Ukraine celebrates the blessed Virgin Mary’s protection – and its defenders and defendresses

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14 October is the Day of the Defenders and Defendresses of Ukraine, intentionally matched with the Feast of Pokrova, remembering the intercession of mother of Jesus during a 9th century Kievan siege of Constantinople.
Photo: Galinfo.com.ua

Photo: Galinfo.com.ua

«The Pokrova covers the grass with leaves, the ground with snow, the water with ice, and the girls with a wedding wreath.»

The Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Intercession, or Pokrova in Ukrainian – is celebrated in Ukraine every year on October 14. It’s considered one of the most revered in Christianity here, where, whether Christians align with Constantinople in the east or Rome in the west, they mostly follow the holidays and calendar of the former.

Since 1999, the feast of the Intercession (called Theotokos in Greek) is celebrated in Ukraine as the Day of the Ukrainian Cossacks. Traditionally, it’s believed that the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was formed on Pokrova in 1942, so annually, October 14 is its anniversary. The guerilla army fought against the Soviets, Nazis, and Communist Poland. 

Since 2015, by the decree of then-President Poroschenko, the Day of the Defender of Ukraine has been appointed on the feast of the Intercession. This year, however, the name of the holiday was slightly changed, as today, we will celebrate the «Day of Defenders and Defendresses of Ukraine» for the first time: a chance to honor those who have defended and who continue to defend Ukraine, including in the current eastern war with Russia-backed forces. 

The most notable memories from the feast’s history:

On this holiday, according to legend, in the year 860 the army of the ancient Rus’–predecessors of modern Ukrainians–led by Kievan prince Askold laid siege to the center of Orthodoxy – Constantinople, trying to capture the city. Residents of the Byzantine capital in fervent prayer appealed to the Mother of God for salvation. And the Blessed Virgin, according to the stories, appeared before the people and covered them with her veil (omophorion). As a result, the enemies could no longer see these people.

According to some historical sources, Askold and his warriors were impressed so much that they decided to receive baptism and became Christians.

According to another version, the inspiration for the holiday was the vision of Andrew the Fool for Christ during the siege of Constantinople. A Slav living in the imperial capital, he and others saw the Blessed Virgin Mary surrounded by angels in a church and she pledged to take the city under her protection – cover («pokrov» in ancient Ukrainian). After that, the enemy forces retreated, and the city was saved.

Traditions:

The period of courtship and preparation for weddings, which began after the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (August 28 in Ukraine), ended before the Intercession.

By the beginning of October, all the most important rural works on the land (including winter sowing) usually ended in Ukraine. The harvest (which meant wealth) and more free time gave people the opportunity for weddings. This is the most auspicious time for these ceremonies, the beginning of vechornytsi (traditional parties of Ukrainian youth). 

There were many proverbs, sayings and songs about the Intercession. «What weather is on Pokrova, so will be in the winter»; «If by this day, the leaves do not fall from the cherries – it’s the sign for a warm winter»; «The Intercession has come – sit, chumache, at home» [chumak was a person engaged in bringing salt from the Southern Ukraine to different regions]; «The pokrova covers the grass with leaves, the ground with snow, the water with ice, and the girls with a wedding wreath.»

The holiday is commemorated in the churches of Lviv, and with special events to honor the Defenders and Defendresses of Ukraine, past and present. You can read more about the holiday here.

Situated between east and west, Lviv is the world’s largest majority Greek Catholic city, with most of its churches eastern in style and calendar (two weeks behind the west) but in communion with the Holy See in Rome and global Catholicism. 

Translated by Vitalii Holich

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