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Protection of the Holy Virgin

On October 14th (the 1st, old style) the Russian Church triumphantly and joyously celebrates the Protection of the Holy Virgin. This holiday is beloved by the Russian Orthodox people. It was established in the 12th century by the Russian Church, although the historical basis for it was the defeat of our Russian forebears as they attacked the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople, which was saved through the intercession of the Theotokos.

The Holy Protection.
The Holy Protection.

The Russian Church celebrates an event which occurred in ancient times and in a foreign land - the faraway Greek city of Constantinople, more than 1000 years ago. The event took place in the Vlakherna church, in the presence of a multitude of people, although it was seen only by two - the blessed fool-for-Christ Andrew and his disciple Epiphanius. Both of them saw the Queen of heaven and earth appear in the church, praying for the world and all the people, and blessing the faithful with her most-holy covering.

Who was this blessed Andrew, the chosen one, to whom the Mother of God revealed Her appearance? In the great city of Constantinople St. Andrew seemed to be poor and base-born. However, under the cover of oddity he concealed from everyone his shining spirit and his gracefilled wisdom. St. Andrew was a Slav by birth and as a child was sold into slavery.

Beloved by his master, he received an excellent education and showed particular aptitude for reading and writing; as a result he was given the honorable position of scribe. However, his innate wisdom impelled him to shun earthly honors and immerse himself in spiritual contemplation. Following his inner impulse, he left the world under the guise of madness, concealing his great spiritual gifts under beggar’s rags, and took upon himself the spiritual feat of foolishness-for-Christ, along with the labors of fasting, poverty, homelessness and constant prayer. It was this fool-for-Christ whom the Mother of God chose to witness Her coming to the Vlakherna church. She chose neither the patriarch, nor a bishop, nor a clergyman or monastic; She chose neither the king or his nobles, nor any of the wise and learned men for whom Byzantium was famous; nor did She choose any of the city’s prominent citizens. Instead, the Holy Theotokos chose the fool-for-Christ Andrew, and granted him the grace of witnessing, together with his pious disciple Epiphanios, the great and awesome vision.

This happened at the end of blessed Andrew’s life. While attending an all-night vigil at Vlakherna, in the early hours of the morning he saw the Mother of God enter the church through the royal doors, surrounded by a host of angels and a multitude of saints, supported by Saint John the Baptist and the holy apostle John the Theologian.

As the Theotokos approached the ambo, Saint Andrew asked Epiphanios: “Do you see the Mistress and Queen of the world?” To which the latter tremblingly replied: “I see, father, and I am awed.”

After praying for a while, the Most-pure took off Her head covering, which glittered like lightning, and spread it over the people.

In celebrating this feast, the Church commemorates the great and joyous revelation of the divine protection which is spread over the world, the Mother of God’s great love for mankind. For not only in the Vlakherna church did the Theotokos tearfully pray a thousand years ago, but She prays for us always until the end of time. And Her venerable covering was spread not only over the faithful who were present in church at that time, but over the entire world, over all of mankind, and over all of us, sinners, shines the saving Protection of the Mother of God.

The Mother of God is a mediator between earth and heaven, an Intercessor for the world before the throne of God’s glory. The world has not been abandoned in its sorrow, man is not alone in his grief: for us, and together with us, grieves the Holy Virgin. Yes, we know that we are great sinners, but we also know that we have not been forgotten by the Mother of God, to Whom each human soul is precious. Can there be any greater comfort? Throughout the ages the joy of the Holy Virgin’s Protection shines in the hearts of the faithful, the joy of Her prayer for the world. The Theotokos’ prayer, with which the Holy Spirit Himself prays, is all-powerful. May the joy and the glory of the Mother of God’s Protection shine over us, within our hearts and over our land! Amen.

From “Miraculous Icons of the Mother of God in Russian History

Homily for the feast of the Protection of the Holy Mother of God.

Today, dear brethren, we celebrate the feast of the Protection of the Holy Mother of God. The beginning of this holiday goes back to 910 A.D. in the city of Constantinople, in the former Byzantine Empire, the modern-day Turkey. At that time the city was being besieged by enemies, who threatened it with complete destruction, since the siege caught the city unawares, without the necessary means of defense. It is easy to understand the panic and fear of the inhabitants; however, they did not lose their heads.

Weak in military power, but strong in their faith and hope in God, the Greeks – together with their emperor, Leo the Wise, - gathered for an all-night vigil in the famous church of Vlakherna, where the raiment of the Mother of God was kept, and here they ardently prayed to the Queen of Heaven and earth for their deliverance.

Protection of the Holy Mother of God

It was at this moment that appeared the wondrous vision which we celebrate today and which remained unforgettable for all times.

In the church stood the righteous fool-for-Christ Andrew, who came from Scythia (which later became Russia), together with his disciple Epiphanius, who later became the Patriarch of Constantinople. Both of them saw the Holy Theotokos pray for the people together with the entire assembly of saints who accompanied Her, and during the prayer She covered the faithful with Her veil.

