Youth Conference 2004
The Protection of the Mother of God: In History, and In our Lives
Vladika, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters:
My talk to you this morning is about "The Protection of the Mother of God: In History and In Our Lives". In it I want to do two things. The first is to show what an active, life-and-history-changing help the Mother of God is to us. I'll begin this by looking at some of what our beautiful Divine Services tell us of her, and then at evidence of her help in crucial moments - life-and-death moments - in the history of the Orthodox Byzantine empire, Holy Russia, and - very briefly - in the life of the Russian Diaspora and of Russia after the Revolution. My aim in this is that we may have confidence in what our Orthodox Christian faith tells us about the help that comes to us from the Mother of God. The second thing that I want to do is look at some ways in which we can find and use that help in our own Orthodox Christian lives. My aim in doing this is that we may all more profitably and actively seek her help in the week ahead, in the course of this conference dedicated to her and in the presence of her "Akhtyrskaya" icon, returning to our homes and parishes with renewed Orthodox Christian hope and determination.
Perhaps the most beautifully observed of the twelve Great Feasts, certainly in our Russian Orthodox Church, is that of the Dormition of the Mother of God. In a practice deliberately reminiscent of the solemn and moving Holy Saturday services, a "tomb" for the Holy Virgin is placed in the middle of the church, surrounded by flowers. She herself is symbolically present in the large icon, often almost life-sized, that is placed on the tomb and venerated by the faithful. The icon itself is usually fringed with a rich blue velvet, the velvet embroidered in gold with the words of the troparion of the feast.
The troparion is, if one reflects on it, interestingly worded. In English, the words are as follows:
In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity, and in thy falling asleep thou hast not forsaken the world, O Theotokos. Thou hast been translated to life, as thou art the Mother of Life, and by thou supplications thou dost deliver our souls from death.
What is interesting is that the troparion has as much to say about our relationship now with the Mother of God as it has to say about her falling asleep. It says two things in this regard: that she has not forsaken the world, and that her supplications, her prayers, deliver us.
This is a theme that we find constantly recurring in the Divine Services. "Rejoice, thou that most gloriously dost bring down our foes", we singi, calling her "an unassailable rampart and a fount of miracles" ii; one who "causest all to be saved who have recourse to [her] mighty protection" iii; stating with confidence that "Christ hath given [her] to the Christian race as a mighty protection and a helper more exalted than all the things of heaven and earth"iv. But what evidence is there that these claims have foundation? Does history support them?
Let us look first of all at the events commemorated by our Holy Orthodox Church on October 14th (October 1st on the Church calendar), the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God. This is not one of the Great Feasts, but it is one greatly loved by Orthodox Christians, especially the Russian Orthodox people. Many Russian churches " including two in our own Diocesev - are dedicated to this feast, and it is always celebrated with great joy.
The events commemorated took place in the city of Constantinople in the year 911 AD. Constantinople, now known to us as Istanbul, was the greatest city in the world at that time, and the capital of the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire that stretched from Italy to the shores of the Black Sea. That year was one in which Constantinople was under attack on at least two occasions. On one of those occasions the attackers were Slavs, and history records that they concluded an advantageous treaty with the Empire as a result. On the other occasion the attackers were Saracens, nomadic Syrian adherents of Islam.
At the time of the Saracen attack many people, including a man known to us as Saint Andrew the fool for Christ, were praying in a church dedicated to the Mother of God, the church of Blachernae. During the all-night vigil, he saw her standing above the people, covering them with a veil. Many saints were with her. Saint Andrew understood that the Mother of God was praying for the city, and that the covering of the people with her veil symbolized her protection of them from all harm.
At that moment the enemies that had been attacking the city were mysteriously turned back, and their fleet destroyed. The Church, learning about Saint Andrew's vision, and understanding that the prayers of the Mother of God had saved the city, began to celebrate this feast. In instituting this commemoration, they not only commemorated the vision of Saint Andrew - the Mother of God acting in his life - but also the Mother of God's protection of all - her action in our lives - through her holy prayers.
