The Placement of the Venerable Robe of the MostHoly Mother of God at Blakhernae:

Commemorated on July 2

      The Placement of the Venerable Robe of the MostHoly Mother of God at Blakhernae: During the years of the reign of the Byzantine emperor Leo the Great the Macedonian (457-474), the brothers Galbius and Candidus, associates of the emperor, set out from Constantinople to Palestine to venerate at the holy places. In a small settlement near Nazareth they stopped for overnight lodging with a certain quite aged Hebrew woman. In her house the burning of candles and smoking incense caught the attention of the pilgrims. To their questions, as to what sort of sacred thing there was in her house, the pious woman for a long time did not want to give an answer, but after persistent requests she replied, that she had a very precious sacred item the Robe of the Mother of God, from which had occurred many miracles and healings. The MostHoly Virgin before the time of Her Dormition ("Falling-Asleep" or "Repose") bequeathed one of her garments to a pious Jewish maiden from the family-lineage of this house, having instructed her to hand it on after death to another virgin. Thus, from generation to generation, the Robe of the Mother of God was preserved in this family.
      The jewelled chest, containing the sacred Robe, was transferred to Constantinople. Saint Gennadios, Patriarch of Tsar'grad-Constantinople (+ 471, Comm. 31 August), and the emperor Leo, having learned of the sacred find, convinced themselves of the incorruptness of the holy Robe and with trembling they certified its authenticity. At Blakhernae, near the seacoast, there was erected a new church in honour of the Mother of God. On 2 June 458 Sainted Gennadios with appropriate solemnity transferred the sacred Robe into the Blakhernae church, placing it within a new reliquary.
      Afterwards into the reliquary, together with the Robe of the Mother of God, was put also Her omophorion (i.e. the outer or over-robe) and part of Her belt-sash. This circumstance also set its seal upon the Orthodox iconography of the feast, in conjoining the two events: the Placing of the Robe, and the Placing of the Belt-Sash of the Mother of God in Blakhernae. The Russian pilgrim Stefan Novgorodets, visiting Tsar'grad in about the year 1350, testifies: "We arrived at Blakhernae, wherein lies the Robe upon an altar‑throne in an imprinted reliquary".
      More than once during the invasion of enemies the MostHoly Mother of God saved the city, to which She had bestown Her holy Robe. Thus it happened during the time of a siege of Constantinople by the Avars in 626, by the Persians in 677, and by the Arabs in the year 717. Especially relevant for us are events of the year 860, intimately connected with the history of the Russian Church.
      On 18 June 860 the Russian fleet of prince Askol'd, in a force comprising more than 200 boats, having laid waste the coastal regions of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus, entered into the Bay of the Golden Horn and threatened Constantinople. The Russian ships sailed into sight of the city, setting ashore troops who "proceeded before the city, stretching forth their swords". The emperor Michael III (842-867), leaving off his heading of a campaign against the Arabs, returned to the capital; all night he prayed, prostrate down upon the stone tiles of the church of the Blakhernae Mother of God. Holy Patriarch Photios turned to his flock with preaching, calling for tears of repentance to wash away sins, and in fervent prayer to seek the intercession of the MostHoly Mother of God.
      The danger grew with each passing hour. "The city was barely able to stand against a spear", says Patriarch Photios in another of his sermons. Under these conditions the decision was made to save the church holy-things, and foremost the holy Robe of the Mother of God, which was kept in the Blakhernae church, not far from the shore of the bay. After making an all-night molieben, and taking it out from the Blakhernae church, they carried the sacred Robe of the Mother of God in religious procession around the city walls, with a prayer they dipped its edge into the waters of the Bosphorus, and then they transported it to the centre of Tsar'grad into the church of Saint Sophia. The Mother of God by Her grace gave shelter and quelled the militance of the Russian warriors. An honourable truce was concluded. Askol'd lifted the siege of Constantinople. On 25 June the Russian army began to leave, taking with them a large tribute payment. A week afterwards, on 2 July, the wonderworking Robe of the Mother of God was solemnly returned to its place in the reliquary of the Blakhernae church. In remembrance of these events an annual feastday of the Placing of the Robe of the Mother of God was established under 2 July by holy Patriarch Photios.
