The date of the saint is somewhat uncertain. The Bollandists place her death on 1 April, 421, while many other authorities put it a century later. The Greek Church celebrates her feast on 1 April, while the Roman Martyrology assigns it to 2 April, and the RomanCalendar to 3 April. The Greek date is more likely to be correct; the others may be due to the fact that on those days portions of her relics reached the West. Relics of the saint are venerated at Rome, Naples, Cremona, Antwerp, and some other places. In The Orthodox Church, she is also commemorated on the fifth Sunday in Great Lent due to her recognition by the Church as a model of repentance.
When she was 12 years old, she moved from Egypt to the city of Alexandria and worked as a prostitute for 17 years. She joined a large group that was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of The Exaltation of The Holy Cross. With the intention of luring others into sexual sin, she followed the crowd as it was headed to the Church in order to venerate the relic of The True Cross. When she got near the door of the church, a mysterious force prevented her from entering, pushing her back whenever she approached. After trying to enter several times, Mary moved to a corner of the churchyard and was filled with a sense of remorse for her sins. As she was crying, she saw a statue of The Virgin Mary and she prayed to The Holy Mother for the permission to enter the church for the purpose of venerating the relic. She promised the Virgin Mother, she would renounce the world and its ways. Mary of Egypt was then able to enter the church, as the mysterious force no longer held her back. After she venerated the relic, she returned to the statue outside and prayed for guidance. She heard a voice telling her to cross the Jordan river and then she would find rest. She did as told and arrived at the Jordan, where she received communion at a church dedicated to St. John The Baptist. The next day she crossed the river and lived in the desert alone for 47 years. Then, while making his Lenten retreat, a priest named Zosimus found her. She asked him to return to the banks of the Jordan on Holy Thursday of the following year and to bring her Communion. The priest was true to his word and returned bearing the Eucharist. Mary told him to come back again the next year, but to the place where he had originally met her. When Zosimus returned in a year’s time, he found Mary’s corpse. On the ground beside it was a written request that she be buried accompanied by a statement that she had died the previous year, in 421 A.D., on the very night she had received Holy Communion.
The Protection of the Mother of God is one of the most beloved feast days on the Orthodox calendar among the Slavic peoples, commemorated on October 1. The feast is celebrated additionally on October 28 in the Greek tradition. It is also known as the feast of the Virgin Mary’s Cerement.
In most Slavic languages the word “cerement” has a dual meaning of “veil” and “protection.” The Russian word Pokrov (Покров), like the Greek Skepi (Σκέπη), has a complex meaning. First of all, it refers to a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession. For this reason, the name of the feast is variously translated as the Veil of Our Lady, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, the Protection of the Theotokos, or the Intercession of the Theotokos.
The story has it that on October 1st, 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, an all-night vigil was being held at the Blachernae Church of the Mother of God in Constantinople, with many of the faithful crowding the church. St Andrew the Fool for Christ (commemorated tomorrow, October 2nd) was standing at the back of the church with his disciple Epiphanius. At around four in the morning, the most holy Theotokos appeared above the people, clothed in resplendent garments, surrounded by indescribable radiance, and holding a veil in her outstretched hands, as though to protect all the people. St Andrew said to Epiphanius ‘Do you see how the Queen and Lady of all is praying for the whole world?’ Epiphanius replied ‘Yes, Father, I see it and stand in dread.’ This wonderful event is recorded in Epiphanius’ life of St Andrew. Because of it, the Church keeps an annual feast on this date.
The Feast of The Dormition of The Most Holy Mother Of God (The Theotokos) is celebrated is celebrated on August 15 each year. The Feast commemorates the repose (dormition and in the Greek kimisis) or “falling-asleep” of the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Feast also commemorates the translation or assumption into heaven of the body of the Theotokos.
On the Cross, the Lord charged “the apostle He loved” (considered by tradition to be the Apostle John) to care for His holy Mother. After having been settled by the Apostle in a house in Jerusalem, The holy Mother lived for the rest of her days on earth, praying and offering counsel and encouragement to the Apostles.
It is unknown how old she was when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and told her that in three days’ time she would enter into her rest, but many say that she was about 60 years old. After receiving the news from the Archangel, The holy Mother gave thanks to God and hastened to the Mount of Olives, where she prayed continually, preparing herself to meet the Lord.
Meanwhile, the Apostles, scattered in various parts of the earth, were caught up in clouds and miraculously brought by the holy Angels to Jerusalem, so that they might all be with the Theotokos at her repose. After she had blessed them, she gave up her soul to God. The Apostles buried her with all honor, solemnity and joy at Gethsemane.
The Apostle Thomas was delayed by God’s providence, and arrived on the third day. The other apostles went with him to her tomb, intending to honor her. But when the Apostles opened her grave, they found her holy body gone and only the winding-sheet remaining. That evening the Theotokos appeared to them surrounded by angels, and said to them, ‘Rejoice: I will be with you always!’. Thus they learned that she had been bodily translated to heaven, anticipating the general resurrection of all.
If you want to read more about the Icon of The Feast of The Dormition of The Mother Of God, I invite you to read this article. More information about the appearance and the personality of The Holy Theotokos can be found here.
Father Protosyncellus Gherontie Puiu was one of the most representative Romanian Orthodox priests of the past half a century. The founder of the Caraiman monastery, which is situated at the feet of the Caraiman mountain, in the Buşteni resort, near the river Prahova, Fr. Gherontie spent his later years in a humble cell within the monastery.
Fr. Gherontie Puiu was born in 1933, in Todireşti, not far away from Paşcani. His mother died at birth in the hospital of Ruginoasa, his father had abandoned his family some time before his birth, and the midwife who helped deliver him, thinking that the baby would not survive, abandoned him in a washing bowl among the trash piles on the shore of a nearby river. A woman from the village, who was passing by, having discovered the child, felt compassion and decided to take him home. He was adopted by the woman and her husband (Puiu Petrache), named “Gheorghe” and raised with love as if he was their own child.
