The “Unexpected Joy” – a miracle of the Mother of God

Christ is Risen! Христос воскресе! Hristos a înviat! Χριστός ἀνέστη!

As we celebrated the Divine Liturgy in Cheltenham today, our thoughts were very much with Mother Melangell, as she celebrated the altar-feast of her skete, named for the icon of the Mother of God, “Unexpected Joy”.

The story of this icon appears in The Fleece Bedewed, by St Dimitri of Rostov: a work which describes various miracles of the Mother of God.

The icon “Unexpected Joy” actually consists of an icon within an icon, with words of dialogue and narration often woven into its design.

We see a young man, who despite a life of crime never lost his devotion to the Mother of God, and prayed before the icon of Our Lady and the Infant Saviour every day, repeating the Archangel’s greeting: “Rejoice, O Virgin full of grace!”.

However, his prayer never stopped him then going out and stealing until the Mother of God interceded in this situation, for when he turned to the icon, he saw the Mother of God and Christchild in the flesh, and the Infant Saviour had bleeding wounds on His hands and feet, and blood flowed from a wound in His side. The horrified man fell to his knees and instinctively questioned the Mother of God: “O Mistress! Who did this?”

The life-changing answer for the man was in the challenge of the Virgin’s quiet words: “You and other sinners. Over and over again you crucify My Son by your sins.”

The horrified man cried out, “Have mercy upon me,” but the Mother of God rebuked him saying, “You call Me the Mother of mercy, yet you offend Me and bring Me sorrow by your deeds.”

In this, is a challenge for us all. We call the Saviour our Lord, yet we disobey and offend Him; we call our Lady Mother, yet we bring hurt and insult that we would not even think of throwing at our mother according to the flesh.

The man, who had tried to mix devotion to the Mother of God with a life of disobedience and crime appealed to her, as a source of help, hope and rescue:

“No, Mistress. May my malice not overcome your indescribable kindness and mercy! You alone are the hope and safe haven of all sinners! Have mercy upon me, O benevolent Mother! Entreat your Son and my Creator on my behalf.”

The horror of the words he had heard had already awakened his soul and brought him to profound repentance, and seeing this purification and change the Mother of God entreated her Son, our Saviour:

“My benevolent Son! For the sake of My love have mercy upon this sinner.” But the Son replied to Her: “Do not be angry, My Mother, if I do not obey You. I, too, entreated My Father to have this cup of suffering pass Me by.”

Though the Mother of God continued to pray for this man, who brought her Son grief and great sorrow, the Saviour seemed immovable until Our Lady placed the Infant on His own feet and prepared to fall at His feet to beg for the repentant thief.

It was then that the Saviour spoke and stopped her:

“What do you wish to do, Mother?!”

And the Mother of God, our perpetual-intercessor replied, “I shall remain, lying at Your feet together with this sinner until You forgive him his sins.”

The Saviour replied, “The law requires a son to venerate his mother, while justice demands that the giver of the law be himself obedient to the law. I am your Son; you are My Mother; I am obliged to do you homage by fulfilling your request. Let it be as you wish! His sins are now forgiven for your sake! And as a token of forgiveness, let him press his lips to My wounds.”

The man rose up, trembling, still wrapped in the vision and approached the Infant Saviour, and kissed His wounds, and begged that he should always be able to see his own sins and repent of them, and in the gift of this knowledge, his life was transformed, and he lived the rest of his life in knowledge and repentance.

This knowledge is one so greatly needed, as we become conscience-numbed, very often not even understanding that our behaviours are even sins. The world – and even the Christians in the world – loses all sense of sin and error. People come to confession, saying that they can’t really think of anything that has gone wrong since their last confession, and that all seems to be well.

We need to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us, that we might receive the knowledge of the repentant criminal remembered through this miracle recorded by St Dimitri, and we need to remind ourselves how like this once deluded man we are, asking how we can be spiritually wakened and enlivened, as he was – being mindful of our errors, the need to change and repent.