Right now we are in similar circumstances: also in church, also at a service. But what would we feel, dear brethren, if the Mother of God were to appear before us together with an entire assembly of saints?! We would have been thoroughly awestruck, unable to express our feeling in words. All of us would probably stand dumbfounded with holy awe, wonderment, delight…

And yet that is not so impossible, it is not only an ephemeral dream! The mysteries of the spiritual world surround us everywhere like air. We do not see them with our eyes, because our physical sight is too coarse, it is adapted only for purely physical purposes. Arm you eye with a telescope – and you will see sunspots a million miles away, you will see the famous canals on Mars, etc. Look in a microscope – and you will see teeming life in the tiniest drop of water.

To some degree this is a miracle, but at the same time it is natural; it is the physical laws that operate here. But there is another, different world, a spiritual world. No one can penetrate it only with the help of physical laws.

Everyone carries a particle of this spiritual world within himself – this is our soul.

The life of the soul within us is closely bound with the physical construction of our organism, and at the same time we feel that this is only a temporary arrangement. If we do not like it, we try not to think about it. If thoughts of spiritual life come to us, we try to chase them away from us.

But let us ponder, dear brethren: where now are the countless millions of people who, beginning with Adam, have lived on the earth? Discounting their personal spiritual state, we understand that they must be located somewhere. Their bodies have long turned to dust, but where are their souls?

And at this point we come face to face with an idea – though vague but still definitely present – about a creative plan for the universe, which consists of two parts – spiritual and physical, and at the edge of these two worlds stands man.

The feast of the Protection of the Mother of God shows us the union of these two worlds. Actually, most miraculous here is not the vision itself, of the Mother of God and all the saints praying for the people, - this is mentioned in all the sticheras in our services that speak of the Theotokos, - but miraculous is the fact that this vision was seen by man. This is the real miracle, since it entails a retreat from customary laws of nature. The spiritual world and all its manifestations are usually invisible to the human eye.

We have become used to imagining that She, the HolyTheotokos, and all the saints, all the deceased, the entire spiritual world in general – are somewhere over there, far away in the heavens. It is unusual and even difficult for us to believe and the Mother of God and all the saints are so close to us that they can pray together with us in our churches.

The Divine liturgy, which is served by sinful people, is a mystery which, in the words of a church prayer, “even the holy angels wish to penetrate,” while for Her, the Holy Mother of God, this sacrifice must be most precious of all.

Do not let go of the chance, dear brethren, to make use of the Theotokos’ nearness, and to pray to Her with childish simplicity, loyalty and sincere faith, calling out to Her: "Rejoice, o our Joy, protect us from all evil with Thy most precious veil." Amen.

* * *

Once again we have gathered, dear brethren, for a feast of the Most-pure Theotokos; once again we shall hear the Gospel reading, so familiar to us, about the meeting of the two joyous Mothers – Mary and Elizabeth; once again we shall exclaim together with the Theotokos: “My soul doth magnify the Lord and My spirit doth rejoice in God, My Saviour”; once again we shall joyously open our lips and gladly sing praises to Her miracles.

And this is truly a miracle of God’s mercy that it is so easy for our hearts to open up to hymning the Mother of God, that not only are we not wearied by the frequent feast days of the Virgin, but after each one passes we impatiently wait for the next one, which proves how much we love Her Who is more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.

Today’s feast has its special characteristics which make it particularly precious to us. The Most-pure spread Her veil over a city that was under siege, over a people who had no other hope except the help of the Queen of Heaven; and She interceded for this people. And thus, from this ancient historical fact into the Christian soul has entered the assurance that when there is no other intercessor, no other comfort, no other joy, when the heart is ready to accept the bitter idea that it is lonely, forgotten and unneeded by anyone, – then it suffices just to remember that we have a kind, merciful and compassionate Mother Who sees our needs, hears our entreaties, and is always ready to help us, support us, comfort us; it suffices to remember all this and appeal to Her, the Most-pure and Most-blessed, with all our heart, cry out to Her – and then a miracle will occur: sorrow will pass, and a quiet, tender joy and reconciliation to God’s will shall fill our soul.

These spiritual emotions – both sorrow and the joy that follow it – are facts, reality, actuality. We know where sorrow comes from, what gives rise to it; we should also know exactly where joy comes from, in order not to think of it as happenstance, as something which occurs of its own accord or from a change of inner mood.

The Church helps us examine our soul and see the source of its joy. In today’s kontakion it will point out to us that “today the Virgin standeth forth in the Church and with the choir of the saints She invisibly prayeth to God for us.”

