His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
Homily for the Service of the Paraklesis to the Theotokos
Saint George and Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church
New York, New York
August 13, 2021
Beloved Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,
I am always very moved with emotion when we arrive at the final Paraklesis Service for this sacred season of the Dormition Fast. And I am glad to be with you here in the beautiful Church, dedicated to our greatest military Saints, George the Trophy-bearer and Demetrios the Myrrh-Streamer.
Tonight, we conclude our Supplicatory Canons to the Most Holy Mother of God, but we do not finish our supplications. This season of the Δεκαπενταύγουστος is a season of intensification in our devotion and dedication to the Virgin. But just as she never forgets us, we never forget her.
With our earthly mothers, we always think back to the last time we have spoken with them, that we have seen them, that we have enjoyed their company. For those whose mothers have passed away, we remember these moments very acutely, and sometimes they can cause us sadness as, quite naturally, we miss our mothers.
With our Heavenly Mother, though, there is never a time when we cannot speak with her, or see her in her Holy Icons, and bring ourselves into her sacred presence.
So, even as we bid farewell to this season of Paraklesis, we acknowledge that our relationship to the Theotokos continues, even into eternity. For that is where she now dwells, waiting to welcome us, and constantly interceding on our behalf.
Her intercessions for Greece in this terrible time of the fires is especially poignant. Greece has always had a special dedication to the Panagia, and that is why, during the days of this Fast, we have been praying urgently for relief to the people and the land of our Motherland.
I say “motherland,” even though we say πατρίδα in Greek. Nevertheless, these two words together have a very special significance for the Virgin Theotokos, who is a special “land” for all of us.
In the most magnificent pinnacle of the Byzantine achievement, the Church we know as “Chora,” – which was seized even before our precious Hagia Sophia for the alien cause – a great mystery plays out in the iconography. The church was a monastic church, with an “Exonarthex” and an “Esonarthex,” unlike parish churches with only one Narthex.
When you walk into the Church, arriving in the “Exonarthex,” and you look up to the next entryway that leads further into the Church, you see the famous icon of Christ in the Lunette above the doorway, that is called Ἡ Χώρα τῶν Ζώντων, “The Land of the Living.”
This is because all our hopes for eternity are in the Lord Jesus Christ. But directly facing this icon is one of the Virgin Mother, and its title is ἡ Χώρα τοῦ Ἀχωρήτου – “the Land, or Space, of the One Who cannot be contained by Space.”
The play on words in Greek ultimately leads to the very name that we call the Church: “Χώρα.” But the deeper point is that God Himself dwelt within the womb of the Virgin, and she contained the Uncontainable.
Thus, the Holy Theotokos is our very own Promised Land, a true “motherland,” because she cares for each and every one of us as a mother cares for her own children.
Therefore, my beloved Christians,
Let us turn to our Holy Motherland, the Panagia, for the sake of our πατρίδα. Let us implore her mercies that these fires may cease raging across the land, and that lives, property, animals and the very trees that we need to purify the air be spared.
May our supplications to the All-Holy Mother of God always rise to heaven, so that we may in turn receive her grace, her compassion and her maternal love for us all. Amen.