“It seems everybody needs prayer right now,” one parishioner said last week. True. When we look at the past six weeks of parish life, we see families who have negotiated interstate moves to Portland and others making or contemplating substantial moves across town. Three expectant families welcomed new little boys into the world. Others are preparing for surgeries, baptisms, weddings, graduations, beginning the job search process and making changes in their careers in an uncertain economy. Parishioners have been actively providing meals and visitations to those who are healing or house-bound. Our clergy and GOYA group prepared for and participated in a fruitful homebuilding trip at Project Mexico.
While it seems like a lot of activity is taking place, it is not unique to the summer of 2010. New beginnings, hardships and joys are around us all of the time and they all require prayer. Sometimes we are carried off by the adrenaline rush that comes with preparation for these big, life-changing events. It is difficult to stop in the middle of all of this energy and find that quiet peaceful moment to pray. To pray for strength, guidance and mercy. To pray for healing and courage. To pray for patience and greater faith. With so many needs in our lives and in the lives of our families and friends, it is fortunate for us that the Church calls us together during the first fourteen days of August to celebrate the Paraklesis service to the Mother of God.
Paraklesis is the Greek word used for a service of a supplicatory canon. To supplicate or intercede, means to ask something on behalf of someone else. During the Supplicatory Canon we are asking the Theotokos, or Mother of God, to intercede for us before God.
The Theotokos, because she bore God in her womb and raised Him, is closer to Him than any other human being. Although she is not divine herself, she has such boldness before God, that when she pleads with Him on behalf of people or a cause, He listens and saves. We have no accounts of Christ saying to the Theotokos, “No. Let it be.” Instead, He went out of His way to do what she asked. His first miracle was performed at the wedding of Cana to address her concern that the hosts were running out of wine. There is also an account of a monastery where the monks had been lazy and disobedient. This monastery was about to be attacked by violent robbers. Although God was allowing this attack to take place, the Theotokos, who watched over the monastery, chose to warn the monks in a miraculous way. They were able to protect the monastery and themselves from the attack and then repented of their lack of vigilance and reestablished order, giving thanks to the Theotokos for saving them.
In these and numerous other examples, God has shown His Mother to be a merciful helper of all who ask her. This is why we can confidently pray, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” While the ultimate salvation of a man is in the hands of God, if it is the will of the Mother of God that this man should be saved, she will stand as a bold intercessor before God on his behalf.
Some have asked, “Why ask the Theotokos to save us if we can ask Christ Himself?” This is a valid question, though it probably did not occur to earlier generations who were from cultures where the mother’s role was central and intimate. The Church offers another question in response: If there is a powerful son, whom you are afraid (however unnecessarily) to approach within his house, but his virtuous mother is there at the gate with open arms–would you ignore the mother? Would you not throw yourself at the mother’s feet and ask her to help you–to relay your message to the son, to help you to approach the son? Your request to the mother does not diminish the son’s power and authority. On the contrary, it reinforces his authority, for it is only because of her relationship with him that she is able to plead with him on behalf of those who come to her in their weakness.
The relationship between Mother and Son is reason enough to honor the Panagia (Most Holy). Additionally, it is helpful for us to remember that she was invited to bear Christ because her entire life was a pure and holy life–completely dedicated to God. Her parents prayerfully brought her into the world. They nurtured her in the teachings of the Law and the Prophets and sent her to live in the Temple. The Panagia never sinned of her own will, though, being human, she participated in the fallen nature of mankind. It is difficult to imagine never sinning of one’s own will. Instead, we who fall short of the glory of God, multiple times everyday, must practice the art of getting up again and again. Thankfully, we have the Theotokos to help us bear our struggles, anxieties and sorrows.
The Paraklesis is one of the most beautiful services of the Church. Many people have memorized the text and have these consoling words available to pray on any occasion: “Pure one, fill my heart, with a merriment, a happiness. Bestow on me your spotless joy. For you have given birth to Him who is the Cause of joy. Most Holy Theotokos, save us. Deliver all of us from the passions, Theotokos, most pure, for you bore the timeless Deliverer. And you bore the Peace, the Peace which has surpassed all thought.”
As we travel through the beautiful days of July, and enjoy the activities and fellowship that come with summer, we can look forward to the wonderful period of preparation for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, where we are given the opportunity to supplicate her each evening in the Paraklesis service. We all need prayer, and we all need help in drawing closer to Christ – let us run to the Panagia and ask for her intercessions!