Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We cannot be in Orthodoxy or attend her services long and not in some fashion encounter the Mother of God, that is, the “most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos, and Ever-Virgin Mary.” She is magnified exceedingly and commemorated at nearly every turn in our services. There are those who would find fault in all of this, accusing us of Mariolatry, that is, of worshipping the Bride of God, and insisting that we have allowed her to usurp the place and the work of her Son for our salvation. No doubt, to prove their point, they would remind us of what the priest cries out at the dismissal of Vespers, “Most holy Theotokos, save us!” To such, I would say, “Come and see,” “Come and pray with the Church for a period of time.”
I can well understand such hesitancy. I was one such soul once. As I was making my way into Orthodoxy, or better said, as Orthodoxy was making its way into me, the Blessed Virgin was one aspect I had to work through as I came face to face with her ubiquitous presence. I owe it to her intercessions, however, for being able to make the jump into Orthodoxy from my Lutheran ministry. But, even then, I still had to process her, so to speak, until she made “sense.” And, how did that come about? By praying with the Church, listening to her theology espoused and propagated through her hymnody, and, ultimately, by trusting the Church which is exceedingly far older than me, who has prayed with the Theotokos since the days of her inception (1 Tm. 3:15). Albeit the feasts of the Theotokos are not Biblical as such, that is, they are not to be found in canonical Scripture, she, however, is very much Scriptural. And, the role she plays and occupies is as well Biblical, if we but take the time to listen with the Church as to her understanding of Sacred Scripture. Again, the Church has been reading the Bible and interpreting Scripture long before any of us was a gleam in the eye of our parents. We come to the Church to be embraced by her and to believe with her “the Faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Ju. 1:3). We do not conform the Church to our preconceptions and prejudices or pick and choose as though from a smorgasbord what we like or dislike. The Theotokos is part of the total package.
Indeed, the Theotokos is critical to the salvation procured for us by her Son – our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. She is key to the working out of our salvation. She is the linchpin bearing Him Who is Himself the fulcrum of all history. Without her, Christ is not; without Him we are still in our sins, debtors to death, and slaves of the devil. One without the other is inconceivable in the memory of the Church, preserved and expressed in her liturgical cycle of salvation history, beginning with the Nativity of the Mother of God. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos reminds us in his wonderful book on “The Feasts of the Mother of God” that our liturgical recounting of salvation history is bookended by the Nativity of the Theotokos (9/8) at the start and is concluded by her Dormition (8/15). From her Nativity springs all the other feasts of the Lord. Cut the root and nothing grows. From her Birth comes forth her Entrance into the Temple (11/21), the Annunciation (3/25), the Nativity of our Lord (12/25), His Theophany (1/6), the miracles, Great and Holy Friday, Great and Holy Pascha, the Ascension, and Great and Holy Pentecost. But, it all must begin at the beginning – with our Lady’s Nativity. She is the Mother of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ and she is the Mother of our salvation. “Today,” then, as the stichera proclaims, “Today is the prelude of universal joy; today the winds blow that herald salvation and the barrenness of our nature is dispelled; . . . .” (“Lord, I Call” stichera). “Through her things on earth are joined with the heavens for the salvation of our souls” (“Lord, I Call” stichera). All of this, we are assured, is “in fulfillment of the divine plan.” “Through her,” that is, by her beloved Son Who is “the King and Creator of all . . . we earthborn have been fashioned anew and restored from corruption to Life Eternal” (“Lord, I Call” stichera). Jesus Christ just doesn’t suddenly and inexplicably appear on the scene, but He comes through her who has been “chosen from all generations to become [His] abode” (“Lord, I Call” stichera).
Truly, as “a certain woman of the company” that followed Jesus once lifted up her voice in right praise, “’Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the breasts which Thou hast sucked’” (Lk. 10:38-42; 11:27-28), we, too, join her praise and magnify her who is born this day in the city of Nazareth “for us men and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed). Today, we fulfill what she once foretold in her Magnificat, “’[B]ehold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed’” (Lk. 1:46-55).
Today God, Who rests upon the spiritual thrones, has prepared for Himself a holy throne on earth. He Who in wisdom established the heavens has fashioned a Living Heaven in His love for mankind; for, from a barren root He has made a Life-bearing branch springing up for us, even His Mother. O God of wonders and Hope of the hopeless, O Lord, glory to Thee! (“Lord, I Call” stichera).
Most holy Theotokos, save us!
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
VIGIL PROPERS: PROPERS:
Gn. 28:10-17 Pp. 2:5-11
Ek. 43:27-44:4 Lk. 10:38-42; 11:27-28