My beloved spiritual children 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,
Apolytikin (Dimisal) Hymn of the Entry Into the Temple of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary (Fourth Tone)
Today is the prelude of God's good will and the heralding of the salvation of mankind. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and she proclaimeth Christ unto all. To her, then, with a great voice let us cry aloud: Rejoice, O thou fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.
Kontakion of the Feast. Fourth Tone
The sacred treasury of God's holy glory, the greatly precious bridal chamber and Virgin, the Savior's Most Pure Temple, free of stain and undefiled, into the House of the Lord on this day is brought forward and bringeth with herself the grace of the Most Divine Spirit; her do God's Angels hymn with songs of praise, for she is truly the Heavenly Tabernacle.
THE ORTHODOX VENERATION OF MARY THE BIRTHGIVER OF GOD
By Saint John Maximovitch
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 Apostles, manifested a great concern and devotion for the Mother of the Lord, especially the Evangelist John the Theologian, who, fulfilling of Her Divine Son, took Her to himself an 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 (icons) 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 prepared 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. Thy 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 Apostles, the Lord gathered for Her death all the Apostles, except 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 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 Apostle Thomas, who had 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 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 intercessor 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 ORTHODOX VENERATION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
The Orthodox Church teaches about the Mother of God that which Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture have informed concerning Her, and daily it glorified 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 how 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 the 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 Sadducess" (St. 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 descendants 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 consecrate 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 the little Mary to the Temple of Jerusalem; She Herself ascended the high steps and, by revelation from God, She was led into 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 hymn of the Entry into 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 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 life. Being submissive and obedient to all, She offended no one, said no crude word to anyone, was friendly to all, and did not allow any unclean thought. (Abridged from St. Ambrose of Milan, "Concerning the Ever-Virginity of the Virgin Mary.").
"Despite the righteousness and the immaculateness of the 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 and faithful teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning the Mother of God with relation to original (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" (Saint 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 of the Virgin Who was to give Him birth. So that nothing might distract Her from prayer and heedfulness to Herself, Mary gave 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).
Mary received the Angelic good tidings humbly and submissively. "Then the Word, in a way known to Himself, descended and, as He Himself willed, came and entered into Mary and abode in Her" (Saint Ephraim the Syrian, "Praise of the Mother of God"). "As lightning illuminates what is hidden, so also Christ purifies the Virgin also and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is manifest purity in all its power. He purified the Virgin, having prepared Her by the Holy Spirit, and then the womb, having become pure, conceived Him. He purified the Virgin while She was inviolate; wherefore, having been born, He left her virgin. I do not say that Mary became immortal, but that being illuminated by grace, She was not disturbed by sinful desires" (Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Homily Against Heretics, 41). "The Light abode in Her, cleansed Her mind, made Her thoughts pure, made chase Her concerns, sanctified Her virginity" (Saint Ephraim the Syrian, "Mary and Eve"). "One who was pure according to human understanding, He made pure by grace" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, "Exposition of the Teaching of the Orthodox Church on the Mother of God"). [Source: The Orthodox Veneration of MARY The Birthgiver of God)
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God