Rejoice, O Our Joy! Sermon on the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God
We magnify Thee, O Most Pure Virgin, and we honor Thy Protection!
The spiritual protection and intercession before God, which we receive according to the great mercy and love that the Mother of God has for us, do we hymn today. For from the time that the Divine Sufferer and Savior of the world willed to give to the Mother of God as an adopted child the human race in the person of His disciple, St. John the Theologian, this protection has not ceased for a single day; and throughout all times and human history it has been this way—Mother and child! Penetrate these words with your thought; think upon their great depth of meaning, and on the most sacred kinship, purer and holier than which there is none on earth.
Woman, behold thy son! (Jn. 19:26) is heard from the lips of the Divine Sufferer. And what do these words mean?!
Henceforth, whatever happens to your son will pierce your own heart as well. Henceforth, his small joys will be your happiness, and his pain, troubles, and sorrows will be your great woe and tears. Most important are your tireless thoughts and care for your child—a care that knows no fatigue, no repose. And the Most Pure Virgin received all of this as an inheritance from her Son as He was dying upon the cross.
From that time on, the world has been filled with many signs of the Mother of God’s protection—signs of her maternal love. The examples of this protection are countless, beginning from the depth of history to our own days.
The commemoration of today’s feast, the Protection of the Mother of God, has been observed since the tenth century, when, during a time of troubles for the Greek nation, the whole course of events augured that nation’s inescapable demise, and they had “no intercessor.” The barbaric Saracen tribe (a race related to modern-day Turks, of the Moslem faith), motivated by their hatred for Christians, surrounded Constantinople with only one goal—to wipe it from the face of the earth, destroy its many churches, a large part of which were dedicated to the Heavenly Queen, subject its inhabitants to cruel executions, sell some into slavery, and mock their faith.
The whole population from the little to the great gathered in the Church of Blachernae. Their despair moved them to turn in prayer to the Mother of God with great wailing and tears. This was their last and only hope.
Imagine how they prayed as they peered into tomorrow, from which the odor of death was already breathing. All things earthly were forgotten; before them was the door to eternity and a violent, martyric death at its threshold.
The depth of their penitent feelings and contrition over the sins which caused this catastrophe to befall the Greeks was so great that the Heavenly Queen herself hastened to appear to the faithful and console them. Her omophorion, gleaming brighter than the rays of the sun, became her Protection from the approaching disaster.
However, not everyone saw her with their own eyes. Only two, who had given their lives to God, truth and righteousness, whose hearts lay at the Savior’s feet, were astounded by the vision. These were St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ, who was of Slavic origin, and his disciple Ephiphanius.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8). Two beheld the Mother of God; and all the faithful, who had cleansed their hearts by repentance, were capable of believing them unconditionally. After faith came action—the enemy suddenly, for no apparent reason, abandoned its intention.
And all those who cherish the memory of these events in their hearts still sing: “Rejoice, O Our Joy! Protect us from all evil with Thy omophorion.”
The sovereign Protection of the Mother of God has covered the whole Christian race throughout all times. Orthodox Russia is the Virgin Mary’s portion on earth. She herself appeared in Rus’ to saints whose hearts knew no stain of vice: St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Seraphim of Sarov, and others. There were many of them, and we cannot count them now. She visited the much-suffering, but faithful to God in Rus’ with her many different icons, manifesting her Protection for the Russian people through them.
Of the most revered icons in Russia are the Vladimir and Kazan icons of the Mother of God. Their significance in the life of the Russian people is enormous. They have become the sacred shrines for all the people and signs of heavenly protection over the Russian Church and our Fatherland. Archbishop Innocent (Borisov, †1857) of Cherson called the Kazan icon the “Protection of Russians”—the Protection of the Most Pure Mother of God over Russia.
During the Time of Troubles in 1612, the army of Dimitry Pozharsky bore a copy of the miracle-working Kazan icon in his ranks and routed the Polish interventionists out of Moscow. In 1649, in memory of that event, an all-Russia feast of the Kazan Mother of God was instituted for October 22. In 1709, on the eve of the battle of Poltava, Tsar Peter prayed with his army before the Kazan icon, and they were victorious. In 1812, this same icon blessed the Russian soldiers who defeated the French invaders. It was on October 22 that the Russian army inflicted the first great defeat in that war.
Throughout all the many hard times in Russia, in all campaigns and wars (including World War II), Russian troops always took the icons of the Mother of God—the Kazan, Smolensk, and Donskaya icons. And our country always felt the help of the Fervent Intercessor for the Christian race.
The Vladimir icon is celebrated three times a year out of gratitude for our fatherland’s deliverance from its enemies through her help. The [Russian] Church commemorates these events on May 23/June 5, June 23/July 6, and August 26/September 8.