      Soon, in October-November of the year 860, a Russian delegation arrived in Constantinople for concluding a treaty "in love and peace". In the conditions of the peace treaty they included articles about the Baptism of Kievan Rus', about the payment of an annual tribute by the Byzantines to the Russians, permission for them to serve with the Byzantine army, to carry on trade in the territory of the empire (primarily in Constantinople), and to send a diplomatic mission to Byzantium.
      Most important was the point about the Baptism of Rus'. The continuator of the Byzantine "Theophanes Chronicles" relates, that "their delegation arrived in Tsar'grad with a request for them to be made participants in holy Baptism, which also was fulfilled". An Orthodox mission was sent to Kiev to fulfill this mutual wish of the Russians and the Greeks. Not very long before this (in 855) holy Equal to the Apostles Cyril (Kirill) the Philosopher (+ 869, Comm. 14 February and 11 May) had crafted a Slavonic alphabet and translated the Gospel. With the mission to Kiev essentially in particular there was sent Saint Cyril with his brother, the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Methodios (+ 885, Comm. 6 April and 11 May), together with books translated into Slavonic. This was at the initiative of Sainted Photios, whose student Saint Cyril was. The brothers spent the winter of 860/861 at Kherson (Chersonessus), and in the spring of 861 they were at the River Dneipr, with prince Askol'd.
      There stood a difficult choice facing prince Askol'd, just as afterwards it faced holy prince Vladimir: both the Jews on the one hand and the Mahometans on the other wanted to bring him into their faith. But under the graced influence of Saint Cyril, the prince made his choice in favour of Orthodoxy. At the end of the year 861 Cyril and Methodios returned to Constantinople and carried with them from prince (or, as the Kievan princes called themselves during the IX-XI Centuries, "kagan") Askol'd to emperor Michael III. Askol'd thanked the emperor for sending him "such men, who showed by both word and by example, that the Christian faith is holy". "Persuaded, Askol'd further wrote, that this is the true faith, we bid them to baptise at their intent in the hope for us also to attain sanctity. We are all friends of the kingdom and prepared to be of service to thee, as requested".
      Askol'd accepted holy Baptism with the name Nikolai, and many also of his retinue were baptised. Right directly from Tsar'grad, the capital of Orthodoxy, through the efforts of the holy Apostles to the Slavs there arrived in Rus' both the Slavonic Divine-services and the Slavonic written-language. At Kiev Saint Photios appointed the Metropolitan Michael, and the Russian metropolitan was entered into the notation-lists of dioceses of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Holy Patriarch Photios in a Circular missive of the year 867 called the Baptism of the Bulgarians and the Russians as among the chief accomplishments of his arch-hierarchical service. "The Russians, which lifted their hand against the Roman might, he wrote, almost quoting literally from the missive of Askol'd, at the present time replaced even the impious teaching, which they held to formerly, with the pure and genuine Christian faith, and with love having established themselves in the array of our friends and subjects". (The Byzantines reckoned as "subjects" all accepting Baptism from Tsar'grad and entering into military alliance with the empire.) "And to such an extent has flared up within them the desire and zeal of faith, that they have accepted bishops and pastors, and they embrace Christian sanctity with great zeal and fervour".
      The feastday of the Placement of the Robe of the MostHoly Mother of God in Blakhernae reveals itself also as a feastday of the canonical establishing of the Russian Orthodox metropolitanate in Kiev. By the blessing of the Mother of God and by the miracle from Her holy Robe was accomplished not only the salvation of Tsar'grad from the most terrible siege in all its history, but also the salvation of the Russians from the darkness of pagan superstition, to life eternal. Together with this, the year 860 brought recognition to Kievan Rus' from Byzantium, and it signified an equitably-justified emergence of the young Russian realm into the arena of history.
      The attempt of prince Askol'd to renew the Christian evangelisation begun by the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, and intended by him as a religious and state reform, ended unsuccessfully. The time of affirmation of Christianity in the Russian Land had not yet come. The adherents of the old paganism were too strong, and the princely power was too weak. In the clash of Askol'd with the pagan Oleg in 882 the Kievans betrayed their prince Askol'd accepted a martyr's death at the hand of hired killers, tricked by deceit into the camp of his enemies for talks.
