Thetokos, the Life-Giving Fount (Spring)

Beloved brothers and sisters,


Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Tone 3

As a Life-Giving Fount, thou didst conceive the Dew that is transcendent in essence, O Virgin Maid, and thou hast welled forth for our sakes the nectar of joy eternal, which doth pour forth from thy fount with the water that springeth up unto everlasting life in unending and mighty streams; wherein, taking delight, we all cry out: Rejoice, O thou Spring of life for all men.

Kontakion (Plagal of Tone 4)

O Lady graced by God, you reward me by letting gush forth, beyond reason, the ever-flowing waters of your grace from your perpetual Spring. I entreat you, who bore the Logos [Word], in a manner beyond comprehension, to refresh me in your grace that I may cry out, "Hail redemptive waters."


One of the most famous shrines of Constantinople, the Zoodochos Pege, is located outside the land walls to the west of the city, at the site now known as Balikli. Two versions of a very old tradition provide information on the origins of this ancient shrine.

According to the first, related by the historian Procopius, Justinian (527-565 AD) while hunting in a beautiful verdant part of the land with many trees and much water, had the vision of a small chapel with a large crowd of people and a priest in front of a spring. It is the spring of miracles, he was told, whereupon the Emperor built a Monastery at the site using surplus materials from the church of Hagia Sophia. Cedrenus records that the Monastery was built in 560 AD.

The second version, narrated by the chronicler Nicephoros Callistos, says that the Emperor Leo I (457-474 AD), when still a simple soldier, met at the Golden Gate a blind man who asked for a drink of water. As he looked around for water, a voice directed him to the spring and enjoined him to build a church on the site when he would become Emperor. Callistos describes this great church in detail "Description of the holy church of the Pege erected by Leo", P.G. Migne, vol. 147, 73-77), but the description agrees more with the church built by Justinian. It is historically confirmed that Zenon, Hegumenos "of the house of the Most Holy and Glorious Virgin Mary and Mother of God at Pege", participated in the Council of Constantinople, converted by the Patriarch Menas (536-552 AD) in 536 AD.

After Leo became Emperor as the Most Holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church over the spring, whose waters worked many healings and cured maladies by the grace of the Theotokos; from this, it came to be called the "Life-Giving Spring." The Church of Christ celebrates the consecration of this church on this day.

After the fall of the Imperial City, this church was razed to the ground and the materials from it were used for building the mosque of Sultan Bayezid. Nothing remained of that church's ancient beauty, except for a small and paltry chapel, almost completely buried in the ruins. This chapel had twenty-five steps going down into it, and a transom window on the roof, wherefrom it received a little light. Toward the western side of the chapel was the aforementioned holy Spring, fenced about with a railing, and with fish swimming in it. Such was the condition of the Spring until 1821. Then even that little remnant was destroyed, occasioned by the uprising of the Greek nation against the Ottoman Empire; the sacred Spring was buried with it and disappeared altogether.

But in the days of Sultan Mahmud, when those subject to him were rejoicing in their freedom to practice their religion, permission was sought by the Orthodox Christian community to rebuild at least part of the chapel. Thus the work was begun on July 26, 1833. When the excavation had been made, and the foundations of the ancient church were found, there was rebuilt--by a later writ of permission from the Sultan--not merely a chapel of the holy Spring, but another new church, constructed upon the foundations of the ancient one. The building of this spacious, beautiful, and most majestic temple began on September 14, 1833, and the work was completed on December 30, 1834. On February 2, 1835, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine II, serving the Divine Liturgy together with twelve hierarchs and a great company of clergy, as well as a boundless multitude of Christians, performed the consecration of this sacred church and dedicated it to the glory of the Mother of God. On September 6, 1955, however, it was desecrated and destroyed again by the Moslem Turks; it has been restored again, but not to the former magnificence."

"A number of epigrams [in the church of the Theotokos Zoodochos Pege in Baloukli express awe, veneration and enthusiasm for the hagiasma [holy water] and the miracles associated with it. Preserved to our day are six by Manuel Philes, another six by the Magister Ignatius, one by John Mavropous and others. The holy icon of Zoodochos Pege: Zoodochos Pete (i.e., Life-giving Fount) is an epithet of the Holy Virgin and her representation as Zoodochos Pege is related to the sacred spring. It soon became very popular and this type of holy icon spread throughout the Orthodox Christian world, particularly in places where a spring was believed to be hagiasma. In the 9th century, Joseph the Hymnographer gave for the first time the title "Zoodochos Pege-to a hymn for the Mother of God.

A marble fountain, from which water flows, occupies the centre of the holy icon. Above, the Theotokos is holding the Christ Child Who makes the sign of blessing. She is surrounded by two Angels, and is sitting on the more elevated of two basins, presumably representing the "Living Water" which is Christ. The Angels carry a scroll inscribed with the verse: "Hail! That you bear. Hail, That you are". Around the fountain the Emperor and many ailing people are shown, in a variety of postures, being sprinkled with Holy Water. According to the tradition, a small pond with fish is painted to the side. Actually, it is the fish that have given its present name to the locality, for Balikli in Turkish means "a place with fish".

In one version of the holy icon that was found on the island of Naxos, Grece, some differences are shown with respect to the ancient type. Around the cross-shaped basin stands the Emperor with his guard, while on the right is the Patriarch with his bishops. In the background, is represented Leo I with the blind man, and the walls of the City. Under the basin a paralytic and a madman are healed with the spring's water.

The feast-day of the Life-Giving Spring is commemorated on Bright Friday of each year (the Friday following Pascha), being the only feast day which may be celebrated during Bright Week, being the commemoration of the Life-Giving Spring Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is observed on April 4th.

One of the most important events in the history of this church took place in 626 AD, when the Queen City of Constantinople was besieged by Avars while the Emperor Heraclius and his troops were gone to fight the Persians in Asia Minor. The Holy Icon of the Theotokos-'Vlachernitissa' was taken up in procession on the battlefield by the Emperor's son and the Patriarch Sergius (610-638 AD). The Avars stopped the battle because of a storm that destroyed their ships, and this victory is attributed to the love and protection of the Theotokos. The Orthodox Christian people gathered at the church of Vlachernae, spending all night in vigil and chanting praises to the Theotkos (The Akathistos).

Many testimonies preserved until today about the church of Vlachernae, also mention that many Christian Emperors of the Byzantine Empire would take with them during their campaign battles, a holy relic of the icon of the Mother of God. Also, many Imperial seals bore the sign of this church-Vlachernitissa.

Starting with the Fourth Crusade of the Latins in 1204 AD, the church was taken over by the Roman Catholic invaders, until the time of the Emperor John the III-Doukas Vatatzes (1222-1254 AD) of the Empire of Nicaea, when he recovered the church, along with many other Monasteries of Constantinople. In 1347 AD, Emperor John the VI (Cantacuzinos) was crowned in the church of Vlachernae, instead of being crowned in the Cathedral of Aghia Sophia, as it was customary.


"Everything in this life passes away--only God remains, only He is worth struggling towards. We have a choice: to follow the way of this world, of the society that surrounds us, and thereby find ourselves outside of God; or to choose the way of life, to choose God Who calls us and for Whom our heart is searching." --Fr. Seraphim Rose

With sincere agape in our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George