Intercession of the Theotokos

Icon of the Protection, 19th century, Russia

The Intercession of the Theotokos or the Protection of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, known in Church Slavonic as Pokrov (Покровъ, "protection"), and in Greek as Sképē (Σκέπη), is a feast of the Mother of God celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches. The feast celebrates the protection afforded the faithful through the intercessions of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). In the Russian Orthodox Church it is celebrated as the most important solemnity after the Twelve Great Feasts. The feast is commemorated in Eastern Orthodoxy as a whole, but by no means as fervently as it is in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

The Slavic word Pokrov, like the Greek Skepê has a complex meaning. First of all, it refers to a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession. For this reason, the name of the feast is variously translated as the Veil of Our Lady, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, the Protection of the Theotokos, or the Intercession of the Theotokos. It is often translated as Feast of the Intercession.

With great reserve the Pokrov icon may be related to the Western Virgin of Mercy image, in which the Virgin spreads wide her cloak to cover and protect a group of kneeling supplicants (first known from Italy at about 1280).


Russian icon of Pokrov

According to Eastern Orthodox Sacred Tradition, the apparition of Mary the Theotokos occurred during the 10th century at the Blachernae church in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) where several of her relics (her robe, veil, and part of her belt) were kept. On Sunday, October 1 at four in the morning, St. Andrew the Blessed Fool-for-Christ, who was a Slav by birth, saw the dome of the church open and the Virgin Mary enter, moving in the air above him, glowing and surrounded by angels and saints. She knelt and prayed with tears for all faithful Christians in the world. The Virgin Mary asked Her Son, Jesus Christ, to accept the prayers of all the people entreating Him and looking for Her protection. Once Her prayer was completed, She walked to the altar and continued to pray. Afterwards, She spread Her veil over all the people in the church as a protection.[1]

St Andrew turned to his disciple, St. Epiphanius, who was standing near him, and asked, "Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?" Epiphanius answered, "Yes, Holy Father, I see it and am amazed!"[1]

According to the Primary Chronicle of St. Nestor the Chronicler, the inhabitants of Constantinople called upon the intercession of the Mother of God to protect them from an attack by a large Rus' army (Rus' was still pagan at the time). According to Nestor, the feast celebrates the destruction of this fleet sometime in the ninth century.

An icon of the Virgin Mary praying, surrounded by people, was said to be kept in the Blachernae church. It is said to reproduce the events as St Andrew saw them that day.

Feast and icon

Icon, showing a broad protective cloak. Mid 17th century, Ukraine.
The Holy Virgin protecting the Ukrainian cossack hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky (at the right of image). Late 17 to early 18th century, Ukraine.

The Feast of the Intercession commemorating the miracle is a religious holy day or feast day of the Byzantine Rite (Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches)[1][2][3] and is held annually on October 14, or October 1 according to the Julian calendar. It is served as an All-Night Vigil, with many of the same elements as occur on Great Feasts of the Theotokos. However, Pokrov has no Afterfeast.

Some, but not all, regions of the Russian Federation celebrate the Feast of Intercession as a work holiday.[3] In Ukraine, it is celebrated on October 14 as a religious, national, and family holiday.[2] The Mother of God as the Intercessor and Patron became firmly established among Ukrainians: princes, kings, cossacks, and hetmans chose the Mother of God as their patroness and protectress. An icon in the National Art Museum of Ukraine shows the Virgin Mary protecting the Ukrainian cossack hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. By decree of the Ukrainian President, October 14 — Pokrova Feast Day was promulgated also as Ukrainian Cossack Day (Ukrainian: День Українського козацтва).[4]

The icon of the feast, which is not found in Byzantine art, depicts in its upper part the Virgin Mary surrounded by a luminous aureole. She holds in her outstreched arms an orarion or veil, which symbolizes the protection of her intercession.[5] To either side of her stand numerous saints and angels, many of whom are recognizable to the experienced church-goer: the apostles, John the Baptist, St. Nicholas of Myra, etc. Below, St. Andrew the Fool for Christ is depicted, pointing up at the Virgin Mary and turning to his disciple Epiphanius. Usually, the veil with which the Virgin protects mankind is small and held either in her outstretched hands or by two angels,[6] though a version similar to the Western European Virgin of Mercy image, with a larger cloak covering people is found in some Eastern Orthodox icons.

October 1 (in the Julian calendar) is also the feast of St. Romanus the Melodist, so he is often depicted on the same icon, even though he and St. Andrew lived at different times. He is often shown directly below the Virgin Mary, standing on a bema, or on a kathedra, chanting from a scroll.[6] The scroll represents the various kontakia which have been attributed to him.

The feast day of St. Andrew, the Fool-for-Christ, falls on the following day, October 2 (in accordance with the Orthodox liturgical tradition of the Synaxis).

Churches dedicated to Pokrov

Many Orthodox churches worldwide are named after this feast. The first churches dedicated to feast of Pokrov appeared in Russia in the 12th century. Probably the most famous Russian church named for the feast day is Saint Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow, which is officially entitled "the Church of Intercession of Our Lady that Is on the Moat" (Russian: Собор Покрова пресвятой Богородицы, что на Рву) or shortly "Intercession Cathedral upon moat" (Russian: Храм Покрова "на рву").[3][7] The other one is the Church of Intercession in Bogolyubovo near Vladimir on the Nerl River (Russian: Церковь Покрова на Нерли, Tserkov Pokrova na Nerli).[3] Both churches are on the United Nations' World Heritage List, the latter as part of the site White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal. There is also a Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin in St. Petersburg.[8]

Other notable churches commemorating this feast are Intercession of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church in Manchester, England,[9] and the Russian Orthodox Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin & St. Sergius in Glen Cove, New York.

Saint Mary the Protectress in Irondequoit, New York is a notable Ukrainian Orthodox Church dedicated to the feast of Pokrova. A great many Ukrainian churches are also named in honour of this feast in Canada.[5]

In north Wales there is the Church of the Holy Protection (Eglwys yr Amddiffyniad Sanctaidd) at 10 Manod Road, Blaenau Ffestiniog, where the liturgy is celebrated partly in Welsh, also English, Greek, and Church Slavonic. The church, under Archimandrite Deiniol, is under the omophor the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the diocese of Western Europe under the Oecumenical Patriarch. Previously it belonged to the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and previous to that to the Diocese of Sourozh of the Moscow Patriarchate.

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 "Holy Protection of the Virgin Mary". Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  2. 1 2 "Feast of Intercession Celebrated in Ukraine as Religious and National Holiday". RISU - Religious Information Service in Ukraine. 14 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Itar-Tass, "Russian Orthodox Christians marking feast of Intercession", October 14, 2009, found at Tass Press Agency website in English. Accessed February 7, 2010.
  4. "Про День Українського козацтва Президент України; Указ від 07.08.1999 № 966/99". Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. 7 August 1999. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  5. 1 2 Demchinsky, Sterling. "Icons of the Theotokos (Bohoroditsia)". Ukrainian Churches of Canada. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  6. 1 2 Neil K. Moran; Singers in Late Byzantine and Slavonic Painting, p. 126ff, BRILL, 1986, ISBN 90-04-07809-6
  7. Shvidkovsky, D. S. (2007). Russian architecture and the West. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300109121, ISBN 978-0-300-10912-2. p. 126.
  8. St. Petersburg website. Accessed February 7, 2010.
  9. Pokrov Church of the Russian Orthodox church website from UK. Accessed February 7, 2010.


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