On July 2, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Placing of the Honorable Robe of the Theotokos in Blachernae. During the reign of the Emperor Leo the Great (457-474), two brothers, Galbius and Candidus, set out from Constantinople to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage.
They stayed with an old widow who was a Christian of Jewish background. In her house, the widow had a small shrine in one of her rooms. In that room, many lamps were lit and incense was burning. Many sick people were also gathered there to seek healing. Yet, the widow did not want to tell the brothers what the room contained. However, the brothers were persistent in their inquiry and she finally told them. In that room contained the precious Robe of the Theotokos which performed many miracles and healings.
The Theotokos, before Her Dormition, bestowed one of her garments to a pious Jewish virgin who was an ancestor of the widow. The Theotokos told the virgin to leave the Robe to another virgin after her death.
So for nearly five hundred years the Robe was preserved from generation to generation. The two brothers then took the Robe enclosed in a jeweled chest to Constantinople. For this great event, a new church in honor of the Theotokos was built in Blachernae. Blachernae is in the northwest section of Constantinople by the Bosporus.
On June 2, 458 Patriarch Gennadius transferred the sacred Robe in a solemn procession into the Blachernae church. Afterwards, both the outer garment of the Theotokos along with Her Belt were also put into the reliquary along with Her Robe. The deposition of the outer garment and Belt of the Theotokos were deposited into a Church named after Her in the Chalcopratia section of Constantinople. The Feast commemorating this event is celebrated on August 31. The Theotokos has been reckoned as the Protectress of Constantinople. There were many instances where Her intercessions have spared the City from devastation.
In the year 626, the Avars attempted to invade the City. Patriarch Sergius along with the clergy marched along the great walls of Constantinople with an icon of the Theotokos in hand. Soon after, a sudden, massive hurricane destroyed most of the enemy’s fleet.
The faithful spent the whole night thanking and praising the Theotokos for Her intercessions. They stood the whole night in unceasing prayer. It is for this reason the hymn became known as Akathistos, “not seated.” The Akathist is divided into four stanzas, each stanza being chanted on the first four Fridays of Great Lent. On the fifth Friday, the Akathist is sung in its entirety. The Hymn which is actually a devotional poem, was composed by St. Romanos the Melodist.
The City was spared again by Her intercessions from the Persians in 677 and the Arabs in 717. Around the mid 9th Century, a massive Russian fleet entered into the Golden Horn and threatened Constantinople. The Emperor Michael III prayed all night by the Church of the Theotokos at Blachernae. Patriarch Photius urged the faithful to repent for their sins and seek the intercessions of the Holy Virgin. The Robe of the Theotokos was taken out from the Church and carried in a procession around the city walls. The faithful dipped the edge of the Robe into the Bosporus and then transferred it to Hagia Sophia.
Miraculously the Russians were pushed back and once again the City was saved by the intercessions of the Theotokos. It was on July 2 that the Robe was once again returned back to the Church in Blachernae. In remembrance of these events, Patriarch Photius established this annual feast day.
The healing power of a garment is mentioned in the Gospel: and suddenly , a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.”
(Mt 9:21) Again , when Christ and His disciples came to the land of Gennesaret: they brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.
(Mt 14: 35-36)
The pure and true tabernacle of God the Logos, the animate cloud, and the jar of Manna, Mary the Theotokos: let us all who were saved by her child in faith call her blessed; and let us carress her august Garment in which she wrapped the Master and held Him as an infant, when He had put on flesh. Through her, our human nature was lifted to supernal life and kingdom. Therefore in a loud voice we cry out to her with joy: Rejoice, O Virgin, the boast of Christians everywhere (Festal Oikos of Matins).
It is not the actual garment that heals, rather the healing of Christ Himself through the garment. It is Christ who heals. The Theotokos and the Saints supplicate before the Lord, so that He may heal. The garments of the Theotokos are sacred because they touched Her Body which contained the Logos Himself. The Theotokos is more honored than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, since only She contained Christ inside Her womb. The garment is sanctified the same way the temple sanctifies the gold. (Mt 23:17)
Ever-virgin Theotokos, the shelter of mankind, you have given to your City as a protective wall the clothing and garment that you wore on your immaculate body. By your seedless childbirth, they have remained incorrupt. For in you both nature and time are made novel. Therefore we implore you, grant peace to your commonwealth, and great mercy to our souls (Festal Apolytikion).
O Most Holy Theotokos, save us!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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