Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite (Photo by Gregory Scott)
"We have chosen, at the aspect of a bleak horizon, eclipsed by cold rejections, a sure defense. Sisters and brothers, it is not a sword, strong and adamantine, flashing imperiously, dominating across the ages.
"No, it is this bridal veil, gossamer like a web of cosmic string, shimmering as simple simultaneous noetic light, flashing and glimmering to dull wits like me but invisible to those who applaud the emperor's new clothes.
"It is this meek veil that is our protection: let us shroud ourselves in her beauty. Let us speak this peace. Let us relearn the symbols, rehearse the comedy, let us walk on the paths of righteousness, let us seek and hunger for it, and drink from the cool waters.
"Let us desire God and want Him, and not dread Him as sword-wielder, but as the Poet of the great pastures.
“Here is her Veil, let us venture forth into the strange horizon and the unsettling air, for we start out under this patronage, and when we cross into tomorrow and look upward, behold, the Veil is there, still, glimmering in peace and joy."
-- from the unpublished Diary of a Post-Urban Priest
Toward the end of the 10th Century, a pagan Russian fleet, commanded by Askole and Dir, sailed up against the walls of Constantinople. The threat was obvious. The pagan Russians wanted to invade and loot this beautiful place that they called “the City of Gold.”
The city was wrapped in fear. If the invasion would succeed, many of the citizens would die, the beauty of the town would be ransacked by violent barbarians. Many of the survivors -- especially the women and children -- would be carted off to slavery in horrible conditions.
So in their felt weakness, the City prayed. People especially flocked to a large church near the northern walls -- the Church of Blachernae. This church housed the Robe of the Theotokos, along with her Veil and part of her belt that had been transferred from Palestine in the 5th century.
In one of the prayer services (we would recognize them as “Molebens”), St Andrei Yurodivyi, along with his disciple St Epiphanius and a group of people witnessed an astounding, beautiful Vision. They saw the Theotokos, St John the Forerunner and other saints and angels. The Theotokos herself entered into the center of the church, knelt down, and prayed for a long time, weeping with many tears. She then took off her Veil (the white cloth in the icon) and seemed to spread it over all the people.
Soon thereafter, the danger threatening the City disappeared. The fleet of the pagan, barbarian Russians scattered. The City was spared.
It is important to know that the Vision of St Andrei and others was not a hallucination or mirage. “Vision” in Orthodoxy means perceiving something that is even more real than what we can sense with vision, touch, hearing, smell. We should also know that St Andrei was a Slav himself (and there were many Slavs in this part of the Byzantine Empire). His second name, “Yurodivyi,” means “fool for Christ” -- our own modern cruel society would have called him “crazy,” but the wiser Orthodox society saw him correctly as a wise prophet.
And one last thing to know: the Feast that commemorations this miraculous Protection of Constantinople by the Mother of God is celebrated mainly in Russian and Slavic Churches.
It’s as if the beaten barbarian hordes, once they were converted to Christianity, were astounded by this Lady, and humbled by the might of her protection …
… the might and strength of which lay not in swords and spears, chariots and cavalry and warships.
No, the Protection of the Mother of God that is symbolized in her Veil is her Prayer, and the Prayer of all the Saints and the Church.
Only Prayer can change Time. Only Prayer can take a dark horizon of danger and anxiety, and recognize the reality that our God is an awesome God Who works miracles and wonders.
* * * * * * *
The implications of the Feast of the Protective Veil are obvious.
You need to be foolish like St Andrei Yurodvyi, and see things they way they really are, instead of seeing things practically or “realistically.” If you’re depressed or pessimistic or hopeless, then you’re at least myopic, if not completely blind. Being foolish is better than being so realistic you cannot see transcendent beauty.
We are not surrounded by pagan Russians (they became Orthodox under Cyril and Methodius and Vladimir the Great). But we are challenged now by modern insidious adversaries (who are not always so obvious). They are spiritual, and they are dark. We do not fight flesh and blood.
We are reminded at this Feast that the Mother of God still weeps. Look at her icons at St George’s in Taylor: if she weeps so profusely, then we need to believe confidently in the power of her intercession, and that of the Saints. And we need to mature as adult Orthodox faithful and take up our responsibility and intercede, too, for salvation, for healing and for peace.
Let us stop being worried and afraid. Let us have faith, pray, and walk far into the horizon. Time is God's, and ours, to change.