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.
THE ORTHODOX VENERATION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD (Part II)
By Saint John Maximovitch of San Francisco
The Orthodox Church teaches about the Mother of God that which Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture 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 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" (Saint Epiphanios, True Word Concerning the Faith). "It is essential for us to confess that the Holy Ever-Virgin Mary is actually Theotokos (Birthgiver 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 Sadducees" (Saint Ephraim the Syrian, To John the Monk).
From 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. 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 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 ancestral (original) sin and death" (Saint Ignatius Brianchninov, Exposition of the Teaching of the Orthodox Church on the Mother of God). "A stranger to any fall into sin" (Saint 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 Commandments 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 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 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 ("Rejoice"), 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 (news) humbly and submissively. "Then the Logos/Word, in a way known to Himself, descended and, as He Himself willed, came and entered into Mary and abode in Here" (Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Praise of the Mother of God). "As lightning illuminates what is hidden, so also Christ purifies what is hidden in the nature of things. He purified the Virgin also and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is manifested 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 chaste 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" (Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, Exposition of the Teaching of the Orthodox Church on the Mother of God) (Source: The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God