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.
THE EIGHTH DAY OF THE MONTH OF SEPTEMBER
Homily on the Nativity of the Most Pure Theotokos
The Lord, Who dwells in the heavens, wishing to appear on earth and abide with men, first prepared a dwelling place for His glory: His Most Pure Mother. It is the custom of kings that in whatever city they desire to live, a place of residence be prepared for them beforehand. And as the palaces of earthly kings are constructed by the most skilled craftsmen, of the most costly materials, on the most elevated sites, and are more beautiful and spacious than all the other dwellings of men, so it was necessary that the palace of the King of glory be erected in a similar fashion (III Kings, ch. 6). In the Old Testament, when God desired to dwell in Jerusalem, Solomon built a temple for Him, employing Hiram, a most wise master, who possessed full of knowledge of every art and science and was skilled in every enterprise. He constructed the temple with materials of great value: with costly stone, with aromatic woods of cedar and cypress brought from Lebanon, and with pure gold, locating it upon a high place, that is, upon Mount Moriah (II Chron. ch. 3). The temple was of great beauty, and on its walls were portrayed the likenesses of Cherubim and of various trees and flowers. The temple was so spacious that all of the Israelite people could be accommodated therein without crowning, and the glory of the Lord came upon it in fire and a cloud (II Chron. ch. 7). Nevertheless, the temple did not suffice to contain within itself the uncontainable God, for even though Solomon built Him a temple, "the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands. What house will ye build me, saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?" (Acts, ch. 7).
At the beginning of the new era of grace, the Lord was pleased to create a temple not made by hands: the most pure, most blessed Virgin Mary. By what builder was this temple erected? In truth by One most wise: by the very wisdom of God, as the Scriptures say, "Wisdom hath built herself a temple" (Prov. ch. 9). All things created by the Wisdom of God that fashioned the Living Temple of the Logos (Word), a perfect temple was fashioned for a perfect God, a most radiant palace for the most radiant King; for the most pure and undefiled Bridegroom a bridal chamber most pure and undefiled was prepared; for the spotless Lamb, an unsullied dwelling place (The Lives of the Saints compiled by Saint Demetrius of Rostov, vol. 1, Moscow). A faithful Witness abiding in the heavens said to her, "Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee" ( Song of Songs, ch. 4). Saint John of Damascus wrote, "She is wholly the bridal chamber of the Spirit, wholly the city of God, a sea of grace, wholly good, wholly near unto God" (The Damascene, First Homily on the Nativity of the Most Pure Theotokos).
With what materials was this palace built? In truth, with the most costly. For she, being like a precious stone, was of royal lineage, having descended from David, who placed a stone in his sling and with it killed Goliath, which stone foreshadowed the Rock that is Christ. And she was fashioned, as it were, from aromatic woods of cedar and cypress, being of priestly ancestors as well, who offered God sweet-smelling sacrifices. Her father, the holy righteous Joachim, was the son of Barpaphira, who traced his ancestry to Nathan, the son of David. Her mother, the holy righteous Anna, was the daughter of Matthan the priest, who was of the line of Aaron. Thus, the Most Pure Virgin was by her father of royal descent, and by her mother, of high-priestly lineage. Of what precious materials, from what an ancestry was the most illustrious built of stone and wood in Solomon's temple were esteemed all the more for the pure gold with which they were covered, so in the case of the Nativity of the Most Pure Theotokos, the nobility of her royal and high-priestly lineage is rendered yet more honorable by the chaste temperance of her holy parents, which is more to be valued than thousands of gold and silver. "She is more precious than costly stones, and nothing that is dear is to be compared unto her" (Prov., ch. 3), for the Most Pure Virgin was born of parents possessed of chastity ("But not of virginity, for Christ alone was born "of seedless conception"), which is loftier than all nobility, as the holy Damascene testifies ("From St. John of Damascus' Homily on the Nativity of the Most Pure Theotokos). Writing of the righteous ancestors of God, he says, "O blessed couple, Joachim and Anna! Truly, by the fruit of your loins are ye known to be blameless, according to the words of the Lord, "Ye shall know them by their fruits" (St. Matt., ch. 7). Ye ordered your lives in a manner pleasing to God and worthy of her who was born of you. Having lived in chastity and righteousness, ye brought forth the treasury of virginity, the Virgin, who was a virgin before giving birth, as she gave birth, and even after she gave birth. She alone, being in mind and soul and body ever a virgin, abideth always in virginity. Truly it was fitting that this virginity, born of chastity, be brought in the flesh as an offering to the Only-Begotten Light! Like a pair of rational doves, O Joachim and Anna, ye, having chastely observed the laws of nature in all chastity, have been granted of God that which is above nature and have brought into the world the Virgin Mother of God. While in the flesh, ye have piously and virtuously born a daughter who is higher than the Angels and reigneth over them. Most fair and sweet daughter, lily sprang up in the midst of tares from a root most noble and august, by thee the royal priesthood hath been enriched!" With words such as these the holy Damascene clearly indicates the manner of parents who bore the Mother of God and of what costly materials the palace of the Heavenly King was erected.
