Order of Malta Federal Association
Solemn Liturgy of Investiture
Ss. Philip and James
June 26, 2021
The Perilous Journey of Our Lady of Philermos
So numerous and diverse are the images of the Blessed Virgin Mary that no one can keep track of them all. Some images, of course, have more artistic value than others do. Renowned artists have endlessly painted images of Mary and these can be found in churches and museums around the world, but the provenance of other images is lost to history. Some images of Mary are carefully preserved while others have had a perilous existence.
The image of Our Lady of Philermos, it is safe to say, has had a perilous existence. While legends abound as to who “wrote” this venerable icon, all we really know is that, somehow, it made its way from Jerusalem, to Mount Philermos on the island of Rhodes, then to Malta, to Italy, and thence to St. Petersburg, Russia. For a long time, this icon thought to be lost, and in the meantime, skilled artists created two copies of this icon. But in 1988, the original icon was located in an Orthodox monastery in Montenegro, along with reliquaries, including a relic of St. John the Baptist, reliquaries that are the precious heritage of this Order. Thus, the icon of Our Lady of Philermos not only survived the rigors of travel, but indeed, the perils of history—including uprisings, revolutions, and wars.
The historic presence of this precious icon on Rhodes and Malta reminds us that Our Lady of Philermos is and remains the title under which we, the members of the Order of Rhodes and Malta, honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the Turkish army invaded Rhodes in 1480, this icon symbolized and brought home to our forebears in the Order the loving intercession and the powerful protection of the Holy Mother of God. The long and dangerous pilgrimage of this icon symbolizes for us the exhausting and perilous journey undertaken by 12th C pilgrims to the Holy Land, where they were ministered to by St. John of Jerusalem and his confreres. It also symbolizes for us how the Blessed Virgin Mary accompanies with her love those who journey through life suffering from illness, deprivation, and indignity, those whom, we as members of the Order of Malta, rightly claim as “our lords”.
Assurance on Our Spiritual Journey
Perhaps, too, this holy icon, this sacred image of Our Lady of Philermos symbolizes our own long and winding spiritual journey, a journey that has happily brought us to this grace-filled day of investiture. Here, you who are candidates for investiture will join those of us who, by ‘magistral grace’ are accounted members of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Like those who are already members of this Order, your spiritual journey may have taken winding and dangerous pathways, yet, thanks to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary you have arrived safely, and you will find in the Order of Malta fresh strength and sure direction as you contemplate the remainder of your spiritual journey on this earth, a journey guided by the Faith of the Church, a journey on which you will accompany with your love those who are in need. For these reasons, I rejoice to invest you today as members of the Order.
As in our mind’s eye we gaze upon the icon of Our Lady of Philermos, what does she teach us, and how does Mary guide the homeward steps of our journey? She who is the Mother of the Word Incarnate, teaches us to journey through life listening attentively to the Word of God with a confident faith, confident that God’s promises to us have been fulfilled and that God-is-with-us. In today’s first reading from the prophet Micah, the Lord promises that from the humblest sector of Israel, from Bethlehem, will issue forth the Lord, the Savior “who will stand firm and shepherd his flock.” The Gospel reading from St. Matthew brings us to that moment when God’s promises to his people were fulfilled. Mary is found to be with child through the Holy Spirit; an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary as his wife, for the child to be born of her will be the long-expected Messiah “who will save the people from their sins.”
These astonishing events in Mary’s life reveal how the Son of God himself journeyed from heaven to become a pilgrim in history. Assuming our humanity in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Son of God journeyed with us and for us, like us in all things but sin. As Emmanuel, as “God-with-us”, as our Good Shepherd, he preached the Good News, cured the sick, showed mercy to sinners, and made the journey from death to life so that we too might safely traverse “the valley of darkness and the shadow of death”.
For this reason, we are able to say, as did St. Paul in our reading from Romans, that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purpose.” So it is that we turn to Mary who gave us Jesus as “the way, the truth, and life” – knowing that she will enable us to follow in her Son’s footsteps, come what may, “whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill.” We turn to Mary, who journeyed on pilgrimage through the hill country so as to bring Jesus to her cousin Elizabeth, knowing that Mary will strengthen us in our desire to bring the love of Jesus, in a spirit of humble service, hands-on service, to those who are most in need. Thus do we secure the safety of our own journey from time unto eternity!
As we make this journey, now as members of the Order of Malta, with each passing day let us allow the Holy Spirit, by whom Mary conceived Jesus, to fill our hearts with the love of God, such that by our prayer and good works, we will lay claim to Blessed Mary as the iconic model of our discipleship. and become ourselves living icons of her for all those whom we encounter. Our Lady of Philermos, pray for us!