When World War II started, Ilie Petrache, the family’s eldest son, was drafted. Around this time, the child (Gheorghe) had a dream. A young woman appeared to him in the dream, dressed in shining monastic clothes (later identified as the Holy Blessed Virgin Mary) and told him that he would be protected and that his father would return home after a a long period spent in captivity. The child didn’t understand this word, but he took it to heart. After almost twelve years, time during which he had been a war prisoner in Russia, brother Ilie returned home. After having married, Ilie adopted Gheorghe when the latter was almost 20 years old. It was also around that age that Gheorghe was baptized.
The priest recalled said moment in later interviews and writings: “When I put on the fiery clothes of the Baptism, I felt like another person. I was overwhelmed by an immeasurable joy, one which I was attempting to understand. While exiting the holy place, on the porch steps, I saw that wonderful being once again. She was standing near the gate and looking me straight in the eyes. No one but me could see her! This time it wasn’t a dream, but a real apparition. She spoke to me, with a heavenly voice: Have faith and go to the monastery. I will guide you. You are chosen for a mission. The ageless Reverend Mother (nun) had the most beautiful face I had ever gazed upon. Starting from that moment I understood that it was the Holy Mother Of God.”
Straight away, young Gheorghe embraced the monastic life, becoming an apprentice of Father Pâslaru, the Reverend Father from the Neamţ Monastery. Until the year 1959, the young man was a mere monk, as the Communist regime prohibited monastic tonsures. After 1959, when many monks were taken out of monasteries, brother Gherontie (a.n.: he had changed his name from Gheorghe to Gherontie, a common practice in Orthodox monasticism) had managed to flee by using the window as an escape route. Later, having been caught by the Communist secret police officers, he was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in the concentration camp in Periprava.
From the Periprava camp, Fr. Gherontie escaped once more, with the help of a brigadier, who sent him to Tulcea, so that he may find it easier to get away. The Father recalled that moment as follows: “While I was on a pretty crowded street, I thought I saw the Holy Mother Of God on the other sidewalk. I heard her voice very clearly: Start walking right this moment, cross the street and get inside the truck. Truly, a large car stopped, without me having hailed or anything. He got off the car in Timişul de Sus, from where he hiked towards the Bucegi mountains’ upland. There, he spent ten years in self-imposed austerity, taking refuge in a cave, praying and fasting.
While living as a hermit, looking up at the cross at the top of the Caraiman peak, the Father made a promise to the Mother Of God – that he would build a monastery in her honor. The Father recalls this: “I swore to the Holy Mother Of God that, if I were to return into the world safely, I would build a monastery dedicated to the Ascension Of The Holy Cross; from its yard people will be able to see the cross at the top of the Caraiman mountain peak.”
In 1970, after ten years of living as a hermit, Fr. Gherontie returned home. Meanwhile, having assumed that he had died, his (adoptive) mother had made a grave in his memory and had prepared the traditional Orthodox memorial services for him.
After 1989, Fr. Gherontie returned to the Neamţ monastery, where he received his monastic tonsure and entered the Seminary of Theology despite the fact that his previous education consisted of only elementary school. Then, in 1992, after having served as a deacon for a week, he was ordained a priest. He served the required forty Holy Liturgies in the Neamţ monastery, after which he was sent to serve in the Baiceni skit, where he was promoted to Reverend Father (abbot).
In 1995, while he was sitting in the confessional, at the Cetăţuia monastery in Iaşi, Fr. Gherontie suffered a stroke, falling down due to temporary paralysis. After being taken to the Tătăraşi hospital, the priest often heard the Holy Mother’s voice telling him: You have one more toll-house. After three months, the priest was sent to a sanatorium in Sinaia. According to the tests and investigations they performed on him, the medical team concluded that he would need several years to make a full recovery.
However, the priest stayed only one day in the Sinaia sanatorium. The Holy Mother Of God appeared to Him and told him: I’ve brought you here with a mission! Remember that! Rise, for you are not sick! After she said those words three times, The Holy Mother added: You will find a fir with six branches near a stream, on a land from where the great Cross, at which you made the oath, can be seen. That’s where you have to build the monastery! The next day, getting out of bed, the priest could move freely, without any sign of paralysis.
After much research, the mayor of Buşteni told the priest that he can offer him some space in the Palanca glade. A fir with six branches was in the middle of the glade and the Cross at the top of the Caraiman peak could be seen from there in all its beauty. The Holy Mother Of God showed the priest that that was indeed the correct spot and that he should build the promised monastery there.
In 1996, the priest first build a wooden house in the glade, then a small church. With God’s mercy and the Holy Mother’s intercession, Fr. Gherontie Puiu built a great, beautiful monastery there. The priest used to teach everyone who came seeking his advice to say the following prayer:
Lord, bring all my enemies back to goodness and prayer! Amen.
This prayer was revealed to him on a piece of paper in a night. The story of how it was revealed to him is told in the following video, which I have translated in English below:
“One night, I woke up with a small piece of paper in my hand. I never found out who wrote it and how I came into its possession. It was written on a regular piece of paper, but the writing was not very legible. I could hardly understand what it said, as if it had been written with Chinese characters. After I managed to decipher it, I realized that it contained a prayer. This one: God, bring all my enemies back to goodness and prayer! Amen. It also said that it should be said in faith 30 times a day, for 40 days, and that it would grant any wish to the person who does so. Please, all of you who have any kind of troubles, say this prayer 30 times a day for 40 days, and the Holy Mother Of God will accomplish miracles.”