By His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas
of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
At the start of the Christmas fast, when the forty days of Advent begin, we are presented with the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos which foreshadows the event of the coming of the Lord and the Divine Economy. It is an event that does not appear in Holy Scripture, but the Church derives its information from the so-called apocryphal Gospels. It is one of the few exceptions it does this.
The Theotokos is presented as being offered to the Temple at the age of three. What does such an event have to say to us and why is it so important in the mind of the Fathers, who in their writings offer their own words about it as food for the faithful and the Church? Is it a simple little story or is it a theological event that has a particular importance for each of us?
Our Church has the Theotokos as a treasure and possession not to call upon her mechanically, but she has a place at the heart of our theology, in the heart of the mystery of its truth, and we offer her to build up the faithful.
The event of the virgin birth of the Lord is of the utmost importance. The Lord did not come into this world in a normal way like all of us, but He came in a mysterious and wondrous manner; He comes from a virginal womb.
The emphasis on the virginity behind the Lord's coming has two key elements. The first is that the Lord had to come through a miracle, in a supernatural way, and the second is that He had to come in a pure manner. The meaning, therefore, of the virginal birth is firstly that it is not only abnormal but also supernatural, and secondly that it is pure and clean. Both of these come together in the person of the Most Holy Theotokos. The Church does not discuss this fact; it is a mystery without negotiation.
Nowadays with rationalizations by which everything is contested, the Church with great stability, simplicity and clarity offers for all of us this event as truth, which we are called to accept in our souls and to transform it into a spiritual experience.
This feast, therefore, is dedicated to the purity of the Theotokos and calls each of us to a pure life. But perhaps we should understand a bit what is this multidimensional purity of the Theotokos.
First, the Panagia also has pure origins. Her birth also was, as much as possible, the most pure it could be. This is hidden behind the fact that her parents were sterile, and "both were advanced in years" (Lk. 1:7), that is, both were unable to have children and had become old. She also came in a supernatural manner, because it is not natural for two elders to have a child. In a pure manner she came into the world, because her birth by aged parents is not the fruit of a desire for pleasure but the fruit of a desire for childbearing, so that only one child would be born. For this reason the origin of the Theotokos was from parents who were sterile and elders.
Second, not only were her origins pure, but her words were pure as well. If one opens the Gospels, there will not be found chatter coming from the mouth of the Panagia, nor lectures or teachings. The teachings belong only to the Lord and the confessions on the lips of the Apostles, while the Panagia only speaks on three occasions. The first time is when she meets with Elizabeth, which essentially is a revelation of the mystery of God. The second is when she finds the Lord in the Temple when He was twelve and they lost Him. There she voiced her concern causing the Lord to tell her, as on another occasion, that His father and mother were not His biological parents, but His Father was the Heavenly Father. The third time He uses her words to cause the miracle at Cana. She said to her Son: "They have no wine" (Jn. 2:3), and immediately the Lord did the miracle. Only three times. She did not use her mouth much, as we unfortunately are used to doing, and we sin more with our mouths than sanctify with our words.
Third, purity is rejected by corrupt secular worldly knowledge. We are proud if our children go to the universities and get their diplomas. Saint Gregory Palamas says that when the Panagia went to the Temple at the age of three she transformed the Temple into her school, into her place of education. She did not accept the corruption of secular, natural, hefty knowledge, but she gained the knowledge of God within the Temple. She was brought up and raised in this naivety and innocence. Not that it is bad to have an education, but it is a great thing what took place with the Theotokos: that her knowledge and her entire world was the mystery of God that she learned within the Temple at that time. The third feature is therefore the purity of her mind and thoughts.
Fourth is the purity of her heart. She did not have a heart soiled with desires and demands and internal psychological needs. This is shown in the event of the Annunciation. While the angel suggests the virginal birth of the Lord through her, she very humbly submits to his insistence, saying: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done according to your word" (Lk. 1:38). In other words: "I do not understand why me and that by me this mystery should take place, but since you have said it and know more than me, let it be done in accordance with your word." Such things are not easily said by hearts dominated by rationalization. It is not easily said by hearts corrupted by ambition, by personal desire, by the extreme self-willed. That she is free of such things is certified by her words and the purity of her heart.
Fifth, of course I would be remiss if I did not highlight the purity of her body, that purity that is spoken about by the Church, which was a basic and necessary condition for her body to give physical and biological existence to the Lord.
I will close with a sixth purity that is a bit hard to understand, but I will attempt to make the effort. The Panagia is called "ever-virgin", which means that she never lost her virginity in time. She was not only a virgin at the birth of the Lord from her womb, but she remained a virgin in both body and soul forever. This is what "ever-virgin" means - a virgin forever. This means that she has the purity of time. She did not have the stains of humanity over the course of time. Often we live an experience, we have an emotional uplift, our heart operates with a certain spiritual joy and after a while come events, situations or happenings, one after another, and the stains of time come into our life like a seal that are always attached to us.
Therefore, what purity in general cannot be found in the person of the Theotokos? This is why the Lord made her worthy to have four other characteristics. She has four names that we hear repeated in the hymns to the Mother of God.
First, she is the gate of heaven; she is the door by which a person enters into the mystery of God. You cannot enter an area through a wall. You must enter through a door. The primary entrance into the mystery of God is the person of the Theotokos. She is the gate of the mystery of God.
Second, she is the dwelling-place of God; the place where God reveals His secrets, the place in which she introduces people to God. Each of us who can restore a spiritual relationship and communication with the person of the Theotokos, will come to know not only the Theotokos, but even more so God.
Third, she is the tent of God; God's resting place, the place where God truly walks, a place where God truly considers there is communion with Him. Such is our Panagia.
Fourth and last, she is the temple of God; the place where God reveals His miracles that surpass our logic, which removes our greatness and our smallness, which makes our logic disappear and reveals another logic; that which reveals the other life, shows us another world, the real world, the world to which we are each called to enter and live.
This is the person of the Theotokos. She is spotlessly pure, a temple, a tent, a dwelling-place, a gate to the mystery of God, a path for all of us to live the mystery of God.
Our Church rejoices in this feast, it wants to celebrate her in this joy, and we must all be involved in this festival without exception.
I pray that God gives, with the example of the purity of the Most Holy Theotokos, entrance through her gate into the mystery of God, that we may encounter Him next month "with us", among us, within our hearts, on the day of Christmas, and keep Him constantly as a treasure in our journey in this life, until that time when we see Him in a perfect sense, and not as in a dim mirror, but gaze upon Him face to face in His Kingdom. Amen.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.