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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Faithful Petition St. Ksenia in Troubled Times

ST. PETERSBURG -- Undaunted by a deep freeze of minus 20 degrees Celsius, thousands of Orthodox believers flocked from across all of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States this weekend to the grave of a homeless and deranged woman who died almost 200 years ago.

But while such social outcasts living today garner little sympathy from the public, St. Ksenia Blazhennaya Peterburzhskaya has long been loved in Russia because of the numerous miracles to her credit.

"The people love Ksenia because she has all the traits of a great saint, such as patience and perseverance in the face of poverty and hardship," said Irina, a woman from Belarus who described herself as a "servant of God" and a strannitsa, a wandering pilgrim traveling around Russia's holy sites.

"And today, those who come to Ksenia also seek the strength to endure through the trials in their life in these difficult times."

Feb. 6, the date on which St. Ksenia was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988, is celebrated annually as her feast day.

Many of those who came to St. Ksenia's gravesite in the Smolenskoye Cemetery on Vasilevsky Island over the weekend were clearly those who have been hardest hit by Russia's worsening economic situation.

"Before, they [the government] tried to destroy our faith with enforced atheism," said pensioner Lyubov Andreyevna, adding that she was praying for the means to survive the winter.

"And now they are trying to destroy us physically, by starving us to death. These days I am afraid to go to the marketplace. Every time I go, prices are higher and higher, but my pension remains the same miserable 450 rubles."

The local trade union federation reported that 40 percent of the combined populations of both the city of St. Petersburg and the surrounding region lives below the poverty level,

Poverty is defined as a monthly income of less than 916 rubles ($40).

Nationwide, according to government estimates, 42 million Russians, or 28.6 percent of the entire population, live below the poverty line. This figure is up from 20 percent in July 1998.

The Red Cross, however, puts that figure at 73 million, or almost half the population.

But while most of those gathered at St. Ksenia's grave were clearly those hardest hit by the economic crisis, an appearance was made by St. Petersburg's high and mighty.

Governor Vladimir Yakovlev attended a church service at Our Lady of Smolensk Church in remembrance of St. Ksenia's soul.

Then, in the company of Metropolitan Vladimir and others in the city's Orthodox Church elite, the governor walked across the cemetery to the chapel that holds St. Ksenia's remains. They pushed past the hundreds of faithful waiting patiently outside in line for more than an hour.

Kindness, good will, sincerity and serenity emanated from the faithful standing patiently in the snow. No one pushed or shoved, even though the crowds swelled ever larger on the narrow paths around the chapel.

Prevented by guards from entering, many people could only place candles next to the chapel walls outside, and some left handwritten messages behind in the snow with their requests to St. Ksenia.

According to a church biography, Ksenia was born sometime in the 1720s and lived 71 years. She came from a well-to-do family and lived the pleasant life of a privileged young woman. But at age 26, tragedy struck. Her husband, a colonel and member of the tsar's choir, died unexpectedly.

Never recovering from the loss of her beloved husband, she radically changed her life, began to give away her possessions to the poor, and led the life of a yurodivy f an itinerant holy person who often appeared insane and physically deformed.

Such people were homeless and spent their lives in prayer, possessed the gift of prophecy and were not afraid to speak the truth, even to the rich and powerful.

For this last trait the yurodivyy, St. Ksenia included, were not always revered.

Those in power especially despised and feared yurodivyy because they were candid and willing to expose the hypocrisy and evil of those who thought they could act with impunity.

"Certainly, were she alive, Ksenia would have her hands full today dealing with our government," said Nikolai, a middle-aged man standing near her grave.