November 24, 2017

Second Homily on the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (St. Germanos of Constantinople)

By St. Germanos, Archbishop of Constantinople (715-730)

Behold, again another festival, and a glorious feast of the Mother of the Lord. Behold, the arrival of the blameless bride (cf. 2 Peter 3.14). Behold, the first procession of the queen. Behold, an accurate sign of the glory which will surround her.

Behold, the prelude of the divine grace which will overshadow her. Behold, the brilliant evidence of her exceptional purity. For where entering not many times, but once in the year (cf. Leviticus 16.1), the priest performs the mystical worship, there she is brought by her parents for unceasing residence, to be in the sacred sanctuary of grace.

Who ever knew such a thing? Who saw, or who heard, of men now or men of old, that a female was led into the inner holy places of the holy places, which are barely accessible even to men, to live in them and to pass her time in them? Is this not a clear demonstration of the strange miracle to be done for her later? Is it not an evident sign? Is it not an obvious testimony?

Let them show us, those who wag their tongues against her, and who see as if not seeing, where they ever beheld such things? A maiden from the promise, at the age of three years, is brought as a blameless gift within the third curtain, to live there continuously, and receives petitions from the wealthy men of the people (cf. Psalm 45.13). She is sent forth by virgins, brought forward with lamps; welcomed by priests and prophets with uplifted hands! How, when they see the beginning, did they disbelieve in the ending? How, when they had seen the strange and unusual [events] in her case, did they deny those which happened afterwards? For not at random, and as it chanced, did the first things happen concerning her; but all were preludes of the last things.

Let those who are vainly wise in their own sight tell us: How, when other barren women have given birth, is none of their daughters dedicated in the Holy of Holies and received by prophets? Could not those who then saw such great things [done] for her say, as also those of the same mind later [said] for her son: "What will this child be?" Yes indeed. But let those of alien mind travel the road of perdition, and let them fall into the pit which they have dug. But we, the remnant of God's people (cf. 1 Peter 2.10), priests and rulers, secular and monastics, slaves and free, craftsmen and farmers, gatherers and fishermen, young and old, men and women: hither, let us eagerly approach the Theotokos, and let us watch the divine mysteries which were accomplished earlier in her. How is the All-holy one today led by her parents to the Temple of God through its priests? How does the prophet receive her with his own hands, and bring her into the sanctuary, making no objection , and not saying to her parents, "I do not perform this new practice, and bring a maiden into the Holy of Holies, to be sheltered there, and to dwell there continuously, where I am assigned to enter once in the year."

The prophet uttered nothing of this sort, but as if foreseeing what would be, since he was a prophet, assuredly accepting her, and waiting, as after him Symeon [awaited] her son, he receives her willingly (cf. Luke 2.25) Then perhaps he embraced the mother and addressed her, saying something like this, and holding the child by her hands: "Where are you from, O woman? What is your character, and the purpose of such an undertaking? And how, since you have no model of this kind, have you alone discovered this new and unprecedented action? To bring a maiden to make her tent in the sanctuary? What is your plan? Tell me. And what is your name?

Why have you made me an example in my family, and a shaking of the head in my tribe? Why have you declared me a participant in the curse of your prophets, giving me a childless womb and dry breasts (cf. Hosea 9.14)? Why have you made my gifts unacceptable as of a childless [woman]? Why have you left me to become a cause of muttering for my acquaintances, and a mockery for those at hand, and a reproach for my neighbors? Look at [me], Lord; hear [me], Master; have compassion [on me], Holy One. Make me like the birds of heaven, the beasts of the earth, the fish of the sea: because they also are productive before you, Lord. May I not appear worse than the irrational animals, O Most High, I who have been made by you in your likeness and image (cf. Genesis 1.26)."

Saying these things, and things like them, Anna added, "To you, Master, I will assuredly dedicate an acceptable gift, whatever child you may give me, to be that [gift] and to remain in your holy place, as a sacred offering and all-honorable gift, which I have received from you the most generous giver of perfect gifts.' Such things I was crying out to the God in the heavens, being outdoors in my garden, raising my eye to the heavens, beating my breast with my hands. But my husband being all alone on the mountain, and fasting for forty days, was supplicating God with [words] equivalent to these; thus you see the Lord who is ready for mercy and loves souls has bent down and sent an angel to the prayers of both of us, announcing to us the conception of my child. So therefore when [my] nature was bidden by God, it received the seed; for it did not dare to accept it before the divine grace. But when that [grace] preceded, then the closed womb opened its own gates, and receiving the deposit from God, held it in itself, until by the good will of God it brought forth to light that which had been sown in it.

And then when [the child] had been weaned, 'I return my vows to God, which my lips sent forth, and my mouth spoke in my tribulation (Psalm 65.13.ffLXX).' For this reason I assembled the band of virgins with torches, I called the priests together, I gathered my relatives, saying these [words] to all: 'Rejoice with me, all of you, that I am proved today both a mother and a guide; not bringing my child to an earthly king, because it is not fitting, but dedicating this [child] to the heavenly king, as his [own] gift. For the rest, O prophet, receive my God-given daughter. Receive [her] and leading her in, plant her in the place of sanctification, in the prepared dwelling-place of God, making no nosy inquiries, until God who summoned her here is pleased to bring to conclusion the matters concerning her."

