Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Protection of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos. Why do we celebrate this feast, what is its origin? In the Church in Blachanae, a suburb of Constantinople, St Andrew a fool for Christ saw the Mother of God. This took place around 4 am during the All Night Vigil. St Andrew saw the Mother of God in Heaven, praying for the world. St. Andrew asks his disciple Epiphanius – “Do you see the Queen and Lady, praying for the world?” “I see and I am stricken with fear,” answers Ephiphanius. They witness how the Mother of God prays with great fervour and tears. This continues for a long time, and then the Virgin enters the Altar of the Blachanae Church and fervently prayers there too.
The Theotokos then removes her veil, which shines like lightening and spreads it over the world. St Andrew and Epiphanius are privileged to see this wondrous vision while the other worshipers are totally unaware of what is happening. Then the vision ceases. The Mother of God and her protecting veil is no longer seen. However the grace of this vision remains. This vision although invisible to the people at that time continues to affect the lives of the believers, not only of those in the church at that time but it continues to work in us today, for the protecting veil, spiritually protects the world. Her protecting veil is a defence for every believer.
Who has not experienced the grace-filled protection of the Theotokos in his life? Can we find a believer who at least in his or her life, has not prayed with fervent tears before an icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, our protectress?
There was a man who had been brought up by his pious mother to repeat the salutation of the Archangel: Virgin Mother Rejoice! Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee… In later years he dropped this pious custom. One day he was talking with a holy monk, who asked him why he had abandoned the prayer to the Theotokos. “Well, I simply forgot about it. You know how it is …” “Well the Mother of God did not forget you,” replied the monk. He went on to relate how this man had been in danger many times, but the prayer on his lips had protected him. “You may not have been aware my son, but the Mother of God was always with you while you prayed!”
Unfortunately not every one sees the Holy Protection of the Mother of God. Not every one is aware of this protection. To feel, to know this, we need faith. We need to look up to the heavens, to engage in spiritual conversation. But for the most part we look down at the ground, at the mire of this life. We need to be able to raise our gaze upwards, to be able to see with the eyes of faith and like St. Andrew to see the grace-filled action of the Theotokos in our lives. A unintelligent person going along the muddy path of life, who fails to lift up his head, believes that there is nothing but the mud beneath his feet. To him we say: “Lift up your eyes – look up! And then you will see not mud but the shining heavens above you.”
Unbelievers think that there is nothing but the mire of this worldly life, that there is only this physical world with its corruption and death. And going along this gloomy road they refuse to see the heavens. They cannot see the protecting veil of the Theotokos which is spread over the world. We need to be able to see the heavens! We need to be able to tear our gaze from the earth and open up our heart so that grace may enter and dwell within us. Then we shall become aware of the continuous protection and prayer of the Mother of God.