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SERMON/LIFE OF Ss PETER & FEVRONIA OF MUROM
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Life of Saints Peter and Fevronia of Murom
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
It is not lost on me that the large city to our north is having its massive parade today honoring the greatest of all the passions – pride, while the Church today asks us to celebrate the memory of the patron saints of traditional marriage and family life, Ss Peter and his wife Fevronia. These two wonderful saints are also the subjects of a famous opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. Their story is warm, didactic, and filled with miracles. While I’m not going to relate their Life in fullness, I am going to give you a rather lengthy taste of who these god-pleasers were. It will be long, so get comfortable!
There is in the Russian land a city called Murom in the Vladimir Oblast. We are told that this city was once ruled by a good prince named Paul. The devil, hating everything good, sent a serpent to the palace of Prince Paul’s wife to harass her and lead her into temptation. And when the serpent was with the princess, she saw him as he really was; while it seemed to others who visited the princess’ palace that not a serpent, but Prince Paul himself was visiting the princess. Time passed, and the wife of Prince Paul decided that she could no longer hide her secret. She revealed what had happened to her husband, for the serpent had already afflicted her greatly. Prince Paul tried to think of what to do with the serpent, and finally he told his wife: “I don’t know how I am to deal with this evil spirit. I don’t know any means of killing it. But we shall do the following. When you talk with him, ask him cleverly whether he knows how he is destined to die. And when you learn this, tell me, and you will not only be rid of this evil spirit and its debauchery, of which it is disgusting even to speak, but also in the next life you will gain the mercy of our righteous judge, Jesus Christ.” The princess became gladdened by her husband’s words. So, when the serpent came, she began to converse slyly and cleverly with it about various things, keeping in mind her intentions. When it began to brag, she asked flatteringly: “You certainly do know everything, and so you must certainly know to what kind of death you are destined.” And the great deceiver was himself deceived by the deception of the faithful wife and unknowingly betrayed his secret, saying “My death will come from Peter’s hand and Agric’s sword.” The princess, hearing this, concealed it firmly in her heart. After the departure of this evil being, she told her husband, the prince, what the serpent had said. The prince, hearing this, was unable to understand what was meant by the words “My death will come from Peter’s hand and Agric’s sword.” But, since he had a brother named Peter, he summoned him and told him what his wife had learned from the evil serpent. Prince Peter, learning from his brother that the serpent gave his name-sake as the cause of his death, began to think bravely of how to kill this serpent. Yet he was confused by the fact that he did not know what the sword of Agric was.
Prince Peter had the custom of going alone to church to pray. Once he came to the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross which belonged to a convent beyond the city wall. There he was approached by a youth who asked the prince if he wished to see the sword of Agric. The prince, desirous of fulfilling his desire to kill the serpent, answered: “Certainly! Where is it?” And the youth asked Prince Peter to follow him, and he showed him a niche in the bricks of the altar in which a sword was lying. Faithful Prince Peter took the sword and went to his brother, Prince Paul, and told him everything. And from that moment Prince Peter began to wait for the opportunity to kill this evil serpent. Each day he visited his brother and his sister-in-law. One day, after he had visited his brother, he went to the chamber of his sister-in-law, and there he once again found his brother, sitting with the princess. Leaving her room, he met a man from Prince Paul’s retinue, and he asked him: “I was just in my brother’s room and found him there. Then I went directly to my sister-in-law’s chamber and again I found him there. How is this possible?” And the man answered: “It is not possible, my lord. Prince Paul has not left his room since you left him.” He went to his older brother’s room and asked him: “When did you return to your room? When I left you, I went to the chambers of the princess without losing any time. And yet, when I came there, I found you next to her. I can’t understand how you could get there before me. Therefore, I left there, came back here, and now once more I see that you were faster than I in getting here. I don’t understand it.”
