March 21, 2015

The Theotokos as the Light-Bearing Lantern

By His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

The God-bearing John the Damascene, the inexhaustible Nile of Damascus as he was called, chanting hymns and spiritual odes to "the Theotokos and mother of light", the Most Holy Theotokos, calls her "light-bearing lantern":

"Light-bearing lantern, my humble soul, which is completely darkened, fully brighten O good one with your light, as I cry out an ode of thanksgiving."1

The exact same acclamation we hear in the Service of the Akathist Hymn from the unknown yet Spirit-bearing poet of this sacred Kontakion:

"Viewing the holy Virgin, we see a light-bearing lantern that shone upon those who were in darkness."

A. "Light-bearing lantern"

Light is highly treasured in Orthodox theology, as it represents the energies of God.

"I am the Light of the world."2

"Light is the Father, Light is the Word, Light also is the Holy Spirit."3

"Today on Tabor in the manifestation of Your Light, O Word, You who are the unaltered Light from the Light of the unbegotten Father, we have seen the Father as Light and the Spirit as Light, guiding with light the whole creation."4

If the Saints of our Church became all light, as in the words of Saint Gregory Palamas, "all became divine light",5 how much more so did the Theotokos become all light, since she gave birth to the source of light, Christ Himself! This light flashed within her all-immaculate womb and illumined the entire ecumene.

B. "Light-bearing lantern"

The Theotokos is the brilliant lampstand, as mentioned by the Prophet Zechariah: "I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps."6 These prophetic words prefigure her ministry, because she held the Light of the world, Christ. This light is diffused to every person who wants to have a relationship with Him. And just as Christ Himself said: "Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house,"7 so without this lamp, without this lantern, the beneficial radiation of the divine light is impossible.

With the image of light even the redemptive work of Christ is presented. And as light has three basic properties - to illuminate, to heat and to decontaminate -, so also does the presence of Christ:

- He enlightened man and the whole world by chasing away the darkness of idol madness, eliminating death, and trampling on the multi-resourceful devil.

- He warmed each person. He said that each of us are His creation in His own image. He made the path of life towards the Kingdom of Heaven bright and easy with the light of his commandments.

- He also decontaminated the spiritual stench coming from the presence of sin and idols.

Since then this light has become the aim and purpose of every Christian. For this light Saint Gregory Palamas pleaded ("Illumine my darkness..."), as well as the entire chorus of Saints of our Church.

The Theotokos is she who leads us with her ministry to this inaccessible light. She did not merely see God and touch Him, but she held Him in her warm embrace. For this reason she became the "light-bearing lantern". And those who communicate with her, those who invoke her as an intercessor before the Throne of Divine Majesty, those who use her name and confess her to be the "true Theotokos" who "gave birth to God incarnate", they are made worthy of the heavenly Kingdom and share in the unapproachable light of the Savior Christ who was incarnate of her.

The great God-seer of the Church Saint Gregory Palamas writes:

"Being superior to all you are mightier than all of creation, and nothing is impossible with you unless you will it to be so. Do not overlook my tears, do not turn away from my moans, do not thrust away the pain of my heart, do not dishonor my expectation in you."8

To her we resort this evening, as always. To her do we assign our hope and our expectation, and with the grace-filled Bishop John of Euchaita we supplicate to her:

"Be to me a protection in danger, a refreshment in calamities, a help in times of peril, a spring gushing with healing for all manner of sickness, and a treatment for the passions, eliminating all harm from me, Theotokos, that I may glorify you unto the ages."9


1. Theotokarion of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, troparion, ode one, canon in plagal of the first, for Friday.

2. Jn. 8:12.

3. Exaposteilarion for Pentecost.

4. Exaposteilarion for the Transfiguration.

5. Saint Gregory Palamas, Homily on the Transfiguration of Christ.

6. Zech. 4:2.

7. Matt. 5:15.

8. Ανδρέου Σιμωνώφ, Μέγα Προσευχητάριον, εκδ. Ρηγόπουλου Θεσσ/κη 2001, σελ. 451.

9. Theotokarion of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, troparion, ode eight, canon in grave tone, for Thursday.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.