On October 6, 1974, the bishops of the Byzantine Ruthenian Metropolitan Province of Munhall dedicated a beautiful Byzantine Rite chapel in honor of the Mother of God in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in our nation’s capital. It shall be a lasting memorial, emblematic of the love which the Ruthenian people have for her. On this solemn occasion, witnessed by thousands, Metropolitan Archbishop Stephen J. Kocisko, D.O. read the jointly issued Proclamation dedicating the entire Metropolitan Province to the Mother of God under the title of her Protection-Pokrov, continuing the centuries long tradition of their forefathers in Europe who, from time immemorial, called upon the Mother of God ‘s intercess ion before the throne of her Divine Son.
When, in 1773, the Austro-Hungarian government insisted upon the reduction of the number of holy days of obligation for its Byzantine Catholics, the venerable Bishop of Mukachevo (Munkach), Andrew Bachinsky, (1773-1809), replied , “We cannot eliminate the feast of the Pokrov (Protection) for this is the patron feast of our eparchy and our people are accustomed to observe it with great solemnity.” This holy day, thus, remained one of obligation in all of our eparchies in Europe.
1 One of the bases of the special devotion of the Ruthenian faithful to the Mother of God stems from the very disposition of all Slavic peoples to follow a matriarchal social system. In all Slavic families, the mother is highly respected, cherished and loved. The veneration the Slavic people have for the Mother of God has a sound scriptural basis. When our Savior was dying upon the cross, He placed His entire Church under the motherly care of Mary, saying , ” Behold your mother!” (John 19:26)
2 The historical basis for the veneration of the Mother of God under her title of ” Protection,” is the vision of Saint Andrew and his disciple, Saint Epiphanius, in the Blachernae church outside of the walls of Constantinople, in which city the precious robe of the Blessed Mother was preserved and venerated since 458 A.D.
During the reign of Leo VI the Wise, (+ 912), Constantinople was afflicted with a pestilence which was decimating its population. In distress, the people gathered at the Blachernae church to implore the Mother of God to intercede for them. Saints Andrew and Epiphanius, as they prayed with the crowd, saw a vision of the Blessed Mother, surrounded by saints, praying with outstretched arms and shedding tears of compassion.
At the close of her prayer, she removed the mantle (omophorion) from her head and spread it over the crowd of people as a gesture of her heavenly protection. The pestilence abated immediately and from that time the Feast of the Protection (Pokrov) of the Mother of God was celebrated annually in Constantinople on the first day of October.
3 The greatness and the power of Mary are rooted in her divine motherhood. She was defined as the ” Theotokos,” ” the Mother of God,” at the Third Ecumenical Council which was held at Ephesus in 431. The doctrine of her Immaculate Conception, proclaimed in 1854, declares that, as the Mother of God, she was conceived without sin.
Because she was to become the living tabernacle of our Savior, Mary was ” full of grace”-AII Holy. (Luke 1 :29) Although she gave birth to the Son of God, she was and she remained a virgin for the Son she bore was conceived of the Holy Spirit. (This doctrine was defined in 553.)
In becoming the Mother of God, she became our mother, too, since we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, that is, His Church. (Ephesians 5:29-30) Mary, as the Mother of God, was taken up by her Divine Son, body and soul, into heaven, as proclaimed by the doctrine of the Assumption in 1950.
These things Byzantine Catholics believe and profess. They solemnly adhere to the teachings of the Church that the Blessed Virgin Mary-The Theotokos-The Mother of God, is ” more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim.” (Byzantine Liturgy)
4 Mary has shown her motherly concern for and her powerful protection of her people in various places and at various times. Who can enumerate her apparitions and her cures, especially by the means of her miraculous icons? Their numbers are great both in the East as well as in the West. The Ruthenian people, too, have been the beneficiaries of her tender concern and her intercession before the throne of her Divine Son.
