This day is truly luminous and joyful. Gladness upon the faces, solemn chants, joy of the soul – everything shows that the Church is the earthly heaven. The reason for this joy is the glorification of the Most Pure Virgin, which arouses affection in the pious hearts of those praying.
It is difficult for us to imagine and comprehend with our limited mind that Divine glory of the Most Holy Mother of God, in which She entered after Her Dormition into the palace of glory of Her Divine Son and God. We only know what the Holy Spirit uttered about Her through the mouth of Her forefather Prophet David: «at your right hand stands the queen» (Ps. 45:9). These words mean that the Lord honoured Her above all the Saints, above all the Angelic and Archangelic ranks, above the Cherubim and Seraphim. As on earth the Most Pure Virgin was filled with beauty and grace, so now in heaven She is filled with Divine glory and light. She reigns in Heaven and on earth, Angels and all the saints worship Her as the Almighty Queen, Whom Her Divine Son granted the audacity to intercede before Him for the whole world. Her requests are never denied, since the will of the Lord is to glorify His Mother, and that His glory be the glory and the power of the heavenly Queen – the Mother of God.
Today we sing and honour the spiritual protection of the Mother of God, Her intercession and supplication before God, which we receive through Her great mercy and love for us sinners. This protection has its origin on Calvary, where, by the will of Her Son – the Divine Sufferer – She adopted the whole human race in the person of His beloved disciple – John the Theologian. «Woman, behold, your son!» – sounded from the Cross from the mouth of Jesus (John 19:26). After these words, everything that happens with the disciples of Christ, all their joys and pains, troubles and sorrows – everything passes through the heart of the Mother of God, Who constantly takes care of Her children, fulfilling the behest of Her Only Begotten Son, crucified on the Cross. Since then and up to this day, the world is filled with many signs of protection of the people by the Mother of God – signs of Her motherly love.
The events commemorated in the feast of the Intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God date back to the tenth century, when an innumerable barbarian army of pagans attacked the Greek Orthodox state, threatening to destroy the numerous churches (most of which were dedicated to the Queen of Heaven), and enslave or fiercely execute Christians. When the inhabitants of Constantinople saw the fierce enemy under the walls of the capital, they were filled with fear and horror. All the people, young and old, gathered for an all-night vigil into the Blachernae Church, where the robe of the Mother of God was kept. With great zeal and burning tears, they turned in prayer to their last and only hope – the Mother of God. Faced with death, everyone prayed with deep repentance and contrition for the sins that caused the disaster. Together with all the people in the church, the pious King Leo the Wise and Queen Zoe prayed fervently.
Sincere repentance and fervent prayer were heard, and the Queen of Heaven herself hastened to appear to those who are praying and to comfort them. Blessed Andrew, holy fool for Christ’s sake, a Slav by birth, and his disciple Blessed Epiphanius, also prayed in the Blachernae Church during that service. In the fourth hour in the morning, when the all-night vigil was already ending, blessed Andrew lifted his eyes to the heaven in prayer and saw a great miracle: the Mother of God is standing in the air among the host of Angels, Prophets, Apostles and Saints and praying for the salvation of Christians, overshadowing the church with Her omophorion (veil) shining “more than the rays of the sun.” Saint Andrew in awe and ecstasy pointed at this vision to his disciple Epiphanius and asked him: “Do you see, brother, the Queen and the Lady of all, praying for the salvation of the whole world?” “I do see,” – answered Epiphanius, seized with fear, – “I do see, holy father, and I am terrified!”
Through the prayers of His Mother, the Lord showed a miraculous salvation – the enemy suddenly went away from the walls of Constantinople; its inhabitants came to great joy and glorified the Lord and His Most Pure Mother. But even greater glorification was given to this event by the newly enlightened Russian people.
The miracle of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God in the Blachernae Church undoubtedly fills our hearts with joy as well. We turn to the “Intercessor Mother” with a prayer for our salvation, we ask Her for mercy and help. And She responds to the prayerful appeal of our souls and hearts and saves us, delivering from the world of evil. We, unworthy ones, fall at Her most pure feet, begging Her to be our protection and intercession, and in our hope for the mercy of the Mother of God we come into the quiet haven of Her mercy, from the bitter sea of worldly passions and sinful pleasures – to the Heavenly pier. In adversity, we cry to the Mother of God: “We know that we are sinners, worthy of the wrath of Your Son, but extinguish it in the sea of Your mercy, save us from the condemnation that we deserve. We have grown the thorns of sins and the weeds of temptations, and through this we are deprived of the audacity to ask for mercy from Your Son, but You, our Intercessor, beg Him to deliver us from God’s wrath and unquenchable fire; do not deprive us of Your mercy and protection.”
