Paraskeva, Saint

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Paraskeva, Saint

A saint of the Russian calendar, whose feast day is August 3. On that day, pilgrims from all parts of Russia used to congregate in St. Petersburg for the purpose of casting out devils. A newspaper report of the proceedings as they occurred in 1913 is as follows:

"Another St. Paraskeva's day has come and gone. The usual fanatical scenes have been enacted in the suburbs of St. Petersburg, and the ecclesiastical authorities have not protested, nor have the police intervened. Special trains have again been run to enable thousands of the lower classes to witness a spectacle, the toleration of which will only be appreciated by those acquainted with the writings of M. Pobiedonostzeff, the late Procurator of the Holy Synod.

"The Church of St. Paraskeva is situated in a factory district of the city. On the exterior side of one of the walls is an image of the Saint, to whom is attributed the power of driving out devils and curing epileptics, neurotics, and others by miraculous intervention. At the same time, the day is made a popular holiday, with games and amusements of the all sorts, booths, and lotteries, refreshment stalls and drinking bars.

"The newspapers publish detailed accounts of this year's proceedings without comment, and it is perhaps significant that the Novoe Vremya, a pillar of orthodoxy, ignores them altogether. Nor is this surprising when one reads of women clad in a single undergarment with bare arms being hoisted up by stalwart peasants to the level of the image in order to kiss it, and then having impure water and unclarified oil forced down their throats.

"The treatment of the first sick woman is typical of the rest. One young peasant lifted her in the air, two others held her arms fully extended, while a fourth seized her loosened hair, and, dragging her head from side to side and up and down, shouted 'Kiss, kiss St. Paraskeva!' The woman's garment was soon in tatters. She began groaning. One of the men exclaimed: 'Get out! Satan! Say where thou art lodged!' The woman's head was pulled back by the hair, her mouth was forced open, and mud-coloured water (said to be holy water) was poured into it. She spat the water out, and was heard to moan, 'Oh, they are drowning me!'

"The young man exultantly exclaimed, 'So we've got you, devil, have we? Leave her at once or we will drown you!' He continued pouring water into the victim's mouth, and after that unclarified oil. Her lips were held closed, so that she was obliged to swallow it. The unfortunate woman was again raised and her face pressed against the image. 'Kiss it! kiss it!' she was commanded, and she obeyed. She was asked who was the cause of her being 'possessed.' 'Anna,' was the whispered reply. Who was Anna? What was her village? In which cottage did she live? A regular inquisition.

"The physical and mental sufferings of the first victim lasted about an hour, at the end of which she was handed over to her relatives, after a cross had been given to her, as it was found that she did not own one. According to accounts published by the papers Retch and Molva, many other women were treated in the same fashion, the exercises lasting a whole day and night. The men 'pilgrims' would seem to have been less severely handled. It is explained that the idea of unclothing the woman is that there should be no knot, bow, or fastening where the devil and his coadjutors could find a lodgment. And one is left with the picture of scores of women crawling around the church on their knees, invoking the aid of the Almighty for the future of His pardon for sins committed in the past."

The treatment of the "possessed" is analogous to that employed by many peoples for the casting out of devils. Non-Western cultures such as the Chams of Cambodia forced the possessed to eat garbage in order to disgust the fiend they harbored and medieval Roman Catholic exorcisms occurred among the nuns of Loudon. Even at the end of the twentieth century similar practices that however effective are culturally offensive to most religious people can be found among contemporary Western religions that practice exorcism.