by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
From time immemorial, the Church has celebrated the Most-holy Theotokos as the patroness and protectress of the Christian people, who, by her intercessory prayers, implores God's mercy for us sinners. The help of the Most-holy Mother of God has been clearly shown numerous times, to individuals and to nations, in peace and in war, in monastic deserts and in densely populated cities. The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates today confirms the Theotokos' consistent protection of Christian people. On October 1, 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, there was an All-night Vigil in the Blachernae Church of the Mother of God in Constantinople. The church was full of people. St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ was standing in the rear of the church with his disciple Epiphanius. At four o'clock in the morning, the Most-holy Theotokos appeared above the people, holding her omophorion outstretched as a protective covering for the faithful. She was clothed in gold-encrusted purple, and shone with an ineffable radiance, surrounded by apostles, saints, martyrs and virgins. St. Andrew said to Blessed Epiphanius: "Do you see, brother, the Queen and Lady of all praying for the whole world?" Epiphanius replied: "I see, Father, and am struck with amazement!" The Feast of the Protection was instituted to commemorate this event, and to remind us that we can prayerfully receive the unceasing protection of the Most-holy Theotokos in any time of difficulty.
St. Maximus the Confessor, The Life of the Virgin, translated by Stephen H. Shoemaker, Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2012, p. 149.
She is the ardent intercessor of her Son, Christ God, for all those who entreat her.
She is the calm harbor of all those buffeted by waves, who rescues them from spiritual and fleshly waves.
She is the guide on the way of life for all who have gone astray.
She is the one who seeks converts those who are lost.
She is the help and support of those who are afflicted.
She is the intercessor and mediator of those who are penitent.
And I will say even more than the above:
She is the resurrection of the fallen Adam.
She is the destruction of Eve's tears.
She is the comforter of those who mourn.
She is the throne of the king, who bears the One who bears all.
She is the one who renews the old world.
The Feast of the Life-giving Spring which is kept on the Friday of Bright Week has its origins in the 5th century. It is the feast that commemorates the consecration of the Church of the Life-giving Spring outside of Constantinople.
The very large and beautiful church named in honor of the Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring was built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great (457-474 AD), outside of Constantinople. Emperor Leo was a pious man (he is commemorated on January 20th) and before he became Emperor, he had encountered a blind man, who being tormented with thirst asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water, but found none. As he was about to cease his search, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight.
After Leo became Emperor, as the Most Holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church temple over the spring, whose waters worked many healings, as well as resurrections from the dead, through the intercessions of the Theotokos. From this, it came to be called the "Life-giving Spring."
by Isabel C. Elac
from The Word, March 1988
The doorbell rings — you answer it — it is a stranger. Politely you listen. He tells you that you are going to conceive! In nine months! "Oh, how ridiculous" you say — and completely disturbed by this impossible announcement — completely outraged — you slam the door in his face!
Which one of us would act any differently? Today, we probably wouldn't even answer the door, right?
On March 25, the Church celebrates one of the most important events in world history — THE ANNUNCIATION — when the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph… and the virgin's name was Mary (Luke 1:26-27). The Angel Gabriel "came in unto her and said, Hail, thou that are highly favoured, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:28).
How did Mary react? Did she throw him out — outraged — as most of us would have! Oh, with that beautiful, humble and complete submission, Mary responds to the Angel: "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man (Luke 1:34)… For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37). And Mary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38).
by Lynette A. Smith
Not All By Herself
Orthodox believers of both the Eastern and Western Rites celebrate major feast days in honor of the events of the Theotokos’ life. St. Luke records three of these important occurrences: the Annunciation, March 25 (1:26-38), the Visitation, July 2 (1:39-56), and the Presentation, February 2 (2:21-39). One of the features these three stories have in common is that our Lady is never alone; rather, other people share in the events of her life.
We know that Mary deliberately goes to be with her cousin Elizabeth after Mary’s annunciation. Nor is Mary is alone at the Temple when she presents the infant Jesus, because the Gospel tells us that at least her husband, Joseph, the priest, and Saints Simon and Anna are there for the occasion. Mary’s annunciation itself, however, seems a little different. Yes, the archangel Gabriel comes to her, but he leaves after delivering his message, and we do not read that she has anyone else with her. Or, does she?
