Blessed Paraskevi Ivanovna
Blessed Paraskevi Ivanovna was born as Irina in 1795 in the Nikolskoye village of Spassky District of Tambov Province. Her parents, Ivan and Daria, were serfs. When she turned 17, her masters married her off to a peasant named Feodor. Irina became a dutiful housewife, so her husband’s family grew to like her as she had meek temper, was dedicated to both work and prayer, shunned village social life and village fun activities. She and her husband lived together for fifteen years; however, their marriage was not blessed with children. Soon after her husband died, another affliction befell her – the masters’ homestead discovered two sheets of canvas missing. The servants falsely accused Irina, pointing at her as the thief. By the marshal’s order, she was brutally beaten, her skull fractured and her ears ripped. Irina ran away from her masters to Kiev as if on pilgrimage. This is where she likely took the veil of a Schema nun.
Venerating Kievan holy places and meeting the holy elders had a dramatic effect on her spiritually, as she came to understand her purpose and how she should live. From now on, her only wish was to live carrying Lord’s love in her heart, the only loving and merciful Christ, giver of all blessings. Having suffered unjustly herself, Irina was keenly aware of the unspeakable depth of Christ’s suffering and His mercy.
A year and a half later, police found her in Kiev and deported her under guard back to her masters. Her journey was long and torturous. She had to endure hunger and intense cold, abuse by soldiers guarding her, and rough treatment from her fellow male detainees.
Irina labored as a serf for her masters for a year and then ran away again. A year later, police again had discovered her in Kiev and again she was sent back by convoy. Her masters chased her away to the streets, where she lived undressed, without a single slice of bread. For five years she wandered the neighboring village as if mad, mocked by everyone. She formed a habit to live outdoors year round, enduring hunger, heat and snow. She later left for the Sarov woods and spent more than twenty years living there in a cave she dug herself.
Pasha was known in her previous life for her pleasant appearance. Through her ascetic labors and fasting during the years spent in the woods of Sarov, she began to resemble St. Mary of Egypt – thin and dark tanned. Seeing her living the life of an ascetic, people turned to her for advice, asking her intercession in prayer. The enemy of mankind caused evil men to attack and rob her. She was so severely beaten that, since then, she constantly suffered from frequent headaches and developed a tumor on her side.
Six years before the blessed Pelagia Ivanovna passed away, Pasha showed up at the monastery holding a doll. Later she collected a few others and was always babying and caring for them, calling them her children. She would stay in the monastery for a few weeks at a time, gradually extending her visits to a few months. Upon the blessed Pelagia Ivanovna’s death, Pasha settled in the monastery for good.
After her afternoon tea, the blessed one used to sit down to do handiwork, knitting stockings or spinning wool. She accompanied her work with unceasing recitation of the Jesus prayer, so that the wool she spun was highly valued at the monastery and used for making belts and prayer beads. She allegorically referred to the spiritual exercise of the unceasing saying of the Jesus prayer as her stocking-knitting job. Once, a visitor came intending to ask her if he needed to live closer to Diveyevo. She responded to his unspoken wish: “Well, why not, do come to Sarov, we will gather pepper-mushrooms and knit stockings together.” She meant to say they would make prostrations and learn to use the Jesus prayer.
She prayed using her own prayers, but she knew a few by heart. She used to call the Mother of God her “Mommy behind the glass.” At times, she would stop transfixed before the icon to pray or would fall to her knees anywhere – in the fields, inside a room, in the middle of the street – and pray diligently and tearfully.
During the days of the glorification of the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarine Alexandra Feodorovna visited Diveyevo. They stopped to visit blessed Paraskevi Ivanovna who foretold the birth of the heir to the throne and the fall of monarchy. The Tsar was known to call her a great servant of God.
Paraskevi Ivanovna died on September 22, 1915, at the age of 120. She was buried by the altar of the Trinity Cathedral. Her casket’s walls and door had an inscription: “My dear ones in the Holy Spirit, brothers and fellow fasting sisters, do not forget to remember me in your prayers, but seeing my tomb, remember my love and pray to Christ that he places my soul with the righteous ones.”
On July 21, 2004, during the celebrations commemorating the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, the blessed Paraskevi was added to the host of the local saints of the Nizhny Novgorod Diocese. On October 6 that same year, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church declared her universal veneration. Her holy relics were uncovered on September 20, 2004, and now rest at the Kazan church of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery. In 2004, the building housing her cell was returned to the monastery, which is now a museum of the history of the Diveyevo monastery, featuring the memorial cell room of blessed Pasha.