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Theotokos, Feast of

Theotokos, Feast of

Q: What is the Feast of the Theotokos, Life-giving Fountain as celebrated on Bright Friday in the eastern tradition?

A: The Feast of Theotokos, Life-giving Fountain, is a feast celebrated from ancient times in the Christian East. It remains a major feast celebrated on Bright Friday in the liturgical cycle of the Eastern Rite Catholic churches and the eastern Orthodox churches, including the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Antiochian (Syrian) Orthodox churches. Also, a note of interest is that the title of the Virgin Mother of God, "Holy Mary, Fountain of Light and Life" is found in the new Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, published in 1992, a feast to be celebrated during Eastertime.

In the eastern tradition, Bright Friday is the Friday following Easter. On this day, eastern Christians recognize the Virgin Mary as mother of the Church - "source" of life for all the faithful who still journey the path of life on earth. New life that flows from the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord is symbolized as water flowing from a fountain or deep well, related to many biblical images. In the ancient East, this idea of new life flowing from Christ through the motherhood of the Theotokos was connected to an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a young prince who sought help for a dying man in a village near Constantinople. This event occurred early in the fifth century, and involved a young man, Markellis, who was to later become Emperor Leo of the Byzantine Empire. In attempting to find water for the dying man, he heard the voice of the Virgin calling him to a spring-fed well. Markellis was aware that it was Theotokos offering water and subsequent healing to this suffering man. A shrine was established at the site later producing many claims of miracles and healings. In the eleventh century, Emperor Justinian was reportedly healed of a strange sickness and, as appreciation, erected a large church called the "Life-giving Spring," Even in this day, pilgrims can visit the site outside the city of Istanbul. Monasteries and churches throughout the East have taken the name of "Life-giving Spring," also the site of pilgrimage and reported healings.

Recently, a fine English translation of the liturgy for the Feast of the Life-giving Spring has become available, called The Pentecostarion, translated from the Greek by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston, Massachusetts, 1990. The Pentecostarion is a liturgical book which covers the liturgical season from Pascha (Easter) to Pentecost, and, therefore, includes the Feast of the Life-giving Fountain.

Among the liturgical prayers and hymns for the Feast are the following (most of which is attributed to a monk by the name, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos):

"Now dost thou gush forth grace for me, O Virgin Theotokos of the Spring, thereby granting me eloquence, that I may praise thy Spring, which poureth forth life and grace for the faithful; for thou didst cause the Enhypostatic Word to flow forth (Canon of the Theotokos, Pentecostarion, p. 55)."

"Pouring forth the water as though it were a compound of medicine, O Spring, thou dost impart healings unto all the faithful, to kings and common people, paupers and rulers, to poor and rich alike (p. 55)."

- Virginia Kimball, Merrimack College, No. Andover, MA

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