The Cross and Joy of Motherhood

Theotokos

As we journey along the hard yet joyous road of motherhood, the most holy Theo­tokos accompanies each of us, mothers, and inspires us. As mothers, we have been granted the very special gift of ex­periencing in a very small and imperfect measure the feelings that the Mother of God must have gone through and still do as the Mother of us all.

When we read and pray the words of Saint Luke’s Gospel “And behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus. He will  be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.” We cannot but share the feeling of wonder and awe of the Theotokos, as she replies “How can this be…?”

Every mother has experienced a shadow of this wonder when she dis­covered or was announced that she car­ries a child in her womb. The mystery of conception is so great that it is with awe we must receive the gift of life within us.  At times, the amazing joy is shadowed by practical considerations and anxieties, just as the Mother of God felt “troubled” since the time and circumstances did not seem propitious in human terms. Ulti­mately, any worries about material con­siderations are subdued by the unspeakable joy of motherhood.

The baby’s first cry, so dear and yet so painful upon the first breath of life marks in some way the pain of separa­tion. After the pangs of labour, the joy of a mother at seeing her baby for the first time also contains a grain of sadness, what was perfect oneness is now two per­sons, mother and child. From that mo­ment onwards, motherhood becomes an exercise of dying to oneself a little each day in order to give more. A mother gives up her own will and desires in order to minister to the needs of her child. Just as Mary follows her Son all the way to the Cross to “minister to him” and has her heart pierced, so does every Christian mother, called to bear the sufferings and to partake in the joys of their child.

Every step towards the independence of a child brings great joy to a mother’s heart. Can we ever forget our child’s baptism and first Holy Communion, their first word or first step, the emotion of the first day at school? And yet with each new step they take towards independence, they need us and want us a little less. The wisdom of love teaches us that letting go is a part of motherhood’s daily cross. We have to view our children as a gift and ourselves as the custodians of these spe­cial gifts, always remembering that all comes from God and belongs to Him. In this light, we can better understand the words of the Gospel: “he who loves son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me” Matthew10:37.

Through all our anxious moment when our children are ill, sad or appear lost, we must remember, that these feel­ings are only a drop in the ocean com­pared to what the Mother of God must have felt caring and protecting the Son of God Himself. Similarly, what must She have felt when she discovered her Son missing while journeying away from Jer­usalem! When she finds Him, just like any mother, she is both relieved and per­turbed saying “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have sought you anxiously?”

“She will be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self­control” Timothy 1:15. Mother­hood lived in Christ is indeed a way to holiness and sanctification. As our chil­dren grow, we must diminish in their life, to allow for their own ministry to flour­ish. All four Gospels depict the Mother of Christ standing and watching by Cross as the apostles and Jesus’ followers have run away in fright. We stand with Mary and the Galilean women at the foot of the Cross, bearing our own children’s small crosses and sharing in the suffering of The Most Holy Mother of all.

By Mary and Martha

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To Thee, the Champion Leader

The Akathist Hymn, chanted and in Icons, together with the Miraculous Athonite Akathist icon “Panagia of the Salutations the Myrrhgusher” at Holy Monastery Dionysiou 

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To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds, there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars. The siege lasted a few months, and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation. However as history records, the faith of the people worked the impossible. The Venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along the great walls of Constantinople with an Icon of the Theotokos in hand, and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom. The miracle came soon after. Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates, a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy, and full retreat ensued. The faithful of Constantinople spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn, and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating, they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting. Hence the title of the Hymn “Akathistos”, in Greek meaning ‘not seated’.

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The Akathist Hymn is chanted in all Orthodox Churches throughout the world during the five Fridays in the Great Lent, and constitutes a very concrete spiritual preparation for the Holy Week and Easter Services; a ‘staff’ to help us ascend the spiritual steps of the lengthy Lenten period, to finally reach the peak with our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection. 

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Panagia herself, appearing to the Saints has said: “I will love, I will protect, and I will shelter every faithful person who greets me every day with the beautiful hymns of My Salutations, and who lives in accordance with the law of God. And on the last day of his life, I will defend him before My Son.”

The Akathist Hymn in Icons

The Laudations of Our Lady of the Akathist

The Akathist to the Mother of God was most probably written by Roman the Melodist in the 6th century and has inspired Iconographers to depict the Akathist in images no less beautiful than the words which inspired them.

 

Structure of the Hymn; Structure of the Icon

 

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American Icon, bordered by the 24 Stanzas and their corresponding Greek letter

 

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Outer border shows 24 Stanzas; Inner border shows Old Testament Prophecies

 

The Main part of the Akathist Hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas. The stanzas alternate between long and short. Each short stanza is written in prose and ends with the singing of “Alleluia.” Each longer stanza ends with the refrain: “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded.”Sometimes “Rejoice” is translated as “Hail”; this is probably closer to the Greek word used (Chaíre – Χαῖρε) and explains the name for the service based on this Hymn (and another name for the Icon): the Salutations of the Theotokos.

