“We sing your praises, O Most Holy Virgin, Mother of Christ our God,and we glorify your all-glorious patronage.”
Among the Marian feasts in our Liturgical Year, the feast of the Patronage of the Most Holy Mother of God deserves special consideration. The cult of the Mother of God as the Protectress of our nation reaches like a golden thread from the times of the Kievan princes to the present day. The secret of honoring the Mother of God as a Protectress lies, perhaps, in the fact that we are dealing here not with human but with heavenly and more powerful intercession. Every person, family and nation would like to enjoy such an intercession and protection. From the very beginning of the Kievan State, we have had great and powerful enemies. It is no wonder then that our people sought the assistance and protection of the Most Holy Mother of God whose intercession is all-powerful. For our people, then, the feast of the Patronage has always been, and still remains, a day of great manifestation of love and gratitude to the Most Holy Mother of God, a day of joyous praise and glorification of her protection and intercession.
The Institution of the Feast of Patronage
The chief motive that led to the institution of this feast was a vision granted to St. Andrew, the Fool for Christ, when the Saracens besieged the capital of Constantinople. The people, terror-stricken, gathered in the church of the Most Holy Mother of God at Blachernae where her mantle was preserved, and there they held an all-night prayer vigil. The greatly distressed people filled the church to overflowing. Among the gathering were St. Andrew and his disciple, Epiphany, both of whom also prayed for the protection of the city. After the service, St. Andrew saw the Most Holy Mother of God in radiant light as she was approaching from the royal doors (a name the Greeks gave to the main doors of the church) in the company of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Theologian and amid the singing of a great choir of Saints. The Mother of God proceeded toward the altar where she knelt down and prayed long, shedding tears. Afterwards she arose, removed from her head a luminous veil, and stretched it out wide over the people in church. Then she disappeared. St. Andrew and his disciple, Epiphany, saw the vision and understood that the Mother of God came to rescue the city. News of the miracle spread throughout the whole city like a flash of lightning. The enemy retreated and the city was saved.
From this veil, which in Ukrainian is called pokrov, the feast got its name: Pokrov Presvyatoyi Bohorodytsi (The Veil (or Protection) of the Most Holy Mother of God). The veil became the symbol of the protection and intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
Who was St. Andrew the Fool? Historians generally agree that he was a Slav from the southern part of Rus’-Ukraine. He, together with other slaves, was brought to Constantinople where he became the slave of a wealthy lord. Here he learned and loved the Christian faith. Meditating on the words of St. Paul: “We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ” (I Cor 4:10), he began to act like a fool, hence, his name. Having gained his freedom from his master, he spent much time in prayer and the reading of Holy Scriptures.
At what period did St. Andrew live and when did the miracle of protection take place? It is difficult to give a clear and adequate answer to this question. The opinions of the historians in regard to this question are divided. Some say that St. Andrew lived during the reign of Leo I, the Great (457-474), that is, in the fifth century, while others, who represent the majority, place the time of his existence during the reign of Emperor Leo VI, the Wise, (886-911), that is, at the beginning of the tenth century.
The feast of the Patronage was a local feast among the Greeks, which they ceased to celebrate after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. No one knows precisely why October 1 became the day of the feast. Probably because St. Andrew had the vision on that day, or perhaps because, as some think, on that day the Eastern Church celebrates the memory of St. Roman the Melodist, who composed many hymns in honor of the Most Pure Virgin Mary. On the day following the feast, the Church commemorates St. Andrew the Fool.
The Feast of the Patronage in Ukraine
In her services the Eastern Church fondly emphasizes the three most beautiful privileges of the Mother of God: the Divine Maternity, Perpetual Virginity and her Intercession for us before God. The latter privilege, above all, won the hearts of our people. Our princes, kings, armies, our Kozaks and Hetmans gladly chose the Most Pure Mother of God as their Protectress and Guardian. Here we shall mention some examples. Prince Jaroslav Mudry (The Wise), in 1036, defeated the nomadic Pechenegs and out of gratitude to God and His Most Holy Mother, he built the beautiful Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev and erected the Church of the Annunciation of our Blessed Mother on the Golden Gates. In 1037, in the church of the Annunciation, he placed the whole nation under the protection or patronage of the Mother of God. Thus, by the will of our monarch, the Most Holy Mother of God was proclaimed officially the Patroness, Defender and Queen of our nation. In hard times our princes and their armies would hasten to Her for assistance. The Grand Prince Mstyslav who ruled in Tmutorokan, at a battle with the Cherkasses promised to build a church in honour of the Mother of God, if she assisted him in defeating the enemy. He defeated the enemy and gladly kept his promise. The Grand Prince Volodymyr Monomakh, in his memoirs, claimed that he owed his victory over the Polovtsians to God and the Most Pure Virgin Mary. He even composed a special prayer in her honor. Our princes and their armies, when marching against the Polovtsians in 1103, turned to God and to the Blessed Virgin for assistance, and utterly defeated the Polovtsians. Prince Ihor Sviatoslavych, the hero of the heroic epic “’Song of Ihor’s Campaign,” after his escape from captivity, went to pay homage to the miraculous icon of the Mother of God in Pyrohoscha, to thank her for her assistance in his escape. The Galician King, Danylo, after a successful campaign against Bohemia, placed expensive gifts at her feet.
