Protopriest Leonid Kolchev – Homily for the Protection of the Holy Theotokos.
In the days of one’s earthly wandering, a person often has need of heavenly aid. Just as a traveler who has lost his way during a stormy winter night eagerly looks around him to see whether there’s a glimmer of light anywhere, so we, too, in difficult moments of our life, when it seems to us that there is no way out, - unconsciously look upward, towards the Giver of all bounties, the Lord God.
A vivid example of such a situation is presented in the event which gave rise to today’s holiday.
This took place more than a thousand years ago, when Asian hordes of savage Saracens invaded Byzantium, our sister in faith, pillaging everything in their path with fire and sword. The Greeks shut themselves up in Constantinople and fearfully awaited inevitable death, since the enemy had already reached the walls of the city. They could not expect help from anywhere, while their own military forces were insignificant. However, the Christians felt that not everything was lost yet, since the impossible for man is quite possible for God.
And so the entire people, from the emperor to the lowliest commoner, all went to the church in Vlachernae to pray together. (This church was known for its sacred relics: it contained the Mother of God’s robe and Her omophorion, i.e. a large veil which She had worn on Her head). And this prayer was very ardent, and it reached the throne of God. In the early hours of the morning one of the faithful, the blessed fool-for-Christ Andrew, a native of Russia, prayerfully raised his eyes and saw the Queen of Heaven, the Most-holy Virgin Mary, surrounded by a host of angels and saints, shining with a brilliant light and covering the people with Her lightning-like veil. Amazed at such a wondrous vision, St. Andrew said to his disciple, the blessed Epiphanius: “Do you see, brother, the Queen and Mistress of all, praying for the whole world?” – “I do see, holy Father,” – the latter replied, – “and I am awed.”
News of this vision shown to the elect of God quickly spread throughout the entire city, and the Greek soldiers, inspired by hope in the aid of the earnest Protectress of Christians, successfully repelled their enemy’s great multitude. Even King David, the psalmist, had cried out with hope in God’s Providence: He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him (Ps. 91:15). Through God we shall do valiantly, for He it is that shall tread down our enemies (Ps. 60:12).
Thus, the enemy’s great armies were powerless before the citadel in which people relied not on their swords, bows, and arrows, but on help from above. This citadel is God’s church, where the Most-holy One deigned to appear to Her elect ones, the saints Andrew and Epiphanius.
From this it follows that the church is our earthly haven in all needs and sorrows, it is a holy place in which the Lord’s power is primarily made manifest through the seven established sacraments. The church is to some degree an earthly heaven, where the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded by the angels and a multitude of saints, shines forth. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20). This is why even in Old Testament times the temple was the center of human life, the place where people communicated with God. For this reason the ark of the covenant not-made-by-hands – the Most-pure Mother of God – was being prepared for Her exclusively lofty assignment by staying primarily in church. Christ Himself, for Whom heaven is a throne and the earth a pedestal, often visited the temple of Jerusalem and, caring deeply for its holiness, expelled everyone who brought disorder into it. My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves (Matt. 21:13), – He said to the sellers of sacrificial animals, who had established themselves together with their merchandise in one of the inner courtyards of the temple. Thus the apostles, and subsequently all Christians, unanimously gathered together on Sundays in order to perform the sacrament of Holy Communion in a specially established place.
No further examples are needed. It is clear to everyone that we need God’s church, and that we should endeavor to get there just like a sick person strives to get to a clinic, hoping to get well.
Do not say that you can just as easily pray at home. No, do not deceive yourself and others, do not try to justify your idleness. It is only here, during the Divine liturgy, that the King of kings and the Lord of lords comes to be sacrificed and given to the faithful. Here our prayer achieves its greatest power, because by not seeing or hearing anything worldly around us, we unconsciously focus our attention in a single direction: to worship the Lord God, so that He would remember us in His Kingdom. We should remember that in those difficult times during the siege of Constantinople, the Emperor and Empress, and St. Andrew with his disciple Epiphanius, and the entire multitude of people could very well have prayed, and undoubtedly did pray, in their homes; however, they were all summoned for general prayer in the church, and it was the prayer there, offered from united hearts and united lips, which broke through the heavens and reached God. And it was there, in church, that a vision revealed how the Most-pure One prayed before the throne of Her Son and our God for the suffering mankind.
May all of this serve as a lesson and instruction to us, to encourage our coming without fail to God’s church, where our prayers are fortified by the aid and the intercession of the saints and the Most-immaculate Virgin Mary above all.
O, Most-holy Theotokos, save us! Amen.