The full name of the holiday, which Orthodox Christians celebrate on October 14, is the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, although in everyday life the people reduced it to a short and understandable one – Intercession, and this meant not so much that which covers – a veil, dress, but protection. That is, the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos is a day in honor of the protection that the Mother of God gives us.
The people always loved the Pokrov dearly, it was a special day – they did not work on Pokrov, they played weddings on Pokrov, and according to the weather on Pokrov, they judged what winter was ahead. Our ancestors said: “Snow on the Pokrov – the winter will be snowy, but if it does not cover the ground on the Pokrov, the winter will be snowless.” Today meteorologists warn: the omen could be trusted only until the middle of the 20th century, the climate change of the last half century made it unreliable. “The Veil did not cover, and Christmas does not cover,” – and this proverb no longer referred only to snow, but also to girls of marriageable age: our ancestors were not prudes! The veil has long been the time of weddings. The popularity of the holiday is also evidenced by the huge number of churches consecrated in honor of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos. And then there is a mystery.
Many Pokrovsky temples were erected in memory of our military victories, but the event itself, which marked the beginning of the holiday, was by no means a victory, but a defeat for the Russians. Let’s deal with this paradox. To do this, we will need to remember what kind of event the Russians celebrate on October 14?
The beginning of the X century, Christian Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium. The empire is ruled by Leo VI. Philosopher, amusing personality. The author of works by law, instructions on how to develop crafts and trade, prophetic verses and religious hymns, the emperor also left his descendants a military essay “Tactics of the Lion”, although he himself had never been to the battlefield. At the same time, despite his scholarship and a treatise on military affairs, the military leader Leo VI was useless: for example, during his reign, Byzantium lost Sicily. And the richest Constantinople itself could seem like an easy prey for everyone who would set out to conquer it. The chronicles testify: our ancestors, the Slavs, then still pagans, turned out to be so willing.
According to the “Tale of Bygone Years” the Russian prince Oleg in 907 completely ruined the capital of Byzantium. The same Pushkin Prophetic Oleg, who, not having the habit of standing on ceremony with enemies, doomed “their villages and fields … to swords and fires.”
Apparently, the impressions of the raid of the warlike squad of Oleg were so strong that the very approach of his ships to Constantinople terrified the inhabitants of the capital. A mysterious and mystical incident associated with one such appearance of Oleg’s ships formed the basis of our holiday.
So, Blachernae is the northwestern outskirts of Constantinople on the southern coast of the Golden Horn. According to church tradition, on the day when the anxiety of the townspeople, who learned about the approach of the enemy’s ships, was especially strong, the Christians gathered in the Blachernae Church near the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos – it seems that the townspeople no longer hoped for Leo the Philosopher!
Together with everyone in the church, the servant of the Byzantine nobleman Andrei prayed, for Christ’s sake, a holy fool, a Slav. It was Andrei who saw the Mother of God during the prayer, illuminated with heavenly light and surrounded by a host of angels and saints. Kneeling down, the Mother of God prayed with tears for Christians, and then, removing the coverings from Her head, spread it over those standing in the temple, protecting from the visible and invisible enemies.
According to the legend, Andrei, trembling, asked his friend Epiphanius, who was standing next to him, if he saw “the Queen and Lady praying for the whole world.” “I see, holy father, and I am terrified!” – Epiphanius answered.
The chronicles testify: unexpectedly for the inhabitants of the capital, the ships with the squads of the Slavs suddenly turned back. Constantinople was saved. Historians have not yet come to a consensus regarding the date of the incident and whether it was Prince Oleg with a retinue or the Arab invaders. But the very fact that the enemy ships, which came close to Constantinople, changed their plans for no apparent reason, engraved in the people’s memory for a long time. As a miracle associated with prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos, extending Her cloak, Her cover, Her protection over all those who pray about it. This is the appearance of the Most Holy Theotokos, who with Her Protection protects all who seek Her intercession, and is remembered during the holiday.
Let me emphasize: Constantinople, hostile at that time to our ancestors, was saved, perhaps saved from the raid of our own ancestors, but since the XII century the event has been celebrated in Russia as a holiday. Moreover, it is celebrated only in Russia. Although the apparition of the Mother of God took place in Byzantium, we will not find such a holiday in the Greek calendar. Paradox: an event that could be considered a military defeat for our ancestors, or at least an incident that does not concern us in any way, the Russian Church considers the great holiday of the intercession of the Mother of God for all Orthodox Christians. What’s the matter here?
In the words of Bishop Vasily (Rodzianko), such “self-denial – historical, popular – is no coincidence.” It testifies to the fact that the people carry within themselves the “power of truth”, an understanding of what is true and what is not. Therefore, love for the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos testifies to the deep moral purity and strength of the nation, to the preservation of a sense of truth in people.
Of course, one can be skeptical about the vision of a certain foolish slave and consider what happened as a coincidence – the Lord does not impose His miracles on anyone, or, as Albert Einstein put it, “with the help of coincidences, God preserves anonymity.” But the fact is that the visualization of the salutary Cover, spread by the Mother of God over the worshipers, does not contradict the inner experience of every believer who received protection through prayer to the Mother of God.