In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Human life, brothers and sisters, is full of grief and sorrow: countless worldly sorrows oppress the soul and frequent illnesses depress the body, as though reminding us that the day on which we must give an answer for all our deeds to God, the Righteous Judge, is by no means far away. And who has not sinned? How, then, can our hearts not rejoice and be glad when we hear – or, more precisely, when we recall – that we have a merciful and loving Intercessor who comforts the sorrowful, heals the afflicted, strengthens the faint-hearted and, most importantly, constantly mediates before the Lord for our eternal salvation? This Intercessor, this Mediatress, is the Mother of God – the Mother of all Christians, the Most Pure Virgin Mary.
There is no limit to God’s love for us, sinners. There is no limit, for who can comprehend the love of the Incomprehensible One? And just as this love is ineffable, so too is the Divine wisdom for our providential care. The host of saints intercedes for us in the heavenly chambers before the Throne of the King of Glory; the ranks of the Heavenly Powers invisibly shield us from innumerable ills, averting us from evil, directing us toward the good, and driving away the evil and brazen demon-hounds of hell. And yet we often cannot resist: we transgress the commandments of our Creator and we fall, stumbling in sin before Him, becoming guilty and subject to His righteous and dread Judgment. It can be frightening for us to draw nigh to Him or to gaze upon the Heavens. However, the merciful Lord, Who is not angered to the end, has granted us a hope that cannot be put to shame, an unfailing mediation before Him: His Most Pure Mother, who at the Cross adopted the entire human race in the person of the beloved disciple and theologian. Her prayers, more than all others, are always acceptable to Him, the Almighty. He likewise harkens unto the petitions of those who venerate her, even when she asks on behalf of those who are unworthy of mercy and indulgence.
Not only people with their private, personal sorrows, but even whole nations and countries have preserved the memory of the Mother of God’s intercession and supplication for them at times when no human help would have been of any avail.
Today, the fifth Saturday of Great Lent, is dedicated to the remembrance of such a miraculous event – and not just one, but three. For this reason it is called the Saturday of the Akathist or the Laudation of the Mother of God.
In the beginning of the seventh century, in 626, during the reign of Emperor Heraclius, Byzantium was going through difficult times. Constantinople was constrained by enemies on all sides: Persians were marching from the east, Avars from the west. The Greek position seemed hopeless. The fall of its capital, with the loss of its defenders and peaceful inhabitants, seemed inescapable. But then Patriarch Sergios of Constantinople blessed having a procession around the besieged city and he himself carried the wonderworking Hodigitria Icon of the Mother of God. Another precious sacred object was also taken: the Robe of the Most Holy Theotokos, which was preserved in her famous Blachernae Church. When the Robe had been carried around the city walls and then immersed in the waters of the Bosporus, a miracle took place that was joyful for the Greeks and truly frightful for their enemies. The sea, which had hitherto been calm, began to boil and irrupted into a terrible storm, which sunk the enemy ships with its billowing waves. The city then spent the entire night in prayer in the Blachernae Church, singing hymns of thanksgiving to the Mother of God.
Two more times was Constantinople vouchsafed such wondrous mercy from the Queen of Heaven; two more times was it delivered in miraculous fashion from being besieged by enemies. Therefore today’s celebration was established in memory of the Mother of God’s amazing works of love for the Christian people. On this day a hymn of praise to the Theotokos, called the Akathist, is sung in all Orthodox churches throughout the world.
Indeed, brothers and sisters, the Mother of God helps those who call upon her with astonishing speed. Just as a devoted mother hastens to her child, so too does the Mother of God hasten in response to the call of the grieving human heart, to help, intercede for, and save those who are perishing.
