By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
In one of his homilies, Saint Gregory Palamas says the following about the person of the Most Holy Theotokos: "O divine, and now heavenly, Virgin, how can I express all things which pertain to you? How can I glorify the treasury of all glory? Merely your memory sanctifies whoever keeps it, and a mere movement towards you makes the nous more pure, and you exalt it straightway to the Divine."1
We are sanctified when we approach the Most Holy Theotokos, because she is the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. God chose her from among all the human race, to minister to the plan of the Divine Incarnation.
We are sanctified because her purity, not only of her soul but also her body, exceeds even that of the angelic powers.
This is why the Archangel of the joyous day of the Annunciation calls her "Full of Grace", meaning she was flooded with divine grace. She was Full of Grace because "she completely had all the gifts of the Holy Spirit," as the Fathers of the Church stress.
We are sanctified because she brought to the world, not simply the heavenly rain, but the Lord of the clouds Himself.
She conceived in her all-immaculate womb by the Holy Spirit the Only-Begotten Son of God, bearing in her immaculate womb "He Who bears all things," without corruption giving birth beyond all comprehension to the One Who created all things visible and invisible.
We are sanctified because in her all-holy person were gathered together all the gifts of the All-Holy Spirit.
For this reason Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, full of admiration, would write: "O most sweet thing and name Mariam, what passion is this, that I feel within me? I cannot be satisfied in the praises of your greatness! The more I praise you, the more I earnestly covet it, and my longing indefinitely progresses, and my desire is insatiable."2
We are sanctified also tonight, approaching her all holy figure and, together with the Archangel of the promise, we address this infinitely spoken "REJOICE" together with the entire Church of Christ, both in heaven and on earth.
A hymn in tonight's Service, a poem of Joseph the Hymnographer, calls her the "Secret Rod".3
A. The Secret Rod
The sacred hymnographer transports us to the Old Testament, and reminds us of the condescension of God to God's chosen people, the heavenly messages and foreshadowings of the earthly presence of the Angel of Great Counsel by the Virgin Mary.
The sacred book of Numbers has preserved for us the sad story of the apostasy of the Jewish people as well as the divine intervention which has as a recipient not only these people, but the people of Grace, since the Old Testament prepares for the coming of the New.
To the challenge of the leadership of Moses and the revolution against him and against Aaron by a group of Israelites led by Korah, the God-seer left the resolution of the case to God.
He placed rods in the Tent of Testimony, so that God would show His favor on the person on whom rests His Spirit.
And the answer of God was very clear, that Aaron was to be the High Priest chosen to minister with his tribe the work of the worship of God.
"So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and their leaders gave him twelve rods, one for the leader of each of their ancestral tribes, and Aaron’s rod was among them. Moses placed the rods before the Lord in the Tent of the Testimony. The next day Moses entered the Tent and saw that Aaron’s rod, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds. Then Moses brought out all the rods from the Lord’s presence to all the Israelites. They looked at them, and each of the leaders took his own rod."4
This sacred story is a miracle, but at the same time a wonderful foreshadowing.
With the budding of the dry rod of Aaron, the Fathers of the Church saw the wondrous foreshadowing of the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ by the Virgin Mary.
She conceived supernaturally and inconceivably and brought forth the unfading rose, Jesus Christ.
B. The Secret Rod
This event in the book of Numbers reveals to us the miraculous intervention of God, in order to silence the murmurings of the chosen people and avert the threat of death. The "Secret Rod", the Virgin Mary, offers to the world the flower of life, her virginal child, Who is a heavenly flower of joy for fallen humanity and the regeneration of the human race and all creation.
This is why those who participate in the life of the Theotokos, in the life of the secret body of Christ which is the Church, bud and bear spiritual fruits.
They are also fragrant flowers of Paradise, becoming branches of the Secret Rod of the Theotokos, and are an earthly Paradise whose destination is the heavenly and infinite perfection of the Kingdom of Heaven.
After all, this is the purpose of the Church: to change people of sin into people of God. And the greatest miracle is not the healing of someone sick, nor the resurrection of the dead, but the miracle of repentance, the return of fallen people.
In this respect Saint Isaac the Syrian writes: "He who senses his sins, is greater than he who raises the dead with his prayer. He who groans one hour for his soul, is greater than he who benefits the whole world. He who is made worthy to see himself, is greater than he who is made worthy to see angels. To him who knows himself, is given the knowledge of all things. For the knowledge of ourselves is the fullness of knowledge of all things."5
Let us bring forward, therefore, our respect and reverence for the Mother of God. Let us lean on the Secret Rod in order to bear fruit. "Let us all hasten to attain to it, full of fruit and of good works; and thus, planted in the house of the Lord we shall flourish in the court of our God, in our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power forever and ever. Amen."6
"My Lady, Most Holy Theotokos, have compassion on me the destitute and pathetic one, and grant me your rich mercies, that saved I may sing hymns to Christ our God Who was incarnate of you."7
1. St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 37, "A Homily on the Dormition of Our Supremely Pure Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary."
2. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Garden of Graces.
3. 7th Ode Canon of the Theotokos.
4. Numbers 17:6-9.
5. Ascetic Discourses, Discourse 54.
6. Basil the Great, Hexaemeron, 5.10. PG 29b, 116D-117.
7. Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos, Kathisma 14, Psalter Prayer, published by the Cell of Saint John the Theologian of Koutloumouseiou Monastery, Mount Athos, 2015.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.