By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
The period of Holy and Great Lent, which is preeminently a period of prayer and fasting, gives an opportunity to our pious Christians to enjoy the liturgical and devotional wealth of our Church, to approach God, to change their way of life, but also to communicate through prayer with the person of the Most Holy Theotokos.
The Service of the Salutations is a popular Service, which brings together with reverence and sacred enthusiasm our Christians. According to the ancient rubrics it is chanted only on the Saturday of the Fifth Week of the Fast, in the known Service of the Akathist Hymn. But now it has become established to be chanted every Friday evening of Great Lent, along with the Service of Small Compline, the Canon of Saint Joseph the Hymnographer with a portion of the Service of the Salutations.
This Service gives us the opportunity to:
- approach the person of the Most Holy Theotokos,
- receive joy from the vessel of joy,
- draw strength and patience for the struggles of life,
- ask for her maternal intercessions before the Throne of the Divine Majesty. This is why we chant of her: "A fervent intercessor and impenetrable wall, a source of mercy and refuge for the world."1
"Rejoice, fiery throne of the Almighty."
This image comes from the vision of the Prophet Isaiah: "I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up."2 This image is used by the sacred hymnographers of the Church to present the ministry and offering of the Theotokos in the mystery of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God.
The Panagia is a Throne. She is a glorified throne, in the words of Saint John of Damascus. "Rejoice, throne of God, glorified and pure; Rejoice, spacious palace."3
She is the "fiery throne of the Almighty," as chanted by Saint Joseph the Hymnographer.
She is the "living throne of God."4
She is the "cherubic throne", as we chant in the famous Ninth Ode of Christmas: "Beholding a strange and paradoxical mystery...the Virgin is a cherubic throne."5
On this throne, which is enflamed by the energies of the grace of God and is surrounded by the Cherubim and Seraphim, the Fashioner of Adam, the forefather of the human race, condescended and rested, even Christ Himself.
God did not seek to dwell in a Temple made with hands, but in the immaculate womb of the Most Holy Theotokos, in order to refashion and renew the entire human race.
How the Megalynarion of the Panagia moves us that is chanted during Great Lent in the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil theGreat: "He made your womb a throne and your belly wider than heaven."
The Panagia is a Throne. Saint Gregory Palamas, interpreting the words of the Prophet David, "At Your right side stands the queen, wearing jewelry of finest gold from Ophir,"6 asks where the Theotokos is. He responds as follows: "She is not merely a companion but she also stands at God's right hand, for where Christ sat in the heavens, that is, at the 'right hand of majesty' (Heb. 1:3), there too she also takes her stand, having ascended now from earth into the heavens. Not merely does she love and is loved in return more than every other, according to the very laws of nature, but she is truly His Throne, and wherever the King sits, there His Throne is set also."7
It is this throne that we approach every time, leading us to her Son and God. Saint Theophanes the Bishop of Nicaea mentions the following: Christ is the head of the body of the Church, and from this head is the source of "every perfect gift". The Theotokos is the neck of the body of the Church. From this neck comes the gifts from above to the faithful, the members of the body of the Church. She is the only way by which the faithful are lifted up and connected to the "head of all rule and authority and of the entire Church."8
This is why Saint Paisios the Athonite, following and experiencing the entire love for the Theotokos by the saints of our Church, advised: "Grab the hand of the Panagia so that she will securely transfer you to the throne of her Son and God!"
Let her be for each of us the hope and protection and mighty refuge in these days in which we live, and through her intercessions may she lead us to her all-merciful Son.
"Richly, therefore, bestow your mercy and your graces upon all your people, this your inheritance, O Lady! Dispel the perils which menace us. See how greatly we are expended by our own and by aliens, by those without and by those within. Uplift all by your might, mollify our fellow citizens one with another and scatter those who assault us from without like savage beasts. Measure out your succor and healing in proportion to our passions, apportioning abundant grace to our souls and bodies, sufficient for every necessity. And although we may prove incapable of containing your bounties, augment our capacity and in this manner bestow them upon us, so that being both saved and fortified by your grace, we may glorify the pre-eternal Word Who was incarnate of you for our sakes, together with His unoriginate Father and the life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the endless ages. Amen."9
1. Kathisma of the Small Supplication Canon to the Theotokos.
2. Isaiah 6:1.
3. Theotokarion of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, troparion of the first ode of the Canon in plagal of the first tone for Friday.
4. Ibid., troparion of the eighth ode.
5. Eirmos 1. Ode of the Canon of the Feast of Christmas.
6. Psalm 44:9.
7. Saint Gregory Palamas, "Homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos".
8. Ιερομονάχου Γρηγορίου, Η Θεία Λειτουργία, σχόλια, εκδ. Δόμος, Αθήνα 1985, σελ. 98.
9. Saint Gregory Palamas, "Homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos".
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.