Therefore, from the very earliest times, Christians have been saved through her intercessions, finding help and protection, comfort and consolation, in her. She, the Holiest of the Holies, has unspeakable love for all who have devoted themselves to piety, for all who have entirely surrendered their lives and their very selves to her Beloved Son. But – the wondrous miracle, the depths of mercy! – she also loves sinners and those who are perishing in their iniquities. She is merciful to them, extending a helping hand to them every hour. How many sinners have been raised up, healed, and made whole by her, the Queen of those on high and those below? She has raised them from the depths of fallenness to the heights of holiness, leading them into the radiant bridal chambers of the Heavenly Master!
As we recalled quite recently, it was to the All-Pure One that the fallen sinner, St. Mary of Egypt, called out in prayer: “Be my faithful witness before thy Son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.” And the Mother of God was indeed not ashamed of the supplication of this desperate sinner, but became her helper and protector throughout her entire life, invisibly strengthening and consoling her.
St. Silouan the Athonite, who also experienced the miraculous intercession of the Theotokos by receiving a merciful admonition from her, never tired of glorying her throughout his entire life. “Now I see,” he writes in his notes, “how sorry the Lord and His Mother are for people. Imagine – the Mother of God appearing from the skies to show a young man like me his sins!” “What could I give our most holy sovereign Lady,” the Elder writes, “for coming to me and bringing enlightenment, instead of turning away in loathing for my sin? … My spirit rejoices and my soul leaps to her in love, so that the mere invocation of her name is sweet to my heart.”
But however much one might say, however many examples one might cite, brothers and sisters, it would all amount to but a small drop in the sea of Our Lady’s merciful bounty. Who can say how many people, over the course of these long centuries, have acquired salvation and the unending life of blessedness thanks only to her mediation?
In our days the voice of eternity is almost inaudible: it has been drowned out by the noise of big cities and political turmoil, by the noise of modern life with its vanities. But, by God’s mercy, there are people who are being saved even now. Today people – first one, then another – are awakening from the sleep of sin, their hearts are recovering sight of God, and they are bearing repentance for the lives they have spent without Him. By what ways, unknown to us, does our salvation come to us? Who guards us, who implores God’s Righteousness to continue to suffer us and not to cut us down in death for our iniquities? For many of us, this will likely remain a mystery that we will learn only after we have been delivered from the bonds of the flesh and left this world of sin and sorrow.
Yet sometimes even in this earthly life, for reasons unfathomable to us, Divine Providence has deigned to lift slightly that very fine but impenetrable veil concealing the other world from us. And then we see who it is that shows mercy to us and protects us; we see who it is that looks after us more attentively than the most devoted and caring mother ever could. Then we learn that the Most Pure Virgin Mary has not left us to this very day, but is always with us, just as she promised the grieving Apostles at her departure from this earth.
However, it is not only those few fortunate ones to whom the care of the Theotokos has been revealed in some visible way, but all of us that should have the inviolable belief that there is no sinner, no person who has come to God, for whom the Lord’s Mother would not supplicate with her prayers, whom she would not take by the hand and lead into God’s church. Why? Because her Divine Protection extends over all of us without exception. Because she prays for all without exception, standing before the Heavenly King. No one is deprived of her mercy and love, no one – so long as he has not turned to stone, so long as his soul has not died – is ultimately denied God’s care.
Brothers and sisters, we – each of us, our country, and the Church itself – are not living through the easiest of times. But the Lord has hitherto been merciful to us through the supplications of His Most Pure Mother. Therefore we should tirelessly turn to her in our prayers, that the Lord might continue to suffer us, to protect our Fatherland and Church, and to grant people repentance leading to salvation.
But it is not only in our sorrow and afflictions that we should turn to the Mother of God; it is not only from distress of heart that we should sigh to her with tears of contrition. Rather, with thanksgiving for all her beneficence – both known and unknown, both from the past and for what is to come – let us sing the wondrous hymn of praise to the Most Pure Virgin, crying out to her with heartfelt compunction: “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!”
Let us trust that the Queen will not despise our humble laudation, but will be merciful to us, granting us that joy that will not be taken away unto the ages, that joy that she desires for each one of us with her entire loving, maternal heart. Amen.
Translated from the Russian.