Bright Friday: Feast Dat--Theotokos the Life-Giving Font

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ and Our Only True Savior,



On Bright Friday, the first Friday after Pascha, the Life-Giving Spring is celebrated. The Life-Giving Spring (Ζωοδόχος Πηγή) is a title given to the Mother of God, an actual miracle-working spring (Greek: αγιάσμα) at Valoukli, near the Queen City of Constantinople, to a soldier named Leo Marcellus, who later became Byzantine Emperor Leo (457-474 A.D.). Holy Emperor Leo I the Thracian oversaw the building of the church that was named in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos. For almost fifteen hundred years, this church has been one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Greek Orthodoxy.

The site was chosen by Leo due to a divine experience the Emperor went through earlier in his life. Leo was walking in a forested area when he saw a blind man who asked him for water to quench his thirst. It was then that Leo heard a message from a voice saying that there was water deep within the woods that the man could drink. The clay from its waters would be able to heal the man's eyes. The Theotokos also prophesied at this time that Leo would become Emperor of Constantinople. Leo listened to the voice, quenched the man's thirst, and allowed him to gain sight just as the Mother of God proclaimed.

This holy site was the place where Emperor Leo decided to build the church in her name. The blessed water (agiasma) continued to work miracles for other and earned the name "The Life-Giving Spring or Font".

The traditional account surrounding the feast of the Life-Giving Spring is recorded by Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos, the last of the Greek Ecclesiastical historians, who flourished around 1320. It begins with a miracle that occurred involving a soldier named Leo Marcellus. According to the historian Leo took pity on a blind man. Leo heard a voice say to him, "Do not trouble yourself, Leo, to look for water elsewhere, it is right here!" Looking about, he could see no one, and neither could he see any water. Then he heard the voice again, "Leo, Emperor, go into the grove, take the water which you will find and give it to the thirsty man. Then take the mud (from the stream) and put it on the blind man's eyes...And build a temple (ναός) church here...that all who come here will find answers to their petitions."

Leo did as he was told, and when the blind man's eyes were anointed with the mud from the spring he regained his eye sight.

After his accession to the throne, the Emperor erected a magnificent church on this site, dedicate to the Theotokos and the water continued to work miracle cures, as well as resurrection from the dead, through the holy intercessions of the Theotokos, and therefore it was called "The Life-Giving Spring" or "Ζωοδόχος Πηγή").

Historians Procopius and Cedrenus state the Byzantine Emperor Justinian erected a new church, larger than the first, in the last year of his reign (559-560 A.D.), utilizing materials that had remained after the erection of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral. After the erection of the sanctuary, the Byzantine named the Gate that was situated outside the walls of Theodosius II "Gate of the Spring" (Greek: "Πύλη τής Πηγής").

After the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the church was torn down by the Muslem Turks, and the stones used to build a mosque of Sultan Bayezid. Only a small chapel remained at the site of the church. Twenty-five steps led down to the site of the spring, surrounded by a railing. In 1547 the French humanist Pierre Gilles noted that the church no longer existed, but that ailing people continued to visit the spring of holy water.

As a result of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Turks of 1821, even the little chapel was destroyed and the spring was left buried under the rubble.

In 1833 the reforming Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II gave permission for the Christians to rebuild the church. When the foundations of the original church were discovered during the course of construction, the Sultan issued a second firman permitting not only the reconstruction of the small chapel, but a large church according to the original dimensions. Construction was completed on December 30, 1834, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Constantius II consecrated the church on February 2, 1835, celebrating with 12 bishops and an enormous flood of the Greek Orthodox Christian faithful.

Nearby was built a hospital and alms-house. Even the Muslims spoke with great respect of the Life-Giving Spring, and of the Theotokos, who through it pours out her grace-filled power. "Great among women Holy Mary" is how they refer to the Most Holy Virgin. The water (agiasma) from the Life-Giving Spring they call the "water of Holy Mary."

On September 6, 1955 the antic-Greek Istanbul Pogrom, the church was one of the targets of the fanatic mob. The church building was burned to the ground by the Muslem Turks while the Egoumenos was lynched, and 90-year-old Archimandrite, Father Chrisanthos Mantas was assassinated by the mob.

Another small chapel has been rebuilt on the holy site, but the church has not yet been restored to its former size. The holy spring still flows to this day and is considered by the Greek Orthodox Christian faithful to have miracle-working properties. Today, in addition to the church, the compound includes the underground shrine of the Zoodochos Pigi with the holy spring which has golden fish in it.

The sanctuary is directed by a titular bishop and is one of the most popular among the Greek Orthodox Christians of Constantinople (Istanbul), who visit it especially during Bright Friday (First Friday following Pascha), and on the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross on September 14. On these two days, a great feast, both popular and religious takes place there. Funerals of Greek Orthodox Christians to be buried in the nearby cemetery are also celebrated in the church.

About one kilometer south of the church is an important Greek hospital is active, the "Balikli Greek Hospital Foundation".

In the 9th century, Joseph the Hymnographer gave the title "Zoothochos Pege" (Life-Giving Spring) to a hymn (Theotokion) for the Mother of God for the first time.

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 has 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 Hymn. Fourth Tone

O Lady grace 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 our grace that I may cry out, "Rejoice, redemptive waters."

"Rejoice, Sovereign Lady, never failing spring of the Living Water."

The Living Water is, of course, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and the line is a reference to the Old Testament, when Moses in the wilderness struck the rock "and [God] brought water out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down as rivers" (Psalm 78:16). Jesus, referring to this miracle, said: "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believes on me, according to the Scriptures, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (St. John 7:38).

Just as the Old Testament miracles prefigured the as yet unborn Jesus Christ, so too do modern miracles point back to their source in the Risen Christ.

The holy Icon, then, shows the miraculous spring which still exists today--usually in the shape of the Cross. Around about people are coming to the waters to be healed. This is where most of the people's attention is focused. Yet we, who stand "outside" the holy Icon, are also granted the invisible image of the Mother of God holding Jesus Christ. Seated within a font, they sanctify the waters which then flow into the cross-shaped pool everyone is gathered around. The physical manifestation of God's love for mankind is shown together with the spiritual source of such miracles: Christ, the Living Water and His Mother, from whose belly the Living Water flowed.



Othros (Matins) at 9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos


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

+Father George