October 28, 2014

The Protection of the Theotokos in the Life of the Church

By His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas
of Mesogaia and Lavriotiki

The celebration of October 28th, which is known as the Feast of the Holy Protection, is essentially a rearrangement of the feast honored by the Church on October 1st that is now on October 28th. All other non-Greek speaking Churches honor the Feast of the Holy Protection on October 1st.

However, since the event of 28 October 1940 is combined, which recently took place in the life of Hellenism, and since the Church through the testimonies of saints and simple people felt that this new page in the history of the glory of Hellenism had as a basis the intervention of the Theotokos, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece asked the then Great Hymnographer Monk Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis to slightly adjust the Service of the Holy Protection, and in 1953 the Feast of the Holy Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos was transferred from October 1st to October 28th, combining the national celebration with the great feast of the Mother of God.

This feast is referred to in the life of Saint Andrew the Fool for Christ and his disciple Epiphanios. One day they were in Constantinople praying in the Church of the Panagia of Blachernae, and with the crystal clear eyes of their holy souls they saw a vision.

The Church honors this vision, not so much as an event in the life of two men, but as a truth that marks the life of every Christian and the entire Church.

They saw the Theotokos hovering somewhat over Constantinople, praying to her Son and God, and bowing down she took off her omophorion, the stole she wore over her shoulders, and with this she covered the entire city. The Church perceives this vision as a manifestation and revelation of divine wisdom, as it appears in the life of the Church and it is connected with the all-holy person of the Most Holy Theotokos.

The Panagia is our protection, and the protection of the Theotokos for the Church and each of us means four things. The first is that which justifies the transfer of this feast from October 1st to October 28th.

She is our covering, our protection from afflictions, dangers, sicknesses and needs. She is the protection we seek in response to our difficulties, to escape the suffocating atmosphere of the daily lives of each of us.

We have much to contend against: obstacles arise when we don't expect them, problems mark our biological course in this world, issues complicate our professions, our daily lives, our relationships with others, even our very survival. Then we take recourse to the person of the Theotokos.

We do this not because we were taught to do so, but because it was taught to us by the experience of the Church to do so. We chant: "No one is turned away from you, ashamed and empty, who flee unto you, O pure Virgin Theotokos."

There is no request that is made with humility to the person of the Most Holy Theotokos that remains unanswered.

She is the consciousness of our nation, as arranged by our benevolent God, and with the intercessions of the Theotokos, where our logic and senses tells us we will be crushed and destroyed, we experience the miracle of our freedom.

We thus attribute these things to the protection and covering of the Most Holy Theotokos towards our nation, not as nationalists who set ourselves apart with an unfair mindset of God's favor, but confessing that our Orthodox nation, soaked with the blood of the martyrs, inspired by the prayers of the saints, baptized in the tradition and life of our holy Church, has sent up these prayers and supplications during difficult times, and the Panagia through her Son responded. This is one meaning of her protection.

The second refers to the Old Testament; it was the cloud that accompanied and covered the Jews as they wandered in the desert and is linked with the person of the Theotokos. This holy covering offers warmth in the life of every Christian.

Scientists tells us that during the cloudless nights of winter, the cold is more bitter. But when there is a cloud, it creates a greenhouse effect and somehow maintains a warmth, a heat.

The whole world operates like a greenhouse which allows flowers to bloom, trees to bear fruit, etc.

So also the presence of the Theotokos in this world, who even circulates among us, offers this sweetness, this warmth that each of us needs in the winter of our own personal histories.

One can neither bear nor can there exist a spiritual life without joy. The source of our joy, warmth and hope, she who gives us a boost in our difficult struggles and courage in our frustrations is the person, as I mentioned, of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Our protection, our covering, not only offers warmth, but it does even more; it hides our nakedness. The Panagia, as our protection, hides the fallen nakedness of the human race and like the fig leaf in Paradise she covers our sinful bodies with a most beautiful garment and presents us with a person so that we can stand before God. This is due to her holiness.

This is why we call the Panagia "Most Holy Theotokos". The person of the Theotokos is the supreme model of holiness in terms of morals and in terms of spiritual virtues.

So the third element that bears the meaning of the protection of the Theotokos, is that she is the garment that hides our nakedness after the sin and fall of the human race. She is the garment that allows human nature to stand before God, a garment that beautifies.

There is one last meaning of the protection of the Mother of God. The role played by the person of the Theotokos in the life of the Church is the same role played by the darkness when Moses approached the face of God on Mount Sinai.

The first thing Moses did was cover his face. And the second was when he was in the darkness, which was bright but within a cloud, like a fog, in which he could neither see nor hear, where he could receive messages with no direct sensory experience.

This is what the Theotokos does. She hides a little the face of God. Certainly not to prevent us from knowing Him, but so as not to ruin His image within us by our boldness.

As our consolation is in the fact that God became man, so also our consolation is the Theotokos, a human being who reached such a height and so close to the attributes of God, that she is enabled to take us to her level, by her example, but especially because of her intercessions.

This is why every Christian, every believer, is a member of the Church, to be able to experience the vision of God experienced by Moses, something of the grace of the Theotokos who is full of grace, and through her path to partake of the mystery of God.

The Most Holy Theotokos is the one who gathers our prayers, gives us a sense of God, but not the boldness of our acquaintance with Him.

How illuminating how God has arranged things so that we as people can cultivate humility, and in our humbled hearts, prayed for and protected by the grace of the Theotokos to be able to understand, to set our sights on high towards His face!

These are the four great blessings that connect the protection of the Theotokos with the life of the Church. The first is the protection and boldness of her prayers. The second is the coziness and warmth of her presence. The third is the covering of our nakedness that was brought by the fall and sin, which is her holiness. And the fourth is the grace, which somehow covers and protects man from a caustic relationship with God.

It is a relationship that can burn and destroy us, when we are not dominated by humility, divine fear and contraction, but rather by selfishness and pride.

On such a day we are glorifying God for our freedom. We remember our history, our past. At the same time we praise the great fortune given to us by the person of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Let us fervently pray that her protection accompanies us in the desert of our lives, that we may be able through her holy person to approach the face of our Lord in this life "as in a mirror dimly", and in eternity to meet Him in His kingdom "face to face". Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.