      But the deed of Blessed Askol'd (the Ioakimov Chronicle calls him such) was not extinguished in the Russian Church. Oleg the Sage, having killed Askol'd, after him occupied the Kiev princedom, and called Kiev the "Mother of Russian Cities" this is a literal translation of the Greek expression "Russian metropolia" (i.e. "mater-polis"). The most ancient chronicles of Kiev preserved the grateful memory of the first Kievan Christian-prince: the church of the Prophet of God Elias, built by Askol'd and afterwards mentioned in the Treaty of Igor with the Greeks (in year 944), is on the place where at present stands the church of this name, and there is also the church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, erected in the decade of the 950's over the grave of Askol'd by holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Ol'ga. The most important achievement of Askol'd, entering forever into the Church-inheritance not only of Rus', but of also all Orthodox Slavdom is the Slavonic Gospel and Slavonic Divine-services, rendered such by the work of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Cyril and Methodios. In Kiev at the court of Askol'd in 861 was set the beginning of their apostolic activity among the Slavs, and continued afterwards in Moravia and Bulgaria. Following Blessed Askol'd, speaking the words of the ancient "Alphabetic Prayers", "there soars in flight now the Slavonic tribe to Baptism all striving".
      With the miracle of the Robe of the MostHoly Mother of God at Blakhernae are connected several outstanding works of Byzantine Church hymnology and homiletics. To Saint Photios belong two sermons, one of which was given by him immediately within days of the siege of Constantinople, and the other soon after the departure of the Russian forces. And with the campaign of Askol'd against Tsar'grad is connected also the composition of a remarkable "Akathist to the MostHoly Mother of God", the source of which certain Church histories ascribe also to holy Patriarch Photios. This Akathist comprises a basic part of the Divine-services of the day of Praise to the MostHoly Mother of God (i.e. the "Saturday of the Akathist" Saturday in the 4th Week of Great Lent).
      It is not only Byzantine sources that relate the events of the year 860, but also Russian historical chronicles. The Monk Nestor the Chronicler, stressing the significance of the Russian campaign against Tsar'grad, notes that from this time "it was begun to be called the Russian Land". Certain of the chronicles, among them the Ioakimov and Nikonov, preserved accounts of the Baptism of Prince Askol'd and Kievan Rus' after the campaign against Tsar'grad. The popular commemoration concerning this is firmly associated with the names of the Kievan princes Askol'd and Dir, although in the opinion of historians, Dir was prince of Kiev somewhat earlier than Askol'd.
      The veneration of the feast of the Robe-placing was known of old in the Russian Church. Saint Andrei Bogoliubsky (+ 1174, Comm. 4 July) erected in the city of Vladimir at the Golden Gates a church in honour of this feastday. At the end of the XIV Century part of the Robe of the Mother of God was transferred from Constantinople to Rus' by Sainted Dionysii, Archbishop of Suzdal' (+ 1385, Comm. 26 June).
      The holy Robe of the Mother of God, earlier having saved the capital of Byzantium, later also saved the capital Moscow from hostilities. Tatars of the Horde of the princeling Mazovshi in the Summer of 1451 approached beneathe the walls of Moscow. Saint Jona, Metropolitan of Moscow, by means of constant prayer and church services encouraged the defenders of the capital. On the night of 2 July, relates the chronicle, great confusion occurred within the Tatar camp. the enemy abandoned their plundered goods and in disarray speedily departed. In memory of the miraculous deliverance of Moscow, the metropolitan Saint Jona erected in the Kremlin the church in honour of the Robe-placing, making it his primary church. It burned, but in its place thirty years afterwards was built in the years 1484-1486 a new church, likewise dedicated to the feast of the Placing of the Robe of the Mother of God. This temple, standing at present, continued to serve as the primary church of Russian metropolitans and patriarchs until the cathedral of the Twelve Apostles was built under patriarch Nikon.

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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