Let us begin by praying the Canon to the Mother of God by the Monk Euthymios, the Chancellor, that we might be brought to realisation and repentance, and to amendment, and newness of life, in which we understand our culpability and our responsibility for the Saviour’s sacred wounds.

A CANON OF SUPPLICATION TO THE MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD AT THE CONFESSION OF A SINNER

Ode 1, Irmos:: When Israel walked on foot in the sea as on dry land, * on seeing their pursuer Pharaoh drowned, * they cried: * Let us sing to God * a song of victory.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

In every way I lament my vile life and the multitude of mine abominable sins. How shall I confess to thee, О pure one? I am at a loss and filled with fear. Yet help me, О Lady.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

How shall I begin to speak of my wicked and grievous falls, plagued as I am by the passions? Woe is me! What shall I do? Yet before the end take pity on me, О Lady.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I ever contemplate the hour of death and the dread tribunal, О most pure one, yet am I grievously led astray by my most wicked habits. But do thou help me.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The corrupter of the good, seeing me now stripped naked of godly virtues, fallen far away from God and become a stranger to Him, striveth to devour me. But do thou prevent him, О Lady.

Ode 3, Irmos: There is none as holy as Thee, * O Lord my God, * who hast exalted the horn of The faithful O good One, * and strengthened us upon the rock * of Thy confession.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

I have vilely besmirched my soul with mine evil and abominable deeds, plagued as I am by the passions, О Lady Theotokos. Where then shall I go, who am wholly stuck fast in despondency?

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

Though created in the image of God, I have sullied my prodigal self by mine haughty will, О pure one, and through my likeness, in works, in word and thought, I have committed unseemly deeds.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

There is no other man who hath committed such unseemly acts, nor any other born into the world as darkened in mind as I, О good one; for I have defiled my divine baptism.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 I have reached the end of mine evils, О most holy Virgin. Quickly help me, for heaven and earth cry out bitterly because of my vile and wicked deeds.

Ode 4, Irmos: Christ is my power, * my God and my Lord, * the holy Church divinely singeth, * crying with a pure mind, * keeping festival in the Lord.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

The ranks of angels and the armies of the hosts of heaven are in awe of the might of thy Son, О pure one. But I am in despair, stuck fast in my lack of fear.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

All the earth hath been amazed and astonished, beholding me committing evil, wicked and vile acts, and it marvelleth at the great loving-kindness of thy Son.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I have wickedly defiled the temple of my body, and the temple of the Lord which we enter with trembling; for although I am a prodigal, I enter it without shame. Woe is me!

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

О Lady, show me not, О show me not to have wandered away from the tabernacle of thy Son, though I am in every way unworthy, but wash me. clean of the defilement of my transgressions.

Ode 5, Irmos: Illumine with Thy divine light, I pray, O Good One, * the souls of those who with love rise early to pray to Thee, * that they may know Thee, O Word of God, * as the true God, * Who recalleth us from the darkness of sin.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

With thy divine effulgence, О good one, cure my soul of the passions which the corrupter hath sown therein, and deliver me from his bitter captivity, for he laughs me to scorn, beholding my helpless state.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

Adam broke the only commandment of thy Son, О Virgin, and was driven into exile. How shall I lament the abyss of my transgressions, for I am a criminal and have fallen away from Him?

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Shown of old to be a murderer of his brother, Cain was cursed by God. What shall I do, who am most arrogant? I have now brought death upon my soul, and am not ashamed.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 I have wholly emulated the cruel Esau in gluttony and eating to satiety, and have defiled my soul by drunkenness and my life with intemperance. Who will not weep for me, who am plagued by the passions? Woe is me!

