The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 7 – ‘Theotokos’ the Mother of God in Constantinople

Saint Helen had performed her pilgrimage of reparation to the Holy Land and arrived in Jerusalem. As she visited the city, news reached her that a certain Jew by the name of Judas knew the whereabouts of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ. She ordered the Jew to be interviewed, and as he was hard pressed, he revealed the location of a cave where the Cross had been burried in the earth and sand. The cave was discovered and a pagan temple, which was earlier erected above it, torn down. Three crosses were unearthed, and following Helen’s consultation with Patriarch Macarius, the three crosses were taken to a sick lady, as the third cross was brought close to her, she was healed. The three crosses were taken to the funeral of a man, as the third cross was brought close to the corpse, he came back to life. The Holy Cross of the Lord was thus discovered, a Church was built above Golgotha and the Lord’ s Cross placed within. Judas the Jew converted to Christianity, was ordained Patriarch of Jerusalem and was eventually martyred by Julian the Apostate’s soldiers. He was Christened as Cyriacus and his feast is held by the Orthodox Christians on October 28 (coincides with the date of Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge).

In the years 622-27, Our Lady interceded in aid of Emperor Heraklios. Apart from granting victory in a battle against the Zoroastrian Persians, that same year the heavenly Mother supernaturally interceded to protect the City of Constantinople against hordes of Avaro-Slavs. Had this not occurred, the pagan Avaro-Slavs and Persians would have conquered Constantinople and the surrounding regions approximately eight hundred years before the terrible invasion of the Ottoman Empire occurring on May 29, 1453.

In the seventh century, Jerusalem and Constantinople were threatened by the Avaro-Slavic menace, which was compounded by the Persian assault under Chosroes II. In 613, Emperor Herakleios was defeated in battle and Antioch, Syria and Armenia were lost to the Persians. So did the Cities of Damascus and Jerusalem fall to the enemy, with the catastrophic destruction of Christian monuments and the removal of the True Cross from its shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The eyewitness account of a monk from Mar Sabas Monastery, described the destruction and the consoling efforts of the Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem. The Catholic population, which struggled to survive following the burning, killings and looting assembled on the Mount of Olives to listen to their Patriarch. There on the Mount of Olives in the vicinity of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus Christ had prayed before his crucifixion, Zacharias said: “Holy is our God, who sends this chastisement upon his people… my brethren, do not be troubled on what has befallen us, I myself am the first sinner amongst you, I shall also be with you in captivity… The Cross of the Lord is with us and the Lord of hosts who dwells in the heavens is with us… Now it is time to pray ceaselessly that our God may deliver us from his and our foe…”(1) The arriving Persians, drove the congregation away and the Patriarch bade farewell to Jerusalem, “Let peace reign in Sion, bride of the Lord, let peace reign in Jerusalem, … Oh holy city I bid you farewell, may the Lord grant me the grace of beholding your vision again…”(2) The column of prisoners were urged on, away from their beloved Jerusalem. The survivor Thomas and the Armenian Bishop Sebeos later commented, giving details that this column of prisoners comprised of 35,000 survivors, while 67,000 dead were left behind, most of which were buried in different districts of the city. The Persian Zoroastrians had for the time being, defeated ‘God’s own.’ The Persians took with them the Holy Cross and the Christian survivors to Persia.

In 615, Emperor Heraklios reorganized the city defenses and army in Constantinople and appointed the Opsikion troops to accompany him in his military expedition to Persia. The personal involvement of the Emperor was strongly discouraged by certain members in the Senate; nonetheless, it was his leadership, piety and faith in the Lord and his Holy Mother, which brought success. The deacon of Saint Sophia in Constantinople, George of Pisidia, described Heraklios as carrying icons of Christ and the Virgin, thus revealing publicly his devotion and faith in their heavenly aid. Marching towards Asia Minor and to Armenia, Heraklios achieved a victory in the winter of 622-23 and again in 627 at the ancient City of Nineveh. The Zoroastrians were defeated and their King, Chosroes, was forced to flee. The Persian menace was decisively overcome, the eastern territories were regained and the Christians returned to their territories. In 628, as Emperor Heraklios returned the Holy Cross to Jerusalem, he was stopped by a mysterious force at Golgotha Hill. Patriarch Zecharius pointed out that the Lord carried the Cross in humility and disgrace while the Emperor carried it in pompous honor. The Emperor removed his royal robe and barefoot took the Cross to the Golgotha Church. The Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, is kept by the Orthodox Christians on September 14.