The Pskov lands especially celebrate on October 7/20, when the miracle-working icon of the Pskov-Caves Monastery, the icon of “Umilenie” (compunction, tender feeling), protected Pskov and the Pskov lands from invasion by the heterodox. This icon has many times saved Pskov and our monastery from diverse enemies who wished to take over this ancient Russian land.
The Smolensk icon of the Mother of God (the Hodigitria, or “Way-Shower”) was brought in the twelfth century to Smolensk. Then that city was returned to Russian sovereignty, having been under Lithuanian princes for 150 years.
In the thirteenth century, the Feodorovskaya icon of the Mother of God saved the city of Kostroma from the invading Tatars. Prince Basil commanded that this icon be borne at the head of his army. The bright rays radiating from this holy icon blinded the enemies, and the invaders were defeated. This icon was glorified also during natural disasters, plagues, pestilences, and cholera epidemics that spread among the people.
Innumerable miracles occurred throughout our country from copies of the Feodorovskaya, Bogoliubskaya, and Smolensk icons of the Mother of God, which were brought to places encompassed by frightful epidemics.
Especially notable is the miraculous appearance of the icon of the “Reigning” Mother of God. This occurred in the year that the last Russian Emperor abdicated the throne, on March 2, 1917, in the village of Kolomenskaya (now part of Moscow). In the Virgin’s hands were a royal scepter and orb. She said that from henceforth, she herself would protect Russia. Now there is a kingdom in Russia which is not of this world; now, in place of a Tsar, the Mother of God rules the nation. We feel her reigning protection and care for the Russian people.
The Mother of God has always protected and had mercy upon Rus’; she has punished, but again restored her love for the people, who for their sins have passed through suffering, purifying their hearts by repentance and suffering.
But during this present, difficult time, when the earth has grown old, is burdened by faithlessness, lawlessness, and ignorance of the knowledge of God’s commandments, has our Fervent Intercessor turned away from us in her zeal for the glory of her Son and God? No, my dears, this could not be. Needy children are dearer to a mother. As long as there is at least a “little flock” left in Russia to bear and preserve faithfulness to Christ’s commandments and hope in the intercessions of the Mother of God, we will not perish.
We must not doubt or be troubled by all that we see and hear today. “There is nothing on earth that is not under authority, because the ruler of everything is God”—thus say the holy fathers. The current events are also not such a revelation for all of us, for they are a confirmation that not one word of God grows faint, but all of them will be fulfilled to the least detail in their time.
Don’t we read the Apostle Paul’s epistle to his disciple, Timothy, written twenty centuries ago? Probably it surprised the Apostle Timothy then, and he could not understand it in all its fullness. We also have only to wonder, seeing how words spoken in deep antiquity are fulfilled: This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. And his last words are a commandment for us: from such turn away (2 Tim. 3:1–5)!
We can disbelieve the words, but how can we living today disbelieve the things which have already occurred? How can we not believe God? The word of God contains everything, all of life, forever. The Apostles gaze pierced through twenty centuries, and amazes us who live during these onerous times.
Let us take a look at ourselves, look inside ourselves and around us, and if we are such [as described above], let us cry out to God and the Mother of God for our correction. Let us depart from the iniquitous and cast iniquity far from ourselves.
There is yet another terrible whip that destroys everything living, from the nation to the Church, and the Lord saw it; He commanded the world through the lips of his faithful disciple (St. John the Theologian) to stay away from divisions.
In the first epistle to the Corinthians, the Lord through His Apostle meekly requests of God’s people: Now I beseech you, brethren … that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10)
This is so important that elsewhere, in the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle again and again beseeches the brethren to beware of divisions: Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Rom. 16:17–18).
The Lord instructs, warns, cautions, beseeches. We must all increase our efforts to hear the word of God, for truly, something utterly terrible for life is hidden in the matter of division. People against people, kingdom against kingdom, neighbor against neighbor, parents against children, and children against parents—all rise up, and all fall apart. There is no oneness of spirit, and love grows cold—and love is the only source of true knowledge.
For those to whom the word of God is life itself, there is no fear. The Lord will protect them in His secret habitations. They will not waiver, but will remain faithful even in that onerous time of trials. And the word of God will lead them through darkness and the valley of death.
Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity (1 Cor. 16:13).
But the Mother of God always is and will be with those who are faithful to her Divine Son; who go according to His call to eternal salvation. She, according to St. John Chrysostom, is the first Receiver of Divine gifts and the first Giver of these gifts and blessings to people who seek help from the Lord and mercy from her. Thus it will always be, until the final hour, until the final second of the life of the world.
And let the hearts our faithful, who know the great power of the intercession of the Mother of God, ever fall at the feet of the Mother of God with heartfelt sighing, with their needs and sorrows, in all trials, and in moments of lamentation over sins. She, the Joy of all who sorrow, our heavenly Mother, will spread out upon us her sovereign Protection, intercede for us, save us, and have mercy upon all of us. Amen.
Archimandrite John (Krestiankin)