Our Salvation Depends on The Theotokos

September 8 for Orthodox is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos – the birthday of the mother of Jesus.

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“Rational man suffered even more, awaiting his liberation. For this reason, mankind offers the highest gift to Christ Who becomes man: His Virgin Mother.

In fact, we men had nothing more honorable to offer God. The Panaghia(‘Pan Aghia’: ‘All Holy Mother of God’) had already offered herself entirely to God, and as a most pure vessel was ready to receive in her womb her Son and her God and so, at her Annunciation, when Archangel Gabriel told her that she would become the Mother of Christ, she could answer with confidence in God: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word’ [Luke 1:38].

Moreover, we could not have offered the Virgin Mary to God if she had not offered herself to God. This free offering of the Virgin made the incarnation of God possible, for God would not violate our freedom by becoming incarnate without our own consent. The Virgin was able to stand before God as our representative, and to say ‘Yes’ to God. Her deed is a deed of unique responsibility, of love, and of freedom. She gave God what He Himself did not have – human nature – in order that God might give man what he did not have – deification (theosis). Thus the Incarnation of Christ is not only God’s free act of offering to man, it is also a free offering from man to God through the Virgin.

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This mutual freedom is the prerequisite for love. God offers freely without any necessity, and the Virgin accepts the gift freely without compulsion. The Virgin could not co-operate with God if she had established her own egoistic satisfaction at the content of her freedom – rather than her offering to God and man. Moreover, the Virgin is always rightly blessed by all generations of Christians, and especially during these holy days, as the: ‘cause of the deification of all.’ At the same time, she points out the way of true freedom.” (George Capsanis, The Eros of Repentance, pp. 68-70)

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The Nativity of the Theotokos (2017)

On September 8 we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos – the birthday of the mother of Jesus.

“The fact that there is no Biblical verification of the facts of Mary’s birth is incidental to the meaning of the feast. Even if the actual background of the event as celebrated in the Church is questionable from an historical point of view, the divine meaning of it ‘For us men and for our salvation’ is obvious. There had to be one born of human flesh and blood who would be spiritually capable of being the other of Christ, and she herself had to be born into the world of persons who were spiritually capable of being her parents.

The feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, therefore, is a glorification of Mary’s birth, of Mary herself and of her righteous parents. It is a celebration as well of the very first preparation of the salvation of the world. For the ‘Vessel of Light,’ the ‘Book of the Word of Life,’ the ‘Door to the Orient,’ the ‘Throne of Wisdom’ is being prepared on earth by God himself in the birth of the holy girl-child Mary.” (Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith, Vol. 2, Worship, p. 132).

The Nativity of the Theotokos (2016)

Nativity of the Theotokos Icon
Nativity of the Theotokos Icon

REJOICE, PEOPLE!
THIS IS THE DAY OF THE LORD!
THE PALACE OF THE LIGHT, THE SCROLL OF THE WORD OF LIFE TODAY COMES FORTH FROM THE WOMB!

THE GATE FACING THE EAST IS BORN.
SHE AWAITS THE ENTRY OF THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST!

SHE ALONE ADMITS CHRIST INTO THE UNIVERSE FOR THE SALVATION OF OUR SOULS.

The above hymn is taken from Matins for the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos.  The images of Mary as Theotokos are wonderful: Christ is the Light of the world, Mary becomes His throne.  Christ is the Word of God, Mary is the scroll upon which the Word becomes visible.  Mary is the gate of heaven and of the temple through which the high priest enters into the world.  She is the unique Mother of God – through her alone does Christ come into His creation.  Salvation for each of us comes into the world through the Virgin Mary, whose birth we celebrated today.

 

Tell Us, Mary, Of Your Experience

St Silouan the Athonite poetically writes about Mary, the Theotokos:

“O holy Virgin Mary, tell us, your children

of your love on earth for your Son and God.

Tell us how your spirit rejoiced in God Your Savior,

Tell us of how you did look upon His fair countenance,

and reflect that this was He

Whom all the heavenly hosts wait upon in awe and love.

Tell us what your soul felt when you did bear

the wondrous Babe in your arms.

