She Who is Wider Than the Heavens

40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


It is meet indeed to bless Thee, the Ever-Blessed and Most-Pure and Mother of our God. Thee that art more honorable than the Cherubim, and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, who without spot of sin didst bear God the Logos (Word); Thee, verily the Mother of God, we magnify.



On March 9th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers of every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy 40 Martyrs of Sevaste; St. Caesarius, brother of St. Gregory the Theologian; St. Philoromus, Confessor of Galatia; St. Urpasanus of Nicomedia; St. Tarasius of Liconium; St. Johah, Archbishop of Novgorod; Saint Vitalius of Castronovo; St. Pecianus, Bishop of Barcelona; New holy Martyr Archpriest Mitrophan of Voronezh (+1931); "Albazin" holy Icon of the Mother of God.

THE FORTY HOLY MARTYRS OF SEBASTE. These were soldiers in the Roman army, but believed firmly in the Lord Jesus. When a persecution arose in the time of the pagan Licinius, they were all taken for trial before the commander, who threatened to strip them of their military status. To this one of them, Saint Candidus, replied: "Do not take only our military status, but also our bodies; nothing is dearer or of greater honor to us than Christ our God." Then the commander ordered his servants to stone the holy martyrs to death. But when the servants threw the stones at the Christians, the stones turned back and fell on them themselves, causing them grievous injuries. One stone fell on the commander's face and smashed his teeth. The torturers, in bestial fury, bound the holy martyrs and threw them into a lake, setting a watch all round it to prevent any of them escaping. There was a terrible frost, and the lake froze around the bodies of the martyrs. To make the torture worse, the torturers built and lit baths by the lake, in the sight of the freezing sufferers, with the idea that one of them might deny Christ and acknowledge the pagan idols of Rome. In fact, one of them did abjure, came out of the water and went into the baths. But lo during the night a strange light appeared from heaven, which heated the water in the lake and the bodies of the martyrs, and with that light there descended from heaven thirty-nine wreaths for their heads. One of the sentries on the shore saw this, confessed the Name of Christ and went into the lake to be worthy of the fortieth wreath in place of the traitor. And the fortieth wreath was seen to descend upon him. The next day, the whole town was amazed to see the martyrs still alive. Then the wicked judges commanded that their legs be broken and their bodies thrown into the water, so that the Christians should not be able to find them. On the third day the martyrs appeared to the local bishop, Peter, and told him to search beneath the water and bring out their relics. The bishop went out on a dark night with his clergy, and saw where the martyrs' holy relics were glowing in the water. Every bone that had been broken off from their bodies rose to the surface and burned there like a candle. They gathered them, and gave them burial, and the souls of these martyrs went to Him Who was martyred for us all and rose with glory, the Lord Jesus. They suffered with honor and were crowned with unfading glory in the year of our Lord 320 AD.



Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 12:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 20:1-16


"What is a Christian? What must he have? Certainly, he must have much patience in everything. The road that takes wayfarers to the city of Paradise is completely strewn with thorns; those who travel along it will bleed. But the hope of enjoying Paradise overcomes everything and provides the wayfarers with patience--as the Forty Holy Martyrs said when they were thrown into the frozen lake: "Winter is bitter, but Paradise is sweet; the frost is painful, but the enjoyment will be sweet." (Geronda [Elder] Ephraim of the Holy Mountain and Arizona)


Homily 19
By Elder Ephraim (the former Egoumenos [Abbot] of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou, Mount Athos) [Source: The Art of Salvation]

Today we will say a few words in honor of our Panagia (All-Holy) whom our Orthodox Church glorifies and elevates above the Cherubim and Seraphim, and whom, conversely, heretics lower to a degradable level.

When our Panagia met with Saint Elizabeth, the mother of the Honorable Forerunner John, amongst other things, she also foretold the following: "From henceforth, all the generations will call me blessed" (St. Luke 1:48). In other words, from this point forward all the generations of people who will believe in the Lord will bless me because God the Father gave me the honor of becoming the Mother of His Son. What an extraordinary honor for a woman!

In our days there is much talk concerning equality of men and women. However, the struggles for this equality and the so-called feminist movement have appeared quite late. For twenty centuries now, Christianity has resolved the problem. How? It abolished discrimination. It honored the female gender with value equal to that of man. Furthermore, it honored a particular woman with acclaim that no man ever had, has, or will have. This woman is the Most-Holy Theotokos.

Christianity, and the Church, does not use gender, social status, education, material wealth, or intelligence as criteria to rate and assess people. It grades and evaluates them using a single criterion: holiness. In the eyes of God there is no male or female. There are only people who are sinful and repentant, impious and pious, holy and holier.