Ode 6, Irmos: Beholding the sea of life surging with the flood of temptations, * I run to Thy calm haven, and cry to Thee: * Raise up my life from corruption, * O Most Merciful One.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

My life is prodigal, my soul defiled, my way of living wholly accursed. I have grievously dishonoured my whole body with evils. Wherefore, hasten thou to help me, О Virgin.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

Mine end lieth before me, and I cannot bear it, О good one. My conscience denounces me, for all my wicked deeds and my prodigal life confront me, and I fear the judgment of thy Son, О pure one.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

The burning of my flesh, the dreadful river of fire which cannot be quenched, and the insatiable worm await me; but dispel them By thy prayers, О most pure one.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

I am held fast now by trembling, О good one, and I fear the pursuit of the evil one; for before the end the corrupter desires to slay me, holding me wholly captive, stripped naked of the virtues.

Lord, have mercy! (Thrice).

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Sedalion, in Tone 6: Thou art the hope, bulwark and refuge of thy people, О Virgin, from whom the Saviour of all was born without pain, and thou hast saved those who set their hope on thee; for thou didst weep for thy Son at the foot of the Cross. Him do thou now beseech, that He deliver from corruption all who hymn thee.

Ode 7, Irmos: An Angel made the furnace sprinkle dew on the holy Children. * But the command of God consumed the Chaldeans * and prevailed upon the tyrant to cry: * O God of our fathers, blessed art Thou.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

Seven times seven hath the evil one fanned a flame for me with the passions, ever striving to slay my heart with thoughts of fornication; wherefore, with the streams of my tears extinguish it, О Mother of God, and save me.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

Despise me not who am dishonoured with the mire of my transgressions, О good Lady, for, seeing me in despair, the most evil enemy mocketh me; but do thou thyself raise me up with thy mighty hand.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Awesome is the tribunal, О my numb soul which is art rife with passions, and endless and terrible are the torments; yet fall down now before the Mother of thy Judge and God, and be not downcast.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

A slave of the passions, I have been mired in a multitude of boundless evils and have defiled my soul, body and mind; wherefore, О most pure one, with the light of thy radiance quickly lead me to the sweetness of dispassion.

Ode 8, Irmos: Thou didst make flame sprinkle the Saints with dew, * and didst burn the sacrifice of a righteous man with water. * For Thou alone, O Christ, dost do all as Thou willest, * and Thee do we supremely exalt throughout all ages.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

Virgin Mother, who hast given birth to God Who is One of the Trinity and didst bear Him in thine arms, quench thou the fiery furnace of the passions, and bathe my soul in streams of tears.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

I fear the arrival of death, О most pure one, and am now wholly afraid of the judgment thereof, for I have committed evils and am in nowise ashamed. In thy prayers take pity on me before the end, О Virgin.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

О Lady, grant me unceasing groans and give me showers of tears to wash away my many transgressions and cleanse mine incurable sores, that I may inherit everlasting life.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

I confess to thee the multitude of mine evils, О Lady, for no one else in the world hath so angered thy God, Son and Lord; wherefore, quickly move Him to mercy toward me, О Virgin,

Ode 9, Irmos: It is impossible for mankind to see God * upon Whom the orders of Angels dare not gaze; * but through thee, O all-pure one, * did the Word Incarnate become a man * and with the Heavenly Hosts * Him we magnify and thee we call blessed.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

Knowing the might of thy great supplication, О most pure one, lo! I approach thee with great fear and love; for thy maternal pleas to thy Son are truly able to accomplish much, for through His loving-kindness is He inclined to mercy.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us.

Take the choirs of the archangels and the multitude of the heavenly armies of my Creator, the assemblies of apostles and prophets, the martyrs, the venerable and the hieromartyrs, О pure one, and pray for us to God.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Let me obtain thine aid now and at that hour when my spirit shall depart, О pure one, and, rescuing me quickly, deliver me from the tyranny of the demons, and leave me not in their clutches, О good and most immaculate one.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

I await the compassionate Judge, thy Son Who is the Lover of mankind, О pure one. Disdain me not, but render Him well-disposed towards me, that at His most pure tribunal He may set me on His right hand, О all-immaculate one, for I have set my hope on thee.

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