Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
It is truly met to call thee blessed, the Theotokos. The Ever-Blessed and All-Immaculate and Mother of our God More Honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. Thee who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, Thee do we magnify.
THE VENERATION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD (THEOTOKOS)
(By Saint John Maximovitch Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco)
The Veneration of the Mother of God During Her Earthly Life
From Apostolic times and to our days all who truly love Christ give veneration to Her Who gave birth to Him, raised Him and protected Him in the days of His youth. If God the Father chose Her, God the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, and God the Son dwelt in Her, submitted to Her in the days of His youth, was concerned for Her when hanging on the Cross-then should not everyone who confesses the Holy Trinity venerate Her?
Still in the days of Her earthly life, the friends of Christ, the Holy Apostles, manifested a great concern and devotion for the Mother of the Lord, especially the Evangelist John the Theologian, who, fulfilling the will of the Her Divine Son, took Her to himself and took care for Her as for a mother from the time when the Lord uttered to him from the Cross the words: "Behold thy mother".
The Evangelist Luke painted a number of images of Her, some together with the Pre-eternal Child, others without Him. When, he brought them and showed them to the Most Holy Virgin, She approved them and said: "The grace of My Son shall be with them," and repeated the hymn She had once sung in the house of Elizabeth: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and My spirit hath rejoiced in God My Savior".
However, the Virgin Mary during Her earthly life avoided the glory which belonged to Her as the Mother of the Lord. She preferred to live in quiet and prepare Herself for the departure into eternal life. To the last day of Her earthly life She took care to prove worthy of the Kingdom of Her Son, and before death She prayed that He might deliver Her soul from the malicious spirits that meet human souls on the way to Heaven and strive to seize them so as to take them away with them to Hades. The Lord fulfilled the prayer of His Mother and in the hour of Her death Himself came from heaven with a multitude of Angels to receive Her soul.
Since the Mother of God had also prayed that She might bid farewell to the holy Apostles, the Lord gathered for Her death all the Holy Apostles, except St. Thomas, and they were brought by an invisible power on that day to Jerusalem from all the ends of the inhabited world, where they were preaching, and they were present at Her blessed translation into Eternal life.
The Holy Apostles gave Her most pure body over to burial with sacred hymns, and on the third day they opened the tomb so as once more to venerate the remains of the Mother of God together with the Holy Apostle Thomas, who has arrived then in Jerusalem. But they did not find the body in the tomb and in perplexity they returned to their own place; and then, during their meal, the Mother of God herself appeared to them in the air, shining with heavenly light, and informed them that Her Son had glorified Her body also and She, resurrected, stood before His throne. At the same time She promised to be with them always.
The holy Apostles greeted the Mother of God with great joy and began to venerate Her not only as the Mother of their beloved Teacher and Lord, but also as their heavenly helper, as a protector of Christians and intercessors for the whole human race before the Righteous Judge. And everywhere the Gospel of Christ was preached. His Most Pure Mother also began to be glorified.
The f=First Enemies of the Veneration of the Mother of God
The more the faith of Christ spread and the Name of the Savior of the world was glorified on earth, and together with Him also She Who was vouchsafed to be the Mother of the God-man-the more did the hatred of the enemies of Christ increase towards Her. Mary was the Mother of Jesus. She manifested a hitherto unheard-of example of purity and righteousness, and furthermore, now departed from this life. She was a mighty support for Christians, even though invisible to bodily eyes. Therefore all who hated Jesus Christ and did not believe in Him, who did not understand his teaching, or to be more precise, did not wish to understand as the Church understood, who wished to replace the preaching of Christ with their own human reasoning all of these transferred their hatred for Christ, for the Gospel and the Church, to the most Pure Virgin Mary. (Is this not what is taking place in our secular society and world today?) They wished to belittle the Mother, so as thereby to destroy faith also in Her Son, to create a false picture of Her among men in order to have the opportunity to rebuild the whole Christian teaching on a different foundation. In the womb of Mary, God and man were joined. She was the One Who served as it were as the ladder for the Son of God, Who descended from heaven. To strike a blow at Her veneration means to strike Christianity at the root, to destroy it in its very dounation...
The enemies of Christ resolved not to manifest their lack of veneration for the body of the Most Pure One further at that time by crude violence, but their malice did not cease. Seeing that Christianity was spreading everywhere, they began to spread various slanders about Christians. They did not spare the name of the Mother of Christ either, and they invented the story that Jesus of Nazareth had come from a base and immoral environment, and that His Mother had associated with a certain Roman soldier. (This has been spread through current television programs very recently and at times from so called "Christian scholars" who promote heresy, division, confusion and blasphemy).