Tell us of how you did rear Him,

how, sick at heart, you and Joseph sought Him

three long days in Jerusalem.

Tell us of your agony

when the Lord was delivered up to be crucified,

and lay dying on the Cross.

Tell us what joy was yours over the Resurrection.

Tell us how your soul languished after the Lord’s Ascension.

We long to know of your life on earth with the Lord but

you were not minded to commit all these things to writing,

and did veil your secret heart in silence.

(St Silouan the Athonite, p 391)

 

The Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (2015)

Today we celebrate the birth of our Lord’s Mother, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.   I wish a blessed feast to all.   St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1439AD) writes about the Feast:

“This sacred feast and holiday that we are keeping is the first to commemorate our recall and re-creation according to grace, for on it all things began to be made new, enduring precepts began to be brought in instead of temporary ones, the spirit instead of the letter, the truth instead of shadows. Today a new world and a mysterious paradise have been revealed, in which and from a new Adam came into being, re-making the old Adam and renewing the universe. He is not led astray by the deceiver, but deceives him, and bestows freedom on those enslaved to sin through his treachery.

Today a paradoxical book has been made ready on earth, which in an indescribable way can hold, not the imprint of words, but the living Word Himself; not a word consisting of air, but the heavenly Word; not a word that perishes as soon as it is formed, but the Word who snatches those who draw near Him from perdition; not a word made by the movement of a man’s tongue, but the Word begotten of God the Father before all ages.[…]Thus Christ took sin’s prisoners to live with Him forever, justifying them by faith in Him, but He bound the prince of sin with inescapable bonds, and delivered him to eternal fire without light.

Today, as prophesied, out of the ‘stem of Jesse’, a rod has come forth (cf. Isa. 11:1), from which a flower has grown with knows no wilting. This rod recalls our human nature, which had withered and fallen away from the unfading garden of delight, makes it bloom again, grants it to flourish forever, brings it up to heaven, and leads it into paradise. With this rod the great Shepherd moves His human flock to eternal pastures, and supported by this rod, our nature lays aside its old age and feeble senility, and easily strides towards heaven, leaving the earth below for those who, devoid of support, are plunging downward. But who is the new world, the mysterious paradise, the paradoxical book, the inspired tabernacle and ark of God, the truth sprung up from the earthy, the much – extolled rod of Jesse? It is the Maiden who before and after childbearing is eternally virgin, whose birth from a barren mother we celebrate today.” (The Homilies, pp 334-335)

The Nativity of the Theotokos (2013)

The feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos “was known in the East by the eighth century, and was referred to in Rome by Pope Sergius in the late seventh century. It was only in the eleventh century that the Feast was generally observed in the West.” (John Baggley, Festival Icons for the Christian Year, pg.16)

While a specific feast celebrating the birth of Christ’s mother developed rather late in history, it emerged out of a long standing tradition of honoring the Virgin Mary which was prophesied in Luke’s Gospel in Luke 1:48, “Behold all generations will call me blessed...”

From the Church Fathers of the post-Apostolic period we find numerous references to the Virgin Mary in the meditations of the early Christians.   Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD ) writes:

“[Eve] having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary…by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race…And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”

Tertullian of Carthage  (d. ca 220AD) writes:

“For it was while Eve was yet a virgin that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin’s soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced.”

( both quotes from St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Volume 56, Number 2, pg. 140)

See also the blog The Trouble with Martha and Mary

The Nativity of the Theotokos (2011)

A blessed Feast Day to all.

Mary, the Theotokos, was born under the Old Covenant, and she gave birth to the New Covenant.  She, humanly speaking, more than Father Abraham links all those of the household of faith together.   She fulfills the promises and prophecies of God by humbly submitting herself to God’s will.   She does for the world what Israel and the temple were supposed to do:  she becomes the very point at which God makes Himself present in His creation.

“… because Mary was… ‘of the house and lineage of David,’ she represented the unbreakable link between Jewish and Christian history, between the First Covenant within which she was born and the Second Covenant to which she gave birth.”  (Jaroslav Pelikan, MARY THROUGH THE CENTURIES, P 25).