Tag Archives: icons

The Protection of the Mother of God

The account of the appearance is to be found in the Life of St. Andrew “the Fool in Christ” (died 956). It is at the church of Blachernes [in Constantinople], where the robe, the veil and part of the girdle of the Holy Virgin are preserved, that the appearance occurred. During the office of the vigil, about four in the morning, St. Andrew and his disciple Epiphanius saw a majestic woman advancing towards the ambo, supported by St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and accompanied by several saints. On reaching the center of the church, the Mother of God knelt down and remained long in prayer, her face bathed in tears. When she had prayed yet again before the altar, she took off the shining veil which enveloped her and, holding it above her head, extended it over all the people present in the church. Andrew and Epiphanius alone were able to see the appearance of the Mother of God and her veil which shone like the glory of God, but all who were present felt the grace of her protection. This invisible protection of the Mother of God, interceding with her Son for the whole universe, protection that St. Andrew could contemplate in the form of a veil covering the faithful, constitutes the central idea of the festival of October 1st: “The Virgin is today present in the church: with the choirs of the saints she prays to God invisibly for us. Angels and bishops prostrate themselves, apostles and prophets rejoice: for the Mother of God intercedes for us before the eternal God.”

The Mother of God is seen standing on a small cloud, hovering in the air above the faithful. She has both arms outstretched in a gesture of supplication, expressing her prayer of intercession. Two angels hold by either end a great veil which billows in the form of a vault over the Mother of God. The procession of saints which surrounded the Queen of the Heavens at the time of her appearance is represented by two groups of apostles and prophets with St. John the Forerunner. On his scroll: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”

To the right of the ambo, two persons in the foreground are detached from the crowd of the faithful. They are St. Andrew and St. Epiphanius, the witnesses of the appearance of the Mother of God. St. Andrew is turned towards his disciple showing him the appearance with a gesture of the right arm extended towards the Mother of God.

– from The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

In Communion / Fall 2007 / Protection of the Mother of God

St. George the Great Martyr

True stories become legends and legends are compressed via symbols into myths. The St. George of myth was a knight in armor who fought a dragon to save a princess. The real George never saw a dragon nor did he rescue a princess in distress. We are not even sure he had a horse, possessed a sword, or was a soldier. It is possible he was a farmer – the name “George” means tiller of the soil, which explains why St. George is a patron saint of agriculture, herds, flocks and shepherds.

A Christian convert who was born late in the third century after Christ and died early in the fourth century, George was one of the victims of the anti-Christian persecution ordered by the Emperor Diocletian that began in February of the year 303. Churches were destroyed and biblical texts burned. All Roman subjects were ordered to make ritual sacrifices to Rome’s gods. Those who refused risked loss of property and severe punishment. Many were sent into exile as slave laborers in quarries and mines in Egypt and Palestine. Thousands were tortured and many executed. Finally in 311 the attack ended. With Diocletian in retirement and the emperor Galerius critically ill and close to death, Galerius published an edict of toleration allowing Christians to restore their places of worship and to worship in their own way without interference, provided they did nothing to disturb the peace.

What made George a saint among saints was the fearless manner in which he proclaimed his faith during a period of persecution when many other Christians were hoping not to be noticed. According to one ancient account, George went to a public square and announced, “All the gentile gods are devils. My God made the heavens and is the true God.” For this George was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded. The probable date of his martyrdom is April 23, 303, in the town of Diospolis, later known as Lydda, in Asia Minor – Turkey as it is known today. His courageous witness led to the conversion of many and gave renewed courage to others already baptized.

In the oldest icons of St. George, he is shown dressed as a soldier and holding the cross of martyrdom.

It was only in later centuries that the dragon legend emerged. It has been told in many variations, but in its most popular form it concerns a dragon living in a lake who was worshiped by the unbaptized local people, who in their fear sacrificed their children to appease the creature. Finally it was the turn of the king’s daughter, Elizabeth, to be sacrificed. While going toward the dragon to meet her doom, Saint George appeared riding a white horse. He prayed to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then transfixed the dragon with his lance. Afterward Elizabeth led the vanquished creature into the city.

According to the Legenda Aurea written by Blessed James de Voragine, the wounded dragon followed Elizabeth “as if it had been a meek beast and debonair.” Refusing a reward of treasure, George called on the local people to be baptized. The king agreed, also promising to maintain churches, honor the clergy, faithfully attend religious services, and show compassion to the poor.

– an extract from Praying with Icons (Jim Forest, Orbis Books)