I grew up in a house where we did not have icons, none that I can remember, and where we did not talk much about God, the Theotokos or saints. My grandmothers taught me to say a few prayers and took me to church on a couple of occasions.
As I grew up, icons started to enter our house, but by then I was a very rebellious teenager so did not make any friends among the saints. When I moved to Lancaster, although I always had faith, I brought no icons with me. In fact, I felt a strange opposition to having traditional icons in my room or in my house later on. A streak of rebellion and ignorance in fact made me hide away in a drawer the icons which I received for my wedding. It is very painful to remember this and the fact I actually damaged one of them by accident. A friend told me then to make sure I keep the icons because when the time was right, I would treasure them.
A few years later, I started feeling guilty about having the icons hidden away and put a cou-ple up in my bedroom. I was still unsure about it, but it started feeling wrong to have them in a drawer. They were just one of Christ and the Theotokos.
Then… the saints started arriving. And I dis-covered that saints are tenacious and come into your home uninvited. If you refuse to welcome them, they will knock again and again. And every time I had a slightly unkind thought about a Saint, they came to befriend me. I am a constantly reluctant and continuously repentant friend of saints as the few stories which follow will tell. I felt that, being such an unworthy and sinful lover of Saints, I had to talk about them, so other people might come to know them a little better and love them a little more and I would like to hear other people’s stories of saints, so my circle of holy friends may grow.
First came Saint Filofteia (or Philothea). I had never heard of her and did not invite her. It was a gift from Father Bogdan when he visited Lancaster about 13 years ago. I myself thought is was an unusual icon to be bringing, but it immediately struck a chord with me because Filofteia was the name of my grandmother who first talked to me about God and Christ and taught me to say a prayer before bed. So many times in my child-hood and growing up, I thought it was a very strange name. It seemed to me at the time old and old fashioned, from a different era and I had often thought that I had never met anyone else by that name and mused on how her parents had come up with it. And how foolish I was, since her name means lover of God in Greek.
As the icon of Saint Filofteia arrived and was temporarily placed in the kitchen, where it still is, overlooking the hub of activity of the house, I started reading about the Saint. Another thing which resonated with me was the fact that her rel-ics are to be found in Romania at the monastery Curtea de Argeş, where my other grandmother always wanted us to go on a trip. Sadly, we never made it because she passed away. But Saint Filofteia makes me remember my two grand-mothers with great affection and gratitude for the seeds of faith they planted when I was a child. But beyond that, as I read about her brief life, I felt such love for the little saint who lived at the be-ginning of the XIII century in Trnovo modern day Bulgaria. She was born in a family of peasants. Filofteia’s mother was a pious woman and taught her to read the Scriptures, fast and pray. She often went to church. Sadly, her mother died when she was only young and her father remarried. Her stepmother disliked the child and her piousness, but Filofteia continued in her Christian upbringing, despite constant beatings and scoldings. She had a very compassionate heart and gave every-thing away to the poor and the hungry. One of her daily duties was to take her father’s lunch to him in the fields where he was working. But on the way, she saw some hungry children and, as was her habit, gave them some of her father’s lunch. Her father saw her and became so angry that in a fit of rage he threw his axe at her and killed her on the spot. She was 12 years old. Immediately repentant, he tried to lift the body but was unable to move it and he was further terrified by the fact it shone with a white light. He ran to the city and came back with the local archbishop and many people. They all marvelled at how the body shone and read prayers and glorified God.
It is not entirely clear when her relics arrived in Romania, but most likely they were taken over the Danube for protection during the Turkish invasion of Bulgaria around 1393. The saint is revered both in Romania and Bulgaria and her feast day is the 7th of December. She is the protectress of abused children and children in general and many are the miracles attributed to her, especially for the sick.
By Alexandra McC.