Seeking the Intercession of the Beloved Mother of East and West

Moleben to Mary: An Ecumenical Evening of Prayer

Theotokos icon at and interior of Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Perth Amboy, N.J.
Theotokos icon at and interior of Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Perth Amboy, N.J. (photo:

PERTH AMBOY, N.J. — Father Ivan Turyk, pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the main celebrant at a moleben — a prayer service of petitions, praises and hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary — for Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox faithful on May 12.

This beautiful liturgy of the Byzantine Catholic Church is a 20th century modified form of the ancient paraklesis, a beloved Church function that has its roots in the fourth century.

The priest began the liturgy by chanting praises to God and proclaiming, “Christ is risen,” to which the people responded, also by singing in English and Ukrainian, a cappella.

Supplications for Mary’s intercession began with the following plea: “We will never remain silent, O Mother of God, although unworthy to claim your power: For if you would not intercede with prayers, who would have delivered us from so manifold afflictions?”

Father Turyk chanted the Gospel, the account of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth from St. Luke. He then introduced the Very Rev. Joseph Szupa, chancellor of the Philadelphia Archeparchy and the homilist for the moleben.

In his homily, the Very Rev. Szupa remarked that Mary’s motherhood was an inspiration to the many women present in their own vocations as mothers — and reflected on her motherhood in the Church: “Jesus establishes the beginnings of his Church by creating this new family unity — Mary being the symbol of the Church and John, the apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, caring for and protecting her (the Church).”

In closing, he said that Mary “embodies the spirit of love and sacrifice,” and as Christians, we are called to do the same.

Such reflection on the Theotokos, which means, in Greek, “God-Bearer,” was most appropriate for May, the month of Mary, especially in an ecumenical setting.

Msgr. Vincent Grimalia, coordinator of ecumenism and interfaith relations for the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., and vice president of the Wyoming Valley Interfaith Council, speaking from his office in a separate interview, said that “there is a rich tradition in the Eastern Churches on Mary. We share a common bond.”

He cited St. John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris Mater, in which the Pope discussed Eastern Churches. In Section 31, John Paul II wrote, “I wish to emphasize how profoundly the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the ancient Churches of the East feel united by love and praise of the Theotokos.”

Msgr. Grimalia said that Orthodox and Catholic Churches have a number of different feasts honoring Mary and stressed that Mary’s importance derives from her relationship to her divine Son. He added, “In our tradition, Mary is the Mother of the Church. We are all the children of God.”


Mary, Beloved Mother of East and West

Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox Churches both share a deep love for Our Lady.

“Mary brought … Christ into the world and interacts with the community of the faithful to bring them to her Son,” explained Virginia Kimball, an Eastern-Orthodox Christian who has a doctorate in sacred theology and is a professor at Assumption College, in an interview separate from the prayer event.

There are numerous times throughout history when the faithful of both East and Western Churches have turned to the Theotokos in times of personal and national crises.

Father Michael Chendorain, pastor of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Perth Amboy, N.J., related how she appeared to the monks on Mount Athos in Greece and saved them from marauders.

In the eighth century, the Very Rev. Szupa said that when Constantinople was invaded, the Greeks prayed for her intercession at Hagia Sophia Church. She appeared to them as a beautiful lady, interceding for them — and they were delivered.

This assistance was also given throughout other countries where the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics lived.

Appearances of Mary in places in the West, such as at Lourdes and Fatima, in a similar fashion, have fostered devotion to Our Lady. At Lourdes, pilgrims often experience physical and spiritual healings.

Pope Pius V credited the praying of Mary’s Rosary with the defeat of the Muslim Turks in the naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571. And nine years after the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego in Mexico, there was a Christian conversion of 9 million Aztec Indians.

There are miraculous Marian icons throughout the world. Father Chendorain’s church hosted a visit of a weeping icon that dripped myrrh and has a scent which he said “is not of this world.” The sick have been anointed with this substance, and healings have been attributed to it.

The Very Rev. Szupa referenced an icon in Zarvanytsia, Ukraine, that attracts thousands of pilgrims and where cures have occurred. The icon of the Mother of God of the Life-Giving Spring outside of Istanbul is another miraculous icon and shrine dating from the fourth century where healings happen.

Father Chendorain said that, among the Orthodox, the Theotokos is the mother “par excellence” — and as such is the model for women who are mothers. Catholic women should seek to emulate Mary in raising their children.

Kimball said it is her view that much fruitful dialogue is taking place among Orthodox and Catholic theologians due to the common devotion to the Blessed Mother: “If you go back to the traditions from the fourth and sixth centuries, we have a common Christian heritage, which nobody can deny. There was a high regard for the Theotokos.”

Kimball, who is also the president of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, USA, and a member of the Orthodox Theological Society of America, said that there is renewed interest in Eastern iconography and prayer services that “are drawing Orthodox and Catholics closer and closer. Mary is a mother. She’s working behind the scenes.”

With our mutual love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, she can be an instrument of unity among our faiths.



Marianne Komek writes from the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey.