(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate the placement of the Belt of the Virgin Mary, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Placement of the Belt of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Greeks have a word for it and the word for the blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is Panagia. This means that of all the saints, she is the greatest of them all, the saint of saints; and if she be the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, she is the mother of mankind, for we are all the children of God. The name “Panagia” is invoked in every Greek household with a reverence nearly equal to that accorded her Son, and quite often their names are called out together in supplication.
The commemorative dates set aside by the Church for the blessed Virgin Mary, although she is honored daily in the prayers of a devout Greek worshiper, are her Nativity on September 8, her Dedication to the Temple on November 21, the Presentation on February 2, the Annunciation on March 25, the Repose of the Blessed Mary on August 15, the Installation of the Robe of the Mother of God on July 2, and, finally, the celebration of the Placement of the Zone, or Belt, on August 31. These are formal dates on the calendar not to be taken lightly or routinely, but with a pause in solemnity that can do nothing but elevate the Christian spirit.
To write of the material aspects of the Virgin’s life is almost sacrilegious when it is recalled only that she was chosen by God Himself to bear a Son for the salvation of mankind. Nevertheless, she was a flesh-and-blood human being who bore the King of Kings and not some spectral female whose apparition is of divine origin. She was a mother who cradled the infant Jesus after bearing Him and who held Him in her arms on the dark day that He was crucified. There are mothers of the year selected in all parts of the world, but the blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of Eternity in all the universe.
The recovery of the sacred zone came about after the discovery of the sacred robe, when two patricians named Galvios and Kandios, a pair of reformed Arians, took it upon themselves to go to Jerusalem after disavowing Arius. There they offered prayers at the tomb of Christ in reverence and repentance, as well as thanksgiving, that they had rediscovered the truth of the Savior. They were to discover something else when a divine visitation revealed to them that the robe of the Virgin Mary was in the hands of a Jewish family. After visiting the family and finding the holy garment stored in a silver case, the two petitioned Emperor Leo and Empress Verini to arrange for its removal to Constantinople with adequate compensation for the family in whose home the garment had been carefully preserved. The zone, or belt, was missing and remained so until the reign of Emperor Arkadios, at which time it was found in another household and brought to Constantinople to remain enshrined with the robe in the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in an area known as Chalkepratois.
The zone’s separate recovery on August 31 is celebrated on this day in the church holiday known as the Placement of the Zone, as distinguished from the Installation of the Robe which is observed on July 2. A number of miracles have been attributed to the sacred garments, the most noteworthy occurring in 886, four hundred years after its discovery. Empress Zoe, wife of Emperor Leo the Wise, had been suffering from an incurable disease and was at the point of death when the patriarch was summoned to administer the last rites. The patriarch, instead of bringing the sacred chalice, chose to bring the sacred zone of the Virgin Mary, draping the belt across the quickly-fading empress. She soon thereafter was miraculously cured, and the sacred zone was decorated with the threads of gold at the direction of Leo the Wise.
In later years, notably under Empress Pulcheria, threads of gold were added to the zone which, year after year, was venerated in its holy place. It remained in a remarkable state of preservation and would have remained at the church, but with the sporadic skirmishes encountered from time to time it was decided that these precious garments be removed to a safer place. In 1101, Prince Lazaros of Serbia was instrumental in having them placed together with segments of the Holy Cross in the Monastery of Vatopedi on Mt. Athos, where an inscription of the dedication made in the twelfth century can still be read. The icon of the Virgin Mary, to whom Mt. Athos is dedicated, is the only female saint represented on this mighty holy mountain which has never felt the tread of a woman’s foot.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.