August 21, 2014

The Place of the Theotokos in the Orthodox Church (1 of 2)

The following is taken from an interview on a Cypriot radio station in May of 1989 with Archimandrite Vasilios of Iveron.

Question: A famous hymn of our Church calls the Panagia "heaven": "She showed herself to be the heaven and temple of divinity" (Αὕτη γὰρ ἀνεδείχθη οὐρανὸς καὶ ναὸς τῆς θεότητος). Fr. Vasilios, would you like to discuss a little the place of "She Who is Wider Than the Heavens" (Πλατυτέρα των Ουρανών) in our Orthodox Church?

Answer: "She showed herself to be the heaven and temple of divinity." I remember another hymn to the Theotokos that says the Panagia "made our earthly nature heavenly" (οὐρανώσασα τὸ γεῶδες ἡμῶν φύραμα), she made the earth into heaven.

Saint Nicholas Cabasilas also says that God created all things "very good" and lastly created man, putting a special effort into fashioning him, a special energy. It does not say He gave birth to man, but He fashioned man "from the earth" and breathed into him the "breath of life". Basil the Great says that God gave man "a portion of His divinity". Thus, because of this we can become gods by grace if we are obedient to the will of God. Finally, having given us this great gift of freedom, and since freedom is a double-edged sword - either you are elevated by obedience or destroyed by rebellion and self-governance -, we followed selfishness and lost Paradise, we came out of Paradise and began to live a troublesome life, for millennia and many centuries. And we all know this suffering.

Many times this gives birth to the following questions: Since God loved us, why didn't He save us? Because we disobeyed our Creator, and we made ourselves our own ruler. But why doesn't He put us back in Paradise, as a compassionate God and Father? Because Paradise doesn't exist without freedom. Saint John Chrysostom asks: "Wasn't Christ able to save Judas?" And he replies, saying that Christ did everything He could do, but He didn't want to use force to save Judas, because there is no salvation through force, but it brings only the destruction of man.

So, therefore, we waited millennia, for a certain person to come who would understand what it means to love God. But, in order to understand this, this person had to be pure and very humble. And the Panagia was born. And I believe this is how we understand what the Apostle Paul says in his epistle to the Galatians: "Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed." The Law became our teacher in Christ, but the Law, any law, was powerless, and it is powerless to save and truly satisfy man.

This is why, "when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem us from the Law, that we may receive sonship." The fullness of time was the birth of the Panagia, the woman by whom God became man. She is "the ladder by which God descended" and "the bridge that brought those on earth to heaven".

She, therefore, was sanctified 'from her mother's womb", precisely because she was the fruit of the prayers of her parents, Joachim and Anna, who asked God to give them a child, and in return they would completely dedicate the child to God, and she was thus dedicated to God from infancy. We hear the Church chant in the Service of the Presentation of the Theotokos: "The holy and blameless one in whom dwells the Holy Spirit enters the Holy of Holies". The Virgin dwelled there for years, she was fed the food of an angel, and, when she reached a mature age and had Joseph as a fiance, she received the greeting of the Archangel, and she was prepared to say "yes" to the message of the Archangel, saying "may it be done to me according to your word", accepting to allow the will of God in her life. And from then on, she became the one who, through her whole existence, gave flesh to the Son and Word of God. This is how she became "higher than the heavens" (εὐρυχωροτέρα τῶν οὐρανῶν), the Queen of Angels, and she who truly was made worthy to make the earth heaven.