The image of the Mother of God takes pride of place in every Christian's heart. The Mother of God is a symbol of purity, selflessness and fullness of love, standing before God and interceding for the entire human race. This constant inexhaustible prayer, protecting and preserving mankind, is fully expressed in the feast of the Protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos. This day is celebrated most fervently by the Russian church as the most important solemnity besides the Twelve Great Feasts and Pascha.
The history of the holiday is associated with a miraculous incident that took place in Constantinople in the beginning of the 10th century. In 910, the capital of the Byzantine Empire was besieged by the barbarians. They came close to the city walls and were preparing to break into the city to destroy it. All the city dwellers gathered in the main church where the Honorable Robe of the Mother of God was kept and prayed jointly for salvation.
Their only hope was for God's mercy.
Among the worshipers were St Andrew the Fool-for-Christ and his disciple Epiphanius. Raising his eyes to the sky, St Andrew suddenly saw the Most-Pure Virgin praying together with all the people for the salvation of the city. Surrounded by radiant angels and saints in white robes, She walked in the air towards the royal doors, prayed before the holy altar, and then took the veil (omophorion) off Her venerable head and spread it over the people. The veil was shining with a light, bright as the Sun. Next to the Mother of God stood St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist. The Mother of God asked the Lord Jesus Christ to accept the prayers of all people calling on His Most Holy Name and resorting to Her intercession.
Saint Andrew, who was contemplating this divine vision with fear and trembling, turned to his disciple, Blessed Epiphanius, who was standing next to him and asked, "Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?"
Epiphanius answered, "Yes, Holy Father, I see Her and am amazed!"
By the prayers of the Blessed Virgin, the enemy was driven away from the walls of Constantinople. The rising storm scattered the barbarian ships, saving the citizens of Constantinople from death.
Despite the fact that the above event took place in Byzantium, it was glorified by the Russian prince Andrei Bogolyubsky in 1165. A year earlier, the prince set out on a campaign against the Volga Bulgars, raiding the lands of Suzdal, Murom and Vladimir and keeping in fear the whole North-Eastern Russia. Andrey took two miraculous icons with him on the campaign, the All-Merciful Savior and the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. Two priests were carrying a Cross in front of the retinue. Quite unexpectedly, the campaign won a quick and easy victory, most importantly, with very few casualties among the Russian army.
Prince Andrew was sure that a miracle had happened.
Upon returning home, he established two new church and state holidays. The first one was dedicated to the All-Merciful Savior, the Most Holy Theotokos and the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. It was celebrated on the day of the victory over the Bulgars (August 14th, new style). The second one was in honor of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos (celebrated on October 14th, new style).
Despite it being perfectly consistent with the theology of our sister churches, the feast of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos is not a part of their ritual traditions and is celebrated almost exclusively by the Russian Orthodox Church. For this reason, there are no Byzantine or Greek icons of the Intercession.
The oldest icons dedicated to the feast can be found today in Suzdal (Nativity Cathedral, 13th century), the Snetogorski monastery in Pskov (14th century) and the Tretyakov Gallery, displaying a number of 14th century images from several Russian monasteries.
There are several types of icons depicting the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos. One of them comes from Suzdal. Such icons depict the Most Holy Theotokos holding the veil Herself. Among the upcoming are the emperor, the patriarch, as well as priests, monastics and laity. The scene is depicted against the background of a temple building with characteristic features of the Blachernae Church in Constantinople.
Novgorodians and Pskovites were among the first to accept and glorify the new celebration in honor of the Queen of Heaven, hence the appearance of the Novgorod iconographic type of the Intercession. On such icons, the veil over the Blessed Virgin is carried by angels. The church is depicted in what can be considered a sectional view, symbolizing the entire universe becoming a temple of God's glory.
A deacon proclaiming praise to the Most Holy Theotokos appears in the center of some of these icons. This is the Reverend Romanos the Melodist, famous for his church poetry and chants. According to legend, he received his gift from the Most Holy Theotokos. St Roman began his service in the Blachernae Church, and his memory is also kept on October 14.
In the lower part of both types the eyewitness of the Blachernae miracle, Saint Andrew of Constantinople is depicted, pointing towards the image of the Most-Pure Virgin and turning to his young disciple. Most icons also feature the figures of St John the Baptist and St John the Theologian who appeared with the Mother of God.
Now, as ever before, the Most Holy Lady covers us with Her Veil, protecting us in a motherly way from all evil.
“Remember us in Thy prayers, o Holy Virgin Theotokos,” the Church sings on this day, “let us not perish in our multiplying sins; cover us from all evil and fierce misfortunes; We trust in Thee and, celebrating the Feast of Thy intercession, we magnify Thee”.
Any misfortune that befalls us means that we have been carried away by the temptations of this world, inadvertently falling outside the Veil of the Most Holy Theotokos. In a similar way, a child escapes from maternal care and gets into trouble. But when we repent of our mindlessness, the Mother of God is always quick to come to the aid of Her unreasonable child as soon as he calls Her. She will always console, comfort and heal every repentant sinner under the Veil of Her inexhaustible maternal love. And therefore, the Protection of the Mother of God is one of the most joyful feasts for us.
On this day we, the Orthodox people, joyously keep festival, /
illumined by your coming, O Mother of God; /
and, beholding your most pure image, we cry out with compunction: /
"Cover us with your Protecting Veil and deliver us from all evil, /
entreating your Son, Christ our God, to save our souls."
PS - If you need prayer support for yourself or your loved ones, you can submit online prayer notes in our Convent. Our sisters will remember each name and pray to the Blessed Virgin for our Salvation.
The spiritual message of the icon revealed itself with time. It promises eventual forgiveness to the Russian people and the return of the supreme power from the Holy Theotokos after a long period of suffering and repentance.
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