By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
The popular Salutations Service, that is chanted during the period of Holy and Great Lent, gives us all the opportunity of communicating with Heaven through prayer and seeking divine mercy, of which we have so much need.
If we ought always to pray, if prayer must be our every breath in our lives, this should especially be true during the period of fasting. This is why the God-bearing Fathers of the Church link prayer with fasting, stressing that through fasting, vigil and prayer people receive heavenly graces.1
It also gives us the opportunity to communicate with the Most Holy Theotokos. For us she is the Mother of Christ, as well as our own mother.
She is the golden pitcher and the inexhaustible source of the living water of God.
She is the one who has redeemed us from the gloom of Hades bringing to the world the Only Begotten Son of God.
She is the person who covers us from adverse injuries and frees us from the fog of passions and the moonless night of demonic disturbances.
She is at the same time the harbor of souls, windless and quiet, where the souls of Christians anchor to protect themselves from the merciless waves of the sea of this life.
She is called a calm harbor by Theodore Laskaris in his famous canon: "Rejoice calm harbor, rejoice bulwark of those in battle, rejoice fortification, rejoice rectification of the fallen."2
She is also called a harbor by the unknown poet of the Kontakion of the Akathist Hymn: "Rejoice for you prepare a safe harbor for our souls."
First, a harbor is not only a protective space in which ships and people resort to escape the agitation, the uproar and the huge waves of the sea, or even only the expected destination of anyone at sea, but also the undisturbed harbor of salvation.
Saint George, Bishop of Nicomedia, writes: "We have you as a safe harbor of the salvation of the world, Theotokos, to you we all flee."3
The harbor of the Panagia is safe and replenishing. There is joy and strengthening, peace and bliss. And just as she choked sin by drowning the noetic pharaoh, so we also through her can ward off the attacks of those disposed to evil in her harbor and anchor the ship of our life in the harbor of the Kingdom of Heaven.
If we attain our salvation, it will depend on the communion we have with "she who gave birth to the Lord," as well as her many intercessions and entreaties, "for the prayers of a mother avails much to favor the master." How wisely this truth is emphasized by the Saints of our age, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Saint Paisios, Saint Pophyrios, Saint Sophia of Kleisoura, who advised us to grab the hand of the Panagia in order to reach the harbor of salvation.
Second, the Theotokos is a harbor. A harbor of salvation from dangers, difficulties, needs, and the vicissitudes of this present life.
She is a harbor during pain and illness. The mere invocation of her name has salvific effects. For this reason Saint Theodore the Studite chants to the Theotokos full of admiration: "In every sudden difficulty I am delivered from fear by only calling upon your name; such is your grace and so great is your immeasurable help, for all who flee to you, O Lady, and you release them from their needs."4
The modern visionary of God and Elder of Mount Athos, Ephraim Katounakiotis, also speaks of the miraculous protection of the Panagia and her direct assistance. He writes: "I suffer for many years from eczema and allergy. Once my face and my neck swelled. I had intense itching all over my body and I felt very intense inflammation. My hands were filled with blisters. It was a dire situation, hopeless. I reached such sorrow, such despair, I thought that my soul would depart. I went with difficulty in our chapel and knelt before the icon of the Panagia. I started to say: 'My Panagia, you promised that you would be our protector, helper, subsistence and our doctor. Help me in this moment of danger. Do not allow me to go into the world [to seek assistance from physicians outside of Mount Athos].' As soon as I completed my prayer, I went tearfully to my cell, which was located about ten or twelve steps from the chapel. Instantly I was completely healed! The itching, swelling and blisters all disappeared. Instead of the previous despair and desperation, I had great peace and happiness within me! Thus our Panagia miraculously healed me."5
Let us always flee to this harbor in our lives, and particularly in the difficult times our country is facing as well as all of us.
"Do not cease to intensely entreat your Son and God on behalf of those who venerate and sing hymns faithfully to your grace, Bride of God, the only most-blessed Panagia."6
1. Apolytikion for Venerable Ascetics in the first tone "The citizen of the desert."
2. Theotokarion, Tone 4, Friday Vespers, 6th Ode.
3. Theotokarion, Tone 2, Wednesday Vespers, 4th Ode.
4. Theotokarion, Tone 2, Thursday Vespers, 1st Ode.
5. Γεωργίου Κρουσταλάκη, Γέρων Εφραίμ Κατουνακιώτης, εκδ. Εν πλω, Αθήνα 206, σελ. 468-493.
6. Theotokarion, Tone 2, Wednesday Vespers, 8th Ode.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.