A homily given by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania on the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, at Divine Liturgy in Prečista Monastery near Kičevo, North Macedonia, on October 14th in the year of Our Lord 2022
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Beloved, we are gathered together in this magnificent, sacred church by the most powerful motherly love, the love of Her Who brought the highest, most supreme Love into the world: the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. We are gathered, then, to celebrate with thankful hymns and songs the feast of the Most Holy Theotokos known as her Protection, which originated after Blessed Andrew the Fool for Christ’s miraculous vision in Constantinople, at the renowned and glorious Church of the Mother of God at Blachernae.
At a time when the Orthodox people were menaced by dangers, foreign invasions, civil wars, and fatal diseases, a large number of the faithful, by order of the Holy Patriarch of Constantinople, gathered in the imperial church of the Queen of the Angels, Blachernae, to offer their repentant sighs and to pray for peace and prosperity. During one of the all-night vigils, on October 1, 911, the Venerable Andrew had a heavenly revelation. Up above the people, he saw the Queen of Heaven, dressed in magnificent royal porphyry, with an indescribable glow, accompanied by Saint John the Theologian and the other apostles, along with a host of saints, martyrs, and angels. She protectively spread her omophorion over the gathered believers, praying on her knees and with tears for their salvation. Amazed by the vision, he asked his disciple if he had seen the same thing. Saint Epiphanius answered him: “I see, Holy Father, and I am terrified!” Both of them continued to praise and thank the Most Holy Virgin, Who covers and protects Her people with motherly love. Then, at the end of the service, Blessed Andrew told everyone about the great miracle of the Mother of God’s mercy and encouraged them not to be afraid, because the Heavenly Empress would deliver her city and her people from danger. And that’s what happened.
Many similar things, sudden deliverances from great misery by the intercession of the Holy Mother of God happened many times in history, and they still happen today. This applies not only to all sorts of dangers and hardships but also to our personal trials. How many times, when we were in great torment and despair, did the Immaculate One cover and protect us with her omophorion of love?! In reality, She is constantly covering us with her motherly love, the embodiment of which was symbolically shown to Saint Andrew, as an omophorion, or large veil, spread over the people. This means that the love of the Mother of God always covers us in our sins, troubles, dangers, and temptations. Love covers many sins – says the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 4:8). There is nothing greater or stronger than the love of the Mother of Christ. She was the first person to become a living temple of the living God. Through her, the Son and Word of God came down to Earth and became one of us, to make us worthy of Himself by grace. She is Christ’s robe with which we clothe ourselves so that we can sit with God at the table in the Kingdom of Heaven. She is the heavenly manna through which God nourishes us with His Divinity. She is our greatest Saint.
In the excerpt from the Epistles that we read just now, we heard a description of the Old Testament temple. This apostolic letter is normally read on almost all feasts of the Theotokos. Perhaps some wonder what this has to do with the Theotokos, since at first, the reading seems to just be about the Old Testament tabernacle, and how the sanctuary was organized and arranged at that time. However, this is precisely where we find a wonderful symbolism that connects us with our Most Holy Theotokos, because She is, in fact, the perfect tabernacle of God, through which every devoted person becomes a temple of Christ.
The term “temple of God” certainly has its own chronology and progression in sacred history. First of all, God commanded Moses to create a portable temple, a tabernacle, which at the time was a tent made of cloth and boards: “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8). While Old Testament Israel passed through the desert for forty years, wherever they went, they carried with them that sacred tabernacle in which the Ark of the Covenant and other holy things were kept. This portable temple was also brought to the holy city of Jerusalem, which became the capital of the chosen people during the time of the Holy Prophet King David. In his time the city was fortified with walls and decorated with towers and palaces. Then the God-loving king thought to himself: “I live in luxurious buildings, built of cedar and stone, but God lives in a tent?!” So he wanted to build a magnificent house where the name of God would be glorified unceasingly and he collected everything that was needed for its construction. However, as we read from Holy Scripture, God told David that not he, but his descendants would complete the temple: “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).
And indeed, it was so. King Solomon built the famous, magnificent Jerusalem Temple for the one true God of Hosts: “I have filled the position of my father David, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised; and I have built a temple for the name of the Lord God of Israel” (1 Kings 8:20). It is interesting to note the fact that both in the First Temple, the portable one in the tabernacle, and the Second Temple, the walled one, God came in the form of a bright cloud and illuminated that holy place: “And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of the cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses” (Exodus 33:9). The same went for Solomon’s Temple: “And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the House of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the Glory of the Lord filled the House of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10-11). Essentially, the Glory of God dwelt in the temple until the Son of God was crucified on Calvary when the curtain of the Holy of Holies was torn in two. Then the Glory of God departed from the Jerusalem Temple and passed to the New Testament Church — not only in stone buildings but above all in the worshipers of the true God, in those who receive the Lord Jesus Christ in themselves through communion in His Body and Blood. “The body,” writes the Holy Apostle Paul, “is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body… your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Who is in you and Whom you have from God” (1 Corinthians 6:13,19).
The first such living temple of Christ was, as we said, the Queen and Mother of God. This spiritual temple fully received God within itself, containing the Uncontainable One and bestowing Him upon humanity. As a result, through the Mother of God, every person today has the opportunity to be saved, to become a temple, a dwelling place of God. After all, God most of all wants to live in the temples of our bodies, to dwell in our hearts. We have the Most Holy Mother of God as our tireless Helper to help us fulfill Christ’s most desired wish. In today’s feast, she shows us that she is always there for us as a Mother who loves her children, covering over our many weaknesses and correcting us with her special love that fills us with Christ. The protection of the Most Holy Theotokos gives us the right to freely address this greatest Mother whenever we are in distress and temptation. Let us say to her humbly: “Holy Mother, we see our many weaknesses and acknowledge and confess our numberless sins. Sometimes we are powerless to survive the attacks until the end, but You, as a merciful Mother, when we are particularly weak, when we cannot find the strength to fight the temptations and the evil within ourselves, come and help us! We surrender ourselves completely to You, do not leave us, but save us.” In my sinfulness and humility, I can say that I have prayed similarly since my youth. I said this prayer every time I saw my weaknesses and realized that I could not fight them. And so, when the grace of God visited me when I felt God in my heart, I said: “Lord, I know that what I desire when I am fallen and weak is not good, and so I need Your help.” I also prayed to the Immaculate One: “My Mother, I need you in my weakness! When I am overwhelmed by my sins, I will not be able to pray to you, so I am now giving you the right to act then. That’s when I need you the most, come and deliver me then!” And the Theotokos truly always helped me.
So, my beloved, do not forget Her, because She is always with us, covering us with her motherly omophorion. She will come, she will deliver us, she will protect us, she will save us because she is the greatest Mother, the Mother of the whole world. Let’s ask her to cover the world today with the omophorion of her love since it is particularly troubled by many difficult trials and in desperate need of her veil. Let us ask her to send warmth and mercy to the Christian race, which is experiencing a great spiritual crisis, so that it may return to Christ and His Gospel, so that the world may walk in the paths of God. Amen!