But here the lie was too evident for this fiction to attract attention. The whole family of Joseph the Betrothed and Mary Herself were known well by the inhabitants of Nazareth and the surrounding countryside in their time. Whence hath this man this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren! James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with: us? (St. Matthew 13:54-55; St. Mark 6:3; St. Luke 4:22). So said His fellow-countrymen in Nazareth when Christ revealed before them in the Synagogue His otherworldly wisdom. In small towns the family matters of everyone are well known; very strict watch was kept then over the purity of married life.
Would people really have behaved with respect towards Jesus, called Him to preach in the synagogue, if He had been born of illegitimate cohabitation? To Mary the Law of Moses would have been applied, which commanded that such persons be stoned to death; and the Pharisees would have taken the opportunity many times to reproach Christ for the conduct of His Mother. But just the contrary was the case. Mary enjoyed great respect; at Cana. She was an honored guest at the wedding and even when Her Son was condemned, no one allowed himself to ridicule or censure His Mother.
The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God
The Orthodox Church teaches about the Mother of God that which Sacred Tradition have informed concerning Her, and daily it glorifies Her in its temples, asking Her help and defense. Knowing that She is pleased only by those praises which correspond to Her actual glory, the Holy Fathers and hymn-writers have entreated Her and Her Son to teach them to hymn Her. "Set a rampart about my mind, O my Christ, for I make bold to sing the praise of Thy pure Mother" (Ikos of the Dormition). "The Church teaches that Christ was truly born of Mary Ever-Virgin" (St. Epiphanius, "True Word Concerning the Faith"). "It is essential for us to confess that the Holy Ever-Virgin Mary is actually Theotokos (Birth-giver of God), so as not to fall into blasphemy. For those who deny that the Holy Virgin is actually Theotokos are no longer believers, but disciples of the Pharisees and Sadduccees" (Saint Ephraim the Syrian, "To John the Monk").
From Holy Tradition it is known that Mary was the daughter of the aged Joachim and Anna, and that Joachim descended from the royal line of David, and Anna from the priestly line. Notwithstanding such a noble origin, they were poor. However, it was not this that saddened these righteous ones, but rather the fact that they did not have children and could not hope that their descendents would see the Messiah. And behold, when once, being disdained by the Hebrews for their barrenness, they both in grief of soul were offering up prayers to God-Joachim on a mountain to which he had retired after the priest did not want to offer his sacrifice in the Temple, and Anna in her own garden weeping over her barrenness-there appeared to them an Angel who informed them that they would bring forth a daughter. Overjoyed, they promised to consecrated their child to God.
In nine months a daughter was born to them, called Mary, Who from Her early childhood manifested the best qualities of soul. When She was three years old, her parents, fulfilling their promise, solemnly led little Mary to the Temple of Jerusalem; She Herself ascended the high steps and, by revelation from God, She was led in to the very Holy of Holies, by the High Priest who met Her, taking with Her the grace of God which rested upon Her into the Temple which until then had been without grace. (See the Kontakion of the Entry into the Temple. This was the newly-built Temple into which the glory of God had not descended as it had upon the Ark or upon the Temple of Solomon.) She was settled in the quarters for virgins which existed in the Temple, but She spent so much time in prayer in the Holy of Holies that one might say that She lived in it. (Service to the Entry, second sticheron on "Lord, I have cried," and the "Glory, Both Now...") Being adorned with all virtues, She manifested an example of extraordinarily pure thought (abridged from St. Ambrose of Milan, "Concerning the Ever-Virginity of the Virgin Mary").
"Despite the righteousness and the immaculateness of life which the Mother of God led, sin and eternal death manifested their presence in Her. They could not but be manifested: Such is the precise an faithful teaching of the Orthodox concerning the Mother of Go with relation to ancestral sin and death" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, "Exposition of the Teaching of the Orthodox Church on the Mother of God"). "A stranger to any fall into sin" (St. Ambrose of Milan, Commentary on the 118th Psalm), She was not a stranger to sinful temptations. "God alone is without sin" (St. Ambrose, same source), while man will always have in himself something yet needing correction and perfection in order to fulfill the commandment of God; Be ye holy as I the Lord your God am Holy (Leviticus 19:2). The more pure and perfect one is, the more he notices his imperfections and considers himself all the more unworthy.
The Virgin Mary, having given Herself entirely up to God, even though She repulsed from herself every impulse to sin, still felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others and ardently desired the coming of the Savior. In Her humility She considered Herself unworthy to be even the servant-girl or the Virgin Who was to give Him birth. So that nothing might distract Her from prayer and heedfulness to Herself, Mary gave to God a vow not to become married, in order to please only Him Her whole life long. Being betrothed to the elderly Joseph when Her age no longer allowed Her to remain in the Temple, She settled in his house in Nazareth. Here the Virgin was vouchsafed the coming of the Archangel Gabriel, who brought Her the good "tidings of the birth from Her of the Son of the Most High. Hail, Thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women...The Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow Thee: wherefore also that which is to be born shall be holy, and shall be called the Son of God" (St. Luke 1:28-35).
(to be continued)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God