In fact, those who attend Orthodox Western Rite parishes discover in the lectionary readings for the Feast of the Annunciation that five women from the Old Testament spiritually join with the Blessed Virgin Mary. These women, in order of their liturgical appearance, are Eve, Sarah, the Psalmist’s royal Queen, the conceiving Virgin in Isaiah, and Hannah.
Mary the Theotokos is very close to my heart, and, I am certain, close to the hearts of all who love her Son, Jesus. I can hardly think of her name without tears. When God, in the fullness of time, because of His great love for His creation, sent His Only-Begotten Son to save us sinners, He chose to do so in a way that is at once simple and tender, and profound, beyond our comprehension. He came to find a bride.
And God the Father, who is above all and in all and over all, chose to unite Himself, through the Person of the Most Holy Spirit, with one of us: the only daughter of Joachim and Anna, the young woman of Nazareth who had been prepared from all ages to become the bride of God. She is our boast. She is like us in her earthly beginning, and she is like us in her earthly end. She is at once our sister—a daughter of Adam, just like us—and also our mother.
To begin the betrothal of Mary with God, an archangel was sent, one of those who stand perpetually around the throne of God and sing His praises. An angel, beneath whom mankind was created, was sent to the house of Joseph, the betrothed of the Virgin, and began the relationship of betrothal and marriage, an unwedded marriage, between God the Father and the young virgin of Nazareth, with the word, “Rejoice.”
by Natalie Ashanin
From a talk originally given March 25, 2001
When I learned that I was to talk to you on the great feast of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would bear God’s son, I wondered what in the world I could say that countless theologians had not already said. Perhaps there is nothing new I can say, but as I studied the Platytera Icon behind our altar, it occurred to me that perhaps, because of all the honor and devotion given to her, we may have lost sight of the fact that Jesus’ mother, Mary, the one we call Theotokos, birth-giver of God, is actually one of us.
The Roman Church subscribes to the doctrine of original sin—that is, when Adam and Eve sinned, they passed this stain of sin to all their descendents. Because of this doctrine, the Roman Church had to develop the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary, which means that when she was born of Joachim and Anna, she was not tainted by the original sin that stained all other humans from birth. This made her a special case, not quite like the rest of us. Hence, she was a fit vessel to bear the Messiah.
The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, teaches that although we are not born tainted with the sin of Adam and Eve, we do suffer the consequences of that sin since we too are shut out of paradise by their action. So we struggle to regain that paradise. Mary was born to this struggle, just like every other human being. This makes it even more wonderful that she became the mother of our Lord. Because she was found worthy to bear Christ, it means that we too can aspire to be worthy to bear Him, if not in body as she did, then in our heart and soul.
Ever since the Archangel Gabriel first said, "you are blessed among women," to the Virgin Mary, these words of praise have inspired the faithful of the Christian Church. Their love for Christ, and desire to honor all that He honored has led them to also praise His glorious Mother. Thus they continue to fulfill the words of the Holy Spirit spoken through her, "behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Lk. 1:45). The Church has honored the Most Holy Lady in many ways. Theologians have defended her doctrinally and theologically. Authors have composed hymns dedicated to her. The faithful have sought her intercession in their prayers. Finally, the entire Church has celebrated feast days commemorating certain events in her life or miracles performed through her mediation. After the Council of Ephesus (431 AD), however, the number of hymns and services to the Theotokos increased and flourished. All feast days seem to have their historical foundations during or after this great Council, which defended the doctrine of the Person of Christ and the dignity of the Mother of God.
During and after the establishment of the feast days of the Theotokos clergy and laity emphasized her praise through hymns written in her honor. The most famous work of this kind is the Akathist Hymn, a Kontakion written by the 6th century deacon, St. Romanos the Melodist. The Paraclesis is another poetic work dealing with another aspect of veneration of the Virgin, her role as Protectress of Christians. Orthodox use this service, instituted almost 1000 years after Romanos wrote his Kontakion in times of trouble and temptation. Both services are in general use in Orthodox churches today. It is then the purpose of this presentation to deal with these forms of piety which have taken deep root in the Orthodox Catholic conscience, to trace their beginnings where possible, and to demonstrate their relevance for us today.