In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Human life, brothers and sisters, is full of sorrows and woes, and the soul is afflicted by life’s countless sorrows, the body is often dispirited by disease, as if reminding us that that day is not far off when we will go to give an answer to God the Righteous Judge for all of our deeds, in which who has not sinned? Therefore, our hearts cannot but rejoice when we hear, or, more precisely, when we recall that we have a merciful and loving intercessor, comforting the mourning, healing the infirm, strengthening the faint-hearted, and, most importantly, ceaselessly interceding before the Lord for our eternal salvation. This intercessor, this mediatress is the Mother of God and mother of all Christians, the Most Pure Virgin Mary.
There is no measure of God’s love for us sinners, for who can comprehend the love of the Unfathomable, and how ineffable is the love, how inexpressible the wisdom of Divine Providence for us? The host of the saints intercede for us in the Heavenly mansions before the throne of the King of Glory; the faces of the angelic powers invisibly shield us from innumerable afflictions, turn us away from evil and towards the good, and banish the evil and shameless hell hounds, the demons. And yet we often cannot endure, we transgress the commandments of our Creator and we fall, we sin before Him, becoming guilty and subject to His righteous and fearful judgment. It is terrible for us to draw near to Him, terrible to look to Heaven. However, merciful and never angry until the end, the Lord has given us in this sorrow the hope of an irreproachable and immutable petition to Him—His Most Pure Mother, having given the entire human race to her as a son, in the person of the beloved disciple-theologian. And her prayers, more than anyone else’s, are always accepted by Him, the Almighty; He hearkens to her and bows to her requests, even when she entreats for those who are seemingly unworthy of mercy and condescension.
And not just people with their private, personal sorrows, but whole peoples and countries preserve the memory of the wondrous miracles of the Mother of God’s protection and intercessions for them at a time when any human help was already powerless.
Today, the fifth Saturday of Great Lent, is dedicated to the memory of such a miraculous event—and not just one, but three—and has therefore received the title of Akathist Saturday, or the Laudation of the Mother of God.
At the beginning of the seventh century, in 626, during the reign of Emperor Heraclius, Byzantium was enduring difficult days. Constantinople was constrained by enemies on all sides. From the East came the Persians, from the West the Avars. The Greeks’ situation seemed hopeless, and the fall of the capital and the destruction of its defenders and civilians seemed inevitable. But Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople gave his blessing for a cross procession around the besieged city, himself taking the miraculous Hodigitria Icon of the Mother of God. The holiest sacred object was taken—the robe of the Most Holy Theotokos, preserved in her renowned Blachernae Church. And when the robe was carried around the city along its walls and was then immersed in the waters of the Bosporus, a miracle occurred, joyous for the Greeks and truly fearful for their enemies. The sea, previously calm, began to boil, a terrible storm broke out, and the enemy ships were sunk by the rising waves. The people then spent the entire night in prayer in the Blachernae Church, chanting a hymn of thanksgiving to the Mother of God. Constantinople was honored twice more with such wondrous mercy from the Heavenly Queen, twice more it was miraculously delivered from besieging enemies. Therefore, today’s feast was established in memory of these wondrous acts of love of the Mother of God for the Christian race. A song of praise, known as the Akathist, is sung to the Theotokos on this feast day in all Orthodox churches throughout the entire world.
Truly, brothers and sisters, the Mother of God is wondrously near to those who call upon her for aid. This gentle mother, hurrying to her children, hurries to respond to the call of the sorrowing human heart, to help, to intercede, and to rescue the perishing.
Therefore, from the most ancient times, Christians have been saved by her intercession and find a defense and protection, comfort and consolation in her. She is the Holy of Holies; she inexpressibly loves all who have dedicated themselves to piety, all who have completely dedicated their lives and very selves to her beloved Son. But, O wondrous miracle, O the depths of mercy! She also loves sinners, perishing in their iniquities; she has mercy upon them, and extends a helping hand to them every hour. And how many of them have risen up, were reformed, were made chaste by her—the Queen of Heaven and Earth raised them up from the abyss of their fall to the heights of holiness and brought them into the bright palaces of the Heavenly Lord!
