The October Feast and our Friendship with Mary
September 23, 2015
THE PROTECTION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
At the Church of the “Panaghia” [Greek for “All Holy (One)”]* built as one of the most popular shrines in honour of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, one of the most famous apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary took place in Byzantium. The church was located in Blachernae a suburb of the great city of Constantinople. The ancient church was built to house the precious relic of a mantle that Mary had worn. Now at that time the city was under siege by the Arabs. As the people fervently prayed throughout the night, Mary appeared in their midst “around 4 am” with two other Saints. She, of course, first paid homage to her son, the Son of God by praying before the iconostas. Then she entered the sanctuary and prayed before the Altar. She removed her mantle and held it out over those gathered there as she rose up to heaven. The Faithful immediately rejoiced in their prayer as they understood the message that Mary would intercede for them and they and their city would be protected. In fact the city was saved and eventually the feast of “The Protection of the Theotokos” was established for October 1st.
Another similar apparition and intercession by Mary to protect her Son’s faithful followers took place in Ukraine many years later. Another Muslim siege, this time by the Turks, was under way surrounding the great monastery of Pochaiv in 1675. Once again the people gathered in the Church imploring the mercy of the Lord and the intercession of the Mother of God. She appeared to them, covering the monastery with her mantle and saving her Son’s Faithful. There is the beautiful epic poem about the miracle that we sang at St. Vladimir’s College back in the day. We commemorate this event as well on the major Marian feast of October 1st.
A MUTUAL LOVE BETWEEN THE UKRAINIAN NATION AND MARY
Veneration of the Mother of God and trust in her intercession has been an important part of Ukrainian Culture since Christianity first spread through the nation and through the hearts and souls of the people. Great shrines and churches were built in honour of Mary. In the heart of the capital city Kyiv, the central image in the great cathedral of Holy Sophia, founded by Yaroslav the Wise in 1011, is the “Immovable Wall” of a massive mosaic of Mary in prayer. The Cossacks, as we know, consecrated themselves to the Mother of God, built chapels in her honour [RISU] and rode into to victorious battles under banners of the Blessed Virgin Mary [http://www.heraldry.com.ua].
Today there are great shrines dedicated to the Mother of God throughout Ukraine and wherever Ukrainians have settled. Some are related to apparitions, some to miraculous icons and others were erected simply out of love toward the Virgin Mary.
Certainly names like Pochaiv, Hoshiv, Krekhiv, Univ and Zarvanytsya are immediately identifiable as major pilgrim sites in Ukraine. Here in Canada we would recognize Cooks Creek, Mundare, Cap de la Madeleine or Ancaster as places to which our people have flocked in great numbers over the years – especially on annual pilgrim days.
Yes we love the Mother of God for she not only brought our one and only Saviour Jesus into the world, but she continues to intercede for us that we would remain faithful to her Son and enjoy the promised reward. She intercedes for us when we pray to her, and when others pray to her for us. She sometimes reaches out through a miraculous icon or figure (cf. Christ our Passover, nn. 597-598). There are many, many in Ukraine (cf. Christ our Passover, n. 599), as well as more world-famous icons like Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Vyshhorod (aka Vladimir), Kazan, Soufanieh, etc. Sometimes the Lord sanctifies places in her honour, like Lourdes or Fatima, to which we may journey to find consolation, inspiration and spiritual, as well as physical, healing. And every so often….. the Mother of Jesus speaks to us.. that we may open our minds and hearts at critical times when this is so necessary. She gives direction, encouragement or even a warning. She does so motivated only by her unwavering love for God and her love for us, for whose salvation her Son died. What does she say?
THE PURPOSE OF REVELATION
The Lord revealed Himself to us for the sake of our Salvation. Throughout salvation history, the Lord revealed His Will through the prophets – who occasionally used “signs”, like Moses, to show that they truly were sent by the Lord God. They did so to authenticate the message that God asked them to deliver. The Son of God Himself, Jesus the Christ, did the same. His message was new and amazing. People asked that He verify for them that He was truly from God. He performed countless miracles as He went along.
