SUNDAY WITH THE MOST HOLY VIRGIN THEOTOKOS MARY'S FEASTS IN THE EASTERN CHURCHES (THE ORTHODOX CHURCH MORE MARIAN THAN US CATHOLICS?)

Byzantine Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are rich in devotion to Our Lady
It is truly right to bless you, Theotokos,
ever blessed, most pure, and mother of our God.
More honorable than the Cherubim,
and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim,
without corruption you gave birth to God the Word.
We magnify you, the true Theotokos.[3]

Many popular Marian feasts originated in Eastern-rite Catholic liturgies, especially in the Greek Church. Indeed, a close look at prayers used in the Roman rite's occasions for honoring Our Lady reveals that many simply are translated paraphrases of their Eastern originals. The Byzantine liturgy, in particular, is rich with Marian hymns, odes, and prayers. And the same can be said of the Ethiopian and Syrian Churches as well.
Not all Byzantine Catholic Churches and Orthodox Churches, however, share the same Marian feasts. Some are particular to a certain Church or ethnic group. The feasts treated here, then, are the most widely observed. The Melkites, for example, commemorate the feast of Romanus the Melodist, and the Apostle Ananis, on October 1 instead of celebrating the Marian feast of the Protecting Veil of Our Lady. In addition, many Marian feasts in the Eastern Churches tend to be associated with historical events or with Marian apparitions.
Not surprisingly, many beautiful Marian hymns, rich in tradition and devotion, are chanted in Eastern Churches in Mary's honor. The Byzantines, for example, have hundreds of kontaks, or short prayers based on Scripture, and thousands of canons honoring Our Lady. These verses fill more than 20 huge volumes. Still others, now lost or unedited, could fill many more books. Most Byzantine liturgical prayers consist of glory and praise to Our Lady, similar to the Roman rite's Mysteries of the Rosary. Famous Eastern composers of Marian songs include St. Gregory of Cappadocia, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Ephraem, Mary's first poet and hymnodist.
One of the most famous expressions of Marian devotion in the Eastern Church is the Akathistos Hymn. Parts of it are sung in Byzantine-rite churches on the first four Saturdays of Lent, and the entire song is sung on the fifth, or Akathistos Saturday. This long epic masterpiece, in honor of the Annunciation, fills nearly 30 pages of an ordinary pamphlet. When the hymn is sung in its entirety, the faithful may sit only during the song's three intervals, for it is meant to be sung standing as a sign of joy and praise to the Virgin.
The liturgical year of the Eastern Church opens September 1 with the feast of Our Lady of Miasena, instead of on the first Sunday of Advent, as in the Western, or Roman Catholic, Church. This day recalls the miraculous recovery of an icon of Mary from the monastery's lake in Miasena, Armenia, about the year 850. On this feast, the people pray for Mary's special protection and guidance.
One month later, on October 1, some Eastern Christians celebrate the feast of the Protecting Veil of Our Lady, which dates back to the year 910. During a terrible epidemic in Constantinople, a man named Andrew, as he prayed in church, had a vision of the Mother of God, accompanied by St. John the Baptist and St. John Chrysostom.
While hovering over the sanctuary, Mary removed a veil from her head and spread it out as if to protect the city. From that moment, the plague is said to have ceased. This feast, commemorating Our Lady's intercession, led as well to the crafting of a special icon depicting the famous moment.
The trust and faith Eastern Christians have in Mary's power is also quite visible on the Friday after Easter, during the feast of Our Lady of the Life-Giving Fountain. Liturgical prayers still in use tell of a vision of the Blessed Virgin witnessed by Emperor Leo I at a shrine located near the city of Constantinople in 474. Mary, it is said, pointed out a spring, to which the emperor led a blind man. After washing there, the man was cured.
Some time later, Emperor Justin built a church at the same spot. And many centuries later, during the First World War, thousands of the region's pilgrims went to the Life-Giving Fountain to ask for peace. Often referred to as the "Lourdes of the East," the waters still draw the sick and the lame, who frequently come here to bathe and to pray for healing.
Historically, March 11 commemorates the founding of the city of Constantinople by Emperor Constantine in 330. And soon after its foundation, Constantinople's commemorative celebrations began to include Mary, known as the Great Protectress of the city. Not only is the city dedicated to Our Lady, but many churches and beautiful monuments here were also built in her honor with striking names, such as The Immaculate One, Full of Grace, The Benefactress, Good Hope, and Liberator of the Sorrowful.
It is believed that Constantinople enjoyed Mary's special protection against invading Persians in the year 625 because of its people's devotion to Mary's robe, which had hung in the church of Blakhernae since 473. This May 31 remembrance of Mary's special influence also coincides with the Roman rite's observance of Mary's Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth.
In the Eastern tradition, Thanksgiving permeates the liturgical song of that day as shown in the following passage:
"Virgin Mother, Refuge of humankind, you have bestowed the robe and cincture of your holy body as a sheltering mantle upon the city. Through your virginal motherhood they have remained intact, for through you nature and time are renewed. We implore you, therefore, to give safety to your city and to show great mercy to souls."
A belief in the Assumption of Mary has likewise been deeply rooted in the hearts of Eastern Christians. Every August 15, in fact, they celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin. Though the word dormition literally refers to "the falling asleep of the Virgin," it is clear from the prayers used that petitioners are recalling the Assumption of Mary into heaven because "the tomb and death were not able to hold in sleep the Mother of God."
Oriental monasteries' special Akaftisi, or nightly vigils and songs, precede the ceremonies of the Dormition, which itself is the culmination of an entire month dedicated to the Virgin. And, in almost every village and town, pilgrims flock to Our Lady's churches and shrines at this time seeking her help and protection.
Fittingly, the liturgical year of the Eastern Churches ends as it begins, with a feast in honor of the Virgin Mother. On August 31, the feast of the Cincture of Our Lady commemorates the enshrinement of Mary's cincture in the church of Khalkoprateia in 940. This relic, it is said, was brought from Jerusalem in ancient times as one of the rare remains of Mary's garments.
As seen time and time again in Eastern culture, history, and liturgies, these Eastern Churches have always had a deep and personal love for the Virgin Mary. But, just as God's love is boundless, so too, deep, abiding respect and veneration of Mary is common to many Catholics throughout the world. While Roman Catholics and their Eastern neighbors have not always agreed on all issues, Mary has continued to be a source of unity and hope through the ages.
(article by Anthony Teolis, C.PP.S. from CATHOLIC DIGEST, P.O. Box 51547, Boulder CO 80321-1547 -- May 1995 issue)
SUNDAY WITH THE MOST HOLY VIRGIN THEOTOKOS MARY'S FEASTS IN THE EASTERN CHURCHES (THE ORTHODOX CHURCH MORE MARIAN THAN US CATHOLICS?) SUNDAY WITH THE MOST HOLY VIRGIN THEOTOKOS  MARY'S FEASTS IN THE EASTERN CHURCHES (THE ORTHODOX CHURCH MORE MARIAN THAN US CATHOLICS?) Reviewed by Francisco Nascimento on 03:27 Rating: 5

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