OCTOBER 1/OCTOBER 28th: THE HOLY PROTECTION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD “AGHIA SKEPI”
While we know that OXI day on October 28th commemorates the big fat “NO!” the Greek leader Metaxas gave to Mussolini for the ultimatum given to Greece, that they should allow the Italian Fascists to walk across the country or else, did you know that it is also the commemoration of one of the most beloved feasts of the Orthodox calendar–the Protection of the Holy Mother of God? The story goes like this.
During an all-night vigil service to the Theotokos on October 1, 911 in the Blachernae Monastery in Constantinopole under the Emperor Leo the Wise, the Mother of God appeared along with St John the Baptist and some other saints. The Blachernae Palace church was where many of her relics were kept, especially her robe, veil, and part of her belt that had been moved from Palestine during the fifth century. This miraculous account was recorded in the history and life of St. Anthony-the-Fool-for-Christ. But he was not the only witness. The entire congregation at the vigil recounted how they saw the Mother of God come in from the gate, kneel in the middle of the church and pray for a long time with tears streaming down her cheeks. After this, she was seen to unwrap her “girdle” (not the kind that keeps your muffin top in place, but the old word for “zoni” or belt) or veil and cover the people in an act of symbolic protection. The Orthodox Church transferred the feast day from the 1st to the 28th of October in honor of the Virgin’s protection of the Greek army in Albania at the onset of WWII in 1940.
The current feast is celebrated by chanting the great “To Thee Oh Champion Leader” hymn. It is an especially well-loved holiday in the Slavic nations.