We learn from basic Catechism, however, that through Jesus - Divine Revelation is complete. We have through Jesus Christ all the grace and teaching that we need for Salvation. Nothing else is needed or will be added until the Lord comes again in glory. (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.66) However, just as we can use a good teacher or tutor to explain things to us from time to time, occasionally the Lord might allow inspirations within our souls or, very rarely, via a vison or apparition that may occur personally or more publically. However, visions or apparitions that claim to add to, change or correct the Divine Revelation of God that was entrusted to the Church – simply expose themselves as false and not worthy of adherence (cf. CCC, n. 67). In other words, any so-called apparition that gives a message at variance with the teachings of the Church is simply false. This falseness may be blatant silliness or diabolical. Regardless, Christians need to recognize such phenomena for what they are – a waste of their valuable time or a danger to their faith. There is so much to be done based on the Word of God and the fundamental teachings of the Church. Lord have mercy on us if we spend our time chasing after or promoting concocted and misleading “visions” and “messages”.
Christ, through His Church, offers us a daily miracle that surpasses any sign or wonder experienced through any apparition – be it false or authentic – the Holy
Eucharist. He offers us Himself, body, blood soul and divinity… to become one with Him. A foretaste of and a requisite for life eternal (John 6:48 ff). If we understand this, we need not look for other wonders or marvels (Luke 11:29 ff). Is there any miracle greater than the Eucharist? Is it, alas, that we have forgotten or, perhaps, never understood?
WHAT IS AUTHENTIC?
An “authentic” apparition or miracle is one that is recognized by the authority of the Church. This is usually accomplished through the local bishop who may and should decree on phenomena within his jurisdiction (e.g. eparchy). Sometimes, if an apparition or message is deemed of universal significance, a higher authority in the Church may commend it after it is approved locally. This has happened in the past for major, authentic and important messages. For example, all Popes since 1917 have approved or promoted the appearance of Our Lady of Fatima and her message. Other more well-known appearances and messages from the Mother of God at different times shave enjoyed the approval not only of the local bishop as is appropriate, but also Popes of Rome. This is the case for “Guadalupe”, “La Salette”, “Lourdes”, “Akita”, “Quito” and a few others. Due to some dubious aspects of the “message” or the intention or conduct of the “seers” or various factors surrounding the alleged apparition, not only the Vatican, but the local bishop may withhold official approval. Alas, there are many apparitions that are not authentic, regardless of how popular they may be.
The bottom line is that when and if we hear of an “appearance” of the Mother of God or some other Saints or the Lord Himself, we want to be very cautious. What is the message? Has the proper authority of the Church approved it? Is the message being completely and authentically conveyed and interpreted? Is something being adding to it? (When Our Lady appeared in Lourdes there were very many false apparitions reported. They were exposed as concocted by those who sought to gain fame or money, while some were attributed to the diabolical seeking to sow confusion.)
Through Sacred Scriptures and the continuous authentic teaching of His Church and the awesome Mysteries (Sacraments) the Lord has given us so much grace and wisdom to accomplish all the things that He Wills us to do. This is first and foremost: our own salvation and the salvation of all those within our lives… our spouses, siblings, children, friends, neighbours, fellow parishioners, etc. We have what we need (and we have what it takes!). If authentic messages and true miracles – especially through the intercession of the Mother of God – do help us become better followers of Christ and active members of His Ukrainian Catholic Church – great! If they prove to be an undue distraction from our shared calling to participate in the Mission of the Church, then we need to pause and take account of our journey and verify our intentions. Countless people in the world are waiting for us (yes, you and me) to bring the light of Faith to them. We have much to do. “By the prayers of the Mother of God, O Saviour, save us.”
Rev. Michael Kwiatkowski
* Just a bit of trivia… the large medallion-shaped icon of Mary the Theotokos that our Ukrainian bishops wear is referred to as a “Panaghia” because it is a representation of the “All Holy” Mother of God.