March 27, 2015

O All-Praised Mother

By His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

Whenever our Holy Church honors the person of the Most Holy Theotokos with a feast, our minds and thoughts run to her who is the "Ark made golden by the Spirit", as we chant to her during the Service of Salutations, who brought to the earth not merely the heavenly rain, but the Lord of the clouds, the Only Begotten Son of God.

But how can anyone speak of the Panagia?

What human language can extol the wonders of the Theotokos?

How can the source of light be illumined?

There is no human language, nor otherworldly angelic mind, that can worthily praise her, by whom we have been given the ability to have a clear vision of the glory of the Lord. Even if, my brethren, we had the purity of the Angels, the testimonies and confessions of the Holy Fathers, the tears and asceticism of the Venerable Ones, if we had all these things, still we could not speak of and praise the person of the Panagia, the mystery of mysteries, which is the Theotokos, since "always most glorious and always beyond our understanding, are all your mysteries, Theotokos", according to the sacred hymnographer.

What is the Panagia? In one hymn the inspired sacred hymnographer tells us the following:

"What shall we call you, O Full of Grace? Heaven? For from you arose the Sun of Righteousness. Paradise? For you sprouted the flower of incorruption. Virgin? For you remained incorrupt. Pure Mother? For in your holy embrace is the Son, the God of all."

What, then, is the Theotokos? First, she is a spiritual heaven. And just as the sun rises everyday in the heavens and enlivens with its rays and illumines with its light and disinfects with its radiation, so also from the spiritual heaven does the Sun of Righteousness arise, Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who became man out of His love for man, "to find the lost sheep and bear it on His shoulders and bring it to the Father." This is why we chant on Christmas: "You have arisen from the Virgin, O Christ, the Sun of Righteousness."

What is the Panagia? Second, she is the spiritual paradise, the "secret and beautiful" according to the expression of the Holy Fathers, for within her "sprouted the flower of incorruption", the fragrant flower, which by His presence on this planet gave fragrance to the earth not only to what is on the earth, but also that which is below the earth. This is why Saint John of Damascus, full of wonder, will say: "The word of the Father and Logos, the most sweet and heavenly manna, the well-named that is above every name, the eternal and unapproachable light, the bread of heavenly life, the untilled fruit who physically sprouted from you."

Third, the Panagia is even the Virgin, who seedlessly conceived by the Holy Spirit from her all-immaculate womb the Son of God. But she also remained a Virgin, as she was also before she gave birth, hence "before giving birth and after giving birth you are Ever-Virgin in mind, soul and body," as Saint John of Damascus says. In other words, she is the model of purity and virtue to all people of all ages.

Fourth, the Panagia is the Mother of God. "Pure Mother, for in your holy embrace is the Son, the God of all." It is she who gave the Fashioner the clay and made the Son of God a man. She held Him in her embrace and fed Him with her milk. She is also our mother, the mother of Christians, the protection of us all who will not put to shame, who is sympathetic to the human race, wiping away the tears of people, and easing pain with her active intercessions before the throne of her Son and God.

What else is the Theotokos? Fifth, Saint Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who at the Third Ecumenical Synod was the champion of the name Theotokos, tells us some awesome words: "Mary the Ever-Virgin, I call the Holy Church." That is, he names, or rather identifies the Panagia with the Church. And this identification and correlation is not accidental, since the work that began with the Theotokos with the incarnation of the Word of God, is continued by the Church in its depth, width and height, to save the world.

That's why the late Metropolitan Dionysios of Kozanis, based on the above view of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, writes: "It is inconceivable that the Church can stand without the Panagia Mother of the Savior Christ. The Most Holy Theotokos is the Church and the Church is the Most Holy Theotokos. When someone says Theotokos, they include in that meaning the Church, because through this name and the person of the Ever-Virgin Mary is expressed the entire divine mystery of the person of Jesus Christ. She Who Is Wider Than the Heavens, as she is drawn in the semi-vaulted apse of the Sacred Sanctuary with Jesus Christ, symbolizes precisely this, that Christ is in the midst of the Church, leading all people to unite as the Body of Christ."

And just as "this name of Theotokos contains the entire mystery of the economy summarized," according to Saint John of Damascus, so is the Church the "mystery of mysteries, the holy of holies, the gospel of gospels. It is entirely a mystery, entirely holy, and entirely a gospel." It is the mystery "hidden from all ages and generations," which appeared to save and redeem the world.

This is why the Church honors the Panagia.

This is why there is no Sacred Service that does not mention with reverence her all-holy name.

This is why within the most supernatural mystery of the Divine Eucharist, right after the consecration of the Honorable Gifts, the Liturgist of the Mystery cries out: "Especially our Panagia, the immaculate, most blessed, glorious, our Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary."

This is why our Christians have her name on their lips, and even more so in their hearts, and they gather in the sacred churches and sacred shrines seeking her intercessions and mediation. Rooted deep within the hearts of our people is our respect and honor towards the person of the Panagia.

A monk of Mount Athos, the late Elder Moses, who reposed a year ago in Kastoria, wrote the following about the Panagia: "The Panagia is the only hope. There is none other for the many who are hopeless. She did not stand on the crutches of the words of others. She stood firm on the Cross of her Son. Pain made her much more beautiful. In danger she found redemption. She chose silence. She was chased. She loved difficulties. She endured pain. She suffered and she learned. She gained and she has much to give. Whatever she has is ours. She is inexhaustibly wealthy, a life-giving spring, a life-bearing love, an epitaph of despair. The fifth Gospel of the Panagia is all white pages, written in loving silence, from the ink of consolation."

"You are the joy of the world, the harbor of sinners, the rescuer of the storm-tossed, Theotokos and Virgin, receive who cry out unto you, my prayer and supplication, Immaculate One, and speedily bring it to your Son, in order to save me the prodigal."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.