Then Prince Paul explained to Peter that he had not left his room nor had he been with the princess during this time. Then Prince Peter understood what had happened. “All this is the witchcraft of this evil serpent. In my presence he assumes your image for his own so that he would not be killed by me. Brother, do not leave this room, for I am now going to your wife’s chambers to fight the evil serpent. I hope that I will be able to slay it with the help of God.” Prince Peter then took Agric’s sword and went to the princess’ chambers, where he again found the serpent in the form of his brother. He struck it with the sword, and the evil spirit returned to its true form and died in convulsions. Before it died, however, its blood spilled on Prince Peter. The body of Prince Peter became covered with sores and ulcers from this blood, and the prince became gravely ill. He was attended by many physicians, but none was able to cure him.
Having heard that there were many physicians in the region of Riazan, Prince Peter told his servants to convey him there. Weakened by his illness, Prince Peter was no longer able to mount his horse. When he arrived in the land of Riazan, he sent all the men of his retinue to look for physicians. One of them came to a village called Charity. There, the young soldier was led to a young woman, the daughter of a bee-keeper, who lived there. The soldier then said to the maiden: “I see that you are very wise. Please tell me your name.” Upon learning that the maiden’s name was Fevronia, meaning “pure one,” the young soldier explained why he had come there: “I have come here on behalf of my lord, Prince Peter of Murom. My prince is very sick and covered with sores and ulcers. He received these afflictions from the blood of an evil serpent which he killed with his own hands. Since that time many doctors have treated him, but none has been able to cure him. Therefore, he ordered us to bring him to this land, for he heard that there are many physicians here. But we know neither where they live nor what are their names.” Fevronia answered, saying: “The only one who can cure the prince is the one who would order that your prince be brought to this place.” “Who would that be? What do you mean by these words?” the young man inquired. The maiden then told him: “Bring your prince to this place. If he is kind of heart and not proud in answering my questions, he will be cured.” The young soldier listened to these words and then returned to Prince Peter and told him in detail all that he had seen and heard. Prince Peter then commanded his retinue to take him immediately to this wise maiden. And they took him to the house where the maiden lived. The prince sent a page to the maiden asking: “Tell me, maiden, who is the man who can cure me? Let him cure me, and he will receive a large part of my wealth!” Without hesitation the maiden answered the page: “I am the physician who is able to cure your prince, but I do not desire any part of his wealth. However, if I cure him, I must also become his wife.” The page returned to the prince and repeated to him the words of Fevronia. Prince Peter had trouble believing her words, thinking that it would be impossible for a prince to marry the daughter of a man who was a simple peasant. Nevertheless he instructed his page to tell the maiden that she should cure him, and that if she did, she would become his wife. The page repeated these words to the maiden. She then took a small pitcher and scooped up some leaven from a barrel and told the page: “Prepare a steam bath for your prince, and, after the bath, spread this leaven over the sores and ulcers on his body. But you must take care not to cover all of the scabs, but leave one uncovered. And then your prince will return to good health.” The young man brought the ointment made from leaven to the prince, and the servants immediately prepared the steam bath. Then Prince Peter went into the steam bath, and his servants applied the ointment over the sores and ulcers, leaving only one scab uncovered, as was ordered by Fevronia. When Prince Peter left the steam bath, his pains left him, and the next morning all his body was clear and healed excepting the one scab that had been left uncovered. He marveled at the curing powers of Fevronia. However, since Fevronia was the daughter of one of lowly birth, Prince Peter did not wish to marry her. He did, however, send her luxurious gifts, but Fevronia would not accept them. Peter returned to his native city of Murom with his body completely healed excepting the single scab. Soon afterward, however, more sores and ulcers began to spread from the single scab which had not been covered by the ointment. And then his whole body was once again covered with sores and ulcers. Seeing that his affliction had returned, Prince Peter decided to return to Fevronia once again to undergo the proven treatment.
