The Holy Protection of the Theotokos
One of the most beloved holidays in the Orthodox calendar is the Protection of the Mother of God. The Slavic people celebrate this holiday on October 1. The Greek tradition celebrates it on October 28.
The tradition holds that during the tenth century, the city of Blachernae in Constantinople was threatened by a barbarian invasion. Saint Andrei Yurodivyi (Andrew of Constantinople), his disciple Saint Epiphanius, and a group of people saw the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, and several other saints and angels during a vigil in the church. This same church housed several of the relics of the Virgin Mary, including her robe, veil and part of her belt. These were brought from Palestine during the fifth century.
During this vision, the Theotokos came to the center of the church, knelt down and prayed for a long time. Her face was drowned in tears. Afterwards, she removed her veil and spread it over the people as a sign of protection. After this appearance, the danger passed and the city was spared the bloodshed of an invasion.
The icon of the Holy Protection shows the feast in which the Theotokos is standing above the faithful with her arms stretched open in prayer and draped with a veil. Angels are on both sides of her. In most icons, Saint Andrew and his disciple Epiphanius are in the lower right. St. Epiphanius is wearing a tunic under his cloak and seems astonished at this miraculous appearance. St. Andrew is dressed only in a cloak. Below the Theotokos, in the center of the icon, is a young man with a halo dressed in a deacon’s sticharion. In his left hand he is holding an open scroll with the text of the Kontakion for the Nativity in honor of the Mother of God. This is St. Romanus the Melodist, the famous hymnographer whose feast is celebrated on October 1. His choir is with him as is the Emperor Leo the Wise, the Empress, and the Patriarch of Constantinople.
On my Greek Orthodox calendar, the October 28th is also marked “OXI Day”. What does this mean? In the past few years, this feast has been recognized as a thanksgiving for the deliverance of the Greek nation from the Italian invasion of 1940. It is a national holiday in Greece known as “Ochi Day” or “No Day”, in reference to the response of the Greek leader Metaxas to Mussolini’s ultimatum.
I love the icon of this feast. It is so beautiful and allows us to again recognize and pay tribute to our Lady the Theotokos. She is indeed protection for all of us and this is a great day to commemorate her.
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INSPIRED BY PISTEVO
Inspired by the documentary, PISTEVO & The Greek Orthodox Church of Our Saviour in Rye, New York, the Orthodox Christian Network is embarking on a major initiative to feature iconography and the Saints of the Orthodox Church over the next several months and years to come. Please watch PISTEVO – “I Believe”, and join us in raising awareness of iconography as a window to finding and fostering one’s faith.
Iconography, the centuries-old tradition of depicting faith through images, was the primary means of teaching Christianity until written records were formally canonized as the Holy Scriptures. Yet even today, centuries later, iconography remains a spiritually powerful part of Orthodox Christian theology. For many, the images enhance one’s ability to go deeper into the exploration and appreciation of their faith.
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The independent documentary depicts a community coming together to complete the centuries-old mission of iconography led by Father Elias Villis at the Greek Orthodox Church of our Saviour in Rye, NY.
The epic film, PISTEVO, directed by Director, Mark Brodie, and written and produced by Taryn Grimes Herbert, expresses “why we honor the traditions of our theology and share our spiritual experience with the Orthodox world.”
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