Celebrations at Gethsemane Convent
August is the month of celebration for Gethsemane: August 4 (July
22), is the feast day of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Equal-to-the-Apostles.
This year, a group of pilgrims from Germany visited to share in
this celebration, led by His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin
and Germany. Three years ago, Vladyka Mark worked on composing the
service of St. Mary Magdalene. In the mineion is a simple service
for this great pleaser-of-God, devoted disciple of Christ, "first
to see the Divine Resurrection." Previously, we had to repeat
the same sticheron over and over again. Through the labor of Vladyka
Mark, the service is now adorned with many stichera, sedalens and
troparia and is a worthy laudation of the holy Myrrh-bearer. The
celebrations were solemn and quiet.
Today was a true celebration—the day of the Hodigitria [Protectress],
the Mother of God, whose miraculous icon is kept in our church.
The Icon of the Hodigitria arrived in Gethsemane in the 16th century
in miraculous fashion. In 1939, Metropolitan Elias of Lebanon had
a vision from above: three times in his sleep he saw the Holy Great
Martyrs Catherine and Barbara and imparted to him the will of the
Queen of Heaven in regard to the icon of the Hodigitria, which Vladyka
Elias kept in his cell. The Holy Martyrs said that this Icon was
to be given to Abbess Maria in Palestine. Since the 16th century,
the Icon was in the Lebanese town of Rihania and was glorified by
many miracles: one time, a church burned to the ground, but the
Holy Gifts and the Icon remained unharmed. The Icon was then given
the title: "Unburning Bush." When a terrible plague struck
Lebanon, believers turned to the Mother of God for help. Bishops
and clergymen conducted processions of the cross through diseased
neighborhoods, carrying the Icon of the Hodigitria, and where the
procession past, the epidemic immediately ceased. Witnessing this
miracle, the Church granted the Icon the additional name of "Healer."
People began to gather in enormous masses to pray before it, receiving
speedy help in accordance with their faith and prayers. And so the
Icon was given a third honorific, "Speedy Intercessor."
The Icon remained in Rihania and was greatly honored by the Orthodox
populace. When Archbishop Elias was appointed Metropolitan of Lebanon,
he traveled throughout his diocese, and of course stopped in Rihania.
Metropolitan Elias especially revered the Most-Holy Mother of God.
The name of Vladyka Elias (Karama) is closely bound with the salvation
of Russia during the Second World War. When in 1941, Hitler neared
Moscow and was already viewing the city through binoculars, Vladyka
Elias went into seclusion for three days. Through fasting and weeping
prayer, he asked for help for Russia, understanding that her salvation
held the key to the fate of the whole world. It was revealed to
him how Moscow could be saved from the fascists. He quickly sent
a telegram to Stalin, in which he insisted that the Kremlin churches
be opened, that a procession of the cross be made with the miracle-working
Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Stalin heeded the words of the
bishop. Moscow was saved.
the conclusion of the festal liturgy, Archbishop Mark of Berlin,
Germany and Great Britain led a moleben and procession of the cross.
So the residents of Rihania, seeing the piety of Vladyka before
their Icon, decided to give it to him. Vladyka Elias was stunned
and moved, seeing that they were prepared to part with their treasure.
But they insisted, saying that this was the will of the Most-Pure
Virgin herself, asking only that he not forget them in his prayers
before it. Vladyka then accepted the Icon with great joy and gratitude.
From then on he served a moleben and akathist before it every day.
And so this miraculous, ancient Icon of the Most-Holy Mother of
God willed that it be given to our convent, which had only begun
its existence. The first superior of Gethsemane Convent was Abbess
Maria, a Scot by birth. In 1936, she began the construction of Bethany
School and at the same time began buildings in Gethsemane. Three
years later, Mother Maria received a telegram with a plea to come
to Beirut for the transfer of the holy Icon. The Icon arrived in
Gethsemane two days before Lazarus Saturday, the feast day of Bethany,
and immediately a series of miracles occurred. The first moleben
was served by a priest, Fr. Seraphim. Lately the kind father had
been asking everyone to pray for him to live to see the holy Resurrection
of Christ. He was deathly ill and suffered a great deal from colon
cancer. Suddenly, during a moleben, he turned and said aloud: "This
icon works miracles; power is emanating from it, and I feel that
I am no longer sick!" All the nuns began to cry. Fr. Seraphim
lived another 10 years, during which time he did not cease serving.
The next day, entering the church, the nuns saw that the icon was
"renewed," which until then had been dark, but now was
bright and clean. On Lazarus Saturday, the Icon was taken to Bethany,
where it was placed in the cave church. When this chapel was still
being built, its central wall had a niche for an icon. It remained
empty, since there was no icon for it, and Mother Maria would say:
"Don't worry, the Most-Holy Mother of God will give us an icon
Herself." The cave church was dedicated to the Mother of God.
And so it was. On Lazarus Saturday, a great many people came to
Bethany, among them a woman with a five-year-old boy who was completely
paralyzed. Mother Maria said to her: "Come closer and kiss
the icon. The Most-Holy Mother of God will help you." About
two weeks later, the woman returned, leading her healthy son by
the hand. She said that after earnest prayer, she anointed the boy
with oil from the lampada which burned at the Icon. The next day,
he felt better, and now was completely whole.
The Hodigitria Icon was taken back to Gethsemane before Pascha.
Here on the night of Passion Friday to Saturday, the Icon completely
renewed its features and colors, and remains thus until today. Many
other miracles are attributed to the Icon as well, too many to enumerate.
nuns escort the miracle-working icon.
According to tradition, on the feast day of the Hodigitria, after
liturgy, we begin a procession of the cross around the entire monastery.
The Icon is carried in turn by two nuns of the convent. Believers
pass underneath the Icon. At the grave of Mother Maria, we pause
for the reading of the Gospel. A group of German pilgrims once again
prayed with us during this holiday. This year is the 65th anniversary
of the arrival of the icon in Gethsemane. Vladyka Mark gave an insightful
sermon on the Most-Holy Mother of God. During the great entrance,
His Eminence Metropolitan Elias was commemorated. Eternal memory
to him! The holiday was a true celebration. All sensed joy and spiritual
uplifting. This we wished to share with you. Come to the Holy City
of Jerusalem. Here among the great holy sites of Christianity, do
not forget to visit the church of St. Mary Magdalene. On the right,
in a carved wooden frame, you will see the wondrous icon of the
Mother of God, the Hodigitria, the Unburning Bush, the Healer, the
Speedy Intercessor. The Most-Holy Mother of God mercifully looks
upon us from her icons and will soon hear the prayers of all who
appeal to her with faith and love. Most-Holy Mother of God, save