One of the greatest and most revered relics of the Christian world, the Honorable Cincture (Belt) of the Theotokos, is kept in the monastery of Vatopaidi of the "Garden of the Mother of God", as the Holy Mountain Athos is often called.
It is the only relic that has been preserved since the time of Our Lady's life on earth. Legend has it that the woolen belt, woven by the Mother of God herself, was given by Her to Thomas the Apostle after her Dormition and ascension to heaven. Thomas the Apostle, who was absent during the burial of the Theotokos, could arrive to Jerusalem only 3 days later. He wished to bid farewell to Our Lady by asking the apostles to open the tomb. To the great surprise of everyone, all that they found inside were the beautifully fragrant burial cloths.
There is a legend, according to which on the eve of this event there was an apparition of the Mother of God to Thomas the Apostle, and She left him her cincture as a memento. The process of handing over the cincture is depicted on Orthodox icons.
A bit of history
For several hundred years, up to the fourth century, the relic did not leave Jerusalem; during the reign of Emperor Arcadius the Belt was transferred to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. There it was placed in a magnificent reliquary. After some time, the daughter of Emperor Arcadius erected the Chalcopratic temple, where the reliquary with the Cincture was placed. In the sixth century, the cincture was transferred to the city of Zila in Cappadocia, but the relic soon returned to Constantinople, where it was placed in the small church of the Holy Reliquary, specially erected near the restored Chalcopratic church.
After a few centuries, the Holy Cincture was divided into parts, which over time were transported to Bulgaria, Georgia, and Cyprus. Now the largest part of the Belt is in Mount Athos, in the monastery of Vatopaidi, and it came here by a very complicated route.
One part of the Cincture was given to the monastery by the emperor John VI Kantakouzenos, who, according to tradition, gave up his imperial title and became a monk in the Vatopaidi monastery. The other part, together with a piece of the True Cross and the holy relics, was kept in a special cross, which accompanied all Byzantine emperors on their military campaigns. When defeated in one of the battles with the Bulgarians, the cross was thrown into the river. After the relic was found, it was handed over to the Bulgarian king. In the 14th century, in a battle with a Serbian army led by the great martyr Lazar, the Bulgarians were defeated, and the cross passed into the hands of the Serbs. Forty years later, Lazar donated the cross with all its relics to the monastery of Vatopaidi. Now it is kept in the altar part of the central temple of the monastery.
The precious reliquary of the Holy Cincture of the Mother of God was kept locked for a long time. It was discovered only in the 9th-10th century, during the reign of Leo the Wise. His wife Zoe was possessed by an unclean spirit. One day she had a vision that in order to heal it was necessary to lay the Holy Cincture upon her. The Patriarch of Constantinople gave his consent. When the reliquary was unsealed and opened, it became clear that the Cincture had not had the slightest damage, despite several hundred years of existence. As soon as the Cincture of Our Lady was placed on the empress, a miraculous healing occurred. In gratitude, Zoe embroidered it with golden thread. The relic has been preserved to this day.
The brethren of the monastery often moved the Cincture of the Mother of God. They made processions with it, consecrating and protecting people from various ailments. This was the case in Constantinople in the 19th century, when a cholera epidemic was raging there. As soon as the ship that brought the Cincture entered the harbor, the epidemic ceased, and those who were already stricken with the disease were cured. At the end of the 19th century, the city of Madita in Asia Minor experienced a real natural disaster - an invasion of locusts. The insects were so numerous that they were destroying the inhabitants' crops at an unprecedented rate. As the ship approached the shore, hordes of locusts rushed into the sea, preventing the ship from anchoring.
These are only some of the many miracles associated with the Cincture of the Theotokos.
Cincture of the Theotokos for pilgrims
These days, the monks of Vatopaidi Monastery hand out small ribbons consecrated on the Cincture of the Theotokos to the believers.
These ribbons are called little Cinctures of the Theotokos and are known for helping those who suffer from cancer or face infertility. They also help people in suffering trusting in the help of the Mother of God.
The ribbons of the Theotokos are handed out in the Holy Mountain, as well as in other places where the Holy Cincture arrives for worship. It is advisable to wear the ribbon constantly, taking it off only when necessary, taking into account the fact that it is not recommended to wash it. Some tie it on their head or wrist.
Prayer before the icon "The Cincture of the Theotokos" is read by those asking for the conception of a child, a successful pregnancy and safe delivery, as well as for the health of loved ones.