Where was this Living Palace built? In a most exalted place, as the Church testifies, saying, "Truly thou art higher than all things O Pure Virgin" (Canon for the Feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos, Ode 9). Nevertheless, it was not so in respect to locality but rather to her virtues and God's blessings. The place where the Most Blessed Virgin was born was a little town in the land of Galilee called Nazareth, which was subject to the city of Capernaum (Jerome and Eusebius). It was inglorious and obscure, and its inhabitants were held in disdain, even as it was once said of Christ, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (St. John, ch. 1). But the Lord, "Who dwelleth on high and looketh down on things that are lowly" (Psalm 112), was well-pleased that His Most Pure Mother be born not in Capernaum, which in its pride was lifted up to heaven, but rather in humble Nazareth, indicating that that "which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (St. Luke, ch. 16), while that which is despised and disdained by them is regarded by Him as lofty and honorable. Moreover, by its very name Nazareth hints at the height of the virtues of the Most Pure Virgin. As by His Nativity in Bethlehem, which name means "House of Bread," the Lord mystically signified that He is the Bread come down from heaven for the life and strength of men, so by the birth of His Most Pure Mother in Nazareth, He denotes sublime things. For the name Nazareth means a blossoming place, sacred, removed from the things of this world, adorned, as it were, with a crown, and guarded. All these epithets are clearly applicable to the Most Pure Virgin, for she is the flower sprung up from the withered tree of a barren and aged womb, a blossom which has renewed our nature, shriveled with age. She is the flower that does not wilt but ever blossoms with virginity. She is the most fragrant flower, giving forth the fragrance of the only King. She is the flower which bore the fruit which is Christ the Lord, the flower which alone has borne the fragrant apple. She is sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit which has descended upon her and has overshadowed her, and she is the holiest of all the saints as she has borne the Logos (Word), Who Himself is more holy than all the saints. She, the pure and undefiled one, is excluded from the ranks of the sinners of this world, being a stranger from sin who averts sinners from wicked deeds, as the Church says unto her, "Rejoice, thou who dost rescue us from the works of sin" (The Akathistos, Oikos 5.). She is crowned with glory, having come forth from glorious, chaste and righteous parents. She is crowned with honor, for she was esteemed worthy of the Angel's glad tidings and his attendance. She is crowned with glory, as Mother of God, for what could be more glorious than to bear God? She is crowned with honor, as the Ever-Virgin, for what could be more honorable than to remain a virgin even after giving birth? She is crowned with glory, more glorious than the Seraphim, possessed of love for God like that of the Seraphim. She is crowned with honor, more honorable than the Cherubim, having surpassed the Seraphim in wisdom and knowledge of the divinity. "Glory, honor and peace to every man who worketh good" (Romans, ch. 2), says the Apostle, and who among the earthborn surpasses the most pure virgin in deeds of virtues? Having fulfilled all the commandments of the Lord, having done all His will, observed all His injunctions, kept all His sayings in her heart, and performed every sort of good deed to assist her neighbors, she is worthy to be crowned, as one who works all manner of good. She is likewise a repository, in which the treasure of her virginity is guarded so carefully that not even to the Angel did she wish to entrust it. For when she saw the Angel, she was troubled at his words and considered in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. All these things concerning the Most Pure Virgin are betokened by the name Nazareth.
Who would not affirm that the lofty palace of Christ has been greatly exalted through the virtues of the Most Pure Virgin and God's blessings? She is exalted, for she has been bestowed upon us from heaven, albeit she was born on earth of earthly parents. She was bestowed from heaven, for as certain theologians say, the Archangel Gabriel, who brought glad tidings to Zacharias concerning John and who likewise announced to Joachim and Anna the conception of the Theotokos, conveyed from heaven her Most Blessed Name, saying to her barren mother, "Anna, Anna, you shall bear a most blessed daughter, and her name shall be called Mary". Undoubtedly, she can be called the Holy City; the New Jerusalem, descended from God out of heaven; and the tabernacle of God in men's midst (Rev., ch. 21). Lofty is this divine tabernacle, for having borne Christ the King, it is exalted above the Seraphim. "O Height hard to climb for the thoughts of men!" (The Akathistos, Oikos 1).
(To be continued)
Please note: What you are all receiving is not just information of our Holy Orthodox Christian faith but spiritual nourishment. Take your time to digest everything that you are given and know that there is so much more of our Holy Tradition. I pray that you may hunger for more and more, as time goes forth. Don't be content with the few crumbs of our Christian faith that you may possess. Seek the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit to come to a better understanding of our Lord's Divine Commandments and Teachings.
However, it is not enough to improve your personal knowledge of our Christian faith. Every Orthodox Christian must be willing to live his/her Christian faith and to lead and guide all the members of their family to come to the knowledge of the Truth, to Christ.
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.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (service)
The sinner and unworthy servant of God