During the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos, we revere the holiest person, the holiest woman: our Panagia. Our Panagia not only remained incorrupt during her lifetime; she remained incorrupt during death as well. The birth of her Son did not corrupt her virginity. Just as the body of Christ remained incorrupt when He died upon the Cross, similarly, the body of our Panagia remained incorrupt when she passed away.

Since in the Orthodox Church we have and venerate incorrupt bodies of saints, how much more so was it natural for the God-bearing body of the Mother of our Lord and God to remain incorrupt! Moreover, would it ever be possible for her body to remain on the earth? No! It was transferred to Heaven. During her entrance into the temple of Solomon, our Panagia entered the Holy of Holies, whereas with her Dormition, she entered with her immaculate, exquisite soul and her glorious, incorrupt body into the Holy of Holies in Heaven.

If for other people physical death results in decomposition of the body, for our Panagia it became a Life-giving event. Of course, during the Universal Resurrection at the Second Coming all the faithful will receive incorrupt bodies; however, for our Panagia, this transformation took place three days after her burial. Her departure toward the Lord was the beginning of a second, eternal state of being for both her soul and body. It was not possible for death to detain her whom had been "entirely united with God."

We experience profound reverence for our Panagia during the feast day of her Dormition. Who exalted her? Her Son, God, and Savior of the world. If Saint John the Baptist was the Forerunner of Christ's advent to the earth, Christ was the Forerunner for the Theotokos' journey to Heaven. Christ was first to conquer death, and with His incorrupt and Divine body He ascended to Heaven and became the Forerunner for our Panagia. Christ was the first born amongst the dead; He ascended to prepare the way for the faithful to pass into Heaven. This is how the Apostle Paul expresses it: "Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a High Priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedeck" (Hebrews 6:20).

The Panagia received in Her womb the God-man, the Son and Word of God, Who assumed His human nature from the Virgin Mary and united it with His Divine nature in one hypostasis. Christ brought her into Heaven fully intact: both with her soul and her body. When our Panagia received Christ the God-man in her womb, she became wider than the heavens. We see her depicted in certain icons as "the Platytera." (Please note: The word "Platytera" (Πλατυτέρα in Greek) is an abbreviation for "Platytera ton Ouranon," which means "Wider than the Heavens." God is greater than the universe; yet He was contained within the womb of the Virgin Mary. Thus, the Theotokos (which means "the birth-giver of God," derived from the Greek words Θεός = God + τόκος = childbirth) is indeed wider than the heavens.) She received Christ, she carried Him in her womb, and she gave birth to Him. Now Christ receives the holy soul of His Mother the Theotokos in His arms, in the palm of His hands. Saint John of Damaskos marvels, "How does the Word of God, Who became her son by concession on account of ineffable compassion, now minister to His Most-Holy and godly Mother and receive her blessed and sacred soul into His Almighty hands!" Our Panagia attended to and cared for our Jesus Christ as long as he was a child. Now the Son receives His Mother as a Queen in Heaven: "The queen stood on the right hand, clothed in vesture wrought with gold, and arrayed in diverse colors" (Psalm 44:9-10).

The Apostles honored our Panagia. Instantly they all assembled in Jerusalem to bury the body of the Theotokos and Mother of their Teacher. Holy Tradition tells us: "Apostles from the ends of the earth are here assembled together…"

"...The Apostles paid tribute to the Mother of the Lord, and on the third day they were filled with amazement and wonder when they discovered that her body was missing from her grave in Gethsemane. The Angels in Heaven also honored our Panagia. They received her at the time of her Dormition, accompanied her, and took her to visit all the heavenly dwellings and mansions. Awestruck, they beheld her ascend higher than the Cherubim and Seraphim, according to the megalynarion hymn: "More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim." This was a surprise for the Angels! They witnessed the first human body ascending into Heaven and being glorified in the Kingdom of Heaven...

"...Finally, the Panagia is honored by all faithful and pious Orthodox Christians, but especially by the Greek people more than any other ethnicity. It dedicates most of its churches to the Panagia. Most of our monasteries have the Panagia as their Protectress. Most candles are lit before byzantine icons of the Panagia (Byzantine iconography expresses the dogmatic beliefs of our Church). During the difficult moments of life, people who suffer call upon our Panagia. Rivers of tears are poured out before Her holy icons. The Panagia is deeply rooted within the conscience of our Orthodox people.

My blessed Christians, I have shown you who honored and who continue to honor the Panagia. However, there are also the people who do not honor our Panagia, but disrespect her personage.


My fatherly advice to all of our Orthodox Christian faithful is to turn to our Panagia with faith and love and ask her to intercede to her Son and God to forgive us and to save us and all of mankind from all evil and sin. The Fridays of Holy Lent are dedicated to her and therefore we conduct the Akathist in her honor. I invite all of you to assemble at our holy church and as the body of Christ to thank her for her unconditional love for us and for the entire human race. Through the prayers of the Holy Theotokos, O Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us. 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

+Father George