Can there be any sadness or affliction where the Queen of Heaven spreads Her glittering veil? Where people appeal to Her with prayer? Can we doubt Her unseen presence among us? If we purify our feelings so that our heart would not be subject to any earthly passion, then by the prayers of the Theotokos the joy of Christ will once again encompass us and will be the source of everlasting spiritual comfort. Amen.

Protopriest Igor Hrebinka.

Homily for the Protection of the Holy Theotokos

In the days of one’s earthly wandering, a person often has need of heavenly aid. Just as a traveler who has lost his way during a stormy winter night eagerly looks around him to see whether there’s a glimmer of light anywhere, so we, too, in difficult moments of our life, when it seems to us that there is no way out, - unconsciously look upward, towards the Giver of all bounties, the Lord God.

A vivid example of such a situation is presented in the event which gave rise to today’s holiday.

This took place more than a thousand years ago, when Asian hordes of savage Saracens invaded Byzantium, our sister in faith, pillaging everything in their path with fire and sword. The Greeks shut themselves up in Constantinople and fearfully awaited inevitable death, since the enemy had already reached the walls of the city. They could not expect help from anywhere, while their own military forces were insignificant. However, the Christians felt that not everything was lost yet, since the impossible for man is quite possible for God.

And so the entire people, from the emperor to the lowliest commoner, all went to the church in Vlachernae to pray together. (This church was known for its sacred relics: it contained the Mother of God’s robe and Her omophorion, i.e. a large veil which She had worn on Her head). And this prayer was very ardent, and it reached the throne of God. In the early hours of the morning one of the faithful, the blessed fool-for-Christ Andrew, a native of Russia, prayerfully raised his eyes and saw the Queen of Heaven, the Most-holy Virgin Mary, surrounded by a host of angels and saints, shining with a brilliant light and covering the people with Her lightning-like veil. Amazed at such a wondrous vision, St. Andrew said to his disciple, the blessed Epiphanius: “Do you see, brother, the Queen and Mistress of all, praying for the whole world?” – “I do see, holy Father,” – the latter replied, – “and I am awed.”

Protection of the Theotokos
Protection of the Theotokos

News of this vision shown to the elect of God quickly spread throughout the entire city, and the Greek soldiers, inspired by hope in the aid of the earnest Protectress of Christians, successfully repelled their enemy’s great multitude. Even King David, the psalmist, had cried out with hope in God’s Providence: He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him (Ps. 91:15). Through God we shall do valiantly, for He it is that shall tread down our enemies (Ps. 60:12).

Thus, the enemy’s great armies were powerless before the citadel in which people relied not on their swords, bows, and arrows, but on help from above. This citadel is God’s church, where the Most-holy One deigned to appear to Her elect ones, the saints Andrew and Epiphanius.

From this it follows that the church is our earthly haven in all needs and sorrows, it is a holy place in which the Lord’s power is primarily made manifest through the seven established sacraments. The church is to some degree an earthly heaven, where the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded by the angels and a multitude of saints, shines forth. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20). This is why even in Old Testament times the temple was the center of human life, the place where people communicated with God. For this reason the ark of the covenant not-made-by-hands – the Most-pure Mother of God – was being prepared for Her exclusively lofty assignment by staying primarily in church. Christ Himself, for Whom heaven is a throne and the earth a pedestal, often visited the temple of Jerusalem and, caring deeply for its holiness, expelled everyone who brought disorder into it. My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves (Matt. 21:13), – He said to the sellers of sacrificial animals, who had established themselves together with their merchandise in one of the inner courtyards of the temple. Thus the apostles, and subsequently all Christians, unanimously gathered together on Sundays in order to perform the sacrament of Holy Communion in a specially established place.

No further examples are needed. It is clear to everyone that we need God’s church, and that we should endeavor to get there just like a sick person strives to get to a clinic, hoping to get well.

Do not say that you can just as easily pray at home. No, do not deceive yourself and others, do not try to justify your idleness. It is only here, during the Divine liturgy, that the King of kings and the Lord of lords comes to be sacrificed and given to the faithful. Here our prayer achieves its greatest power, because by not seeing or hearing anything worldly around us, we unconsciously focus our attention in a single direction: to worship the Lord God, so that He would remember us in His Kingdom. We should remember that in those difficult times during the siege of Constantinople, the Emperor and Empress, and St. Andrew with his disciple Epiphanius, and the entire multitude of people could very well have prayed, and undoubtedly did pray, in their homes; however, they were all summoned for general prayer in the church, and it was the prayer there, offered from united hearts and united lips, which broke through the heavens and reached God. And it was there, in church, that a vision revealed how the Most-pure One prayed before the throne of Her Son and our God for the suffering mankind.

May all of this serve as a lesson and instruction to us, to encourage our coming without fail to God’s church, where our prayers are fortified by the aid and the intercession of the saints and the Most-immaculate Virgin Mary above all.

O, Most-holy Theotokos, save us! Amen.
Protopriest Leonid Kolchev
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