This was not an isolated incident in Byzantine history. A few centuries before, in 626AD, Constantinople had been in terrible peril. An 80 000 strong barbarian army stood outside the walls on the landward side of the city. They had catapults and siege engines. Those of you who have seen the second film in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Two Towers", can perhaps imagine the feeling of the 12 000 soldiers of Constantinople who stood on the battlements looking down on this host. The citizens, too, were armed and ready to fight. The siege lasted a month, and was aided by a fleet of enemy ships on the seaward side. Each day the Patriarch led a procession around the city walls, carrying a miraculous icon of the Mother of God and asking for her help. Shortly before the end of the siege, a great and richly dressed woman was seen walking along the city walls. In a brief sea battle soon after the enemy fleet was destroyed, and with fear the great force outside the walls began to retreat, destroying everything in their path. Miraculously left standing was the church of the Mother of God at Blachernae, and it was to her that the Orthodox Christians of Constantinople understood that they owed their survival.
Two and a half centuries later, in 860AD, a fleet of 200 marauding Rus' sailed down the Black Sea towards Constantinople, burning and destroying Byzantine possessions along the shore on their way. The city was once again in great peril, the Emperor and the greater part of his military force being engaged in battle far away, but as before the people prayed, the Patriarch Photius leading them in procession around the city, carrying aloft the robe of the Mother of God, a precious Byzantine relic kept in the church at Blachernae. Many sources record that the Patriarch dipped the robe in the sea, a great storm arose, and the ships of the Rus' were all destroyed. Other historians simply record a sudden retreat. Whatever happened, the Byzantines attributed their deliverance once again to the Mother of God.
We might, considering all this, reflect on the relevance of it to us, over a thousand years later. Had Constantinople fallen at any one of those times, the path of history may have been very different. Constantinople was the gate to Europe, and had it fallen there is more than a passing chance that we might all now be Moslems. I am sure that you have all heard the celebrated account of Saint Vladimir's ambassadors returning from Constantinople, informing him that they had not known whether they were in heaven or on earth. There would have been no Orthodox Christian Church of Saint Sophia for them to stand in wonder in, and in consequence no baptism of Rus' in 988. Had Constantinople fallen, we would not now be here.
Let us turn now to the history of Russia and the Orthodox Russian people. I mentioned to you a little earlier the joy with which the feast of the Holy Protection is celebrated amongst us. What basis is there for this? What historical experience is there of the history-changing intervention through prayer of the Mother of God in the life of the Russian people?
Two great battles engaged the Russian people in the earliest days of the formation of their national existence, one of them even before the foundation of the empire by the first of the Tsars, Ivan Vasilievitch. The first deliverance was in 1395, the second in 1480. In 1395 an immense Tartar army had assembled and besieged Moscow. The Tartars were savage warriors from Mongolia. Inferior in numbers by far, the Russians prayed before a miracle-working icon of the Mother of God and begged her to help them. Holy Tradition attributed the painting of this icon to the Holy Apostle Luke. It is know to us by the name of the city in which it was kept, Vladimir. The Tartar king had a vision of the Mother of God reprimanding him, and withdrew his forces, raising the siege and retreating. In 1480, the Tartar horde again lay siege to Moscow. Having again asked help of the Mother of God and carried the Vladimir icon before them, the Russian force found that a great terror fell upon their enemies, and that they were easily defeated.
Each of these deliverances is commemorated in the calendar of the church. The first is commemorated on September 8th (August 26th on the Church calendar) and the second on July 6th (June 23rd on the Church calendar). Our church in Rocklea, Brisbane, celebrates its' feast-day on the second of these days. We use the same service on both days, and it is extraordinarily beautiful, rejoicing in the mighty help of the Mother of God.
In both the battles mentioned, these victories gained not just the continued existence of the Russian state and people, but more importantly, that of the Orthodox Christian faith. But we will return to this; let us first consider victories won by the Orthodox Russian people over enemies from the West.
