The Protection of the Mother of God
The other side of this emphasis on the Virgin Mary as the Champion Leader or Woman of Valor is that she has also, historically, been evoked as a protector for those who are struggling in times of political unrest. Many countries, such as Poland and Russia, believe that the Virgin Mary was responsible for protecting them during times of invasion, driving away foreign enemies and preserving peace.
In some cases, countries were invaded by large armies and were able to stand up to overwhelming forces and prevail over them. Often the successful defense was directly attributed to the Virgin Mary. There has been a long-standing belief connecting the Virgin Mary's love for people with her willingness (and ability) to protect them. Medjugorje, Bosnia, although torn apart by wars, seems to have been miraculously protected through some of the bloodiest battles during World War II. The village has remained intact and virtually unharmed. Medjugorje continues to be the location of some of the most famous apparitions.
The Great Eastern Christian city of Constantinople was also miraculously protected multiple times by the intercessions of the Virgin Mary. Throughout history, when rumors of war reached the emperor, processions around the city would be held. The emporer or Patriarch might carry an icon of Mary or her clothing-related relics. The crowds would pray and sing and wait to see what happened.
In 860, for example, Russians attempted to invade the city with a fleet of 200 ships. They were forced to withdraw after the Virgin's Robe was processed around the city and a great storm rose up and scattered their fleets.
An icon of Mary was again brought out in 1453 just as Constantinople was about to fall to the Ottoman Turks. Emperor Constantine XI commanded that this icon be carried through the city as a way of offering prayers and comfort to the Christians there. During this procession, however, the sky filled with ominous clouds and the icon slipped and fell. Immediately, the streets were deluged with hail and rain and the procession halted. The city fell to the invading armies and is now known as “Istanbul.”
Who is thought to have been assumed into heaven?
According to 2 Kings 2:9, Elijah was whisked to heaven by a whirlwind, accompanied by chariots and horses of fire. His disciple, Elisha, was also blessed enough to receive Elijah's gift of prophecy after Elijah departed.
The Blachernae Palace Church possessed this very valuable relic associated with the Virgin Mary, and in that church, an apparition directly linked to this particular relic was reported. On October 1, A.D. 911, this church was having an extremely long prayer service called an All-night Vigil.
It is said that during the service, Saint Andrew looked up and saw the Virgin Mary kneeling in prayer in the church, weeping and praying for all Christians. Saint Mary was not alone but was in the company of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Theologian. She was radiantly beautiful.
As the Virgin Mary prayed and wept, she eventually came close to the bishop's throne and continued to weep and pray. Saint Andrew could hardly believe his eyes as he watched the Virgin Mary complete her prayer and then spread her veil over all the people who were praying in the church. The veil was luminescent.
Saint Andrew watched in astonishment and then he nudged his companion, Epiphanius, to ask him if he also saw the Virgin. Epiphanius replied, “I do see, holy father, and I am in awe.”
Within the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Virgin Mary's veil is a much-loved symbol that represents the Virgin Mary's tender care and her ability to protect the faithful through her intercessions on their behalf.
The feast of the Pokrov (Protective Veil of the Mother of God) is celebrated on the day that the apparition is reported to have occurred, October 1. Although the event occurred in Constatinople, the feast is also zealously celebrated in Russia, where many churches are named for this feast, and an entire city, Pokrov, was named in memory of this event.
Mary and Weather
Historically, the Virgin Mary has also been connected with weather in the minds of the faithful. Many sailors, in particular, have believed that the Virgin Mary saved their lives when they prayed to her during stormy weather.
In Russia, where long, harsh winters are one of the undeniable realities of life, the connection between the need for the protective care of the Mother of Christ and the feast of Pokrov has been strong. A variety of folk traditions that have had particular significance for agricultural families surround this day.
In Russia it is widely believed that the first cold blast of winter wind blows on the day of this feast, which coincides with the time in which the weather begins to change from autumn to winter. The feast of Pokrov also marks a significant deadline — before this day, all harvesting and fieldwork must be completed, so people can settle in safely for the coming winter. One Russian folk saying captures the sentiment of Pokrov well. According to this saying, “On Pokrov, before dinner is autumn, after dinner is winter.”
Traditionally, Russian families waited until this day to burn their first wood for warmth, believing that if they did not kindle their hearths until Pokrov they would be able to stay warm all winter long. The first fires of winter were often lit with a sort of prayerful devotion as the family committed itself to the tender loving care of the Virgin Mary in the face of the long, bleak winter that was to come.