Her Fast, her Feasts, and her Symbols
The Church celebrates the Fast of the holy Virgin Mary on the first of Misra (7 August). The whole congregation is keen on fasting it with great asceticism, and even for more days due to their great love for the Virgin.
The Virgin##s Fast provides a chance for spiritual programs in most churches.
Church programs in the Virgin##s Fast include a sermon and a Holy Mass every day, even in churches not built after the name of the Virgin. A big Feast for her is celebrated in her old church in Mostorod, besides feasts for other saints during the same period, such as: the Feast of St. George in Meit Damsis Monastery in the second half of August, the Feast of St. Macarius the Great, and the Feast of St. George in the Monastery called after his name in Rozaykatt.
Feasts for famous women saints are celebrated during the Virgin##s Fast.
Examples are: St. Baeesa (2 Misra/8 August); St. Julietta (6 Misra/12 August; St. Marina (15 Misra/21 August). In the same month the Transfiguration Feast is celebrated on 13 Misra/19 August, as well as the Annunciation by Archangel Gabriel to St. Joachim of the birth of the Holy Virgin Mary on 7 Misra/13 August.
The Virgin##s Fast is not the only occasion on which the church celebrates the Virgin##s Feasts, for the month of Kiahk is rich with the praise songs, doxologies and songs for the Holy Virgin Mary.
Copts in Egypt, especially women, give indescribable care for the Virgin##s Fast.
Due to the deep love of the Copts for the Virgin and for her fast, many of them fast without even vegetable fats (oil), and many express their love by vowing to fast a third week. Their great love is due to many factors:
First- Her visit to our country, giving it such a blessing, and leaving many marks in various places where churches were afterwards built.
Second- The many miracles that took place in Egypt through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, a matter which made many people seek her intercession and build churches after her name.
The attachment of the Copts to the Virgin and to her fast has increased after her apparition in her church in Zeitoun and the many miracles that accompanied it.
The Virgin##s Feasts:
Every saint has one feast celebrated by the church which corresponds to his/her repose or martyrdom, besides another feast in some cases for the discovery of the relics or for a miracle worked in his/her name or a church built after his/her. But the Holy Virgin has many Feasts celebrated by the church, including the following:
1. The Annunciation of her birth to her father Joachim on 7 Misra. He and her mother Hannah rejoiced and consecrated her to the Lord.
2. The Virgin##s Nativity, celebrated on the 1st of Bashans.
3. Her presentation to the temple, in the place allocated for the virgins in the temple, celebrated on 3 Kiahk.
4. Her entry into Egypt with the Lord Christ and Joseph the Carpenter, celebrated on 24 Bashans.
5. Her Repose on 21 Tubah, on which the church also remembers the miracles worked on that day while the father apostles were surrounding her except for St. Thomas who was at that time preaching in India.
6. Her monthly Feast on the 21st of every Coptic Month (the martyrs calendar).
7. The Assumption of her body to heaven, celebrated on 16 Misra/22 August, following the 15 day Fast.
8. The Consecration of her first church at Philippi, on which we remember the miracle worked by her when she absolved the iron and set free Matthias the apostle and the others with him.
9. Her Apparition over the domes of her church at Zeitoun on 2 April, 1968, the 24th of Baramhat, which continued for various years
All these Feasts are celebrated with special rituals and hymns and doxologies containing many prophecies and symbols for her in the Old Testament.
In addition, the church glorifies the Virgin during the month of Kiahk (from the first third of December to 7 January) with praise songs in honor of her.
The Holy Virgin in the Orthodox belief:
The Coptic Orthodox Church honors the Holy Virgin as proper for her, without exaggeration or degradation:
1. The Church holds that she is the Mother of God (Theotokos) not merely the mother of Jesus as the Nestorians hold, who St. Cyril of Alexandria fought and the Holy Ecumenical Council of Ephesus ex-communicated.
2. The Church believes that the Holy Spirit has sanctified the Virgin##s womb during the conception. For the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Lk 1: 35) This sanctification means that the born Babe was not to bear the filthiness of the original sin. As for the Virgin herself, she was conceived of like all others, therefore she said, “my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Lk 1: 47). That is why our Church does not hold that the Virgin was herself conceived of without the filthiness of the original sin as our brothers the Catholics believe.
3. The Church believes in the intercession of the Virgin, and sets her intercession before that of the angels and archangels, for she is the Mother of God, the Queen on the right hand of the King.
4. The Scripture calls the Virgin “full of grace” or “highly favored”, whereas, regrettably, the Beirut translation degrades her by translating these words as “the favored one” like all other human beings. However the grace does not mean infallibility.
5. The Church believes in the perpetual virginity of the Virgin, a fact which none denies except our protestant brethren who believe that she has given birth to children after Christ.
6. The Church believes in the assumption of the Virgin##s body to heaven, and celebrates this on 16 Misra.
The Virgin##s Titles and Symbols:
First – With respect to her greatness and relationship with God:
1. We call her the Queen standing at the right hand of the King (Ps 45: 9). That is why she is depicted in the icons at the right hand of the Lord Christ. And in the Divine Liturgy we call her, “Our Lady and Queen of us all”.
