Outside of Constantinople, towards the district of the Seven Towers, there was in ancient times a very large and most beautiful church named in honour of the Theotokos; it had been built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great (also called "Leo of Thrace," he is commemorated on Jan. 20). Before he became Emperor, he had encountered there a blind man, who being tormented with thirst asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water but found none. As he became downcast, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight. After Leo became Emperor as the Most-Holy Theotokos had prophesied he raised up a church over the spring, whose waters worked many healings and cured maladies by the grace of the Theotokos; from this, it came to be called the "Life-Giving Spring." The Church of Christ celebrates the consecration of this church on this day.
After the fall of the imperial city, this church was razed to the ground and the materials from it were used for building the mosque of Sultan Bayezid. Nothing remained of that church's ancient beauty, except for a small and paltry chapel, almost completely buried in the ruins. This chapel had twenty-five steps going down into it, and a transom window on the roof, wherefrom it received a little light. Toward the western side of the chapel was the aforementioned holy spring, fenced about with a railing, and with fish swimming in it. Such was the condition of the spring until 1821. Then even that little remnant was destroyed, occasioned by the uprising of the Greek nation against the Ottoman Empire; the sacred spring was buried with it and disappeared altogether.
But in the days of Sultan Mahmud, when those subject to him were rejoicing in their freedom to practice their religion, permission was sought by the Orthodox Christian community to rebuild at least part of the chapel. Thus the work was begun on July 26, 1833. When the excavation had been made, and the foundations of the ancient church were found, there was rebuilt—by a later writ of permission from the Sultan—not merely a chapel of the holy spring, but another new church, constructed upon the foundations of the ancient one. The building of this spacious, beautiful, and most majestic temple began on September 14, 1833, and the work was completed on December 30, 1834. On February 2, 1835, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine II, serving the Liturgy together with twelve hierarchs and a great company of clergy, as well as a boundless multitude of Christians, performed the consecration of this sacred church and dedicated it to the glory of the Mother of God. On September 6, 1955, however, it was desecrated and destroyed again by the Moslem Turks; it has been restored again, but not to the former magnificence.
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A number of epigrams [in the Church of the Theotokos Zoodochos Pigi in Baloukli] express awe, veneration and enthusiasm for the hagiasma [Holy Water] and the miracles associated with it. Preserved to our day are six by Manuel Philes, another six by the Magister Ignatius, one by John Mauropous and others.
Zoodochos Pege (i.e. Life-giving Fount) is an epithet of the Holy Virgin and Her representation as Zoodochos Pege is related to the sacred spring. It soon became very popular and this type of icon spread throughout the Orthodox world, particularly in places where a spring was believed to be hagiasma. In the 9th century, Joseph the Hymnographer gave for the first time the title "Zoodochos Pege" to a hymn for the Mother of God.
A marble fountain, from which water flows, occupies the centre of the icon. Above, the Theotokos is holding Christ who makes the sign of blessing. Two angels hovering over Her head carry a scroll inscribed with the verse: "Hail! That you bear. Hail! That you are." Around the fountain the emperor and many ailing people are shown, in a variety of postures, being sprinkled with Holy Water. According to the tradition, a small pond with fish is painted to the side. Actually, it is the fish that have given its present name to the locality, for Balikli in Turkish means "a place with fish."
May the Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary intercede for all of us and save us!
Apolytikion of The Life-Giving Spring of the Theotokos in the Third Tone
As a life-giving fount, thou didst conceive the Dew that is transcendent in essence, O Virgin Maid, and thou hast welled forth for our sakes the nectar of joy eternal, which doth pour forth from thy fount with the water that springeth up unto everlasting life in unending and mighty streams; wherein, taking delight, we all cry out: Rejoice, O thou Spring of life for all men.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
O Lady graced by God, you reward me by letting gush forth, beyond reason, the ever-flowing waters of your grace from your perpetual Spring. I entreat you, who bore the Logos, in a manner beyond comprehension, to refresh me in your grace that I may cry out, "Hail redemptive waters."