In 1612, during what is known to us as the "Time of Troubles" in Russian history, Polish and Swedish armies invaded the territory of Russia. This was a moment of grave danger for Orthodoxy, as the invaders, if victorious, would have imposed the Roman Catholic faith on the conquered. Moscow, Novgorod and Smolensk fell, and the city of Kursk was beseiged. Saint Hermogen, Patriarch of Moscow, appealed to the people to rise up in defence of their Orthodoxy. The people observed a three-day fast and prayed to the Lord and His Most Holy Mother for help. They carried before them a wonder-working icon of the Mother of God revered in the city of Kazan. A certain bishop, Arseny, was told in a vision that the prayers of the Mother of God would grant them victory, and victory indeed was theirs. We remember this event each year on November 4th (October 22nd on the Church calender), the day of Moscow's liberation. In our diocese, it is observed as the feast-day of the convent in Kentlyn. As with the commemoration of the victories associated with the Vladimir icon, the service sung on this day is beautiful, rejoicing in the unfailing help of the Mother of God.
During the siege of Kursk by the Poles and Swedes, residents of that city vowed to build a monastery dedicated to the Mother of God and a church that would house their city's wonder-working icon. They and certain of the Poles shortly thereafter saw a vision of the Mother of God above the city, threatening the invaders. The people of Kursk fought with renewed hope, and so it was that the invaders, with the help of the Mother of God, were turned away.
In the late 1600s, Tsar Peter I sent the Kursk icon, known to us as the "Kursk-Root" Icon because of its' discovery at the root of a tree, to the Don Cossacks, then fighting the Turks. With the help of the Mother of God, and carrying her icon as their standard, they were victorious. After their victory, a copy of that icon was made with the command that it be carried whenever Orthodox Christian soldiers went into battle.
I mentioned a moment ago that these victories gained not just the continued existence of the Russian state and people, but also that of the Orthodox Christian faith. The significance of these victories cannot be underestimated. In 626AD, 860AD, and in 911AD Constantinople was saved from apparently certain defeat. It was then the bastion of Orthodoxy, and the fall of that city then would have gravely imperiled the Church. But fall it did in 1453, opening the gates of Europe and subjecting the last of the four ancient Orthodox Patriarchates to Islamic rule. Greece and the Balkans followed. It was upon Russia that it fell to defend Orthodoxy. We then find that over the course of three centuries, in a series of what were in earthly terms hopeless battles, the Mother of God strengthened and helped the Russian armies, thereby securing Orthodoxy.
We have so far considered victories that sprang from a renewed hope in God, a hope nurtured in prayer to the Mother of God. We should also consider, however, hope strengthened through her prayers, although it did not bring about immediate victory. This hope, nevertheless, was of inestimable help to the Orthodox Russian people as they endured the bitter sorrows of the 20th century.
In early 1917, as Russia suffered in the Great War against Germany, another misfortune came upon her. This was revolution, the rebellion of many of her people against lawful authority. Sadly, war and hunger had weakened the courage and determination of Russian people of all ranks. They began to believe that a change of government would somehow help them, and called for the Russian Emperor to resign, allowing a parliament to rule in his place.
Tsar Nicholas II, the Russian Emperor, was a good man who loved Russia. When he was crowned, he had promised God to work for the Russian people. He was very upset when people began to ask him to resign, afraid to break his promise to God. Eventually, however, he had no choice but to resign. All of his advisers told him to do this; no one close to him supported him, and he was isolated by his captors from his family and friends. Believing that he was doing the best thing, he resigned, on March 2nd 1917. Sadly, as we know well, Russia fell then into deeper troubles, troubles from which it has of course only recently begun to emerge.
In the midst of this turmoil, however, there was a sign that the Mother of God continued to care for Russia. A good Christian woman whose name was Evdokia Adrianova had two dreams during February 1917. In the first dream she heard a voice telling her to go to the old Russian village of Kolomenskoe, and to find there an old icon, clean it, and pray before it. In the second dream Evdokia saw a beautiful white church. Inside the church was a great Queen on a throne. Evdokia realized that the Queen was the Mother of God.
