Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, henceforth, all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name. Luke 1: 46-49
Good morning Prayer Team!
On the first four Fridays of Great Lent, a service called the “Salutations to the Virgin Mary” is held in Orthodox Churches. The origin of this service comes from 626 A.D., when Emperor Heraclius with his Roman army were away fighting against Persia, Constantinople was besieged by the Avars. In collaboration with the Persians, they sought to take over the city of Constantinople. Patriarch Sergios led a procession around the city wall with an icon of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). The people prayed all night “without sitting” (Akathistos in Greek). That night, a strong wind, which many believe was sent by God, after hearing the intercessions of the Virgin Mary, caused a storm which destroyed the enemy fleet, which withdrew from the city, sparing her. This event occurred on August 8, 626.
The poem of the Salutations, which is 24 stanzas long (each one beginning with one of the letters of the Greek alphabet), was composed by St. Romanos the Melodist. On each of the first four Fridays, six stanzas of the Salutations are sung. On the fifth Friday, all 24 stanzas are sung, at a service called the “Akathist Hymn.”
If this event of the deliverance of Constantinople occurred during August, why are we doing the Salutations in the spring, during Lent? Most of us are familiar that the feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 15. August 1-14 is a period of fasting as well as supplicatory services (Paraklesis) to the Virgin Mary. Because the Annunciation always occurs during the Great Lent, the church has placed the Salutations Services in close proximity to the Annunciation (March 25).
I will write more about the role of the Virgin Mary as we get closer to March 25, but there are two things of note that I want to say today. First, we don’t pray TO the Virgin Mary. We ask for her intercessions to Christ, her Son. As this is a period where we seek to strengthen our relationship with Christ, it is a good thing to include the Virgin Mary in our spiritual growth. Second, the Virgin Mary lived a life worthy of emulation. She was not God. She was not perfect. She was, however, perfectly obedient to God’s plan for our salvation. She personified loving God and loving our neighbors.
Among other things, we call the Virgin Mary the “bridge” between earth and heaven. Imagine that you want to cross a river from one side to another. You are on the one side, Paradise is on the other side. In order to get from one side to the other, you need to use a bridge. In order for God to become incarnate as a human being, He needed a mother by which to come into the world. That is the Virgin Mary. She is not our Savior. She is also not going to make the journey to salvation for us, or on behalf. She helped provide the means for Christ to save us. The gateway is now open to Paradise. It is our choice to journey to Paradise.
The Virgin Mary is our intercessor, our cheerleader, in front of the Lord. She is our mother and advocate. Thus we continually ask for her prayers, both to intercede to Christ for us, but also that she may pray for us, to be strengthened in our journey to salvation.
The Salutations take place in the context of a service called the “Small Compline,” which includes prayers to Christ, as well as prayers for sleep. We will discuss the “Great Compline” in Monday’s reflection. The Salutations service is also not a Lenten service. The rubrics call for bright colors to be worn.
The marquee hymn of this service is known as “Ti Ipermacho” in Greek. Following is a translation of this hymn English by Fr. Seraphim Dedes:
O Champion General, I you city now inscribe to you
Triumphant anthems as the tokens of my gratitude,
Being rescued from the terrors, O Theotokos.
Inasmuch as you have power unassailable,
From all kinds of perils free me, so that unto you I may cry aloud:
Rejoice, o Unwedded Bride.
I encourage you to attend at least one of the Friday evening services during Great Lent.
Photo credit: Cosmos Philly
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