Saintly Sketches: St. Xenia of Petersburg

Friday, November 12, 2021 Comments (0)

Kevin J. Hughes

St. Xenia of Petersburg is a unique saint. She is what is called a “Holy Fool”. To learn all about holy Fools and about life in Orthodox nations during the medieval times, a great book is Laurus. However, St. Xenia is a real life example.

Xenia was from St. Petersburg Russia, and was actually married to a wealthy and powerful prince. One day though, her husband, despite being healthy and in good spirits, mysteriously dropped dead! This turn of events changed Xenia’s life forever. Seeing that her husband had died without the sacrament, Xenia wanted to still serve her husband even after he died, and she also wanted to devote herself to God.

Xenia came up with an idea. Having no children, and being unwilling to remarry, Xenia began to give away all her possessions to the poor. Her family, probably well-meaning, assumed that she had gone mad from grief, however, after a long exchange and interrogation, it was found that Xenia was in perfect mental health, and that there was no legitimate reason why she should be prevented from disposing of her assets as she saw fit. So, she was able to continue giving away all her earthly possessions. Eventually, she joined a sisterhood of fellow ascetics and continued to grow in the love of the Lord.

While living with her saintly sisters, she came to discern a calling to become something no one should envy, and yet all should magnify, she became a holy fool.

St. Xenia returned to St. Petersburg, and wore her deceased husband’s clothing, which she would not take off, and she even began to be called by his name. In doing so, she said that she hoped to do righteousness on his behalf, since he had died in youth without the sacrament. She would go about the town being patient with all people, and often saying things that seemed like nonsense until later when they would be proven to be from God.

For example, she was invited by a friend to come for coffee at their home. She arrived and said to her friend’s beautiful young daughter, “My beautiful one, such nonsense that you are here making coffee for me when your husband is burying his wife in Novgorod.” The girl and her mother immediately set off to Novgorod, having no idea what the saint was telling them. When they arrived, they came upon a funeral procession, which they promptly joined, only to discover that a distraught doctor from Novgorod was burying his beloved wife. He became so sick with grief that he fainted. The mother and daughter ran to assist him, when he awoke, he beheld the beautiful young girl, and she helped bring him back to health. Later, he came to fall in love with her. 

Another time, Xenia ran through the streets shouting, “Bake Blini! Bake Blini! Soon all of Russia will be baking blini!” No one knew what she was talking about, but the very next day, the Queen of Russia died. Blini is a pancake that is traditionally served at funerals! All the people saw in this a sign from God. 

People would invite St. Xenia into their homes and would try to give her alms. She would by no means accept their gifts, if they insisted, she would let them give her small pennies, which she would then give away to homeless people. If someone insisted on giving her warm clothes, she would turn it away, if she could not, she would give away all they gave to her. Even in the dead of winter, yet she was always miraculously preserved from freezing.

St. Xenia was also known to make prostrations all through the night in open fields, even in the snow!

After her death, the saint was highly venerated in St. Petersburg, and well-loved. During the reign of the evil communists, the government tried to force people to stop going to St. Xenia, even erecting a large fence around her tomb. But the pious would write letters to St. Xenia and leave them at the fence. So, the Soviets built a factory in the tomb, and used St. Xenia’s very grave as a work table! On this table they would make impious statues of Communist leaders. However, every morning, when the workment arrived, they would find all their work from the previous day destroyed. This in spite of the fact that the doors and windows remained locked, and no living human could have entered the factory. Even from beyond the grave, the Holy Xenia refused to be a tool of evil, and fought for the Christ she had so loved in life. Eventually, the Soviets admitted defeat and abandoned her tomb in fear. A poetic foreshadowing of the day when the Soviet Union would fall and the Holy Church would again reign supreme in Russia!


St. Xenia, pray for us oh holy lady.


Pax Christi



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