During Easter of 622, as the Emperor departed from Constantinople for his pursuit against the fire worshipping Persians, the city’s patriarch (Patriarch Sergius I, 610-639) and a general (General Bonos) formed a council of regency, which was to rule in the Emperor’s absence. On the Emperor’s leave, this council and Constantinople were severely tested as two armies, one of Avaro-Slavs and another of Persians, approached with the intent of besieging the city. The patriarch addressed the besiegers, proclaiming that the Blessed Virgin will put an end to their presumption and arrogance by “…her single command”(3) for she is the Mother of Him who destroyed Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. Processions of the Holy Icons of Christ and the Virgin were organized and carried on the fortifications and around the walls. The city’s inhabitants chanted hymns and prayers for divine intervention. Soon after, General Bonos, who successfully challenged the Slavic navy and caused the war vessels to withdraw, carried out sorties.

Should modern man label the supernatural apparitions witnessed by the troops during this war, as mass hallucination? For many soldiers pertaining to both armies witnessed the Blessed Virgin Mary aiding Christ’s troops. She was seen fighting upon the fortified walls and beside the defenders. During the siege, on the eleventh day, a sentry beheld a beautiful lady accompanied by two servants exiting a church and walking in the direction towards the Persian camp. Many who witnessed the lady believed she was the Empress. A few hours later news arrived that the Persian camp was in complete confusion and the enemy was fleeing. An unexpected storm also sank the enemy ships. These events occurred following Patriarch Sergius’ procession with the clothed Icon of ‘Our Lady of Wayfarers’ and her Holy Veil, around the City of Constantinople. The Patriarch’s procession led to the suburb of Blachernae, in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Mother of God. Here the Patriarch soaked the Holy Veil in the sea. A storm arose and the enemy fleet perished. On witnessing Our Lady’s numerous miraculous interventions and apparitions during this war, the people passed the nights in the churches singing the ‘Akathistos Hymn,’ in honor of the Mother of God. Emperor Heraklios returned victorious from the east and entered his capital in triumph. Byzantine authority was re-established and in gratitude towards the Blessed Virgin Mary, four Feasts in her honor were incorporated in Constantinople’s calendar. On August 7, 626, following the great liberation of Constantinople, Patriarch Sergius chose the ‘Akathistos Hymn’ as the fitting thanksgiving hymn in veneration of the Mother of God. Today the Orthodox Christians remember these miraculous events by the recitation of the Akathistos Hymn.

On the fifth Saturday of Lent the Byzantine Catholic and Eastern Christians celebrate a special service in honor of the Virgin Mary, commemorating the Akathistos Saturday. During the celebration the entire Akathistos of the ‘Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin,’ is sung. The Roman Catholic Church attributes the origins of the title of ‘Our Lady of Victory,’ to Constantinople’s stand against the Avaro-Slavic and Persian armies. Other miraculous interventions by Theotokos, the Mother of God, occurred during the reign of Constantine II, Pogonatus (641-688) whereby the Mother of God delivered the Christians from an Islamic invasion. During the times of Emperor Leo the Isaurian (716-750) victory over a large Islamic fleet was once again granted by Our Lady’s intercession.

 

On May 4, 1746, Pope Benedict XIV granted an indulgence of 50 days for each recitation of the Akathistos Hymn. Below, the fifth and twelfth Chant of the Akathistos Hymn, are represented.(4)

 

FIFTH CHANT

The Sons of Chaldaea saw in the Virgin’s hands the One whose hands had fashioned men: and acknowledging Him as the Master, although He had taken the form of a servant, they hastened to honor Him with their gifts and cried out to the Blessed One:

Hail, O Mother of the Star Without Setting!
Hail, O Radiance of the Mystical Day!
Hail, O you who quenched the flame of error!
Hail, O Light of those who search the Trinity!
Hail, O you who unthroned the Enemy of Men!
Hail, O you who showed forth Christ the Lord, Lover of Mankind!
Hail, O you who cleansed us from the stain of pagan worship!
Hail, O you who saved us from the mire of evil deeds!
Hail, O you who made cease the cult of fire!
Hail, O you who guide the faithful toward wisdom!
Hail, O you, Delight of all the Nations!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

TWELFTH CHANT

By singing praise to your maternity, we all exalt you as a spiritual temple, Mother of God! For the One Who Dwelt Within Your Womb, the Lord Who Holds All Things in His Hands, sanctified you, glorified you, and taught all men to sing to you:

Hail, O Tabernacle of God the Word!
Hail, O Holy One, more holy than the saints!
Hail, O Ark that the Spirit has gilded!
Hail, Inexhaustible Treasure of Life!
Hail, Precious Crown of rightful authorities!
Hail, Sacred Glory of reverent priests!
Hail, Unshakable Tower of the Church!
Hail, Unbreachable Wall of the Kingdom!
Hail, O you through whom the trophies are raised!
Hail, O you through whome the enemies are routed!
Hail, O healing of my body!
Hail, O salvation of my soul!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

 

 

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