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September 12, 2020

Homily Five on the Sacred Liturgical Books of the Orthodox Church: "The Theotokarion" (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

The Sacred Liturgical Books of the Orthodox Church:
The Theotokarion

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is a great feast of the Mother of God which shows the greatness and glory of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. The soul and the body of the Theotokos after her repose ascended to heaven and from there she mediates to her Lord and God.

This year, during the summer written sermons in the Holy Temples, I analyzed various liturgical books that are essential books for every Clergyman, Monastic and Christian, and on the basis of these all the Sacred Services are performed. I considered it good, within this perspective, and in order to sing hymns to the great person of our Panagia, to speak today on this great feast about the book called the Theotokarion.

The Theotokarion is a liturgical book, which includes canons and troparia prosomia to our Panagia. The first Theotokarion belongs to the Monk Agapios Landos of Crete, which was published in Venice in 1643 as well as later editions, and the second Theotokarion belongs to Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite.

Today, in use in the Holy Monasteries is the Theotokarion of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, which is chanted every evening at Vespers to the tone of each week, and after the canon the prosomia troparia are chanted.

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite has collected fifty-six canons, that is, seven canons for each of the eight tones. At the same time, he has added six Supplicatory Canons to the Panagia, for every sorrow, for every illness, for thanksgiving after the illness, a supplicatory iambic canon, a joyful canon that is chanted on the Saturday of the Akathist Hymn, and a thanksgiving canon chanted in the monasteries of Mount Athos on the Saturday of the Akathist. The total number of canons is sixty-two, composed by twenty great hymnographers of our Church.

The first canon of the first tone, which is chanted on Saturday evening, is very characteristic, and it is a poem by Saint Theodore the Studite. In this canon is presented a beautiful dialogue in simple terms between a sinful person, the Mother of God and Christ, and shows the work of our Panagia in the Church.

In the first troparion of every ode of this canon, the sinful person entreats the Theotokos for their sins. In the second troparion, the Theotokos entreats Christ for the specific person. In the third troparion, Christ replies to the Theotokos His Mother that the repentance of this person is not real, because their works are contrary to the request for repentance. And in the fourth troparion the Theotokos conveys to the sinful person the word of Christ and urges them to repentance. All this dialogue is astonishing and unfolds in a dramatic way, because it seems that the sinful person seeks the remission of their sins, but their repentance is not true and complete.

This canon shows that the sinful person insists that the Theotokos continue to intercede to her Lord for the person who asks her to mediate with Christ, and in the end Christ grants the remission of sins, but He asks the Theotokos to tell the person to stop sinning. The Theotokos transmits this word of Christ to the person and advises them to be careful, so that the rest of their life may be pleasing to God, in order to enjoy Paradise.

In a beautiful and inductive way this canon shows what is the work of the Theotokos, what does her mediation mean and how Christ forgives man. Thus, in this dialogue, the theology of the Church regarding sin, repentance and forgiveness is clearly seen, as well as the theology for the relationship between Christ and the Most Holy Theotokos.

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite writes in the Preface of the Theotokarion that he collected all these asmatic canons, which he observed in many Theotokaria in the Monasteries of Mount Athos, and printed them "to the glory of Christ and to the Ever-Virgin and for the common benefit of all Christians and pious lovers of the Theotokos." And then he writes: "And just as from a beautiful garden there is chosen from there various flowers for a crown that is offered to the earthly king as a precious gift, so all the asmatic canons to the Theotokos, which could be found on the Holy Mountain, the allegorical paradise of the Ever-Virgin, the following manifold, fragrant, multi-flowered crown was chosen, and offered with much longing and reverence to the Queen of all heaven the Theotokos, a more desirable gift than from the talent of gold and precious crown of Molech (2 Kings 12:30), which King David wore on his head, than the twelve-starred crown of the Apocalypse, and simply of all the stone, pearl and golden crowns of earthly kings."

We are used to offering wreaths of flowers to the icon of our Panagia. This is good and blessed. But above all, it is blessed to lay before our Panagia and Christ a wreath of the flowers of our prayers, our repentance and our love for them.

Saint Paisios the Athonite advised a nun: "Read a canon from the Theotokarion every day and you will see, you will acquire leventia. ... The Theotokarion helps very much. The heart is warmed, and moved."

Many years, my beloved brethren, and may our Panagia help us, may she intercede to Christ for us, for our health, of the soul and the body.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.