The first time of record was in 1670 in one of our wooden churches in Klokochovo, Uzh District, when her icon miraculously shed tears. This was repeated at Mariapovch, Sabolch District, in 1696. Three years later, her icon again shed tears in the parish church in Mikola, near Kluzh (now in Rumania). When the original icon at Mariapovch was taken by the Imperial Family to Vienna, where it now rests in the Cathedral of Saint Stephen, it ceased to shed its miraculous tears. The copy of the original icon, made to replace it in the church at Mariapovch, shed tears miraculously in 1717 and, again , in 1905.
Bishop George G. Bizanczy, OSBM, of Mukachevo (1716-1733) began construction of a magnificent church in honor of the Mother of God at Mariapovch. Bishop Michael M. 01- shavsky, OSBM, dedicated it and placed it under the spiritual care of the Basilian Fathers. At the solemn dedication of this church in 1756, Bishop Olshavsky placed his eparchy and all of his people under the Protection of the Mother of God and proclaimed the Feast of the Protection (Pokrov) the patron feast of the Eparchy of Mukachevo.
5 Following World War I, the church at Mariapovch remained in Hungary. The Byzantine faithful of Ruthenia, desiring to still publicly manifest their love for, and continue to remain under the protection of the Mother of God, now made pilgrimages to the Basilian monastery at Chernecha Hora in Mukachevo, where in 1926, another miraculous icon was installed by Bishop Peter Gebey (1924-1931) for public veneration. This icon was painted in Constantinople in 1453 and was the gift of Pope Pius XI. On the occasion of the installation of this icon, the bishop rededicated the Eparchy of Mukachevo to the Protection of the Mother of God, imploring her to ” extend her protecting Omophorion over the priests, our good people and the beloved Eparchy of Mukachevo.”
Through her intercessions and through official pro c I a mat ion s, the Theotokos-the Mother of God-the Presvjataja Bohorodica has become a treasured part of our religious tradition.
6 Here, in the United States, our people continue to hold special veneration for the Mother of God. Since 1935, the Byzantine Ruthenians have been journeying every Labor Day weekend to Mount Saint Macrina, Uniontown, Pa., to venerate her publicly and pray before her icon under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help given to the Community by Pope Pius XI with the request that they foster devotion to her under that title. During the Marian Year Pilgrimage, on Labor Day, 1954 the Clergy, Religious and Faithful of the Diocese were dedicated to her Protection.
In the Diocese of Parma, the faithful venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary publicly through an annual Pilgrimage held during the time of her Feast of the Dormition-Uspenije-at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapovch in Burton, Ohio.
The Passaic Diocese has an i dentical shrine in Matawan, New Jersey, under the spiritual care of the Hungarian Basilian Fathers, where a similar Pilgrimage is held annually. The faithful and clergy also participate in the annual Pilgrimage of the Franciscan Fathers in Sybertsville, Pennsylvania every August.
The most recent shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother-The Theotokos-by the Ruthen ian faithful in America is that of the Holy Protection in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
This Shrine was erected through their overwhelming generosity in thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to show their love for her and the ir devotion to her. Its dedication, October, 1974, was timed to coincide with the celebration of the Golden Anniversary of the founding of our Diocese. It was at the Concelebrated Pontifical Liturgy on the day of the dedication that the Proclamation of the hierarchs was given, placing the Clergy, Religious and Faithful under the Protection of the Blessed Mo,ther.
It is under her powerful protection that the Ruthenian Faithful begin the second halfcentury of their religious life and service to the organized religious life of the United States of America. They do so in an atmosphere that finds them better known, more highly respected, ecclesiastically stronger by having a Metropolitan Province with a Metropolitan Archbishop, (the first time in the history of their people) an Archdiocese and two Dioceses, two suffragan Bishops and one Auxiliary Bishop, and with new parishes being formed in every diocese. With gratitude, they ascribe this growth to Mary’s unfailing intercession in their behalf. With undaunted love for her and ” ‘neath her protection,” they look to the future with greater confidence and an even stronger Faith.
“0 Most Holy Mother of God, save us!” ” Presvjataja Bohorodice, spasi nas!”