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Capture Some Warmth before the Coming of Holy Protection!

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Capture Some Warmth before the Coming of Holy Protection!

13.10.2011

Holy Protection or Holy Intercession is sometimes thought to be a particularly Russian holiday for good reason: nowhere in the Christian world is this day celebrated on such a grand scale as in Russia. The historical background is well-known: as the tradition goes, in 910 A.D. during the siege of Constantinople by Saracens, Our Lady spread her pall (omophorium) over the “Second Rome” and saved it from the foe. The holiday came to Rus in 1164 and the first church built in its honor was the Holy Intercession on Nerli Church.

“Like Holy Protection, like the winter,” “Fall time until Holy Protection and winter afterwards,” “Holy Protection covers the land with leaves and somewhere with snow” – these are just some of the popular sayings. As the legend goes, it is on the first day of October (old reckoning) the last cranes fly away. Their earlier migration was considered a bad sign portending a very cold winter. People looked narrowly at squirrels too: if a squirrel’s fur fades completely by the Holy Protection it is thought to be a token of a comfortable winter.  

Almost all celebrated the Holy Protection Day – a sort of divide between autumn and winter – but each in his or her own way. For hard-working peasants the Holy Protection was one of the main dates in the calendar. “In October the peasant has bast shoes and there is enough firewood for his log-hut.” All works in the field and on the thrashing floor are completed and it’s time to lay plans for the next year – not in vain were all labor agreements in Rus concluded from one Holy Protection Day to next year’s one. Every sound steward would try to warm his log-hut by the Holy Protection Day and to pack all joints with moss: “Unless you warm your house before the Holy Protection, the winter will be severe!”

And it is after the sacral Holy Protection Day (Russian “Pokrov”) that girls tried to marry their betrothed: “Father Pokrov, cover the earth with snow and me with my bridegroom!” – they were sniveling. Snow on the Holy Protection Day was considered a very good sign promising a very friendly and snowy winter and many weddings. And when there was a sprinkle of snow at the time of church wedding, it was believed that the newly-weds would live a happy life together. After the Mass of Holy Protection brides would lay the so-called “day-to-day shroud” at the icon of Our Lady – a linen veil which was to be woven literally for one day at the time of harvesting the flax.

Another old custom in the Russian villages on the Holy Protection Day was burning old straw beds in an oven as a safeguard against the evil eye. Elderly women would burn their bast shoes, worn out in summer – “to be more mobile in winter.” Children were swilled out through a sieve on the doorsteps on that day as a protection from winter colds.

Wood goblins were thought to cease romping and getting up to mischief in the forest after the Holy Intercession. On the day of bidding farewell to liberty they would break trees, uproot bushes, scare beasts to their holes and then go down the drain themselves until spring. “On the Holy Protection Eve, – says well-known portrayer of ordinary life Apollo of Corinth. – neither a peasant nor his wife nor their little ones go to the forest, lest the forest host mocks them. The Old Nick is not a fellow villager and can break bones like a bear!”

Even today they quite earnestly do not recommend going to the forest on the Holy Protection Day in some northern provinces…

Georgiy Osipov

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