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.
A PRAYER TO THE MORE-THAN-HOLY THEOTOKOS
(Saint Gennadios Scholarios, Patriarch of Constantinople)
O Blessed Virgin, You are full of grace and among women the Most Blessed of any person; You are the adornment of the human race, the miracle of Angels, the joy of all creation, the crown of virtue, the Most True Image and Likeness of God, the Most well-disposed Queen, and we laud and praise your holiness. After all the glory we render to the Eternal Logos (Word) of God, our Creator and Savior, we directly confess and witness to your graces, O Theotokos, for You co-operated with and participated in the plan of our salvation. We beseech you, Most Holy Mother of God, accept also now our petition and send it for a favorable consideration to our Savior, and your Son, Jesus Christ, and through Him to the Unoriginate God and Father and the Holy Spirit. For you have served God in the very best of all the divine acts and in the greatest heavenly plan for the salvation of us humans. If God listens to sinners when they return in repentance to His obedience and love-O what supernatural wonder!-how will He reject your intercession on our behalf? We admit that we are sinful and unworthy of any heavenly or earthly visitation; and yet we dare to be bold because we know the depth of your own loving kindness and compassion that resembles that of God Himself. We also confess and witness to your own abiding favor and Providence toward our nation, which has been demonstrated from the beginning until now.
For these reasons therefore do not overlook us, the least of your servants, but intercede on our behalf; show your guardianship over us. Our life is passing away and the guilt for our sins is great and heavy. Our repentance is lukewarm and uncertain. We turn to God our Creator in repentance and immediately we return again to evil.
For this reason then, Most compassionate Mother of our Merciful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, be quick to deliver us from these present fears of ours. Grant us a repentance that is as true and steadfast as possible; make us all to be diligent in the work of our salvation; supplement with your divine love for mankind what is lacking in us because of our natural weakness and long-standing companionship with evil. Dissolve the guilt of our many great sins, by generating a profound contrition in our soul and by offering it as a start to the divine love for mankind, through which so many repentant thieves, prostitutes and publicans have been saved. If, through your own concern and effort on our behalf, we do not see the light of divine mercy shine upon us who are most imprudent and reckless, then all of our affairs will be filled with horrible fears and destructions. We know and are certain that you will not abandon us altogether; we still have hope that is based upon the abundance of God's Loving-kindness toward mankind and your own many visitations to us. O Most Holy Theotokos, Full of Grace and Most Blessed among women, the Lord is indeed with you, and may He be also with us through you, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
THE MOTHER OF GOD
by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (Source: The Orthodox Church)
Among the Saints a special position belongs to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom Orthodox reverence as the most exalted among God's creatures, 'more honored than the cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim' (From the Dismissal Hymn for the Feast of the Archangels [8 November]). Note that we have termed her 'most exalted among God's creatures'; Orthodox venerate or honor the Mother of God, but in no sense do the members of the Church regard her as a fourth person of the Trinity, nor does the Church assign to her the worship due to God alone. In Greek Orthodox theology the distinction is very clearly marked: there is a special word, latreia, reserved for the worship of God, while for the veneration of the Virgin entirely different terms are employed (duleia, hyperduleia, proskynesis).
In Orthodox services Mary is often mentioned, and on each occasion she is usually given her full title: 'Our All-Holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary.' Here are included the three chief epithets applied to Our Lady by the Orthodox Church: Theotokos (God-bearer, Mother of God), aeiparthenos (Ever-Virgin), and Panagia (All-Holy). The first of these titles was assigned to her by the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus, 431 AD), the Second by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 553 AD). Belief in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary may seem at first sight contrary to Scripture, since Mark 3, 31 mentions the 'brothers' of Christ. But the reference here may be to half-brothers, born to Joseph from a previous marriage; also the word employed here in Greek can mean cousin or other close relative, as well as brother in the strict sense. The title Panagia, although never a subject of dogmatic definition, is accepted and used by all Orthodox.
The appellation Theotokos is of particular importance, for it provides the key to the Orthodox devotion to the Virgin. We honor Mary because she is the Mother of our God. We do not venerate her in isolation, but because of her relation to Christ. Thus the reverence shown to Mary, so far from eclipsing the worship of God, has exactly the opposite effect: the more we esteem Mary, the more vivid is our awareness of the Majesty of her Son, for it is precisely on account of the Son that we venerate the Mother.
We honor the Mother on account of her Son: Mariology is simply an extension of Christology. The Holy Fathers of the Council of Ephesus insisted on calling Mary Theotokos, not because they desired to glorify her as an end in herself, apart from her Son, but because only by honor Mary could they safeguard a right doctrine of Christ's person. Anyone who thinks out the implications of that great phrase, the Word (Logos) was made flesh, cannot but feel a profound awe for her who was chosen as the instrument of so surpassing a mystery. When people refuse to honor Mary, only too often it is because they do not really believe in the Incarnation.