 

The stanzas are arranged in an acrostic following the Greek alphabet. Thus, the first stanza, “An Archangel was sent…”, begins with alpha: “γγελος πρωτοστάτης…” whilst the final stanza, “O All-Praised Mother…”, begins with omega: “ πανύμνητε Μῆτερ…”

 

Each stanza presents us with a scene, which as they progress cover the themes of the Annunciation, the Nativity, Christ, and the Theotokos herself, in that order. It is these scenes which are depicted around the outer border of most “Akathist Icons”.

 

The Mother of God: at the centre, but not the focus, of the Icon

Yaroslav, 18th Century

 

At the centre of the Icon is the Mother of God to whom the Akathist is dedicated. She is surrounded by a number of people, usually between 11 and 15, who hold appear to be bowing down before her, holding scrolls and other objects. These men are various Old Testament Prophets, and the scrolls they hold are their prophecies relating to the Mother of God. The objects they hold are prefigurations of Mary found in the Old Testament Scriptures, but are also some of the titles given to Mary in the Akathist Hymn.

Despite the honour given to her, Mary sits at the centre of the icon directing us to her Son, our God, sitting in her lap.

As in the Icon at the top of the page, where Mary is not holding the infant Christ (Immanuel), then she is sat amid the praise with her hands held deferentially, palms outward, imploring us to give all honour and glory to God. Surrounding Mary’s seat is a mandorla-shaped wreath representing the Tree of Jesse, which climbs up over the Mother of God’s head to blossom forth an image of Christ Immanuel: God Incarnate. (The use of a “mandorla-wreath” to represent the Tree of Jesse is seen in this painted wall of the Sucevita Monastery, built in the 16th century in Romania).

Thus the Theotokos is the subject of the Icon, just as the Akathist is dedicated to her; however, just as the Akathist glorifies God, the focus of the Icon always leads us back to Jesus Christ. In the Akathist, Mary is not just called “All-glorious temple” but “All-glorious temple of Him Who is above the Seraphim” (from Oikos 8, i.e. the 16th Stanza of the Akathist). The praises of Mary are devoid of meaning without Jesus Christ, the Word of God, Who was incarnate within her. Likewise in the Icon inspired by the Akathist, Mary cannot be separated from her Son, shown either seated upon her, or blossoming above her.

Russian Icon (probably 19th Century)

 

While singing in honour of Your Son, O Mother of God, we all praise you as a living temple; for the Lord who holds all things in His hand dwelt in your womb, and He sanctified and glorified you, and taught all to cry to you: Hail, O Bride unwedded!

Miraculous icon of Panagia of the Salutations, Dionysiou Monastery, Mount Athos  

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Holy Monastery Dionysiou – Panagia of the Salutations the Myrrhgusher
“According to an inscription on the back of this icon, it was given as a gift to Saint Dionysius, founder of the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou on Mount Athos, by Emperor Alexios Komnenos, upon his visit to Trebizond in Asia Minor. According to Holy Tradition, this is the same icon that Patriarch Sergius processed around the walls of Constantinople in 626 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Heraclius. At that time Constantinople was attacked by the Persians and “Scythians” (Avars and Slavs) but saved through the intervention of the Most Holy Theotokos. A sudden hurricane dispersed the fleet of the enemy, casting the vessels on the shore near the great Church of the Theotokos at Blachernae near the Golden Horn. The people spent the whole night in front of this icon thanking her for the unexpected deliverance. In memory of this event the Akathist Hymn is chanted in the Orthodox Church.
In 1592 Algerian pirates stole the icon, but after a fierce storm, a frightening dream, and a great miracle, the leader of the pirates was forced to return it to the monastery. They had hid it in a chest, but the icon shattered it and it was drenched in myrrh. Because of this miracle, some pirates repented and entered the monastery to become monastics.
In 1767 certain theives from Dalmatia stole the icon, and upon their return to Dalmatia were apprehended by Greek shepherds who took the icon and brought it to Skopelos. On Skopelos island the Greek community leaders elected by the Turks, known as Dimogerontes, denied to the Dionysian monks from Mount Athos the return of the icon when they came to request its return. After three months Skopelos was punished by a plague which brought great tragedy to the island, and the Dimogerontes repented and had the icon returned to Dionysiou Monastery and also established a metochion for the monastery on the island.
The icon is small and darkened by time. It is housed in a chapel dedicated to the icon at Dionysiou Monastery where the Akathist Hymn is sung daily.” 
  
Panagia herself, appearing to the Saints has said: “I will love, I will protect, and I will shelter every faithful person who greets me every day with the beautiful hymns of My Salutations, and who lives in accordance with the law of God. And on the last day of his life, I will defend him before My Son.”

 

Source: iconreader.wordpress.com