The Most Holy Mother of God always responds to our prayers and prays to Her Divine Son for the forgiveness of our sins. Turning to the Son in prayer, She voices Her request to have mercy on the human race, not to leave it without His mercy. She calls out to Her Son: “Yes, they are ungrateful, blind, lost and sometimes do not know what they are doing, but I pray for them, for they believe in Your love and forgiveness.” Her prayer is lifted up for everyone who reveres Her Son, for those who believe in His love. She saves us from the ruin of our souls, so we turn to the Mother of God in prayer: “Save us, Lady; cover us with Your grace all the days of our life, and especially on that fierce day, when the soul parts with the body, save us then from the evil spirits of the air; and at the Last Judgment be our hope. “
We know from history that our ancestors, the Slavs, who were pagan before the adoption of Christianity, tried to conquer Constantinople in 866, and the knights, led by Askold and Dir, went there on boats. But the Christians – residents of the capital — fervently prayed to the Most Holy Mother of God for the salvation of their city. In hope for her intercession, they went to the sea, where the ships of the Slav conquerors were, and immersed the venerable Robe of the Mother of God into the water. And a miracle happened – on the sea, hitherto quiet, a storm arose, which scattered and crushed the Russian boats, and they were forced to retreat. Struck by the miracle, the Slavs, instead of conquering Byzantium, were themselves subdued by Christ and then accepted the protection of the Christian faith.
Russian people have not forgotten about this punishment and the power of the Mother of God. They were not offended that their ancestors were the subject of Her wrath, and they treated with great respect the love and the power of the Most Holy Mother of God, with which She protects those who love Her Son. The Most Holy Virgin shows Her special patronage to our Fatherland. This is evidenced by the great multitude of miracle-working icons with Her image, revealed at different times in our Russian land. Remembering these great blessings, our hearts are filled with a sense of gratitude and joy. It is impossible to list all the benefactions of the Queen of Heaven to our Orthodox Fatherland. Let us recall only one example of the help of the zealous Protector from enemies and adversaries to our Russian land.
In the Time of Troubles in the beginning of the 17th century, a time of turmoil and impostors, Moscow was in the hands of the Polish, and the Swedes committed outrages in the northern regions. The Russian forces were poorly armed, and there was no unanimity among its leaders. When all earthly hopes dwindled, the Orthodox people lifted up their prayers to the Most Pure Mother of God with a request to protect the Russian land with His Most Pure Veil and save it. Then, due to the intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God, venerable Sergius of Radonezh appeared in a miraculous vision to Saint Arseniy, who was a priest at that time, and said: “Arseniy! Your prayers have been answered. By the intercession of the Mother of God the judgment of God about the Fatherland has been changed to mercy, next morning Russia will be saved.” And, indeed, the next day the Kremlin was in the hands of the Russians – Russia was saved. To commemorate this miraculous apparition of the Protection of the Most Holy Virgin over the Fatherland, the liberation of Russia from the foreign rule and the preservation of Orthodoxy, the Church established to hold services annually on the 22nd day of October (November 4).
The protection of the Most Holy Mother of God tells us how great is the power of Her prayer before God. If this prayer merges with the common prayer in the church, then the Mother of God, motivated by our diligence, begs the merciful God to deliver us from adversity. How comforting this prayer is for our souls and hearts, which sometimes are ready to fall into despair! We feel and believe that we are not abandoned, not forgotten by the Queen of Heaven, that She intercedes for us, remembers us, cares about our salvation.
What a great and holy place is God’s Church! Here the Intercessor stretched out Her omophorion over the worshippers. Church is a place of the special presence of God and His saints. They look at our souls and listen to our hearty prayers. Therefore we Christians must always be in a church in purity of thoughts, directing our hearts towards the heaven in love for God and our neighbors. And we should not be in a church in absent-mindedness, idle conversations, gossip, laughter, condemnation of our neighbors, so as not to become like the merchants in the Ierosalim Temple, whom Jesus Christ expelled with a scourge. May the Lord keep us from this!
Saint Gregory Palamas instructs us: “Let us divert our mind and our attention from everyday cares and raise it into the depths of Heaven — into that Holy of Holies where the Mother of God now dwells, for in this way our chants and prayers with God-pleasing audacity and benefit will reach Her and we, thanks to Her intercession, will receive not only the goods of the present life, but will become the heirs of the future, endless goods.”
The Protection of the Mother of God over the worshipers was revealed during the all-night vigil, and this is a lesson for us. Many people nowadays miss Divine services, especially on the eve of a feast or Sunday. Meanwhile, the Lord shows us unworthy His mercy constantly – every day, every hour, therefore, we should constantly pray and thank God. But the Lord knows that this is difficult for us, so He tells us to devote at least one of the seven days, one evening and one morning, to the prayer in His church. In order that the Lord does not take away His gifts and mercies from us, let us honour the holy days of the feasts, go to the church on these days, remembering that without the blessing and help of God there will be no success in our labours, and we can lose His almighty help. Therefore, brethren, let us pray more diligently in the church of God and in this prayer let us ask the Mother of God for Her help, protection and deliverance from all evil and for the salvation of our soul.
Brothers and sisters! Believing in the great power of the intercession of the Mother of God, let us fall at Her feet with prayer in all needs, sorrows and trials. And She, being the Joy of all who sorrow, will surely intercede for us, save and have mercy; stretching His mighty Protection over us! Glory to our God, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, amen!