This month of March provides us with beautiful opportunities to experience the season of Great and Holy Lent. During this month, there is an abundance of opportunities for worship and for our spiritual and intellectual growth as Greek Orthodox Christians. We continue during these weeks to focus our discipline of repentance, prayer, and fasting as we approach the saving Passion of Christ and His Resurrection. The month of March, however, is also imbued with other very important elements of our faith that touch upon a central figure in the history of our salvation: the ever-Virgin Mary and Mother of God, the Theotokos.
Throughout this month, we venerate the Holy Virgin Mary through special services. These services include the Holy Salutations held on each Friday of Lent, which comprise the portions of the beautiful, rich, and illustrious hymn of the Akathist to the Theotokos. We also celebrate on March 25 the glorious Feast of the Annunciation to the Theotokos, when the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that she would give birth to a Son, whose name would be Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). The month of March therefore, in addition to being a month that is permeated by the Lenten spirit, is also one that accords a special focus to the Theotokos, whom we recognize as the "heavenly ladder by which God came down." (Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, First Stasis).
As we consider the unique prominence of the Theotokos in our salvation, we are also prompted to consider many other roles appointed to her in her role as our Divine Protectress. This role relates specifically to our continuing discussion on the topic of security that we explored last month in our reflection on the role of the Saints. As we indicated, the Theotokos, is par excellence the invincible Protectress of us all. This role of the Theotokos is recognized theologically, historically, and liturgically.
In theological terms, the Theotokos is our Protectress since she is the Mother of God. We know in our human experience that the pleadings between a mother and son can carry great weight. The very special and unique relationship that the Virgin Mary held with Jesus as her Son, our Lord, makes her a truly powerful intercessor for our salvation. Therefore, whenever we pray to God and ask the Theotokos to intercede for our salvation, we are invoking intercessions which carry a distinctively high degree of influence.
This powerful role of the Theotokos as a Divine Protectress is recognized historically and liturgically. In as much as Christians throughout history have sought the intercessions of the Theotokos for spiritual salvation, they have also asked for her intercessions for physical protection itself. For example, historical accounts of entire masses of people praying for the intercessions of the Theotokos to protect them from physical danger have been documented throughout the history of Constantinople during the numerous times over the centuries when the city was under siege, until its eventual fall in 1453. Indeed, the role of the Theotokos as a Protectress is connected with the liberation of the modern Greek state from Ottoman oppression in 1821. The very special and ancient hymn known as "Ti Ipermaho", which we chant every Friday this month during the Salutations service, and every Sunday as the Kontakion in the Divine Liturgy, is an example of our awareness of this special role of the Theotokos. One English translation of this beautiful hymn is as follows:
O Champion General, we your faithful inscribe to you the prize of victory as gratitude for being rescued from calamity, O Theotokos. But since you have invincible power, free us from all kinds of perils so that we may cry out to you: Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.
That we continue to chant this hymn in our divine services speaks to the very real applicability of the Theotokos as a beacon for our physical security in our modern world.
As we continue to reflect upon the definition and sources of security in our contemporary age, the role of the Theotokos is one of clear distinction and prominence in our lives as Orthodox Christians. During this month of March in particular, our Church provides us with numerous occasions to venerate the Theotokos as we acknowledge the unique role she plays in our salvation, especially as "An Unshakeable Protection of Christians," to use the words of another powerful hymn sung regularly in her honor. Appropriately, this month is an opportune time to reflect even more intensively upon the Mother of God as an incomparable source of our spiritual and physical protection. May she protect us all now during this month and always.
Archbishop of America