Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
SERMON ON THE DORMITION OF THE VIRGIN MARY
By Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki
Although we cannot speak about that which surpasses all words, we may offer hymns of praise out of love for the Mother of God (Theotokos), according to our ability. If "the death of His Saints is precious in the sight of the Lord" (Psalm 115 :15), and "the memory of the just is praised" (Prov. 19:7), then how much more is the memory of the holiest of the Saints, through Whom all holiness has been accorded to the Saints? I refer to the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, Whose memory it now behooves us to celebrate with the most exalted praises.
We now celebrate Her Holy Dormition (Koimisis), or Death, through which she was brought "a little lower than the Angels", (Psalms 8:5) and yet she ascended incomparably higher than the Angels and the Archangels...and is above them because of her closeness to God, and by the wondrous deeds which were, from the beginning, written and accomplished regarding her.
It is on her account that the God-inspired prophets prophesied, and the miracles were performed that foreshadowed this great and universal wonder: the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. The testimonies of the Spirit, in various ways, indicated beforehand types of the future truth, (Joachim and Anna, in their old age, would become parents of a child) who would without seed give birth to the One begotten of God the Father from eternity...
The King of all greatly desired the beauty of the Ever-Virgin (Ps. 44 :11)...and He overshadowed her, or rather, the...Power of the Most High dwelt within her. He did not manifest His presence through darkness and fire as with the God-seer Moses, nor through storm and clouds as with the Prophet Elias, but the Power from on High overshadowed the All-Pure and virginal womb, separated...neither by air...nor by anything sensible...Thus, the Word (Logos) of God took up His abode in her in an inexpressible way, and came forth incarnate in the flesh. He "showed Himself on earth and conversed with men" (Baruch 3:38), deifying our nature and granting us, according to the divine Apostle, that "which the Angels desire to look into" (I Peter 1:12). This is...the most glorious glory...of the Ever-Virgin Mary.
What words are there to explain what transpired after the inexplicable birth? In her co-operation and suffering with the condescension of the Word (Logos) of God, she is also glorified and exalted together with Him, in His great and wondrous Majesty. But with the Ascension to Heaven of Him Who was Incarnate of her, she in turn rivaled those great works surpassing mind and speech, which through Him were her own, with manifold deeds and prayers, and also her solicitude for the whole world, and the inspiration she gave to preachers sent to all the ends of the earth.
She was a support and consolation for all, and toiled with the rest in the proclamation of the Gospel. Thus she lived a difficult life proclaimed in mind and word. Therefore, the death of the Theotokos was also life-bearing, carrying her over into heavenly and immortal life. The remembrance of it is a joyous feast and universal solemnity...Into the hands of her Son the God-bearing spirit of the Ever-Virgin Mary was given; and indeed a short while afterwards, her body was translated by Him into the eternal heavenly habitations. This was fully just and proper.
In actual fact, through the ages many were granted the divine condescension, glory and might, as David also says: "Thy friends, O God, have been greatly honored by me, and their rule has been greatly strengthened. I will number them, and more than the sands shall they be multiplied" (Psalm 138 :17-18). "Many daughters," according to Solomon, "have obtained riches, and many have wrought valiantly" (Prov. 31:29-30). And here is the All-Pure Virgin Mary, and she is Most exceedingly exalted over all and for all. While she alone stood between God and the human race, God became the Son of Man, and made men sons of God. She made Heaven of earth and deified the human race. She alone of all women is shown to be a Mother by nature and the Mother of God transcending every law of nature. Through ineffably giving birth, she has become the Queen of everything in both the earthly and heavenly creation. Through herself, she exalted those subject to her, and while on earth showed obedience to heavenly rather than earthly things, and she shared in greater rewards and greater power. Through the ordination she received from Heaven through the Divine Spirit, she became the Most Exalted and Most-Blessed Queen of a blessed lineage.
