Genevieve of Paris

Augustine Sokolovski

Today, January 16, on the day when half of the winter time has already passed, our Church honors the memory of Saint Genevieve of Paris. The great saint of Ancient Gaul has forever become the image of God's Spring.

Approximate dating of her biography is not difficult to remember. Genevieve lived to be about 80 years old, was born in the twenties of the fourth and lived until the first decade of the fifth century.

Saint Genevieve combined in herself the features of very many types of holiness. Therefore, it is hardly possible to categorize. So, our Orthodox calendar calls her a holy nun. But she was not a nun in the modern sense of the word.

Genevieve was a consecrated virgin. This is a special rank of service in the Ancient Church, the detailed features of which have not come down to us. Virgins received their consecration through the laying on of hands by a bishop.

It is possible that the consecrated virgins had some liturgical affinity with the early Christian service of the Deaconesses in the Church.

It is surprising that Saint Genevieve was known in the Cristian East even during her lifetime. So, the great Simeon the Stylite once said to pilgrims who came to him: go home in peace, you have Genevieve there!

The vita says that Genevieve was very fond of the place of the martyrdom of Bishop Dionysius of Paris. This is an example for us to honor and love not only those saints who are known and are now revered by the entire Church, but those who are especially personally close to us spiritually. Name children after them. The forgotten saints should be especially remembered. 

I have heard the Swiss city of Geneva referred to as the ‘City of Saint Genevieve’. This is mistake. A settlement with this name is mentioned as early as the middle of the first century BC!

However, it is possible that both words, the name of the saint and the name of the city, go back to one of the common derivatives of the Celtic word ‘river’. But this is the case if the origin of the name of the saint is also 'Celtic'. This is the subject of discussion.

It is surprising that brought up in piety from childhood, the great saint was a contemporary of the great repentant sinner - Mary of Egypt.

Finally, from the life of Saint Genevieve, one teaching that is very relevant for modern spiritual life is revealed.

The saint was a consecrated virgin. As a sign of their consecration, the virgins walked with their heads covered.

It is important to remember that a covered head was also a sign of a married woman. In fact, it was a sign of belonging not to oneself. It was the seal of the fact that a person no longer belongs to himself. It belongs to another, as in the case of a married woman. It belongs to the Other - another world, another age, the future New Jerusalem, God, as in the case of a consecrated virgin. 

After all, God is Infinite Otherness. He is diferent. It is an Other in the absolute sense. And according to the Gospel and the faith of the Church, he became ours for us.

"I believe in one God, the Father," says the Creed. In other words, 'I believe that God is one, unique, and only; I believe that God is our true Father in Christ, through the Holy Spirit’.

Moreover, it is God who is the prototype of every earthly father, and not vice versa, no matter how it may seem to non-Christians in the polemic against the doctrine of the Trinity. ‘From Him every family in heaven and on earth is named,’ writes the Apostle (Eph. 3:15).

Among modern Orthodox believers, there is often a discussion about whether all women, including unmarried ones, should cover their heads, or only those who are married should do this.

The answer to this topical question for Russian Orthodoxy is contained precisely in the faith and practice of the Ancient Church. 

A handkerchief on the head of an unmarried woman or of a not consecrated person, would mean, in prayer, or in the temple, that is, before God, a false claim to the possession of a gift that was not given.