August 22, 2014

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

Question: The Fathers, speaking the language of theology with inspiration, have established "She Who is Wider Than the Heavens" (Πλατυτέρα των Ουρανών) as being between that which is created and that which is uncreated. What does this mean?

Answer: Saying this you remind me of a hymn we chant in church, that the Panagia is "more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim" (τιμιωτέρα τῶν Χερουβὶμ καὶ ἐνδοξωτέρα ἀσυγκρίτως τῶν Σεραφίμ). She is "more pure than the radiance of the sun" (καθαρωτέρα λαμπηδόνων ἡλιακῶν).

I wanted to say something about women in general. As you said, the Panagia, as Saint Gregory Palamas says, is on the "border between having a created and uncreated nature" (μεθόριον κτιστῆς καὶ ἀκτίστου φύσεως), and no one can come before God except through her. She is the glory of humanity, "the boast of virgin-mothers" (μητροπάρθενον κλέος). It is for her that "all creation rejoices" (πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις ἀγάλλεται). She is our Mother, who fed us and nursed us with Grace and Paradise, while the first woman, Eve, nursed us with rebellion, with the passions and death.

The Panagia, as the term says, is above all the Saints. And she is above all the Saints because she surpassed them all in purity, humility and obedience. Though the Honorable Forerunner, the Apostle Paul, the other Apostles, the great Fathers, the Confessors and Martyrs are great, no one can be compared with the Panagia. This is why we see that the beauty of the Panagia and the Light that comes from Panagia is "internal", it is "the fruit of her womb". The beauty she gave birth to, the unsetting Light, who is her Son and God Himself, is that which illumines our lives, our problems and difficulties.

And I return again to what I said previously, that I wanted to say something about women. How we are to honor women, how it will take place and how it will happen, we can find within the Orthodox Church, illumined by the Light that the Theotokos gave birth to, namely the God-man. We see now that women want a place of glory. As to the level a woman can achieve, it was shown to us by the Panagia, who became "more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim". And if the Apostles and Hierarchs seem great, no one is greater than the Panagia; and if the Panagia is greater than all the Hierarchs, then she became neither a Deacon, a Priest or a Bishop. We see, therefore, that women do not become Deacons or Priests because they are undervalued by the Church, but because they are honored above them.

Thus emerges the truth spoken by the Apostle Paul, that when I am ill then I am strong, when I am humbled then I am glorified. And the weaker sex, within the Church, through obedience and through humility, which the Saints apply and live and which was particularly applied and embodied by the Panagia, demonstrates to be strong and more powerful.

Question: Fr. Vasilios, we say in a hymn "breaking down the wall of enmity" (τὸ μεσότοιχον τῆς ἔχθρας καθελοῦσα). What does "wall of enmity" mean?

Answer: I think it is the enmity between the devil and God, rebellion and obedience. We, by our offense, followed the devil, and not God. We thought that we could reach holiness through sin, and reach deification if we obeyed the devil. And this is how the gap, the partition, was created that separates us from God.

But there had to exist a person who was illumined, pure, humble, all-holy, who understood that through obedience we can achieve freedom, through humility we could attain glory and, I would say, through virginity and complete dedication to God we can arrive to an actual marriage and in a true and complete union with God.

Question: Fr. Vasilios, coming from the Garden of the Panagia, Mount Athos, to Cyprus, which has many churches and monasteries dedicated to the Panagia, how do you feel?

Answer: It is true that I came to Cyprus as a guest, with a willingness to talk about the Panagia. And surprisingly I found myself to be on the island of the Panagia, because almost all the monasteries here are dedicated to the Panagia, and you have so many miraculous icons in so many churches and in your Cypriot homes.

But what made a big impression on me and was a gift from the Panagia was when I visited the village of Ora. We saw a very big and beautiful stone church, and we went to go there to venerate. We asked, therefore, for the sexton to come. We venerated the icons of the icon screen and entered the sanctuary. Coming out, we saw an icon of the Panagia on the left wall. It was an ancient and very beautiful icon. As we were venerating, the sexton, an older gentleman of prestige in the village, told me a phrase that contained the entire meaning and content of the mystery of the Panagia. Spontaneously he told me: "Our Queen is beautiful. Health to the hands that made her."

The Queen of Cyprus is the Panagia. And the Panagia is beautiful, even the Prophets call her beautiful, as well as the Fathers and the hymns. The beauty of the Panagia is desirable, for God loved her and He became man. The beauty of the Panagia is the beauty of humility and purity. This beauty saves man and the entire world. And this beauty is the "true and desirable" (τὸ ἀληθινὸν καὶ ἐράσμιον), as Basil the Great says, and it is the same as the uncreated Grace of God, the same as Divinity.

Hence, I was very moved when I felt this beauty, this grace, to exist throughout this island of the Panagia, which is Cyprus. And one is particularly moved when it is seen how much the Panagia is among us, and how the Orthodox Church is indeed the Body of Christ. Not from a Prophet, nor from a Father of the Church, but from a simple man, a villager, a prestigious man, I heard this great phrase: "Our Queen is beautiful." This beauty will save Cyprus, and the entire world.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.