Friday, March 31, 2017

The Theotokos as the Living Table


By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

"Your womb became a Heavenly Table, bearing the Heavenly Bread - Christ our God. Whoever eats of Him shall not die, O Birth-giver of God, according to the word of the Nourisher of all."1

Blessing the person of the Most Holy Theotokos, which captivates and simultaneously moves the hearts of all of us, especially every Friday night during the joyous Service of Salutations, the God-bearer John of Damascus, repeating the Creed of our Orthodox Church, tells us that the Panagia is the peak and completion of the entire Old Testament. All of the foreshadowings refer to her. The prototypes and prophecies of the Holy Prophets are revealed in her.

"She is," as a Serbian Bishop who is also a spiritual child of Saint Justin the Confessor wrote, "the peak of the entire Old Testament teaching which prepared humanity to receive the incarnate Savior Christ."2 This is why the God-bearing Damascene calls her the "daughter of Adam", while he calls David the forefather and godfather from whose root "the Panagia was born by promise."

Thus we can explain chapter 25 verse 30 of the book of Exodus: "You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times." This golden table of the Old Testament prefigures the Theotokos. The Panagia is the true Holy Table which carried the Heavenly Bread who was incarnate of her, the Only Begotten Son and Word of God. She is the "living table", as Saint Joseph the Hymnographer calls her, who held the true Bread of Life and satisfied the hungry human race. "I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to Me will never hunger, and whoever believes in Me will never thirst."3

A. The Panagia is a Living Table

She became a fertile field that sprouted the grain of wheat that is Christ. She became the divine table, according to the phrase of Saint Gregory Palamas, who offers us the common ambrosia and vivifying nectar, the flesh and the blood of Him she inexpressibly bore.4 This is why there is no Holy Service of our Church that does not refer to the name of the Panagia and does not exalt her ministry and contribution to the human race. She is especially magnified in the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, even immediately after the consecration of the Honorable Gifts, since she is the foremost creation of the love of God, who brought to our poverty and illness, not simply heavenly rain, but the Lord of the clouds Himself, according to the expression of Saint Gregory Palamas.

A. The Panagia is a Living Table

The risen flesh and all-blameless blood of our Savior and Redeemer is referred to as meat and drink. She gave the Creator creation and to the Son of God humanity. She said yes to the call of God: "Behold the servant of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word." Her immaculate womb wove the divine and human nature together. Her virginal milk nourished and fattened the incarnate Word of God. Having been made worthy to be the nurse of her Creator, she daily provides us abundantly of this heavenly food, the Body and Blood of Christ. And because she nourished the Son of God, He repayed the debt, and made her the nurse of all noetic and rational beings.5

This is why an Athonite monk writes: "In every Divine Liturgy we see Christ as the Bridegroom and celebrant, the Honorable Forerunner leads the bride to the bridegroom's house, the Unwedded Bride, the Panagia, is the one who prepares the food, who sets the table, and hosts us in the home of her Son and God. She is the conscientious restaurateur and feeder of the guests."6

That is why the Saints of our Church, following this our life-giving tradition and knowing how much spiritual benefit is gained from communicating with the person of the Panagia, resorted to her with much trust and reverence towards her:

"Have mercy on my humility.
Have pity on my illness.
Great is your boldness before Him Whom you bore.
Accompany me on my journeys.
Strengthen me in my vigilance.
Comfort me in my troubles.
Encourage me in my faintheartedness.
Acquit me from slanderers.
Make me worthy in this present age to partake without condemnation of the All-Holy and Immaculate Body and Blood of your Son."7

May we resort in our lives to this living table.

May we be nourished from it daily.

May she also reveal herself to us in Heaven and nourish us eternally. Amen.

Notes:

1. Horologion, Service After Dinner.

2. Atanasije Jevtic, Introduction to the book Theotokos.

3. Jn. 6:35.

4. Hieromonk Gregory, The Divine Liturgy. (Ιερομονάχου Γρηγορίου, Η Θεία Λειτουργία, εκδ. ΔΟΜΟΣ Αθήνα 1985, σελ. 291-293.)

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Prayer Book of Andrew Simonov.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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