by Rev. Romanos V. Russo
May is Marys month according to the popular tradition of Latin Rite Catholics, but for Christians of the Byzantine Rite, the grace-filled month of August sees the full flowering of Marian devotion. The first two weeks of the month are spent in prayerful anticipation of the greatest of the festivals of the Mother of God, her Dormition or Falling-Asleep, as the Eastern churches tenderly call the Assumption.
In the East, Mary is always the Theotokos or Mother of God, and as such is rarely portrayed separately from her Divine Son. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Our Lord figures prominently in the Eastern Marian season. The Byzantine Slavs in particular grew very attached to the Three Saviors, as they called the three feasts of Christ that occur during this time.
On August 1, Eastern Christians celebrate First Savior, the Procession of the Relics of the Lifegiving Cross. They hallow the occasion by the Lesser Blessing of Water. On August 6 the East rejoices in Second Savior, the Transfiguration one of the twelve major feasts of Our Lord. Third Savior is celebrated on August 16: the feast of the Icon of Christ Not-Made-By-Hands.
Though this grouping of the Three Saviors owes much to the folk piety of the Christian East, there is a profound theological relationship between these feasts and the Marian season.
The All-holy Mother of God is seen as the image of the perfect Christian. She is the one in whom the mystery of grace theosis or divinization, to use the Eastern term has been brought to fulfillment. Her glorification as a total human being, body and soul, is the first fruits of the redemption wrought by her Divine Son. In her, the restored Divine image and likeness shine most brightly among mortals. Her passage through the portals of death to the duskless kingdom of immortality stands as surety for all Christians who nourish the same hope of restoration.
Baptism plants the seeds of restoration in us; hence the connection with the aghiasmos, or Blessing of Water, on August 1. The waters of Baptism receive their efficacy through the death and resurrection of Christ; the Procession of the Relics of the Holy Cross reinforces this theme most dramatically. Recreated in the waters of Baptism, by the power of the Holy Cross, we are made over in the Divine image we become living icons, not painted by the hand of man, but reborn by the breath of God. Thus the feast of the Acheiropoetos Icon Image of Our Savior Not-Made-By-Hands takes on its most profound significance.
The Transfiguration is the cornerstone of this liturgy of divinization. First, the Synaxion or Martyrology of the day tells us that the Transfiguration took place forty days before the Crucifixion. The Church presumably declined to celebrate so joyous a feast at the gates of Lent, and so transferred the feast to August 6, forty days before the exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14. Here one sees the connection between the theme of Transfiguration and that of the Cross. The kontakion or hymn of the feast reinforces this idea:
Post a Comment |
Tags: Eastern Christianity Prayers/Hymns/Saints