Evdokia then decided to travel to Kolomenskoe. In Kolomenskoe, there is a beautiful white church - a great landmark - dedicated to the Ascension of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. As soon as she saw it, Evdokia recognized it as the church in her dream. Finding the priest, Father Nicholas Likhachev, she told him of her dreams. They began to search the church for an old icon of the Mother of God. After a long search, they found in the basement, amongst piles of old wood and furniture, a large and old icon, blackened with age. Cleaning it, they found it to be an icon of the Mother of God. Father Nicholas, Evdokia and all with them began to pray, singing the beautiful akathist to the Mother of God.
This icon showed the Mother of God as "Queen of Heaven". Like a queen, she had a crown and scepter and a robe of purple. Her face was stern and strict and showed authority, but her eyes seemed full of tears. The icon was found on March 2nd 1917, the very day on which Tsar Nicholas had abdicated.
The Tsar was a faithful Orthodox Christian who loved the Mother of God. His Empress Alexandra prayed especially to the Mother of God in the days before the Tsar's abdication, asking her to help him and the whole Russian land. To many Russian people, it appeared as if the Mother of God had listened to the entreaties of the Tsar and Tsaritsa, showing that she herself was taking over the care of Russia on that day. They were overjoyed by this, and traveled to Kolomenskoe to venerate the newly-discovered icon. The icon was often taken from Kolomenskoe to other places close by, bringing joy and hope to the suffering people, worried about their own future and the fate of their beloved Russia.
Copies of the icon were soon made and distributed around Russia. The icon was referred to as the "Reigning" Icon of the Mother of God, a sign that the Mother of God herself now reigned over Russia. A special service was composed and sung in churches before the icon. Many people were sorry that they had lost courage during the war and rebelled against the Emperor. They asked for God's forgiveness, and for the prayers of the Mother of God. They looked forward to the time when an Orthodox Christian Tsar would once again care for Russia, like a father caring for his children.
As we know, the situation in Russia grew steadily worse. The revolutionaries, supported by Russia's enemies, seized control of the empire and killed the Tsar and his family. The people who composed the service to the icon were also killed. Churches were closed down, and icons were destroyed. The "Reigning" Icon of the Mother of God disappeared in those terrible days, and the whereabouts of the icon are still unknown. It nevertheless continued, and continues to this day, to symbolise the care of the Mother of God for the Orthodox Russian people.
In the 20th century, this help continued to be associated with the icons that had become standards of victory in the centuries before. Let us look briefly at two examples.
Those familiar with modern history will know that Russia suffered terribly in both the great wars of the twentieth century. In the Second World War, Soviet Russia was taken by surprise. Stalin had placed his hope in an alliance with Hitler, and ignored evidence pointing to Hitler's inevitable betrayal. The Patriarchate of Antioch, a church with a close historical bond to the Russian church, appealed to all to pray for Russia and to rally to her aid. One of the Metropolitans of that church, Elias, retreated to a cave to fast and pray. The Mother of God appeared to him, and told of the importance of Russia returning to Orthodoxy. The Kazan Icon, so important in the defeat of earlier enemies to Russia's west, was to be carried to the besieged city of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), to the borders as a standard of victory, and then to Stalingrad (now Volgagrad). Many accounts have come down to us of renewed hope and miraculous victories in that time.
If the Kazan Icon symbolized the help of the Mother of God during a time of suffering within Russia, it was the Kursk-Root Icon that became the standard of the Russian Orthodox exiles. Carried before them abroad, the Mother of God has been the guide and protector of our Russian Church outside Russia as it has engaged in the great spiritual battles of the 20th century (and indeed of every century!): against compromise with falsehood and evil, against the passing trends of this world, against subjection to state interests, and against spiritual indifference. The service that our church sings before the Kursk-Root icon, as with those already mentioned, hails her as an unfailing help and consolation, a friend and benefactress.
