By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
When one desires to approach the person of the Most Holy Theotokos, we must be distinguished not only for our purity, but our respect, honor, reverence and humility. Because the Panagia resembles an exquisite, otherworldly and heavenly sight, a noetic and secret sound, the dimensions of which exceed not only human spiritual terms, but also all heavenly things except God, as one pious soul of the Holy Mountain writes.1
Because with the Panagia everything is wonderful and great. She herself is all-bright within the uncreated light, and becomes not only a vessel of God, but also a cherubic throne where God in His entirety dwells in her immaculate womb. "He made your womb a throne, and your belly has been made wider than the heavens,"2 chants the sacred hymnographer of the Church with wonder.
This is why all human words are unable to magnify her mysteries, which are "always beyond meaning and always beyond glorious."3 "And even if countless tongues and mouths, even if all human languages gather together, they will not be able to praise her with hymns, because 'she is above all established praise',"4 the God-bearing Damascene will remind us.
However, because she is the mother of Christ, and simultaneously our mother, who daily demonstrates her blessing and protection to the human race, we also approach her, and together with the graceful Archangel Gabriel we address today, "Rejoice, Bride Unwedded."
Allow me, my brethren, on this feast, "the first of all feasts",5 which the Church carries the torch secretly and lit, to convey to your love a few borrowed words from Saint Germanos II, Patriarch of Constantinople.
In one of his homilies on the Annunciation, he blesses the person of the Most Holy Theotokos, and says among other things the following: "O you who gave a body to God and deified people in their bodies. O you the common salvation of all humanity. O you the inseparable link between the otherworldly and worldly."6
"O you who gave a body to God and deified people in their bodies. O you the common salvation of all humanity."
The Panagia, with her service to the mystery of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, became a workshop where the two natures were united, the divine and human, in the one hypostasis of the Son and Word of God. Her immaculate womb became an animated loom, on which was woven the divine and human natures. She became "the worshshop of our salvation," according to the phrase of the God-bearing Damascene: "The ewe bore the lamb of God, who bore the sins of the world, the workshop of our salvation, superior to the angelic powers, the handmaid and mother of God."7
The Mother of God did not simply give birth to a God-bearer or divinized man, but God the Word Himself, the Only-Begotten Son of God. Thus, human nature is divinized through the hypostatic union, and humanity is given the possibility, by using the means available in our Church, to reach Heaven and become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is why we call her the Theotokos, "not only through the nature of speech, but also through the deification of man."8
Thus human nature is no longer weak, but has become mighty and powerful. It is no longer "a reed shaken in the wind."9 Now it has acquired authenticity and other graces, in order to attain unending perfection. The sacred hymnographer refers to this deification when he repeats the words of the Apostle Peter: "We have become partakers of the divine nature through you Ever-Virgin,"10 and also, "Adam of old was deceived, and the desire of God took place; God became man, that God may bring Adam to perfection."11 This is why this feast is "the crown of our salvation, and the manifestation of the mystery before the ages."12 For this reason we honor the Panagia, because she brought to the earth, not simply heavenly rain, but the Lord of the clouds, as Saint Gregory Palamas says, the Savior Christ, and at the same time raised up humanity to divine blessedness.
"O you the inseparable link between the otherworldly and worldly."
The Lady Theotokos is the link of heaven and earth. She stands between God and humanity. She receives offerings, entreaties and supplications, and using the function of her intercessions and prayers, transfers the requests of people on earth to the Throne of her Son and God. From Christ, the head of the body of the Church, comes "all perfect gifts," and through the Mother of God, who is the neck of the body, the divine gift reaches the faithful members of the Body.13
With the "behold the handmaid of the Lord" she conveyed to the Archangel Gabriel on the day of her Annunciation, and her service to the plan to the Divine Incarnation, she became the nurse of her Creator. And her Son in turn, Whom she held in her immaculate arms and fed with her milk, repays His debt to His mother, giving her special recognition to become the nurse of angels and humans.
To her we resort today, my brethren, seeking her mediation before the Throne of her Son and God.
To her we address ourselves daily and supplicate through the sacred hymnographer: "Mistress, do you receive, from your servants, their many prayers; and deliver all of us, from all sadness and necessity."
To her our Orthodox people always resorted, chanting the victory hymn: "To you, the Champion Leader, do we offer thanks of victory, O Theotokos, for you have delivered us from danger."
To her we should lean on today in the darkness that prevails, from the presence of sin, faithlessness, weapons and violence.
And because today, along with the graceful Annunciation of the Ever-Virgin Theotokos, we Greeks celebrate also our national annunciation, the resurrection of our enslaved Nation from many years of slavery and tyranny, it is to our benefit that we especially remember:
Is virtue lost, which had its cradle in this holy place?
Is bravery lost, which was the hallmark of our race?
Is love and patriotism lost?
Is leventia, hope and especially faith lost, which always distinguished us?
Are all these lost?
Are they lost or do they exist?
All these things exist today, but we have forgotten them. And they have become more imperative in our current times, to bring back to our hearts, our minds and our daily lives. This will be our biggest response to those who doubt us. And the biggest lesson to those who again and again humiliate us. And it will be the best memorial to those who fought, sacrificed and were martyred for us that we may be free today.
Only in this way can we thrive. Only in this way can we stand on our feet: with our deep faith in God, with our devotion to our Panagia, with our unity, harmony and oneness of soul. Only in this way will we have, just as of old, the protection of the Theotokos who is Full of Grace.
1. Monk Theoklitos Dionysiatis, Μαρία, η μητέρα του Θεού, Θεσσαλονίκη 1998, p. 14.
2. Service of Small Compline.
3. Theotokion, second tone.
4. "Encomium to the All-Revered Dormition of the Theotokos", Second Discourse.
5. St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, "On the Annunciation to the Most-Holy Theotokos and Virgin Mary", First Discourse, PG 10,1156.
6. "On the Annunciation", Discourse Six, PG 140,732C.
7. "Encomium to the All-Revered Dormition of the Theotokos", Third Discourse.
8. St. John of Damascus, The Theotokos.
9. Matt. 11:7.
10. Theotokion, second tone. Cf. 2 Pet. 1:4.
11. Doxastikon of the Praises for the feast.
12. Apolytikion for the Annunciation.
13. Hieromonk Gregory, Η Θεία Λειτουργία, Ιερόν Κουτλουμουσιανόν Κελλίον Αγίου Ιωάννου του Θεολόγου, Άγιον Όρος, Ε’ έκδοση, p. 104.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.