But Orthodox honor Mary, not only because she is Theotokos, but because she is Panagia, All-Holy. Among all God's creatures, she is the supreme example of synergy or cooperation between the purpose of the deity and human freedom. God, Who always respects our liberty of choice, did not wish to become Incarnate willing consent of His Mother. He waited for her voluntary response: 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be as you have said' (St. Luke I, 38). Mary could have refused; she was not merely passive, but an active participant in the mystery. As St. Nicolas Cabasilas said:
"The Incarnation was not only the work of the Father, of His Power and His Spirit...but it was also the work of the will and faith of the Virgin...Just as God became Incarnate voluntarily, so He wished that His Mother should bear Him freely and with her full consent."
If Christ is the New Adam, Mary is the New Eve, whose obedient submission to the will of God counterbalanced Eve's disobedience in Paradise. 'So the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed through the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, a virgin, bound by her unbelief, that Mary, a virgin, unloosed by her faith.' 'Death by Eve, life by Mary.'
The Orthodox Church calls Mary 'All-Holy'; it calls her 'immaculate' or 'spotless' (in Greek, achrantos); and all Orthodox are agreed in believing that Our Lady was free from actual sin.
SERMON ON THE DORMITION OF THE MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS
(Saint John of Kronstadt)
"Magnify O my soul, the honorable Translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven." (Refrain for the 9th Ode of the Canons)
Let us be happy, beloved brothers and sisters that we belong to the Holy Orthodox Church, worthily and rightly glorifying the Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos on this eminent day out of all the days of the year with special solemnity. There exists on earth many societies and entire governments that do not consider the need nor the obligation to call upon and glorify the Queen of heaven and earth, the Mother of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, and other Saints and Angels; to submissively serve Her lovingly, as the True Mother of God.
Today the Holy Church solemnly glorifies the honorable Dormition or Translation-she died without serious illness, peacefully. Her soul is taken up in the Divine hands of Her Son and carried up into the heavenly abode, accompanied by the sweet singing of Angels. And then, her most pure body is transferred by the Apostles to Gethsemane where it is honorably buried, and on the third day it is resurrected and taken up to heaven. You see this on the icon of the Dormition of Theotokos. On it is represented the Life-bearing body of the Theotokos on a bier, surrounded by the Apostles and hierarchs, and in the center of the icon the Lord holding in His hands the most pure soul of the Theotokos. The Translation (Metastasis in Greek) of the Mother of God is a paradigm of the translation in general of the souls of Christians to the other world.
We say that our dead have "fallen asleep" or "passed away." What does this mean? This means that for the True Christians there is no death. Death was conquered by Christ on the Cross. But there is a translation, i.e., a rearrangement of his condition, i.e., his soul is in another place, in another age, in another world beyond the grave, eternal, without end, that is what is meant by "falling asleep". It is as if it were a temporary dream after which, by the voice of the Lord and the fearful yet wonderful trumpet of the Archangel, all the dead shall live and come forth each to his place: either to the resurrection of life or to the resurrection of condemnation (St. John 5:29). This is what the Christian means by translation. We should be ready for this translation, for the day of the general resurrection and judgment, for this indescribable world event, recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
This preparation for the meeting of the heavenly king before the dread judgments seat, after death, is essentially the person's preparation throughout the whole of his life. This preparation means a change in all his thoughts, and the moral change of all his being, so that the whole man would be pure and white as snow, washing clean everything that defiles the body and spirit, so that he is adorned with every virtue: Repentance, meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity, chastity, mercifulness, abstention, spiritual contemplation, and burning love for God and neighbor.
Our preparation for meeting the heavenly King, and for the inheritance of eternal life in heaven, should consists of these things. The heavenly King desires souls adorned with immutable virtue, souls prepared so that the Very Lord Himself could abide in them. Do not marvel that the Very Lord wants to live in us. In fact the human soul is more spacious than the heavens and the earth, for it exists in the image of God. And if one removes sins from the soul, the Lord of all will settle in it and will fill it with Himself. "We will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (St. John 14:23), say the Lord about the souls who love Him.
And so, ye, participants in the Christian feasts, and especially the present feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, ye who are brightly adorned with every virtue and translated to the heavenly Kingdom, to Her Son and God, proclaim to each and every one about preparing their souls to be the dwelling place of the Lord, about continual repentance, and about the incorruptible adornment of Christian virtue. Let your death also be unashamed and peaceful, serving as the pledge of a good answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ. Amen.
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