It must be conceded that one could say at this point that the victories I've outlined were the result of chance, or perhaps of a range of factors; say, military genius (or incompetence on the part of the vanquished), or weather conditions, or morale, or clarity of thought. Modern history certainly looks to these things more than to God's help, or the prayers of the Mother of God. But as Orthodox Christians we do not believe that God has left the world to get by as best it can. We believe that God continues to watch over and care for the whole world and each one of us. We believe that He hears our prayers, and especially those of the righteous who have departed this life, His Mother foremost amongst them. We believe that He has acted and that He continues to act to get us all out of the trouble we have gotten ourselves into. The special term that we use to describe God's wise and loving care for us is "Divine Providence".
The Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition - and Tradition is really simply the experience of faithful Orthodox Christians over the ages - tell us that God is directing the world in the way He wants it to go. In studying Scripture and Tradition, we learn that everything happens with God's knowledge. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "Aren't two sparrows sold for only a cent? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don't be afraid!" (Matthew 10:29-30).
Looking back at these moments in history, we can draw strength from them; we can take confidence and be assured that the Mother of God hears us and acts to help us. Our hearts and hopes swell as we see what a mighty help we have on our side. This, of course, is why the church so beautifully and lovingly preserves the memory of her intercessions; that we should not fear, but have courage.
There are times, especially on the Great Feasts, all of which commemorate historical events connected with the unfolding of God's plan for our salvation, when one could conclude that it is all simply an elaborate history lesson. It is, of course, a history lesson, and indeed an elaborate one, presented as it is in our beautiful Orthodox liturgical tradition. But it is not simply that. History is presented to us in order to call from us a response. And it is that response - your response - that I am interested in. It is to encourage you to respond - not to me, but to our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and to His Most Holy Mother - that I have been speaking to you this morning. This brings me to the second part of my lecture, and what is most important for each one of us here: the role of the Mother of God not in great and world-changing events, but in our lives.
We have surveyed some of the immense challenges, both temporal and spiritual, faced by our forebears in the faith. We have heard this morning that the loss of a number of battles could have changed the course of history. At the time the Orthodox Christians involved perceived this, and immediately glorified God, our God Who is wondrous in His saints, especially in His Most Holy Mother, who stands at the head of the choir of the saints.
Unlike our forebears, we rarely face challenges that present us with the possibility of loss of life and possessions. We live in immense comfort and security here in Australia, the poorest amongst us knowing wealth that is unimaginable for the great majority of people in the world. We have no barbarians marauding through our homes, burning and pillaging. We don't face terrible disease unchecked, famine, or the lack of basic necessities. Like our forebears, however, we do have immense spiritual challenges and battles before us. As the Mother of God helped our forebears, we understand that she can help us.
There is a popular American book, written by a protestant Christian, called "How now shall we live?" I've not read the book, but the title is certainly a good one. How now shall we live? This is a crucial question. It is one that we should ask ourselves every day. What shall we do with our lives and how shall we do it? I like to think that we have these conferences each year in order that you, young Russian Orthodox Christians, may form your answers to these questions.
I plan to be talking to you over the next few days on a topic that has become very important to me over the years, that of the importance of making good decisions in youth about sexual relationships, married life, and laying firm foundations for family life. Others of the fathers will this week present a variety of topics of importance to you as you form your view of how to live. I would like to put to you some general principles, however.
When explaining our Orthodox Christian life, I often put the view that Orthodox Christian life is a life that is filled and formed by faithful teaching and fitting worship. In other words, by true faith in and worship of God.
The accounts that have come down to us of the Mother of God's infancy and childhood tell us that she was taken, in fulfilment of a vow, to live in the Temple at the age of three, remaining there until her betrothal to the Righteous Joseph. Her life was literally filled and formed by the Church, by true faith in and worship of God.
For us, of course, living in the church building is not a possibility. It is possible for all of us, however, to live a life that is filled and formed by the faithful Biblical, apostolic and patristic teaching and the fitting - orderly, majestic and uplifting - worship of our Holy Orthodox Church.
