By Fr. Gabriel Barrow
From The Word, June 1977
For the first fourteen days of August during each year, the Holy Orthodox Church enters into a strict fast period in honor of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. The eminent Orthodox theologian, Father Sergei Bulgakov, beautifully expresses the high regard which the Orthodox Christians have for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, for her special role in the salvation of mankind, when he affirms, “The warm veneration of the Theotokos is the soul of Orthodox Piety.” St. John of Damascus, one of the great Orthodox fathers, pointed out that when the Blessed Virgin Mary became the Mother of God and gave birth to Christ, the Redeemer of Mankind, she became the mother of mankind. We call the Virgin Mary “Theotokos”, from the Greek, which means “The Birth-Giver or the Bearer of God.” This is the highest title that can be bestowed upon any member of the human race.
The Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, was “blessed amongst women,” and she was chosen “to bear the Savior of our souls.” We, therefore, as Orthodox Christians, consider her to be the Queen of all the saints and the angels.
Knowing that she holds such a high place in the Kingdom of Heaven and that she is eternally present at the throne of God interceding for mankind, we, as good Orthodox Christians, must pray for her love, guidance, and protection. We must never forget to ask for her intercessions in times of sickness and danger, and we must constantly thank her for her care and her prayers in our behalf.
Every year the Orthodox Church sets aside the first fourteen days of August in honor of the Virgin Mary. This fast period is climaxed on August 15th, when the Church gathers to celebrate the Great Feast of the Dormition (Falling-Asleep) of the Theotokos. During this fourteen day fast period, the Orthodox Church prescribes that the Paraclesis Service be held in honor of the Mother of God.
The word “paraclesis” has two different meanings: the first is “consolation,” from which the Holy Spirit is called the “Paraclete,” or “Consoler”; the second is “supplication” or “petition”. The Service of the Paraclesis to the Theotokos consists of hymns of supplication to obtain consolation and courage. It should be recited in times of temptation, discouragement or sickness. It is used more particularly during the two weeks before the Dormition, or Assumption, of the Theotokos, from August 1 to August 14. The theme of these Paraclesis Services centers around the petition. . “Most Holy Mother of God, save us.
If you have a problem or if something is burdening your soul, if you feel spiritually uneasy and if you are not at peace with yourself and with those around you, then, you should come to the Church during the first fifteen days of August and ask for the intercessions of the Mother of God. Even if you are fortunate enough to be one of those very few who are at peace with themselves and with God, then those blessed ones should come to these services and thank God and His Blessed Mother for the blessings that they have bestowed upon you and your family.
Since these Paraclesis Services to the Theotokos are primarily petition for the welfare of the living, let the whole Church pray for you during the first fifteen days of August and especially on the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15th. Don’t let your laziness and your apathy cause you to miss this great blessing and inspiration that the Church can bestow upon you. Let the peace and holiness that only the Mother of God can give you enter into your life. “Let us lay aside all earthly cares,” and let us truly, during these fifteen days, participate in the fasting and prayer life of the Church so that we can “taste and see that the Lord is good” and so that we may fully experience the spiritual blessings that the Church offers to us at this holy time. “Blessed is he whom He shall find watching.” Come and pray to the Theotokos with us and with the Church and by her prayers and intercessions, may our souls be saved!
MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS, SAVE US!
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Relics of Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen, August 2
Troparion, Tone Four
Thou art crowned with a royal diadem for contests endured in Christ's name, O first and holy Martyr; thou didst put to shame thy persecutors and see the Savior at the right hand of the Father. Ever pray to Him for our souls.
Kontakion, Tone Eight
Thou wast the first to be sown on earth by the heavenly Husbandman; thou wast the first to shed thy blood for Christ, O blessed and famous Stephen. Thou wast the first to be adorned by Him in heaven with the crown of victory, O spearhead of athletes, the martyrs' first-crowned champion.