It was precisely to her, the Most Pure, that St. Mary of Egypt, a fallen sinner, turned, as we just remembered; to her she pleaded, “Be my guarantor before thy Son, that I would no more defile my body with the impurity of fornication, but would renounce the world and its seductions and would go wherever you lead me, O guide of my salvation!” And indeed, she heeded the prayers of the desperate sinner, and for her entire life she was her helper and intercessor, invisibly strengthening and consoling her.
St. Silouan, who also experienced the miraculous intercession of the Mother of God, being granted merciful correction from her, did not tire of glorifying her his entire life. “Now I see,” he wrote in his notes, “how the Lord and the Mother of God pity the people. Think of how the Mother of God came down from Heaven to correct me in my sins!” “How shall I recompense our Most Pure Lady,” the elder wrote, “for not being disgusted by me in my sins, but mercifully visited me and admonished me?... My spirit rejoices and my soul is drawn to her by love, such that but one invocation of her name is sweet to my heart!”
But no matter how much we say, how many such examples we bring forth, brothers and sisters, it will all be but a small drop in the sea of Our Lady’s mercy and generosity. Who can say how many there were—those who throughout these long centuries seized upon salvation and the unending blessed life by her intercessions?
In our days, the voice of eternity is barely even audible; the noise of big cities and political turmoil, the noise of modern life itself with its hustle and bustle drowns it out. But by the mercy of God there are those being saved even today. People are now rousing from the sleep of sin; coming in masses to God after looking into their hearts, offering repentance for their whole lives that they led without Him. How, in what ways unknown to us, does our salvation come to us? Who keeps us, who implores the righteousness of God to yet endure with us, to not hew us mortally down for our iniquities? For many of us this will probably remain a mystery, which we will learn only when we are delivered from the fetters of this flesh, leaving this sinful and greatly sorrowful world.
But sometimes, even in this earthly life, for reasons unfathomable to us, the providence of God deigns to at least slightly lift the fine but impenetrable veil that conceals the other world from us. And then we see Who has mercy upon and keeps us, Who cares for us as not even the most tender, most caring mother can care for her children. Then we learn that the Most Pure Virgin Mary even now does not leave us, but is ever with us, as she promised the apostles who were mourning her departure from Earth.
However, it’s not only those rare lucky ones to whom is revealed some visible image of the Theotokos’ care for them, but we must all indisputably believe that there is no sinner, no person who has come to God, for whom the Mother of the Lord has not implored by her prayers, whom she has not led by the hand to the Church of God. Why? Because she extends her Divine veil over all of us without exception, because she prays for all of us without exception, standing before the Heavenly King, and no one is deprived of her mercy and love, not a single person, if he himself is not hardened, if his soul has not died, if he has not wholly rejected God’s providence for himself.
We, brother and sisters, are going through what are not the easiest of times—every one of us, and our country, and the Church itself. But the Lord is still merciful to us by the prayers of His Most Pure Mother. Therefore, we must ceaselessly appeal in our prayers to the Heavenly Queen, that the Lord might yet suffer us, save the Fatherland and our Church, and grant people repentance unto salvation.
But it is not only in our sorrows and grief that we should turn to the Mother of God, not only from the narrowness of our hearts that we should sigh to her with tears of contrition. No, but with gratitude for all her blessings—known and unknown, those past and those that yet will be, let us sing a wondrous laudatory hymn to the Most Pure Virgin, exclaiming to her with heartfelt tender emotion, “Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!”
And let us have hope that the Queen will not despise our humble praise, but that she will be merciful to us and vouchsafe us that joy that is never taken away from those who have found it, which she desires for every one of us from her loving, mother’s heart. Amen.