When Zechariah heard these [words], at once he replied to Anna: "Blessed is your root, O all-honored one. Glorified is your womb, you who love your husband. And exceedingly glorious is your offspring, you who love God." Then holding the child with great joy, he brings her eagerly into the Holy of Holies, perhaps saying things like this to her: "Come here, fulfillment of my prophecy. Come here, completion of the commandments of the Lord. Come here, seal of His covenant. Come here, goal of His counsels. Come here, revelation of His mysteries. Come here, mirror of all the prophets. Come here, refutation of those who utter evil. Come here, joining of [things] long ago separated. Come here, support of things bent down. Come here, renewal of things grown old. Come here, light of those lying in darkness. Come here, new divine gift. Come here, mistress of all born on earth. Enter into the glory of your Lord: for now, into [the glory] here below where men walk, but after a short time, into the [glory] above which is inaccessible to human beings."

So probably the mystic teacher spoke to the child, and set her where it was fitting, and arranged in advance and predestined (cf. Romans 16.25). But the child skipping and rejoicing, as in a bridal chamber, walked in the Temple of God; being three years old in her chronological age, but more than perfect in divine grace, as foreknown and predestined and chosen for the God and governor of all. She remained in the inner Holy of Holies, nourished with ambrosial food by an angel, and receiving drink of divine nectar, until her second advance in age-group. And then by the assent of God and the counsel of the priests a lot is drawn concerning her, and Joseph the just is allotted, and receives this holy Virgin according to the dispensation from the Temple of God and his priests, to ensnare the serpent who originated evil, so that he should not attack the undefiled maiden as a virgin, but as a betrothed woman he should pass her by.

So the All-pure one was in the house of Joseph the carpenter being protected, until the divine mystery hidden before all the ages (cf. Romans 16.25) was fulfilled in her, and from her God was made like mortals. But this needs another treatment and a suitable time; let our discourse be led back again to its subject, and the day of her sending forth today be celebrated with auspicious words. Therefore go, Lady and Mother of God, go to your inheritance, and walk in the halls of the Lord, skipping and rejoicing, nourished and flourishing, awaiting from day to day the coming of the Holy Spirit in you, and the overshadowing of the power of the Most High (cf. Luke 1.26), and the conception of your Son, as Gabriel will address you; and give to those who celebrate your feast, your help, your protection, and your assistance, guarding always by your intercessions these people from every necessity and dangers, and dread diseases, and all kinds of misfortunes, and from the coming just threat of your Son. Set them, as you are the mother of the Master, in a place of comfort, where [there are] light and peace, and the ultimate giving of things desired. "And may the deceitful lips be mute, those which speak lawlessness in arrogance and contempt against you the righteous woman" (cf. Psalm 31.19). And let the image of these [people] be brought to naught in your city. Let them be put to shame, and let them die out, and let them perish, and let them know that your name is Mistress (cf. Psalm 83.17-18). For you alone are Theotokos, most sublime over all the earth; and we bless you in faith, bride of God, and with desire we honor you, and with fear we bow before you, always magnifying you, and solemnly calling you blessed (cf. Luke 1.49).

For blessed truly is your father among men, and blessed is your mother among women, blessed is your household, blessed are your acquaintances, blessed are those who saw you, blessed are those who accompanied you, blessed are those who served you, blessed are the places where you walked, blessed is the Temple into which you were brought, blessed is Zechariah, who took you in his arms, blessed is Joseph, who was betrothed to you, blessed is your couch, blessed is your tomb! For you [are] honor of honors, and reward of rewards, and exaltation of exaltations. But Oh me, Mistress, my only soul-leader from God, the divine dew of the burning in me, the moisture flowing from God for my parched heart, the bright-shining lamp of my darkened soul, the guide for my journey, the power for my weakness, the clothing of my nakedness, the wealth of my poverty, the healing of my incurable wounds, the removal of tears, the cessation of groaning, the reversal of misfortunes, the lightening of pains, the release of fetters, the hope of my salvation, hear my prayers: have pity on my groaning, and accept my lamentations. Have mercy on me, bending down to my tears.

Have compassion on me, as mother of the God who loves mankind. Look down and assent to my supplication, fill up my thirsty desire, and join me to my relative and fellow servant in the land of the meek, in the tents of the just (cf. Psalm 118.15), in the choir of the saints (cf. Psalm 116.9); and make me worthy, I beg you, O protection and joy of all and brilliant gladness of heart, to rejoice along with her, in your truly ineffable joy, [because] of the God and King who was born from you, and in his imperishable bridal-chamber, and in the unceasing and insatiable delight, and in the kingdom which has no evening and no limit. Yes, Mistress; yes, my refuge, my life and my support, my armor and my boast, my hope and my strength. Grant me with you to enjoy the inexpressible and unceasing gifts in the heavenly mansion.

For as the mother of the Most High you have, I know, the power which runs along with the will; and because of this I am bold. Therefore may I not be deprived, all-undefiled Lady, of my expectation (cf. Galatians 6.4); but may I obtain this, Bride of God, you who gave birth beyond words to the expectation of all, our Lord Jesus Christ, the true God and Master: to whom is due all glory, honor, and veneration, with the Father who has no beginning, and the life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.