"O Mother of God, sheltered by Thy coming /
we faithful people today keep feast in joy, /
and looking at Thy most pure image, /
moved to the depths of our hearts, we say: /
Protect us with Thy precious Veil /
and deliver us from every ill, /
by entreating Christ, Thy Son and our God, /
to save our souls."
(Tropar in tone 4 - Protection of the Mother of God)
Early one morning, two sisters were getting ready for school, as one sister walked out of her room with one pillow on her back and one pillow on her chest. Her sister asked, “why do you have pillows on you?” “Well,” she said, “the pillow on my chest is to protect from all the boys that will break my heart. And the pillow on my back is to protect me from all the friends that will stab me in the back."
We all have, at one time or another, felt like that sister who needed protection from the hurts and pains of our earthly life. The same was for the residents of Constantinople in the early tenth century (c. 911 A.D.), as they were under siege from pre-Christian Slavs. Threatened, overwhelmed and full of fear, the inhabitants of Constantinople turned to prayer. The people were able to assemble in the Church of the Mother of God at Vlakherna (Blachernae) where a relic; of the veil of the Virgin Mary was kept for veneration. During the all-night vigil service, Righteous Andrew fool-for-Christ, saw a vision of the Mother of God carrying her veil which she stretched out over the city and all the people. It was beneath her protection that all could come for refuge. Accounts vary as to how the siege ended, however the faithful believed that the Lord, through the prayers of His Most Holy Mother, had preserved their city from certain destruction.
One might say, "nice story, Father, but what meaning does it have for me 1100 years later?" This feast reminds us that, like the Orthodox faithful who have come before us, we are to remember and cherish the good things that have been done for us. The Divine Liturgy is a wonderful example of how we are to work together in the corporate nature of prayer. Praying not only with those who are standing next to us but with the countless millions who who have returned to the earth from which they were taken.
The universe is made up of two parts, spiritual and physical, and we stand at the edge of these two worlds. The Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God shows us the union of these two worlds. The miracle of this feast is that it was witnessed by the faithful and it was made visible to the human eye. It is a reminder to us that the Mother of God and all the saints are so close to us that they pray together with us in our churches.
We must remember that if we are to witness this vision we must shake off our blindness that comes from the darkness from within. If we have a revulsion against things, it is so often from the way in which we are centered on ourselves and can not look with serenity, with a purity of heart. Ultimately, we see not only with our physical eyes which convey to us impressions, but with a heart that can see God only when it is pure. We see not only God in His mysterious being, but God in His presence through grace and beauty and blessings such as the miracle of the Protection of the Mother of God. Saint Isaac the Syrian says, "that a person who has got a clear eye and a pure heart does no longer see the darkness in the world because this darkness is superseded by the shining of the divine grace at work and resting on all things, however dark they may appear".
The Holy Orthodox Spiritual Mothers and Fathers tell us plainly that the saints see everything as holy. They say that only the sinful see the sins of others. What strange statements. How counter-intuitive! But what this means is that the holy see the deepest realities. With their enlightened senses they look with compassion on everything and see things as they really are, such as the sojourner who was delighted with all things. If we are not yet able to see like that, to the essential heart of things, then we know we are far from where we want to be.
Let us be vigilant to see with purity, to interpret with purity of heart and to act with love. Then we shall be able to see freely the divine light shining on the world and in the world. In this manner we can better love, serve, and be part of the world which God given us.
All of us are capable of ascending the heights of holiness. This is God's promise for everyone, His help is assured, whether or not we succeed, depends entirely on us. Amen.
Fr. Myron Oryhon