The Feast of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos is perhaps one of the brightest and most joyful feasts of the Orthodox liturgical calendar in this part of the world. Some of the most glorious churches and best known monastic communities have been named in its honour. Renowned wonder-working icons have been dedicated to it. It is celebrated all over Russia and Belarus as the secular Mother's Day.
Indeed, the Holy Theotokos is seen as the mother of all of God's children who have inherited from the Saviour His Kingdom of Heaven. She will protect and intercede for us as we cry out to her in our prayers at the times of crisis and despair. She will take our joys are her joys, our pain her pain. Our sorrows will be her tears. Her thoughts are with us all the time, and she cares for us tirelessly. She prays for us to God and kisses us as a mother does her children.
The famous icon of the Protection tells us the story of her miraculous intercession for the people of Constantinople in the middle of the tenth century. Hordes of Pagans had encircled the glorious city. Fighting them off was beyond all human power. The Pagans were about to enter at any moment and bring death, destruction, and enslavement to the city's inhabitants. The people gathered at the Church of Blachea for an all-night vigil, hoping for a miracle. They were praying intensely when the Mother of God entered the church at the fourth hour protected the faithful from the impending doom by spreading her veil over them. The city survived another four centuries as a Christian city through the prayers of the Mother of God.
In memory of these events, the Feast of the Protection is celebrated at the churches of our Convent, as elsewhere, by an all-night vigil on the eve and a festive liturgy on the morning of the feast day. In the weeks preceding the feast, the Convent conducts its annual festival Joy of the Protection of the Mother of God. The festival programme includes a Christian fair, meetings with the clergy, monastics, and friends of our Convent, activities, and master-classes, all of which bring to all the people the message that our prayers are indeed heard, and the Mother of God will not leave us face to face with our sorrows.
May we all feel reassured that despite all the uncertainty of our time, you feel reassured that we are never alone. The Mother of God will provide and comfort us if we pray fervently to her. She will come to our help without fail whenever we feel that our lives are under siege because of sickness, or sorrow, or loss; whenever we are experiencing stress and difficulties when things are not working out no matter how hard we try. We are never alone.
On 2 June, 2019, the church in honour of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco was consecrated. Among our guests was Bishop Emeritus of the Russian Church Abroad Michael (Donskov). He shared with us his childhood memories of St John.
Christian denominations, including many Western Orthodox Churches, prepare to celebrate the Nativity of our Savior Jesus Christ (Christmas) on the 25th of December. However, in Belarus Christmas is celebrated on 7th January.