Last year, some may recall, I spoke to you about what Saint Seraphim of Sarov called the "necessary means" of Christian life: the various spiritual disciplines that our Holy Orthodox Church alone preserves in fullness. We discussed then how we can put God at the centre of our lives and protect our life-giving relationship with Him by:
Reading the Holy Scriptures every day;
Saying morning and evening prayers;
Praying in church as often as possible, especially on Sundays and feast-days;
Receiving Holy Communion as often as possible;
Making the home like a "family church", with icons in every room;
Following the church calendar of fasts and feasts; and
Helping the poor and needy, showing love and kindness to all around us, and praying for others.
The importance of a habit of prayer cannot be overestimated. Another icon of the Mother of God, known to us as "Unexpected Joy", testifies to this. This image was prepared after the experience of a certain lawless man became known. Praying before an icon of the Mother of God one day, as had been his habit from youth, and seeking the help of the Mother of God in some robbery he was about to commit, he was astonished and troubled to see the hands and feet of her Holy Child begin to bleed. Imploring the Mother of God to explain this to him, she told him of the relationship of sin to the suffering of Christ. The lawless man repented, and from that day forward lived a Christian life. His habit of prayer from childhood - even when his life later was mired in sin - had saved him.
For all of us, living in a way that consciously protects and nurtures our faith can be hard. There is, as I hope I've shown today, great help for us in the Mother of God, she who stands with boldness before the throne of her son and our God, Jesus Christ, and who knows as only a mother can, the help that we, foolish and wayward children that we are, have need of. Keep one of her precious images before you - especially one of those I have mentioned today, speak to her when you pray, and pour out your heart to her. Keep the feast-days that the Church has appointed in her honour, and make every effort to be there when akathists are served before her wonder-working icons.
In each of the three larger states of this country, there are churches dedicated to her. Make an effort to travel to each of them on the church feast-day. In Brisbane, pray at the church of the Vladimir Icon, thanking the Mother of God for the preservation of the Russian Orthodox faith and people. In the cathedral, remember that the second altar is dedicated to the icon we have just mentioned, "Unexpected Joy". Pray there, especially, that the Mother of God will help you form a habit of prayer! At Saint Seraphim's, remember his healing as a child through the prayers of the Mother of God and before the Kursk-Root Icon, his constant prayers before her "Umilenie" icon, and her love for him, the "favourite" of the Mother of God.
In NSW, pray at Cabramatta's Holy Protection Church. There are often akathists and canons served there before the miraculous Icon "Of the Sign". Be there on the feast-day, or travel instead to Newcastle, where the memory is kept of an older Protection Church, that which served the Greta migrant camp from 1949 until 1955. Attend the akathists that are regularly held at Croydon before the "Akhtyrskaya" Icon, or travel to Wollongong to pray in the Dormition Church.
A profitable pilgrimage could also be made to the Presentation Skete in Bungarby. Pray in their church to the Mother of God that you too may be presented blamelessly in the Church of Christ, beginning to be filled and formed by it.
In Victoria all of our churches - the Holy Protection Cathedral, the Dormition church in Dandenong, and the Geelong church of the "Joy Of All Who Sorrow" - are named in honour of the Mother of God. Pray fervently in each of them that the Mother of God will help you in your Orthodox Christian lives.
The Mother of God is an example to us not only in the form of her life, filled and formed as it was by faith and worship. The content of her life is also something to be imitated. Think of what the Holy Scriptures tell us of her. She lived in purity, faithfully serving God. "I am the Lord's servant", she said (Luke 1:38). "With all my heart I praise the Lord, am I am glad because of God my Saviour. He cares for me His humble servant" (Luke 1:47-48). Let us make these meek and faithful words of hers our own. Let us strive to serve Him, praise Him, be glad because of Him, and trust in His care. Let us sow plentifully, that we may reap abundantly!
