Your most precious mantle glistens more brilliantly than the gold and silver of the ark of old. It is spread out not in substance but in spirit by your pure and incorruptible hands, and it mercifully protects those who honor the feast of your Protection, O Lady, which we joyfully celebrate today.
Pokrov is the Slavonic word for protection, and today is one of the great feasts of the Byzantine calendar.
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. This protection has taken place many times in history, especially among Eastern Christians and in Asia.
In the Byzantine visions, Our Lady was visible only to the most humble of those attending the church services. In Asia, she appeared to pagan enemies of Christ!
This day is the celebration of the intercession of the Mother of God. After prayers to her, and often with a procession of an icon, the cities of Byzantine Christians were spared from foreign attack. It was enormously popular in Constantinople, having its roots 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). Worshippers had filled the Blachernae church, in which the robes of the Virgin Mary were kept, during both crises, 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.
This devotion spread to the Slavic nation states. Icons of the Mother of God were carried around the walls of endangered towns or with armies to battle the invading Mongols and Tatars. History records miraculous victories for Vladimir, Pskov, Novgorod, and Moscow. In particular the Vladimir Mother of God icon was used.
In the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the Austrian and Polish defenders put themselves under Mary’s protection and attacked the Ottoman Turks on September 12, putting a much larger army not only to rout, but to a retreat as well. Muslim armies never advanced that far into Europe again, and it marked their slow withdrawal.
The apparitions in Asia took place in northern China during the Boxer Uprising, in 1900. This revolt, encouraged by the decaying Manchu court, hoped to free China of foreign intruders who were taking over the ports, customs office, and defenses of China; the Christians, whose foreign missionaries often relied on foreign help when there were legal problems; and the missionaries themselves: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.
Boxer armies swept across the north, cutting off the European diplomats in Beijing, in the famous siege of the Legation Quarter, and butchering native Christians and their clergy and nuns. The mostly Catholic town of Donglu was flooded with refugees from destroyed villages and missions. The Boxer army could have easily destroyed the defenders, but they fled from a vision of a woman with her boy-child in the sky above Donglu. A painting was made of the lady, who appeared dressed as a Chinese empress and was accompanied by a soldier riding a white horse, probably Saint Michael. The church was destroyed by the Japanese in 1941, rebuilt in 1992. Despite communist restrictions and communist police barricades, pilgrimages continue at Donglu today.
Donglu Shrine – it can hold 7,000 people!
In Beijing, the capital, the North Cathedral was besieged from June 14 until August 16. It was the only surviving Catholic church in the capital, and its compound was filled with Chinese Catholic families, 850 orphans, 100 Europeans, and the indefatigable bishop, Msgr. Pierre Favier. Surrounded by an army of 10,000 Boxers, there were 41 Italian and French marines and two French officers to defend the people inside. Sister Helen de Jaurias, the superior of the Sisters of Charity, overcame illness and old age, to lead the rationing of supplies and kept a diary of the siege. Every day, Boxers shot at the cathedral’s towers and roof. The defenders wondered why, and after the siege, the Boxers told the Catholics that they had shot at a white lady and her army of white soldiers. As a result, Bishop Favier had a chapel built in honor of Our Lady of Deliverance, again dressed as a Chinese empress holding the Christ Child, Who is dressed as the Crown Prince.
The protection of Our Lady, as the opening Troparion reminds us, is one of spiritual. These miraculous defeats of enemies of Christ should inspire us to turn to Mary in our personal struggles. We all need deliverance from the forces of the enemy. We all need to be filled with God’s grace to crush Satan’s power. And a faithful child of Mary, as has been shown over and over in 2,000 years, will be a devoted child of God, and a good brother/sister of Jesus Christ. None of the above events could take place without the action of God Himself, answering her prayers on our behalf. “All generations shall call me blessed” – Luke 1:48. In doing so, may we place ourselves under her spiritual veil, and so be closer to her Divine Son!
Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Chapel
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC