Today, we commemorate the Icon of the Holy Theotokos "Joy of All Who Sorrow". In this world, we will have sorrows. But the icon sends us a powerful message: joys and sorrows are two sides of the same coin. Our faith makes this connection real. Thousands upon thousands hallow the name of the Mother of God. They know that She will come to our help when the burden of our sorrows exceeds our human ability to endure.
She reassures us when we find ourselves in situations that threaten the work of our lives and our very selves. She strengthens us when our powers are insufficient. To Her, we appeal when a grave illness strikes us that no doctor or medicine can cure. We invoke her name when our hardships are so severe that our inner world begins to crumble. In destructive conflicts that threaten to break apart our families, parishes, communities, and ultimately the fabric of our relationships; when no human power can mend the broken ties and restore the peace, we run to the Theotokos, and fall to our knees before Her.
We all face the inevitable reality of death. Our departure happens in complete solitude, no matter how many people are standing around our death bed, how much they love us, or how famous we were during our lifetime. One fiction writer compared our dying moment to riding in a runaway tram wagon. At some moment, all the other people in the wagon will have jumped off, leaving us completely alone. Alone, without anybody around - not even the driver or the conductor, as the wagon gains speed. No person around our deathbed can keep us company when we die.
No one is there to accompany us, except the Holy Theotokos, our Mother in Heaven. She is the One who was always with us in our hardest sorrows, our worst moments of weakness. She is the One who has always supported us in overcoming our infirmities of the body and spirit. She never abandons us, even at death. No wonder, then, that Her icon that we have come to commemorate today is called "the Joy of All Who Sorrow". With the power of Her Love, she comforts us in our most bitter pain; she stays with us at all times if that is what we ask. We raise to her our heartfelt prayers, and she hears; she responds to our pleas with all the love and care of her heart.
Who would ever walk many miles to a well that has no water? Likewise, who would ever pray to God and the Theotokos, if they had no hope of being heard? Who would be foolish enough to approach their superiors at work with the same request being refused a meeting and having their request turned down? Yet we do not stop our prayer to God and His Mother because they hear and reward us with an outpouring of His grace. Our whole religious life is grounded in it.
Take a close look at the developments in the world, and you will notice the strong intellectual pressure on many people to lead them away from God. Some will cave in, and choose to live by the desires of the flesh. But most will stand firm. "No," they will respond adamantly. "I know that God hears me and the Holy Theotokos will help me in my life." Those who come before Her Icon today with their sorrows and hardships will be the first to say so. Only when our experience unites with our faith, we begin to have genuine faith. Only then does our belief transform into our confidence in God's presence in our lives. The Protection of the Mother of God is no fiction or metaphor; it is a reality that guards us in our lives.
I pray that the Mother of God will always be near you; that you will have the strength of spirit to pray incessantly, and that you will never lose the connection to Her that makes Her intercession in Heaven a reality for us. May Her veil of protection always stay above our cities, our Holy Church and all of us to keep us strong in our faith and worship. May we never lose the hope of Her intercession for us before God. Amen.
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia
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