having lived thy good life in piety, O blessed Peter, thou wast a most precious offspring of the pious root; and thus having pleased God in peace with thy spouse, the all-wise Febronia, the holy monastic life was vouchsafed unto you. Beseech the Lord, that He preserve our homeland unharmed, that we may honor your memory unceasingly.” (Troparion to Right-believing Peter and Fevronia of Murom)
On the 8th of July, we start the day with a festive Divine Liturgy and sing even more joyous hymns commemorating the saints and worshiping God:
“Pondering the transitory glory and governance of this world, O Peter, thou didst live piously in peace with thy spouse the all-wise Febronia. Having pleased God with your alms and prayers. Wherefore, lying inseparably in the tomb even after death, ye invisibly impart healing. Pray now unto Christ, that He preserve our land and the faithful who glorify you.” (Kontakion to Right-believing Peter and Fevronia of Murom)
PS - If you have prayer requests, make sure to click on this link. The Sisters of St Elisabeth Convent will be happy to pray for you and your loved ones on the Feast of St Peter and Fevronia, which we will celebrate on July 8!
Cover image by Alexander Prostev, an iconographer from Saint Petersburg, Russia