Some of our princes used icons of the Mother of God or prayers in her honor on their seals. In recent times in Ukraine very ancient gold, bronze and copper necklaces of icons were discovered, called enkolpions in Greek (round or oval medallions suspended from the neck, hearing a representation of our Lord or our Blessed Mother). One such enkolpion has the Greek inscription on it reading: “O Mother of God, be my Protection and Defense. Amen.”
Our renowned Zaporozhian Kozaks built a church in honor of the Patronage of the Most Holy Mother of God with an icon representing her Patronage at the Sich, the centre of Kozak power. Above the icon of the Blessed Mother were written the words: “I shall deliver and protect my people,” and from the Zaporozhians, represented below the icon, there is a ribbon reaching up to the Mother of God with the inscription on it: “We implore you, cover us with your holy veil (omophor) and deliver us from all evil.” Before they began their campaigns against the enemy, the Kozaks assisted at the Moleben service in honour of their Protectress and fervently sang: “Under your patronage we fly, O Virgin Mother of God; do not despise our prayers in our afflictions, but deliver us from our miseries, you who alone are pure and blessed.” After returning home safely, they would hasten to her in sincere gratitude. In their battle hymn: “Come now, Boys, to Arms!” they sang the words: “St. George will help us to rout the Turk and so will the Most Pure Mother.”
Following the example of their leaders, our people have cultivated a sincere devotion to the Mother of God as their Guardian, Protectress and Intercessor. They always turned to her with great confidence, invoking her help whether in their personal or family troubles or whether in times of national crisis. Her holy icon is found in every Ukrainian home. The history of our nation has recorded many miracles that are attributed to the aid of the Mother of God, especially during times of enemy invasion of our land.
Who does not know about the miraculous protection of the Pochaiv monastery during the Turkish siege in July of 1675? In response to the fervent prayers of the monks and the faithful, the Mother of God appeared over the monastery church and with her omophor (veil), she protected the monastery. That miraculous event was immortalized by the Ukrainian song in honour of the Mother of God: “The evening star appeared and stood over Pochaiv.” Among the Ukrainian people, the veneration of the B1essed Mother of God as Intercessor and Protectress is best illustrated in the village chronicle of Yazhiv Staryj in Western Ukraine. Recalling the frightful incursions of the Tartar hordes and the heavenly protection of the Most Blessed Mary, he writes: “The people, terrified and impoverished, fled to their small church, threw themselves down on their knees before the icon of the Mother of God, and prayed fervently that they would always be given protection.”
The Spirit of the Service of the Feast of the Patronage of the Mother of God
The service of this feast reflects the hundreds of years of deep faith of the Eastern Church and of the faith of our people in the intercession and protection of the Most Holy Mother of God. In the verses of the vespers service, the Church calls upon all the faithful to celebrate the feast of the Patronage: “Come, all you lovers of the feast, and let us praise the venerable protection of the Mother of God. For she stretched forth her Hands imploringly to her Son, and the world fell under her protection. Therefore, let us celebrate gloriously with our lips and hearts, with spiritual songs and melodies, together with all lovers of the feast.”
In the verses of Vespers and Matins services, in the troparion and canon, holy Church pours forth and expresses her childlike love, her unreserved trust in Mary’s powerful protection and immediate help, her role in our salvation and her very great maternal mercy: “O Most Pure Mother of God,” – we sing in the first verse of the Great or Solemn Vespers service – “you are a great Intercessor for those in sorrow. You are swift help, salvation and strength of the world. You are the depth of mercy, the fount of divine wisdom, and the protectress of the world. Let us, the faithful, extol and glorify her unspeakable and glorious patronage. Rejoice, O Full of grace, the Lord is with you, grant the world great mercy.” At Matins, we read: “Zealous and invincible Advocate, sure and infallible hope, bulwark, protection and refuge of those who have recourse to you, O ever-Virgin Pure, together with the angels implore your Son and God to give the world peace, salvation and great mercy.” We also praise Mary’s privilege of curing the sicknesses of soul and body and of delivering from misfortune: “As the Mother of God, you received from God the gift of healing the ills of all Christians; of delivering them from misfortune; of releasing them from sin and of saving them from captivity and all necessity. Therefore, do not despise us either, O Lady, for you know what we need: health of body and salvation of soul.”
In 1912, St. Pope Pius X remarked to our Bishop Nykyta Budka: “Your nation cannot perish, for it has two guarantees: your nation loves the Eucharistic Christ and the Most Pure Virgin Mary. With these guarantees the nation cannot perish.”
Yes, we believe firmly, that the fervent devotion our nation has toward the Most Pure Mother of God as its Protectress and Advocate is the greatest guarantee that she will never abandon our nation, but will intercede in its behalf before her Son and implore from Him that very great grace that the kingdom of darkness and slavery will fall in our native land and that the kingdom of her God-Son will reign once more. Then again, as in the past, our people shall flock to her altars in the hundreds and thousands to pay her veneration as their faithful and untiring Advocate, Guardian and Queen.