He returned to Riazan and to Fevronia’s house, and despite the fact that he was ashamed for not having kept his promise to marry her, he asked her to treat him once more. Fevronia was not the least bit angry, but said that she would treat him only if he decided to be her husband. This time the prince firmly promised that he would take her as his wife. The maiden then prescribed the same treatment as before. And when he was healed again, Prince Peter took Fevronia for his wife. And in this way did Fevronia become a princess. And both of them went to Peter’s native city of Murom, and there they lived extremely piously, closely obeying the commandments of God. Soon after their arrival in Murom, Prince Paul died, and Prince Peter became the sole ruler of the city.
Some time later, the boyars of the city of Murom decided they did not like Princess Fevronia. They, under the influences of their spouses, resented the princess because of her common origin. However, because of her charitable deeds, she was extremely popular among the simple people, and they prayed to God for her. Once, one of the courtiers, wanting to bring strife between Peter and Fevronia, came to the prince and told him: “The princess is an embarassment. See how she gets up from the table when she is not supposed to do so. Moreover, before leaving the table, she sweeps up the crumbs into her hand as if she were a starving pauper.” Prince Peter decided to see if these accusations were true. He ordered that Princess Fevronia sit beside him at the table. When dinner was over, Fevronia picked up all the crumbs and kept them in her hand as she was accustomed to doing since her childhood. Seeing this, Prince Peter caught her by the hand and told her to open her fist, but when she did so, they found fragrant myrrh and frankincense in the palm of her hand. And from that day on, Peter was never tempted to question his wife’s activities again.
After some time, the resentful boyars came once again to Peter and said: “Our lord, we want to serve you honestly and want you as our ruler, but we do not want Princess Fevronia as our princess, nor do we want her to rule over our wives. If you are to remain our lord, you must take another for princess. Fevronia may take her wealth and go away anywhere she may wish to go.” Prince Peter, being a devout and god-loving ruler, would not hear of any such thing. He chose, instead to leave Murom with his beloved wife Fevronia, and allow the boyars to choose for themselves a new prince.
The wicked lords prepared boats for Peter and Fevronia, for the city of Murom was situated on the river Oka. On the journey the pious Fevronia read the evil thoughts of a man who was staring at her, and said out loud “Why do you want to dishonor your devoted wife and think about another woman?” The man was so ashamed that the wicked thoughts deserted him at once. In the evening the boats docked, and when the travelers were disembarking, Prince Peter became seized with doubts as to whether he was right in giving up his rule in the city of Murom. His divinely-wise wife perceived his doubts, and comforted him, saying: “Do not grieve, my Prince, for the merciful God, our Creator, who directs our life, will never forsake us to misfortune.”
Next morning, when the servants began to load the boats, there came a noble from the city of Murom, saying: “My lord, Prince Peter, I come to you on behalf of all the courtiers of the city of Murom. They ask that you do not desert them, your poor orphans, but that you return as ruler to your native land. Many lords of the city have perished by the sword. Each, wanting to become ruler of the city, killed the other. Those lords who have survived and all the rest of the people beg you to come back, my lord, and rule over us. And we will neither anger nor irritate you again. Some of our ladies did not wish to be ruled by Princess Fevronia, but now those ladies have perished as well in the feud. Those of us who remain alive do love her, and we beg you not to leave us alone, your humble servants.”
Thus Prince Peter and Princess Fevronia returned to the city of Murom, and they ruled according to the commandments of God. Peter and Fevronia 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 Fevronia lay 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 Fevronia 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. And together they took monastic vows, Prince Peter becoming Brother David, and Princess Fevronia, Sister Euphrosini, When their time came, they prayed together, and offered up their souls to God on Friday, the 25th day of June, 1228. When certain princes, potentates and politicians decided to bury them separately, God had other plans. On two occasions they tried to bury them in separate churches, but twice their bodies appeared together, in the single stone casket that they had prepared for themselves.
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. And whoever touched with contrition the tomb wherein lie the holy relics of Peter and Fevronia always received comfort and healing. Through their prayers, O Lord, grant health to our marriages and families as well. Amen.

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