There are also broader issues to consider in our Orthodox Christian lives, issues that take us beyond our parishes and families and which embrace the whole life of our church. Let us consider our context: we are Russian Orthodox Christians, most of us Russian but some not, yet all increasingly predominantly English-speaking and lifelong Australian residents. We live now at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Our way of life is very different to what it was in China half a century and more ago, in Russia before the revolution, and in the long ago times of the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire. Many of us now struggle to understand the beautiful Church Slavonic services. Our marriages are often with the non-Orthodox, and sometimes with non-Christians. Adherence to the Christian faith generally is weaker than it once was, and the prevailing morality is starkly at odds with what God asks of us. "Contemporary" churches like Hillsong and even some sectarian groups can seem more attractive than Orthodoxy. Once again we ask, how now shall we live?
In 2001, our First Hierarch Metropolitan Lavr was asked to give his view of the aims of the Russian Church outside Russia. His answer was threefold and extraordinarily, beautifully simple: to preach the Gospel of Christ to the world; to nurture God's people; and to repent and pray. In so answering, he swept away all of the things, all of the politics and issues, that so much distract us from living the Orthodox Christian lives that we should. How strange that it should be so simple, and how much more strange that something simple should be so difficult, so much of a challenge!
How profitable it would be if over these coming days we could give some practical thought to these things, these aims of our church. How are we to preach or present the Gospel of Christ to the world? Do we ourselves know it and live it, such that we can present it to others? How can we come to know it better? We often know the rules and regulations, but do we know the joy of faith and of a life filled by God? How are we to nurture His people, to support them in their Orthodox Christian lives, to help them make good choices, and to nourish their relationship with Him? Do we do these things ourselves? How can there be greater Christian love amongst us?
How are we to be both Russian Orthodox and Australian? How will we deal with mixed-confession or even mixed-faith marriages? Although forbidden by canon law, love knows no boundaries, and pastors are at times confronted with impermissible marriages, the disappointed couple simply taking themselves to a civil celebrant or a more accommodating church. How are we to guard our hearts, resisting temptations that may lead us far from the Lord? To what extent should we make the transition to the English language in our Divine Services? How will we effectively retain our Russian Orthodoxy as our Australianess becomes more dominant? How are we to help those who do not feel themselves to be Russian - whether of Russian ancestry or not - to find a place within the saving fold of our church?
As we honour the Mother of God in this conference dedicated to her, and as we pray before her Holy Icon, may she help us all, clergy and laity, male and female, answer these questions, and thereby begin to fulfil the aims of our Church. Orthodox Christians! Take care that we do not simply "serve" a moleben, or "read" an akathist, or stand in church daydreaming. Take care to pray, really pray! Say sincerely and with your whole heart: "Shelter us with thy most precious protection; Most Holy Theotokos, save us." And may God grant that she does!
In conclusion, let me leave you with a thought, a small hope of mine. Russia, as we have heard, has her great national icons, standards of victory: the Vladimir Icon and the Kazan Icon. Numbered with these our precious Kursk-Root Icon, an icon that has also become our standard abroad. Without turning aside from these great images, let us remember that we have here amongst us, not only at this conference but ever present in our diocese, a great spiritual treasure from Holy Russia. I speak of course of the "Akhtyrskaya" Icon, carried by the Orthodox Russian people as they have wandered abroad: first to China, then to South America, and now here to Australia. As we pray earnestly before it this week and in the future, seeking the help of the Mother of God, may it become a standard of hope and of victory for us, Russian Orthodox Christians living in Australia, as we seek the preservation of our Orthodoxy and through it, eternal life.
i. Ikos III, Akathist to the Kursk-Root Icon
ii. Troparion to the Kursk-Root icon
iii. Troparion to the Kazan Icon
iv. From the service sung on October 1st, the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God
v. The Holy Protection Cathedral in Melbourne, Victoria; and the Church of the Holy Protection in Cabramatta, NSW. There was once a third - the church of the Holy Protection at the Greta Migrant Camp in the NSW Hunter Valley, a church that existed from 1949 until 1955. At the closure of the camp in 1955, the parish was incorporated into the parish of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker in Wallsend (Newcastle), NSW
"Byzantium: The Early Centuries", John Julius Norwich, 1988, pages 295-7
"Byzantium: The Apogee", John Julius Norwich, 1991, pages 66-7