On July 8, Russia celebrates the Day of Family, Love and Fidelity, a holiday aimed at promoting traditional family values. It is also an important day in the Orthodox faith, the Day of Pavel and Fevronia, a cherished saint couple of the church. It is more commonly known as Fevronia's Day.
The story of Fevronia and Peter begins in Murom, during the reign of Peter's brother Pavel, in the twelfth century. As legend had it, Pavel’s wife was being visited at night by a black snake, aka a servant of the devil. Angry and fearful, Pavel asked his wife to appease the monster for a night, to use her guile to find a way to destroy it. Pavel's wife spoke sweetly to the snake, which dropped its guard and confessed how it might be killed: “by Peter’s hand and the Agrico sword.” After a long search, Paul's brother Peter found the Agrico sword, wielded it and killed the snake. But as the serpent writhed in pain, it spattered Peter with its evil blood.
Peter’s body was covered in painful, seemingly incurable sores. The search for a cure led him to Ryazan, where his met a beekeeper's daughter, Fevronia, who claimed to know the cure, and volunteered to treat Peter, but only if he would marry her. Peter did not take Fevronia's request seriously – how could he, a man of noble blood, consider marrying a peasant? Nonetheless, he promised he would if he were healed.
Fevronia gave Peter a jar of sourdough and instructed him to anoint all his sores but one, which Peter did. The next morning, Peter woke up healthy – but for the one, untreated sore. Yet he reneged on his promise to marry Fevronia, instead showering her with gifts, which she refused. Then, as Peter returned to the city of Murom, the sores began to multiply, and so he returned to Fevronia. She healed him completely and he took her as his wife.
Many years later, Paul died, and Peter began to rule Murom. The boyars disliked Fevronia due to her peasant blood and they said to Peter, “Let her take some gold and leave Murom!” At dinner, the men repeated the same request to Fevronia herself. She agreed, but requested that she only be allowed to take her spouse. The boyars were pleased with this decision, since each of them desired to rule Murom.
Peter and Fevronia sailed away down the Oka river. Yet before long they saw the people of Murom approaching the ship as it came ashore. The townspeople begged the couple to return to the city, which had been beset by the strife of competing boyars. Peter and Fevronia returned, ruling humbly and justly, later taking monastic vows.
Later in their monastic life, the couple prayed that they be allowed to die at the same time and to be buried in the same coffin. They did both died on June 25, yet, despite their wishes, their bodies were placed in separate coffins. The coffin they planned to share was placed in the corner of the Church of the Virgin. Then, the next morning, their individual coffins were empty, and they were discovered in the single coffin. People, adhering to traditions, separated the bodies. But the following morning, once again the couple was found side by side in the shared coffin. The people dared not touch the bodies any more, and in the end buried Peter and Fevronia together.
The couple were later made saints by the Orthodox Church, and July 8 (June 25, Old Style), has been hailed as a Russian Valentine’s Day, reflecting the couple’s role as the model of timeless love. It is said that those who come in faith to visit their remains in Murom will receive healing.
Image at top of post: A monument to Peter and Fevronia in Irkutsk. Author Fanzuga (CC). Murom photo: Arzy CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27628356
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