Australia – October 2014
The Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, held on the 14 October, is a well beloved day in the Russian Orthodox Church. In Australia, this is emphasised by the fact that wTe have two parishes dedicated to protection of the Virgin Mary; the Protection Cathedral in Melbourne and the Protection Church in Cabramatta, NSW.
The saintly Grand Duke Andrei Bogolubsky (1155-1174) originally introduced the Feast into Russia in 1160, after become acquainted with the Don Cossacks and seeing their devotion to the miraculous vision of the Mother of God over Constantinople in 911 AD, decided to dedicate his realm to the protection of the Heavenly Mother. In 1164, Grand Duke Andrei instructed the Russian Church to include the Feast of the Protection into the church calendar and this started a period of church construction dedicated to the Protection – “Pokrov”; the most famous church of that period is the unsurpassed “Pokrov on the Nerli” built in 1165 near the Grand Duke’s residence at Bogolubovo.
Another equally famous Pokrov church (commonly known as that of St Basil the Blessed on the Red Square), was built in 1555, by Tsar Ivan IV, to commemorate the victory over the Kazan Khanate and the end of the invasions of the Kazan Tatars into Russian lands. Here again, the Russian People dedicate the victory to the protection of the Mother of God.
Today, the Russian Church celebrates this Feast with great pomp and ceremony. Traditionally in Russia, this also marks the beginning of the so-called “wedding season.”
This year in Melbourne the 14 October turned out to be a fine day. The chief celebrant was His Grace, Bishop Irinej, of the Australian and New Zealand Metropolitanate of the Serbian Orthodox Church who was accompanied by three members of his clergy: Archpriest Petar Damnjanovic, Priest Veselin Svorcan and Deacon Dragan Rajcevic. The full complement of clergy also included; Mitred Archpriest Michael Protopopov – Dean of Victoria, Archpriest Nicholas Karipoff – Rector of the Protection Cathedral, Archpriests Nicholas Dalinkiewicz, Peter Sheko and Simeon Kichakoff, Hieromonk Kyril Gavras and Protodeacons Basil Kozulin and Alexander Abramoff. A large number of altar servers also enhanced the service. The choir consisted of singers from Melbourne, Dandenong and Geelong parishes under the direction of the very able Nikolai Cowall.
After the reading of the Gospel, His Grace offered a homily, which he began with a greeting on the Patronal feast, saying that it was; “A great honour, privilege and joy to celebrate here the feast day of the Protection of the Mother of God in this magnificent Cathedral.”Vladyka then interpreted the meaning of the Gospel reading for the Mother of God and connected it with the historical event, the miracle of the Pokrov, Protection of the Mother of God on 1/14 October 911 in Constantinople, threatened by the attack of a great army. He remembered the words of Fr Serge Bulgakov, who said that Marxism, even Communism couldn’t destroy people if they earnestly pray to the Mother of God who intercedes for them with tears, as seen by Blessed Andrew and his disciple Epiphanius. Vladika spoke of the perception of Orthodox liturgical theology concerning the effectiveness of the Heavenly Mother’s prayers. He noted that a number of hymnographers are celebrated this day, beginning with St Romanus the Melodist from the 6th century, depicted in the anachronistic way of iconography in the image of the feast. Others include John Koukouzelis, a Serb from Albania and Gregory of the Great Lavra, who wrote, “In Thee rejoices”, sung at St Basil’s liturgy. These hymnographers magnified the Mother of God, because great is the love of the Mother and certain is her protection. Vladyka finished his sermon with these words: “May she protect you and your children! S prazdnikom, dorogie!”
One visitor to the Feast rejoiced that; “There is an all embracing sense of being Orthodox, a Serbian bishop, Russian, Serbian and Greek priests, the choir made up of singers from all the Russian parishes all add to a feeling of unity in the Faith. The Feast Day becomes more than a parish celebration; it is a vision of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The Procession around the church, although beautiful in itself, also symbolises that unity which unites all Orthodox in one Faith, in one Jesus Christ. There is so much majesty in the occasion which transcends the national or parochial barriers which we often put up.”
At the end of the service Bishop Irinej, on behalf of Metropolitan Hilarion presented a number of certificates to the Sisterhood of the church for their diligent services. Amongst these was the Head Sister Luba Cowall who celebrated fifty years of service to the parish.
The celebration concluded with a luncheon where in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere everyone was able to enjoy each other’s company and delicious repass.