MONDAY, AUGUST 1: It’s with great devotion that Orthodox Christians begin the 14-day Fast in Honor of the Holy Mother of Jesus. As a means of preparation for the coming Great Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, Orthodox Christians focus on the Virgin Mary and fast in her name. The strict fasting period reflects the Orthodox idea that Mary is both the mother of all mankind and the queen of saints and angels.
During the 14 fast days, Orthodox services are “Paraclesis,” or centered around consolation and petition. Devotees pray to the Virgin Mary for courage in the petition, “Most Holy Mother of God, save us.” (Antiochian.org has more on this fasting period.) Humbling oneself is of utmost importance in this practice: according to Orthodox Christian belief, a genuine veneration of the Theotokos is “the soul of Orthodox piety.”
One of Russia’s most prized locations, the Cathedral of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, recently celebrated its 450th anniversary as both a museum and a working church. (A Russian news site has more.) No other Russian church in history had been as vibrant or ornately decorated as this when it was built.