By Vasilios Haralambous
On the 26th of December our Church has appointed for the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos to be celebrated. This has been appointed very wisely by our Church, for it follows the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod state: "We have been taught to honor in the first place her who is properly and truly the Mother of God and exalted above all the heavenly powers; also the holy and angelic powers; and the blessed and altogether lauded Apostles, and the glorious Prophets and the triumphant Martyrs which fought for Christ, and the holy and God-bearing Fathers, and all holy people; and to seek for their intercessions, as they are able to render us at home with the all-royal God of all, so long as we keep His commandments, and strive to live virtuously." The hymnology of the Church and the discourses of the Fathers of the Church have preserved for us the proper way to honor the Most Holy Theotokos. In the Service of Matins for the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, we chant in the Theotokion of the Third Ode: "A container without capacity you became for the uncontainable Creator, containing Him in the flesh, All-Immaculate One who is full of grace." If we understand this Theotokion, the meaning of the feast is clearly demonstrated.
Examining the hymns of the feast of the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, the immediacy of its relationship with the Nativity of Christ will be grasped. The Stichera Prosomoia, the Stichera Idiomela, the Doxastika, the Kathismata, the Hermoi, the Exaposteilaria, etc. all mention the Birth of Christ.
Elder Paisios would say: "Within our devotion to the Panagia and the Saints hides our much reverence for Christ and the Triune God."
In the magazine Hosios Gregorios published by Gregoriou Monastery at Mount Athos, there is recorded a conversation between Elder Paisios and a young man who was swayed by Protestants. To the young man's question: "Holy Scripture teaches us that only Jesus Christ saves. In the Orthodox Church we call upon the Panagia to save us. Is this correct?", Elder Paisios responds: "Jesus Christ is the only Savior. He offered Himself for us. Now listen. If you were someone with great power and you went into the city with your mother, everyone would await you and greet you together with your mother, and they would even say the best words about her even if they knew nothing about her. And when you would hear this, you would rejoice and be proud for your mother. Christ also rejoices and has pride for His mother when He hears that we speak well of her. Look. If a poor woman went to your mother and asked her to request from you a position and you granted the favor of your mother, then the poor woman would say that your mother saved you, although you appointed her. Well, we say the same things about the Panagia when we ask her to save us, and her Son who has the power but is also humble, rejoices to hear us speaking well of His mother." The narration is simple, very simple some would say, but the fact that the young man was benefited spiritually, and the danger of the Protestant delusion was dissolved, demonstrates the depth and truth of his words. Elder Paisios explains what Saint Mark of Ephesus refers to when he speaks to the Theotokos, saying: "You reign together with your Son and request for the remission of our sins."
Elder Porphyrios said of the Most Holy Theotokos: "Our Church honors much our Panagia... I would flee to her whenever something happened to me." Saint Cyril of Alexandria, in his homily "At the Third Ecumenical Synod", called the Most Holy Theotokos a "scepter of Orthodoxy". Saint Gregory Palamas, in his "Discourse on the Dormition of the Theotokos", says: "Hence, the body which gave birth is glorified together with what was born of it with God-befitting glory."
The extremes of both the Catholics and the Protestants towards the person of the Theotokos is the result of their schism from the One Holy Church. On the one hand you have the arbitrariness of the Catholics with their teaching about the Immaculate Conception and their Mariolatry, and on the other hand you have the unacceptable and demeaning attitude of the Protestants in their stance against the person of the Theotokos.
As we know, Catholics in 1140 established the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos. In 1854 Pope Pius I established it as dogma.
The Mariolatry of the Catholics is not the proper way to honor our Panagia. Metropolitan Atanasije Jevtic, referring to this Mariolatry, says that it distorts the true person of the Theotokos.
In the Service of Vespers for the Conception of Saint Anna, we chant in the Stichera Prosomoia: "Wise Anna was praying with great faith, beseeching the Lord for a child, when she heard the voice of an angel who told her that God had granted her request." Further on in the Service it says: "Joachim and Anna, the righteous couple, gave birth to the precious heavenly fruit." This clearly does not refer to an Immaculate Conception.
There was no Immaculate Conception, but rather the shackles of childlessness were shattered: "Today the shackles of barrenness are shattered, for having heard the prayer of Joachim and Anna, against all hope God has openly promised the birth of the Maiden of God, from whom the very Infinite One will be born as a man..." we chant in the Dismissal Hymn for the Service of the Conception of Saint Anna. Regarding the derogatory impropriety of Protestants about our Panagia, an answer is given by St. John of Damascus: "Those who do not confess the Holy Virgin as Theotokos are without the Divinity."
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.