In the western Church, we’re familiar with many of Mary’s apparitions and miracles. But our Church is broader than the face we see most often. Pope John Paul II referred to the “two lungs” of the Church – east and west. Our Byzantine Catholic brothers and sisters have a plethora of Marian devotions to share with us. Many of which are ideally suited to the unstable climate we find ourselves in today.
If you’ve never encountered the Mother of God as she presents herself to the Eastern lung of our universal church, let me introduce you to three of my favorite Marian devotions, ideal for our current climate.
The Virgin of the Three Hands
When I’m feeling overwhelmed and the outside world is seeping in through the cracks of my little domestic monastery, I turn to Our Lady as she sits in the wonder-working Icon of the Panagia Tricherousa.
Known more casually as the Three-Handed Virgin, the Panagia Tricherousa is an Icon of gratitude and trust.
The Icon came to be in the 8th century when St. John of Damascus lost his hand during the Iconoclast controversy. He petitioned the Mother of God for healing and she restored his severed hand.
In thanksgiving, St. John attached a silver hand to the Icon. The original Icon resides in the Serbian monsastery of Mount Athos. Other Tricherousa Icons have been written with three hands since that time, and the Virgin of the Three Hands is a patroness of extreme need and over-burdened hearts.
Defender and healer in times of deep anxiety or desperate need, the Tricherousa cradles her son with one hand, points Him out to us with another, and the third is waiting. An eternal welcome, the third hand is full of maternal tenderness. Will you crawl into it and let her cradle you as well? Will you hand over your trauma and fears?
“Knowing Thee to be the comforter of the sorrowful and healer of souls and bodies, we are truly aware that nothing is impossible for Thee: Glory to Thee, O Queen of Heaven.”
The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God
Devotion to the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God began in the 10th century in Constantinople. Since then the image of Mary spreading her cloak wide to cover the faithful has been beloved by Catholics in both the west and the east.
I pray to Mother Cover daily. Devotion to the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God (commonly known as Matushka Prokov, or “Mother Cover”) was inspired by an apparition of the Blessed Virgin. appeared to a crowd in her Basilica as they gathered to pray that the invading army might turn away from their city.
Witnesses report seeing the Virgin pray at the altar for the city and then spread her cloak over the faithful, shielding them from harm.
Just as at the miracle of Lepanto, the invaders were unexpectedly defeated and the faithful were saved. But the devotion to Mother Cover expands to any danger – from bitterly cold temperatures to famine and disease, to persecution.
Re-echoing the Troparion proclaimed on her feast day in Byzantine Churches around the world, the prayer I recite begs Mary to spread her protecting veil over all the faithful as we struggle through the battles and fears that surround us.
“Encompass us beneath the precious veil of your Protection;
Deliver us from every form of evil by entreating Christ, your Son and our God, that He may save our souls.”
The Rule of the Theotokos
It’s difficult to share devotions to Mary without discussing the Rosary. The Mother of God has requested that we pray the Rosary daily and entrust the world to her through those prayers.
Western Catholics aren’t the only ones with a devotion to Mary through the Rosary. In the Eastern lung of the Church, the Rule of the Theotokos is a similar, deeply meditative devotion that sprang up among the desert fathers in the 8th century and was renewed in the 18th century by St. Seraphim of Sarov.
Just as she entreats us to pray the Rosary in the Western Church, the Blessed Mother begs Eastern Catholics to incorporate the Rule of the Theotokos into daily life. Like the original rosary, prior to the introduction of the Luminous Mysteries, the Rule has us praying 150 Angelic Salutations, divided into 15 decades. A separate prayer follows each decade.
The meditations that accompany the Rule are different than the Rosary’s meditations. If you’re Latin rite Catholic with little exposure to the Byzantine Church, the rule may help you approach Mary with new eyes and connect more deeply to the life of the Theotokos. If you’re a Byzantine Catholic who’s lost this tradition, consider re-embracing it.
Both the Rosary and the Rule fill history with their miracles. These deeply meditative devotions are an ideal way to calm our hearts and focus our eyes on Christ and His Mother:
“Beneath thy compassion we take refuge, O Theotokos; despise not our supplications in time of trouble, but deliver us from dangers, O only pure, only blessed one.
O most glorious, Ever-virgin Mary, Mother of Christ our God: accept our prayers and present them to thy Son and our God; that he may, for thy sake, enlighten and save our souls.”
You may be feeling concerned and fearful. You may be isolated from your neighbors and even from the Sacraments. But allow the Blessed Mother to remind you that Christ never abandons you.
Turn to His Mother. Beneath her compassion take refugee. The Mother of God has found so many ways to reach out to her children. If one of these ancient and beautiful Byzantine devotions speaks to you, embrace it and allow the Mother of God to heal your soul and body.
To the Theotokos, let us run now most fervently,
As sinners and lowly ones,
Let us fall down in repentance,
Crying from the depths of our souls:
Lady, come and help us!
It seems like every election year, we’re handed a plague as well. But this spring, with panic sweeping the nation and local shops running low on supplies, illness and fear are shaking our world a little more than usual.
As we walk through these next few weeks, trying to separate prudential precautions from paranoia, there are saints and devotions that can walk that path alongside us.
The world is continually in upheaval, this most recent struggle isn’t as new as it seems. Whether it’s an uncertain political climate, the fear of disease, or just the continual uncertainty we feel in the face of an increasingly hostile planet, the saints have been there again and again. They’re continually holding out their hands to guide us on the journey.
Of course, there is no saint who stands closer or has guided up through more than the Mother of God. In times of plague, war, uncertainty, and natural disaster, the Blessed Virgin is a powerful presence in the world. She steps in to heal, guard, reprimand, and reassure her children.