Saint Paraskeva is a mystery. There are at least three saints named Paraskeva (or Paraskevi) in the Catholic Church; and though they have distinct feast days and devotions, oftentimes, these Paraskeva meld together in our minds as Mother Friday, patroness of marriage, home, and spinning. The primary Paraskevas are often viewed as a collective. With shared icons, devotions, and feasts, they weave in and out of the church year, often neglected in the west.
Long ago and far away, in the sacramental imaginations of Eastern European Christians: both Catholic and Orthodox; one Paraskeva loomed especially large in devotional life. Her name means “Friday” in Greek and represents her devotion to the anticipation of Joy during seasons of sorrow. Named by Christian parents for the day of Christ’s Passion, Paraskeva was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian.
That is really all we know about Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, Paraskeva-Friday but her legend and cult were never limited by lack of information. Indeed, it’s always problematic to limit a saint to the mere facts of their lives and deaths. The rich, often unfounded devotions that spring up around saints present a fantastic introduction to the nature and heavenly interests of these holy people. Paraskeva, Virgin-martyr quickly became, in the hearts of her devotees, Mother Friday.
Mother Friday, the Woman’s Saint
Just as Therese, the cloistered Little Flower is pouring her heavenly help down upon missionaries; Paraskeva, the virgin martyr pursues her maternity throughout eternity. Patroness of marriages, fertility, weaving, spinning, sewing, eye health and as a last resort in extreme circumstances, Paraskeva acts as a matriarch, dispensing wisdom, help, healing, and occasionally correction.
Named for the day on which is Blood of Christ dripped down to heal the earth, Paraskeva’s patronage is deeply rooted in the earth and the nourishment of the fields. Her feast day, October 28th places her in the harvest season; when we pile the fruits of the land up in preparation for winter.
But Mother Friday’s feast day wasn’t the only day of devotion to her. Traditionally, the cult of Paraskeva spread throughout the year. There were twelve specific Fridays, entrusted particularly to Paraskeva. They took place on the Friday prior to major feasts. On the Paraskeva Fridays, everyone fasted and abstained’ from spinning, cleaning the house, and doing laundry.
The Friday devotions were particularly popular among women in desperate situations: women who longed for a spouse or a child became particularly devoted to Mother Friday and often kept “the Paraskeva Fast” every Friday in her honor.
Particular Devotions for Particular Needs
The instructions for honoring the 12 Fridays of Paraskeva Pyatnitsa have never been recorded. They lived in the hearts and traditions of a rural and marginally literate population. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be introduced to St. Paraskeva have been blessed by continuing these devotions.
Like the unfailing prayer to St. Joseph, the Memorare, and St. Jude’s Novena, the 12 Fridays of Paraskeva are often a last resort for the suffering faithful. As we wait in joyful hope for our longing to come to fruition, we can reach out to the saints who love to nurture us.
Mother Friday is rarely called up to help her children these days, but when we invite her into our struggles, she steps in quickly at takes control. Truly the matriarch, Paraskeva is quick to share her wisdom with her children.
A Saint for the Single Life
If you’re praying and searching for a spouse, Paraskeva – patroness of marriages appears like an old-world matchmaker. Ask her for awareness and the readiness to step into a relationship when the right one comes along.
The Domestic Saint
Guiding spinning, weaving, sewing, and cleaning, Paraskeva is an ideal ally. No one knows how or why she stepped into the domestic sphere so readily, but her patronage is such a joy. She, “whose name embodies preparedness” is a homemaker’s closest friend. I entrust all my housekeeping to Paraskeva, and she continually helps me.
It may seem strange that an ancient virgin martyr is so helpful to women hoping to conceive, but then, so many of our other “maternity” saints are in a similar position. St. Gerard, St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Casilda of Toledo are other saints who have stepped into the role despite not having been parents in life.
The Saint of Eye Troubles
One of Paraskeva’s chief areas of care is for the eyes of her children. This may be why she’s such a patron of sewing and spinning: domestic tasks that depend so much on eyesight. Paraskeva of Rome is often shown with the eyes of her executioner, which she healed despite his persecutions. St. Paraskeva’s oil, blessed before the relics of the saint, is often used to heal and bless sickly eyes.
Rejoicing with good cheer, you entered the Bridal Chamber above, O Sacred Martyr,
and fell at the feet of Christ, which you embraced fervently, O all-precious Paraskeva.
He placed a crown upon your head and you cried out: Alleluia.
Feasting with Mother Friday
October 28th is the feast of Paraskeva Pyatnitsa. On her feast day, we rejoice with her over her martyrdom and thank her for her intercession. The Friday before her feast day, we observe the Paraskeva fast and avoid tidying up the house, sewing, or laundry.
My daughter is named for Paraskeva, and on her name day, we fling ourselves into celebrations. Bonfires, cakes, prayers, and liturgy. Mother Friday is an ideal patron for children, it’s one reason there are so many Saints with her name. Paraskeva the New, Paraskeva the Fool for Christ, and other holy women look to Saint Friday as their patron and inspiration.
Unlike sweet Therese and the Ever-Gentle Mother of God, Mother Friday can be stern. Folklore is full of tales of her punishing those who neglect their devotions. Like Padre Pio or St. Jerome, Paraskeva is sternly loving.
We need that sort of strength today. The gentle saints and the severe ones. It’s good for our beloved saints to stand in as abbots and abbesses in our lives, and St. Paraskeva fills that role perfectly. She whose name embodies preparedness prepares us to enter the Bridal Chamber and fall at the feet of Christ. Holy Martyr, Paraskeva Pyatnista – pray for us who pray to you!
You whose name embodies preparedness, O Holy Paraskeva, you worshipped with the readiness of your Name. For an abode you obtained faith, which is your namesake. Pour forth healing and intercede for our souls, O Holy Paraskeva.