THE FEASTS OF THE POKROV AND THE ROSARY
There is an ancient legend that runs thus: Saint Andrew, the Apostle hurried to heaven, released by his crucifixion from earthly toil and anguish. Admitted to the gates of heaven, Saint Andrew began searching for his beautiful heavenly Queen. “Where is she?” he asked his guide. “She is not here”, replied the angel. “She is in the suffering world, drying the tears of her weeping children”. Drying their tears, healing their hurts, folding the hands of her suffering children, loving them, teaching them, reminding them, praying with them – these are the ways in which Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, continues on earth her work as a mother given to us by Jesus at the foot of the Cross.
At the beginning of October, Slavic Orthodox and Catholic Churches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in Eurasia and the Americas as well as in Australia, celebrate Mary’s patronage and protection of the Christian Faithful. The Byzantine feast of the Pokrov is celebrated on October 1. The word “pokrov” means cover, shield, protection -mantle- in Slavic. This feast dates back to the 10th century. It was instituted after the city of Constantinople was threatened by an invasion, but in a vision Mary, the Mother of God appeared, covering the church with her mantle, and the city was spared. The feast of the Rosary is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on October 7. In 1571 the Turks were once again threatening Europe. The Pope called Christians to prayer, a Christian naval force was assembled and in the battle of Lepanto off southern Greece, the Turks were defeated. Europe was provided with some breathing space and soon explored the Americas. In gratitude for Mary’s help in this victory, the feast of the Rosary was instituted.
In the opening prayer addressed to Mary, the Mother of God for the feast of the Pokrov, the Orthodox Tropar says: “...cover us with your protection and deliver us from every evil, praying to your Son, Christ our God, to save our souls”. And in the songs and hymns of the Catholic Churches the sentiment echoed is similar, for example: “Mother of Perpetual Help, in every need save my soul from misery, O Queen of Heaven”. Our prayer to Mary our Mother will always be heard by Jesus, just as He heard her request at the wedding feast in Cana, 2,000 years ago.
The oldest Marian prayer which the Orthodox and Catholic Christians use is the Angelic Salutation, the Ave Maria. The first part comes straight from the Gospel, the words of the angel Gabriel greeting Mary at the Annunciation, and the words of Elizabeth: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women”, “and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”. “Jesus” and the longer Byzantine “for thou hast given birth to the Saviour of our souls” was added later. (The current Byzantine text reads: “Rejoice, Mother of God and Virgin, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast given birth to the Saviour of our souls.”) The petition “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen” was also added later. (“Holy Theotokos pray for us sinners” is the Byzantine equivalent.)
Over the centuries, this prayer to the Mother of God coalesced with “Our Father” and other prayers in clusters of 10 Hail Marys -a decade- and decades were repeated up to 15 times. A decade of prayer takes about 3 minutes. Generally, the Creed is also recited but only once at the beginning. With each decade of prayer, an event in the life of Mary and Jesus is remembered and meditated on chronologically, and the exemplary lives of Mary and Jesus are considered as models to imitate. It is this entire medley of prayers that is commonly called the Rosary and some of its details are still being worked out.
The name Rosary comes from the Latin “rosarium”, meaning rose garden. In various forms this name has passed into many modern languages. Perhaps the idea behind applying this name to this prayer is that the prayer is as beautiful as the rose. Prayers are usually counted on the Rosary beads, but if there are no beads around, prayers can be counted on one’s fingers. What device is used to count the prayers is of secondary importance; of primary importance is prayer and meditation. The Rosary is also called by other names, for example “Krunica”, the “Rule of the Mother of God” and at one time, the “Marian Psalter”, because the 150 Hail Marys equal the number of psalms.
Among the Roman Catholics, the Rosary has become widespread and popular. Some of the notable devotees to the Rosary are Grandmothers, the Dominicans, the famous French scientist Louis Pasteur, the great Croatian witness against the evils of Fascism-Nazism and atheistic Marxism, Blessed Stepinac, and Pope John Paul II. Among the Eastern Christians, the Rosary is not nearly as well known, but is alive in the monasteries. The 19th century Russian Orthodox monk, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, was greatly devoted to this prayer. Here is an excerpt from a book on Saint Seraphim and this prayer to the Mother of God (An Early Soviet Saint: The Life of Father Zachariah):
Saint Seraphim had reminded people of this Rule, making them walk along the ditch which encircled the Convent of Diveevo saying the prayer ‘O Hail, Mother of God and Virgin’ 150 times. He instructed his spiritual children to fulfil this Rule. In Saint Seraphim’s cell was found a strange little book with descriptions of miracles which had taken place with people who performed this miracle-working Rule, repeating 150 times the joyful news of the Archangel to the Queen of Heaven... Here is an extract from a letter of [a monk] Father Gumanovsky “...I forgot to give you a piece of advice vital for salvation. Say the ‘O Hail, Mother of God and Virgin’ 150 times, and this prayer will save you. This Rule was given by the Mother of God herself in about the 8th century, and at one time all Christians fulfilled it. We Orthodox have forgotten about it, and Saint Seraphim has reminded us of this Rule... If, being unaccustomed to it, it is difficult to master 150 repetitions daily, say it 50 times at first. After every 10 repetitions say the ‘Our Father’ once ...” Bishop Zvezdinsky performed the Rule of the Mother of God every day, and when he performed it he prayed for the whole world, embracing in this Rule the whole life of the Queen of Heaven. [Bishop Zvezdinsky then goes on to describe the events in the life of Mary and Jesus to remember in conjunction with each of the 15 decades of prayer.]
In today’s age of technological dominance but existential anxiety, uncertainty and vulnerability, the Rosary is as relevant as it ever was. All we have to do is recall recent events of terrorist threats, weather catastrophes, and closer to home the 2003 SARS and the power blackout. One of the world’s great military powers, the Soviet Union, founded on godless Marxism, melted like the spring snow and collapsed, without a shot being fired. These were but friendly taps on the shoulder, gentle slaps on the wrist. The laws of God the almighty Creator, cannot be ignored and flouted with impunity for ever.
Canada’s Constitution recognizes the supremacy of God. The psalmist says: “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.” “From Your presence where can I flee? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I sink to the nether world, You are present there.” (Psalm 24/23:1, 139/138:7-8.) To moral malaise, permissiveness and perversity there are inescapable and unpleasant consequences. Mary, the Mother of God always stands ready and willing to guide us on the path of life and intercede with God for us – both as individuals and as communities. In her appearances on earth in modern times, notably at Fatima in 1917, Mary, Our Lady has pleaded with people to pray the Rosary. Let us all join in today’s Offertory Hymn to the Mother of God: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death” – “Sveata Bogorodica, moli za nas griešnih. Amen”.