Pray for them with confidence — because no one is beyond the limit of God’s help.
On the pilgrim trail of life, there is always the danger of losing one’s way. The monks of Holy Resurrection Monastery have a particular love for the lesser-known Marian devotion of the Theotokos, Searcher for the Lost.
This beautiful devotion calls on Our Lady to lead even the most wayward of souls back into the embrace of her Son. It is truly a devotion for all times, but perhaps it can become a special part of your own celebration of the Paschal season.
I had the great pleasure and privilege to spend some time recently with Abbot Moses of Holy Resurrection Monastery and he told me about the monks’ devotion to Our Lady under this particular title. The community was first exposed to the devotion, and the icon of Our Lady, among the very small Russian Catholic community in San Francisco. The message of this devotion so resonated with the monks that they entrusted their monastery to her patronage.
As monasteries in the East are often important places of pilgrimage for the laity, the monks began to receive countless prayer requests from pilgrims concerning family members and friends who had strayed from the Faith or who experienced all kinds of debilitating problems. The monks would then take those names and situations to prayer. Over the years, numerous reports of loved ones returning to the Faith or having their difficult situations resolved peacefully have poured into the monastery.
Father Isaac, one of the monastery’s life-professed monks (all who make their life-profession are called “Father” regardless of ordination status), composed an Akathist hymn to Our Lady, Searcher for the Lost. An Akathist (from the Greek meaning “standing”) is a lengthy prayer service consisting of 13 parts. Each part contains a variety of theological hymnography concerning the object of the Akathist. For example, the opening Kontakion for the Akathist to Our Lady, Searcher for the Lost reads:
We come to you, O Mother of God, offering hymns of praise and thanksgiving. Look upon us who have gone astray, each one in their own way. You searched three days for your son and found Him in the temple, O Temple of Life. Cease not seeking your children who are lost, leading us to Our Father’s house, that we may cry out: Hail, O Theotokos, Searcher for the Lost!
You’ll note the recognition that we all have gone astray in one way or another. This devotion is also very biblically tethered. Our Lady knew what it was to be separated from her Son. First, being separated from him when he remained in the Temple at age 12 (Luke 2:41-52) and again (and most profoundly) when she held his Sacred Body in the descent from the Cross. In our own lives, we can experience profound periods of separation from our Faith and our loved ones. In one way or another, we can connect to this experience and draw on Mary’s intercession to help us to overcome separation.
The various parts of the Akathist (called Ikos) are poetic and Biblically laden reflections of the goodness of the Mother of God. Ikos 3, for example, is particularly striking:
Hail, Obituary of death itself.
Hail, Inexhaustible cup of mercy.
Hail, Light penetrating the depths of opaque hearts.
Hail, Mother of Wisdom who are yourself filled with wisdom.
Hail, Star who gave birth to the Sun.
Hail, Oak of Mamre, locus of hospitality uniting earth and heaven.
Hail, Impenetrable mystery of childbearing.
Hail, Relief for those with aching hearts.
Hail, Joy of all who sorrow.
Hail, Offspring of the barren womb of your mother, Anna.
Hail, Blanket of comfort, rest, and blessings.
Hail, Handmaid of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Hail, O Theotokos, Searcher for the Lost.
In praying these, one is imbued with hope. Mary received all grace and she now shares that grace as a “blanket of comfort” and the “Joy of all who sorrow.” As the Akathist continues, there is an ongoing tapestry of Biblical motifs and theological reflections. I think the aim of this particular prayer is to remind those praying that no one is beyond the limit of God’s help. I’m reminded of Psalm 139:7-10
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
Not one of our family members, friends or acquaintances is outside of the grace of God and we see in this Akathist Mary’s role in helping us to search for them.
I had never heard of this devotion before but in my discovery, it seems just what our world needs right now. A theme of our fallen and broken world is aimless wandering. People try this path and that, often led by the allure of “greener pastures” or selfish pleasures. We all stray from time to time, of course. But there does seem to be an inordinate number of people who stray so far from the path that we can lose hope for them. Even worse, there is a temptation to judge those who stray so that we ourselves become Pharisees.
Into this mix, this devotion places Our Blessed Mother. She who is “full of grace.” She who can navigate the intricacies and pitfalls of healing very wounded human hearts.
And then there’s a call to us herein as well. We cannot bring back those who have left the Faith, nor can we heal marriages and relationships by ourselves. This Akathist calls us to unite our prayers with Our Lady. With her help, and through her intercession, the most hardened sinners can repent, those who have left the Church can return, and we all can be made whole again through the grace of her Son.
Theotokos, Searcher for the lost, search for us sinners, and bring us to your Son!
You can find the whole text of the Akathist to the Theotokos, Searcher for the lost here. The text of each Ikos in the document is missing “Hail” at the beginning of each phrase; this is an error that will be remedied. And please support and pray for Holy Resurrection Monastery!
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