The Protection of the Theotokos falls on October 1: “Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church, and with choirs of Saints She invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and Bishops venerate Her, Apostles and prophets rejoice together since for our sake She prays to the Eternal God!”
This miraculous appearance of the Mother of God occurred in the mid-tenth century in Constantinople in the Blachernae church which preserves Her robe, veil, and part of Her belt.
On Sunday, October 1, during the All-Night Vigil, when the church was overflowing with those at prayer, the Fool-for-Christ St Andrew, at the fourth hour, lifted up his eyes towards the heavens and beheld our most Holy Lady Theotokos coming through the air, resplendent with heavenly light and surrounded by an assembly of the Saints. St John the Baptist and the holy Apostle John the Theologian accompanied the Queen of Heaven. On bended knees the Most Holy Virgin tearfully prayed for Christians for a long time. Coming near the Bishop’s Throne, She continued Her prayer.
After completing Her prayer, She took Her veil and spread it over the people praying in church, protecting them from enemies both visible and invisible. The Most Holy Lady Theotokos shone with heavenly glory, and the protecting veil in Her hands gleamed more than the rays of the sun. St Andrew gazed trembling at the miraculous vision, and he asked his disciple, the blessed Epiphanius standing beside him, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?” Epiphanius answered, “I do see, holy Father, and I am in awe.”
The Ever-Blessed Mother of God implored the Lord Jesus Christ to accept the prayers of all the people calling on His Most Holy Name and to respond speedily to Her intercession: “O Heavenly King, accept all those who pray to You and call on my name for help. Do not let them go away from my icon unheard.”
Sts. Andrew and Epiphanius merited to see the Mother of God at prayer and observed the Protecting Veil spread over the people shining with flashes of glory. As long as the Most Holy Theotokos remained, they could see the Protecting Veil, but with Her departure it disappeared. Taking it with Her, She left behind the grace of Her visitation.
The Byzantine Christians needed the protective intercession of the Mother of God because of an attack by a large pagan Russian fleet. The feast celebrates the divine destruction of the fleet which threatened Constantinople itself. The Slavic Churches venerate this Feast with special devotion, a strange devotion because their people carried out the attack. By celebrating this Feast, they celebrate their own defeat. The Byzantine Saints Cyril and Methodius evangelized the Slavic nations. Had the barbarians won against Constantinople, the faith may not have prospered in the Slavic countries.
A Russian book of the twelfth century records the establishment of the special Feast: “For when we heard, we realized how wondrous and merciful was the vision… and it transpired that Your holy Protection should not remain without festal celebration, O Ever-Blessed One!”
In the festal celebration of the Protection of the Mother of God, the Russian Church sings, “With the choirs of the Angels, O Sovereign Lady, with the venerable and glorious prophets, with the First-Ranked Apostles and with the Hieromartyrs and Hierarchs, pray for us sinners, glorifying the Feast of your Protection in the Russian Land.”
On the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos we implore the defense and assistance of the Queen of Heaven, “Remember us in your prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we not perish by the increase of our sins. Protect us from every evil and from grievous woes, for in you do we hope, and venerating the Feast of your Protection, we magnify you.”