2. We also call her “Our mother the Holy Virgin”, as the Lord Christ on the cross said to His disciple John the Beloved, “Behold your mother!” (Jn 19: 27)
3. She is likened to Jacob##s ladder set up on the earth and its top reached to heaven (Gen 28: 12). This symbolically means that by giving birth to Christ she brought the people on the earth unto heaven.
4. She also is called “The Bride”, for she is the true Bride of the Lord of Glory. In her the words of the Psalm are fulfilled where the Lord says to her, “Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father##s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him,” “The royal daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is woven with gold … in robes of many colors.” (Ps 45: 10- 13) So she is called the friend of Solomon, i.e., the Virgin of the Song.
5. We call her the beautiful dove, referring to the dove which brought to our father Noah an olive branch as a symbol of peace revealing that the waters had receded from the earth (Gen 8: 11).
6. She is likened to a cloud, because she is as high as a cloud, and as a symbol of bearing the Lord who will come on the cloud (Mt 16: 27), and because she is referred to in the prophecy concerning her voyage to Egypt by the words, “Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.” (Isa 19: 1)
Second – With respect to her motherhood to the Lord Christ:
7. She is called “Theotokos”, i.e. “the Mother of God”, which name is given her in the Holy Ecumenical Council held in Ephesus in 431, and which St. Cyril the Great used in his refutation of Nestor. With the same name St. Elizabeth addressed her as, “the mother of my Lord” (Lk 1: 43)
8. Another name given the Holy Virgin is “The Golden Censer”, and in Coptic “Ti Shoori”, and also Aaron##s Censer. The live coal inside the censer with the coal is a symbol of the human nature of Christ, while the fire is a symbol of His divinity, for the Scripture says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12: 29) This refers to the unity between the divine nature and the human nature. And the censer being of gold is a symbol of her greatness and purity, her chastity and sanctity.
9. The Virgin is also called “The Second Heaven”, because as heaven is the dwelling place of God, so also Virgin Mary during the holy conception was a dwelling place for God.
10. She is called “The City of God”. To her applies the prophecy, “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” (Ps 87: 3) She also is called “The City of the Great King”, and to her applies the prophecies said of Jerusalem or Zion: “And of Zion it will be said, this one and that one were born in her; and the Most High Himself shall establish her.” (Ps 87: 5)
11. She is called “The Vine” bearing the cluster of life, that is, the Lord Christ. With this name the Church asks her intercession in the Third Hour Prayer, “O Mother of God, you are the true vine that carried the fruit of life.”
12. Other titles are:
The mother of the True Light, because the Lord is “The true Light which gives light to every man.” (Jn 1: 9) She is also called “The Golden Lamp stand” which bears light.
The mother of the Holy One, for the angel said to her, “That Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Lk 1: 35)
The mother of the Savior, because the Lord Christ is the Savior of the world, and was called Jesus because He saves His people from their sins (Mt 1: 21).
13. Among the symbols referring to her is the bush which Moses saw in the desert (Ex 3: 3), which we mention in the praise song: “The bush which …, is a symbol of the blessed mother of Light who bore the live coal of the divinity in her womb for nine months without being injured although our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12: 29).
14. Another symbol of the Virgin is the ark of Covenant made of acacia wood that would not rot and overlaid with pure gold, inside and out (Ex 25: 10) as a symbol of her purity and greatness and of the things contained in the ark symbolizing the Lord Christ: the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron##s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant (Heb 9: 4), a symbol of the Incarnate Word of God.
15. She is likened to the pot of manna, as a symbol of the Lord Christ the true bread from heaven; the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world; the bread of life; the living bread which if anyone eats of will live forever (Jn 6: 32, 33, 48, 49).
16. She is the rod of Aaron that sprouted, put forth buds, and produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds! (Num 17: 6, 8) It is a symbol of the virginity of the Virgin who begat Jesus by a miracle. This is mentioned in the Sunday Song (Psali).
17. She is the Tabernacle of Meeting, in which the Lord had dwelt, as He dwelt in the Virgin. In both cases God##s love for Hs people is revealed. We sing this in the Psalmody, saying, “You are likened to the dome made by Moses on Mount Sinai, O Virgin Mary, in whom God dwelt.”
18. She also is likened to the gate in the east of which Ezekiel the Prophet said, “This gate shall be shut; it shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.” (Ezek 44: 1, 2) At this gate the prophet saw the glory of the God fill the temple (Ezek 43: 2, 4, 5). This is a symbol of the virginity of the Virgin who came from the east and her virginity was sealed.
19. Being the gate in the east, she is described as:
The gate of life – the gate of salvation:
In the Book of Ezekiel she is described as the gate through which the Lord of Glory entered and came out (Ezek 44: 2). And since the Lord is the Life as he says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11: 25), so she is the gate of life from which the Lord came out giving life to all the faithful. And since the Lord is Salvation for He came to save that which was lost (Lk 19: 10), so she is the gate of salvation. It is not strange to call the Virgin “the gate”, for the Church likewise is called “gate” as our father Jacob said about Bethel: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28: 17)
20. The Virgin also is likened to the Holy of Holies, which the high priest had to enter once every year to atone for the whole people, so also the Lord of Glory entered into the Virgin##s womb once for the redemption of the whole world.