The Wonderworkers Peter and Febronia
Today is a special day of commemoration and celebration in the Russian Orthodox Church. On this third Sunday of September we remember and honor Holy Prince Peter and Princess Febronia of Murom. Saints Peter and Febronia of Murom are the patrons of marriage and family and are held before us as examples of love and fidelity.
Let me share with you briefly about these great saints…
Peter and Febronia were benevolent rulers and always helped their people with alms and prayers. They treated all as if they were their own children. They loved everyone equally, and disliked only those who were proud or who exploited the people. Peter and Febronia laid up their treasures, not on earth, but in heaven. They were real pastors of their city. They always ruled with truth and humility, and never with anger. They gave shelter to pilgrims, fed the hungry, and clothed the naked. And they helped the poor in their misfortune.
When death was nearing, Peter and Febronia prayed to God that they both might die in the same hour. And they requested that they be buried in the same tomb and in a common coffin in which their bodies would be separated only by a partition. Before their deaths they took monastic vows, Prince Peter becoming Brother David, and Princess Febronia, Sister Euphrosinia.
After their deaths, some of the people decided that Prince Peter should be buried in the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin, which was within the walls of the city of Murom, and that Princess Febronia should be buried in the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which was outside the walls of the city. The body of Prince Peter was put in a casket and was placed in the cathedral, where it was left overnight. The body of Princess Febronia was put in another casket and placed in the church outside the city walls. A tomb, which had earlier been carved from a huge rock as a resting-place for Peter and Febronia, remained empty in the yard of the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin.
The next morning the people went to the caskets of Peter and Febronia and found them empty. The bodies of the holy prince and princess were found together in the tomb of stone, which they had ordered prepared for them. The people, not understanding the meaning of this event, once more placed the bodies in separate caskets. On the following day the bodies of Prince Peter and Princess Febronia were once again found together in the tomb of stone. Since that time no man has dared to disturb their holy bodies, but left them in their common tomb in the yard of the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin, which is located in the city of Murom. To this day, those who approach the holy relics of Peter and Febronia with prayer, always receive comfort and healing.
In honor of these beloved saints, the Russian Orthodox Church marks the Sunday before their feast as a special day of blessing and honor for Orthodox families.
Let’s say a word about family life, which is something we all experience – either as husbands, wives, parents, grandparents, children, brothers, sisters… And, even if you find yourself alone at this time in your life, do not submit to the temptation that you are truly alone – for we all connected to one another in ways we can hardly comprehend! You are a member of this parish family and you are also a member of the family of those whom you encounter in your day to day life.
I pray that your family may be a source of warmth and consolation, a place where you feel love and where you share traditions, joys, and sorrows… but I know it is also often the case that within the family relationships we find some of the greatest temptations and stumbling blocks.
It is hard to live in such close proximity to others. This is why our Lord Jesus Christ counseled us specifically to love our neighbor – the person right in front of us. Much idealism comforts itself in having love for ‘mankind’… but who is ‘mankind’? Mankind is a safe and sterile abstraction. Mankind will not bother you with annoying little idiosyncrasies. Mankind will not leave their dirty socks and other messes around the house. Mankind will not present objectives and plans which conflict with your own. No… it is easy to love the abstract notion of ‘mankind’, but the moment our idealistic love for the abstract is tested by the realistic call to love the person placed in front of us, then we have challenges!
Christ’s call to love our neighbor is enacted in the million and one ways in which we must exercise love and patience and kindness toward our brother and sister, our father and mother, our husband and wife.
God places the context of the process of our salvation in community… the family, the monastery, the parish. He does so because it is in that process and practice of self-sacrificial love toward others wherein our disease of pride may be challenged and healed. It is precisely the person who you think is preventing you from becoming a saint who is the one who is provoking the self-sacrifice necessary for you to actually become a saint!
Our Christian faith is practiced not just in performing our daily prayers, in daily scripture reading, in nourishing our souls with the lives and writings of saints, in attending the divine services… our Christian faith is practiced as well in those endless moments of choice wherein we can show courtesy, patience, kindness, and love – as opposed to asserting our own will, having the last word, insisting on our notion of being right, etc. It is in these hundreds of instances presented before us in the course of daily family life where our path to salvation may be found.
May God bless us and be with us and our families on this day on which we commemorate the holy Prince Peter and Princess Febronia. It is a day of blessing and celebration of marriage, the family, and fidelity to God and one another. May God bless our marriages, our families, and our parish community… and may God bless every sacrifice we make toward faithfulness, kindness toward one another, and self-giving love.