The Gospel in Wednesday’s lectionary readings on the New Calendar is a familiar story; the fact that it is now Friday and I am blogging about Wednesday should be some indication of how much has been on my plate since I last posted.
St Mark the Evangelist tells us that Jesus tells the disciples to go to the other side of the lake. The disciples get into a boat. While Jesus is asleep, a storm more powerful than anything these fishermen have ever experienced envelops the boat, and in fear, the disciples – like the panicked pagan soldiers in the Book of Jonah the Prophet – wake Jesus. ‘Don’t you care that we are all going to die?’ they say.
Muttering something about their lack of faith, the Master arises, stretches out his hands, and calls on the wind and the waves to be still. The disciples, again like the sailors in Jonah, are even more terrified than before. Who is this who has power even over the wind and the waves?
As I’ve just come out of the fast season leading up to the Dormition Feast, this story reminds me of another one, a Byzantine one. As our priest told the story, Constantinople was besieged by ravaging Rus’ pirates; this was before they were Christianized (my priest actually called them ‘Ukrainian pirates,’ and the Ukrainian lady across from me jolted upright). Suddenly, the Theotokos (along with other saints) was seen at the gates. Entering the church of Blachernae where some of her relics were kept, she walked right in during a vigil service and prayed in tears. Then she took off her protecting veil and spread it over the people, and the city was mysteriously saved.
For us, the Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos doesn’t come until October 1. In fact, the funny thing is that it is the Slavs who celebrate this feast to this day, much more than the Greeks who were saved. This story is actually what I see when I look at the Virgin Orans in St Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv, which I know is a bit of a loose connection because the Virgin Orans is not exactly the Protection icon, but the veil of the Theotokos is prominent in this image, and her hands are lifted in prayer, and all I want to say to her is, with the words of the Tropar for the Protection of the Theotokos, encompass us beneath the precious veil of your protection.
What’s more, the fact that the Feast of the Protection doesn’t come until much later in the year didn’t stop our priest from relating it during the Festal Matins we said for the Dormition of the Mother of God. Combined with yesterday’s Gospel reading, it has been constantly in my head and in my heart, as I transition from Vancouver to Chicago, from the Eastern Catholic mission in Richmond to a new life in Evanston where I’ll have to look for a new temple – likely a more established one in Chicago – in which to worship.
These stories therefore could not have come at a better time for me, especially because I can’t shake the feeling that I’m coming to Chicago at an interesting time, and I need to be protected by the precious veil of the Theotokos.