by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
How greatly appealing the discourse about the Mother of God, the Holy Virgin Mary is! Our Holy Church fathers had had extensive scrutinizing studies of her biography; inspired ecclesiastical poets wrote beautiful poems in glorification of her; celebrated artists sculpted the most beautiful statues of her and skillful painters filled the world with her splendid portraits. The Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of the most magnificent Cathedrals the faithful have erected for her worldwide.
The Virgin Mary's Feasts
Ever since its existence our Syrian Orthodox Church has incessantly extolled the Virgin Mary's virtues and canonized her as a patron saint of the church, repeating her Holy name in church prayers day and night. Our church has set commemorative days for the Virgin Mary to be celebrated all the year round.
It was a common practice in the church to celebrate commemorations of saints and martyrs after their departure to heavenly abodes following the termination of their spiritual struggle on earth. The Holy Virgin Mary and St. John, however, were excepted.
The Syrian Orthodox Church usually celebrates the nativity of the Virgin Mary on Sept.8. It used to celebrate the Feast of the Virgin Mary's presentation in the temple, in addition to three others; the Feast of the Virgin Mary for the blessing of the crops, the Feast of the Virgin Mary of the sowing and the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing of the vineyards.
Syrian poets called the Potters attribute setting these feasts of the Virgin Mary to John, the Evangelist. Those poets are quoted saying: "With dew and drizzle the land of Ephesus was sprinkled when St. John brought to it the messages of the Virgin Mary commanding that the blessed Feasts of the Virgin be celebrated three times a year. The Feast of the Virgin Mary of the sowing is in January. In May is the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing the crops and in August is her Feast of the blessing of the vineyards, which are the symbol of the mystery of life".
These three Feasts are on the fifteenth day of the three aforementioned months. Assumption of the Virgin Mary replaced the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing the Vineyards, which falls on August 15th. Due to the sacredness of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the church instituted that the faithful should go on a fast in preparation for the celebration of this fast. It is called the Virgin Mary's Fast. In the past this fast used to last for fourteen days starting on August the first, during which the faithful used to have one Meal a day. This meal was free of meat, eggs or dairy product. It consisted mainly of vegetables and beans usually taken in the evening.
The faithful also refrained from having any drinks. Nowadays the church has become more tolerant by limiting the fast to five days starting on August 10th and permitting two or three meals a day and having fish and seafood. The church also celebrates a commemoration day of the Virgin Mary on the second day of Lord Jesus' Nativity, which is called the Feast of the Glorification of the Virgin Mary at the Lord's birth; and one on the day following the Resurrection of the redeemer and His rising from the dead. On June 15th the church celebrates also the feast of the first church built after the Virgin's name.
The most celebrated and greatly significant feast in Christendom is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, which falls on March 25th.
At the beginning of the Liturgical year the Syrian Orthodox Church observes the Sundays, usually known as the Sundays before the Nativity of Christ, which include Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the Sunday of the virgin Mary's visitation to Elizabeth, the Sunday of St. Joseph's Revelation, on which Gabriel affirmed to Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary, the Virgin's innocence and revealed the divine Mystery, that the conception was of the Holy Spirit.
Church fathers praised the Virgin in poetry and prose while celebrating her feasts and set rites included in huge volumes called (Fanaquith). The book of daily offices repeated weekly and called (Shehimo) includes hymns in poetry and prose sung daily in the morning and evening. The themes of these songs are the declaration of the Orthodox doctrinal concept of the Virgin Mary and the confession of faith in her. These Hymns are meant to show the exalted position of the Virgin in the hearts of the faithful and in the church at large, in addition to manifesting the intercessory and supplicatory character of prayers addressed to her. Some excerpts are quoted from the book of daily offices and stated hereinafter: in relation to the feasts of the Virgin Mary and the aim of celebrating these feasts the prayer of the first office on Monday night reads: "Oh, Virgin Mary, Mother of God, may your name be a source of blessing. May you answer the prayers of those, close and others far away. May you heal the sick and beseech (your son) to give courage to the oppressed. May you expel the evil within those tormented. May the power of your intercessory prayers have mercy on us, hallelujah, and may your prayer support us".
The prayer said on Monday evening reads:
"May the commemoration of the blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, be eternal, because in her virginity she gave birth to Jesus, the king, the savior of the whole universe, hallelujah. May her prayer be with us".
A hymn sung on Thursday evening reads:
"Oh, blessed Virgin, who became the Mother of God in chastity and holiness and without the seed of a man, may you, on this commemoration day of yours, have mercy on us so that the dead will have rest and the living may have hope…Though you are so far away from us in the flesh, yet your prayers are always with us. So may you implore the hidden power (the Son), who descended from His throne and dwelled in you, to forgive us".
The prayer said on Friday evening includes a Litany by Mar Jacob of Serugh (+521) that reads:
"How beautiful and pleasant the commemorative day of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who became the Mother of the Son of God, is! May you, Oh God, through the intercessory prayer of hers, keep wrath away from all those who, in faith, seek refuge in her".
In the prayer of the first office, said on Saturday night St. Jacob says: " Let us venerate the day of the blessed (Mary), glorify it with extreme love, with faith, "watchfulness" and long vigil, and by going on giving alms and praying, for (the virgin) doubles the reward of those who venerate her".
May you, Oh Holy Saint, distribute, on your day, your gifts among our gathering who are thirsty for your prayers and litanies.
May the Lord be the fence that protects all those who venerate you, and may the Lord keep all blows and wrath away from them…. The power that strengthens you is that which empowers us so that we become able to praise you. This power calls on us, through your prayers, to join the abodes of light May the Lord count all those, dead and alive, who venerate your commemorative days and seek you as a refuge, among the Choir of Angels. The congregation raises to you, Oh Lord, on the day of your mother, genuine praise sung to sweet melodies. May you draw the sign of the Cross on their highly elevated gates and keep them away from distress. Glory be to you, your father and to the Holy Spirit.
The prayer said on Saturday morning reads:
" May the commemoration of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the Holy in her virginity, whose virtues found favor with the king of kings that He descended and dwelled in her womb, be celebrated in churches and monasteries".
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