Now she has her proper habitation in Heaven, into which today she is translated from earth, for heaven is a most fitting place for her. She stands at the right side of the Almighty "adorned in golden robes, arrayed in diverse colors" (Psalm 44 : 9-10), as the Prophet-King David said of her. Beneath the golden robes, her divinely radiant body is arrayed with the diverse colors of all virtues. She alone, in her body glorified God, enjoys the celestial habitations with her Son. The earth, the grave and death could not hold forever her life-originating and God-receiving body-a dwelling place more radiant than Heaven and the habitation of the Heavens.
Actually, if her soul, which was a habitation of God's grace, is borne up to heaven, forsaking the mundane, as becomes clear from many examples, and as we believe, how could that body which received within itself the Only-Begotten and Pre-Eternal Son of God, the inexhaustible source of grace, and also showed forth His Body by giving birth to him, not be carried up from earth to Heaven? If, when only three years of age, and not yet having in herself the super-celestial Indwelling, nor yet having begotten the Incarnate One, she took up habitation in the Holy of Holies...[November 21], then how could that body decay and turn to dust?
Therefore, the body which gave birth, is glorified together with the One Who is born, with glory befitting God, and it is raised together. The "ark of holiness" (Psalm 131:8) is resurrected together with Christ, Who arose on the third day, as expressed in prophetic song. There was, moreover, the evidence for the Apostles of her resurrection from the dead: the shroud and burial cloths, which remained in the grave, and which alone were found there by those who came to look things over: just as it had been with her Son and Lord.
It was unnecessary that she should tarry a certain while upon the earth, as had her Son and God, and therefore she was taken directly from the grace into a celestial habitation, from whence she shines with a resplendent radiance, illuminating all the earth. For the faithful, this is something worthy of veneration, worthy of praise and of her Son…in this way, she was at the start "a little lower than the Angels" (Psalm 8:6) in her mortality, but this only served to increase the majesty of the Mother of God. Therefore, it is entirely proper that everyone gather today and commune for the present feast.
It is fitting that she who contained the One Who fills all things, and is above all, should herself should surpass all and become foremost of all by her virtues and utmost worthiness. Those things that through all the ages helped all the best individuals who ever lived to reach such virtue, and that which all those have individually by the grace of God, whether Angels or men, she combines within herself, and she alone brings them to fulfillment...After death, she has found immortality, and in her body dwells in Heaven together with her Son and God. Therefore, she pours forth abundant grace on those honoring her. She even bestows on us the boldness to hasten unto her, for she is the vessel of so many graces. She distributes blessings generously on us, and never ceases this profitable bestowal and gracious help.
And who will the Only-Begotten love more than His Mother? He was Begotten of her inexplicably in the fullness of time without a father, just as He was Begotten of the Father in eternity without a mother. How could He Who came to fulfill the Law not increase the honor due to His Mother even beyond the requirements of the Law?
O divine and now heavenly, Virgin! How can I relate everything concerning you? How can I glorify you, the Treasury of Glory? ...mere movement towards you illumines the mind...through you the spirit of a man is enlightened by...the Holy Spirit. You have become the treasury of divine gifts, and their repository; though not to keep them for yourself, but also that you might fill all of created nature with the gifts of grace. For the Master of those inexhaustible treasures entrusted them to you so that they might be bestowed. Why else would He have granted blessings, which would otherwise remain hidden and unbestowed?
Therefore, O Lady, grant mercy and your grace abundantly to all your people, your inheritance. Deliver us from the misfortunes afflicting us. Behold how much and how greatly we are oppressed...by those both without and within. By your might transform all for the best...bestow your help and healing commensurate with our passions...granting to our souls and our bodies abundant grace for every need. Though we may be incapable of containing your riches, increase our capacity and so grant them to us and that we, saved and strengthened by your grace, may glorify the Pre-Eternal Word (Logos) Who was Incarnate of you for our sakes, together with His Unoriginate Father and Life-Creating Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God