Saturday, October 1, is the patronal feast of our eparchy: the Holy Protection of the Mother of God (Pokrov in Slavonic). This feast, on the first day of October, celebrates the reality of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos) interceding for us before the throne of the Almighty. The Divine Liturgy of this feast will be taken on Friday night as a vigil service, at 7 pm at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Albuquerque.
Its origins lie in events in old Constantinople, either when the city was under attack in the years 864-867 by the pagan Rus’, or in 911 when the Avars threatened (or perhaps Our Lady appeared at each crisis). Worshipers had filled the Blachernae church during both crises, in which the robes of the Virgin Mary were kept, when Saint Andrew, a Fool-for-Christ’s Sake, and his disciple St Epiphanius, saw the Virgin Mary appear in the dome of the church, extending her veil out over the assembly. She was surrounded by angels and ranks of the saints. Our Lady descended from the dome, escorted by Saints John the Baptist and John the Theologian, and went to the ambon, or bema, which in those days was a central raised pulpit in the center of the church. There she bowed her head and began to cry. Finally she spread out her veil over the people, and ascended to the dome, and then disappeared. At this point, the attackers withdrew and the city was spared.
The icon honors the role of Mary as intercessor, and also brings together figures from different time periods, who all have connections to Our Lady and her intercession. Thus, Saint Romanos is usually in the center. Romanos was a Jewish convert who lived in the fifth century. He wanted to be a cantor, but stammered and was mocked by many of the clergy after a particularly difficult reading of the Psalter during a service. After his fervent prayers to Mary, he was able to not only sing beautifully, but also to compose theology in poetic forms to be chanted. He is the source of many texts used in our worship to this very day, and composed over 1,000 kontakia in honor of the Nativity of our Lord, Palm Sunday, Our Lady, the saints, and feast days of Our Lord (today we only use the opening verse of the kontakia, but most of them are much longer with 18-30 verses).
SS. Andrew and Epiphanius, who are honored on October 2, were both “fools for Christ’s sake”. This difficult vocation is followed especially in theChurch ofRussia, which has over 30 canonized “fools”. Some take on the humiliations of a fool to atone for Jesus’ suffering in His passion, especially at the hands of the soldiers. Others are called by God for totally different reasons:
One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference. The spiritual feat of foolishness for Christ was especially widespread in Russia. –(Excerpted from The Law of God, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY: 1993)
It is to the two “fools” to whom Our Lady appeared in theBlachernaeChurchfirst, not to the royal family or the bishops. This is a reminder to the rest of us of the need for humility and penance.
Devotion to the Holy Protection of the Mother of God spread very rapidly when the Slavic nations of Central Europeand Kiev-Rus’ were converted. This feast is enormously popular in Russia, Ukraine, and Slovakia, under the Slavic name of “Pokrov”.
Statue of the Immaculate Virgin Mary in downtown L’viv, Ukraine , erected in 1862 and removed by the Communists in 1950.
Restored in 1997. West Ukrainians are very religious – I always saw fresh flowers around the base of this statue, people would bless themselves going by it, and someone inevitably was standing there just looking up in prayer. I think that we should have spots like this in America.
Many of our churches in the Northeast United States which are known as “Saint Mary” are actually dedicated to the Protection, as can be seen by the icon on the parish iconostas. This is also the full title of the first Byzantine Catholic church built in the Western States, now in Sherman Oaks, California: Saint Mary of the Holy Protection. The name of our eparchy was changed accordingly this year by the Holy See to the “Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix”.
It is worth noting that October is the month of the Rosary in the Roman Catholic Church. This is due to the feast of the Holy Rosary on October 7, which was instituted in thanksgiving for the Christian victory over a Muslim fleet at the battle of Lepanto in 1571, after the Christian crews prayed the Rosary.
Over 70,000 people witnessed the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima.
This photo was taken that day; in the background is the temporary shrine.
and the “Miracle of the Sun” on October 13, 1917, which confirmed the heavenly source of the apparitions of Jesus, Mary, Saint Joseph and the angels. In the messages of Our Lady at Fatima(a place said to have been named for a Muslim woman who became a Christian and married a Portuguese knight), Mary called for prayer and penance for the conversion of sinners. Sinners were defined by Sister Lucia and her cousins as “those who had fallen away from the Church or, more specifically, willfully indulged in sinful activity, particularly “sins of the flesh” and “acts of injustice and a lack of charity towards the poor, widows and orphans, the ignorant and the helpless” which she said were even worse than sins of impurity.”
Our Lady, the Holy Mother of God, spends eternity praying for her children to turn to God. She is perpetually praying on our behalf. On this feast of the Holy Protection this year, let us come together at the Divine Liturgy and pray fervently that we will be true to her, and above all, true to her Divine Son and His Gospel, and so repent of our sins in order to be closer to Christ.