August 16, 2022

The Theotokos On Her Deathbed (St. Nikolai Velimirovich)

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The last page of the holy book has been read, the content of which from cover to cover exudes holy innocence and piety. This is the book at the sight of which even the most cruel critics, bearing the burden of biases and prejudices, silently stopped and, having read it from beginning to end, left with a softened heart and rejuvenated spirit. That book is closed, the first words of which are - "In the Jewish town of Nazareth lived the childless pious old man Joachim and his wife Anna ...".

How bright are the first pages of this story - as if illuminated by that evening's soft and quiet blush of the sunset, seeing off the sun, so that after the night it would shine with light from the east. Who would not rejoice at the happiness of these elderly people, who were visited only at their parting with the world, to add a drop of honey to their life poisoned by sorrow!

The elderly souls of Joachim and Anna were filled with indescribable heavenly joy at the sight of their little daughter, accompanied by her friends, entering the temple of God and meeting there a modest but solemn reception. The joy of these old pious souls was so much purer and more perfect that the parents could not even suspect that this was the first and last joyful as the fruit of their sorrow. Young Mary was left an orphan early, without a father and mother. God spared Joachim and Anna for their piety, so that they would not live to see that continuous string of troubles and suffering through which their child had to go through in order to acquire a reward - true, great and inaccessible to others, namely, that their daughter would be called the Mother of God's Son.

Joachim and Anna reposed, taking comfort in the fact that they had left their child under the roof of the temple, under God's protection. Who could then have predicted such a troubled life for this Maiden, Who spent all Her youth in the temple - in peace, fasting and prayer? Nevertheless, the storms of the sea of life mercilessly tormented this orphan, dragged her into unknown lands, swiftly plunged her from inspiration into fear and vice versa. For the tender virginal soul, one shock from the sudden angelic gospel of the great mercy of God, which determined this Virgin to give birth to the Savior of the world, was enough.

But much more difficult trials were prepared for Mary, capable of breaking the strongest in spirit and crushing the greatest courage. After Her first maternal smile to Her Divine Child, which rejoiced Her soul, tired with anxiety and difficult transition in the darkness of the night and in the rain, she had to immediately flee without looking back [from Palestine to Egypt] in order to save this her dear and exalted Child. That's right, because King Herod was afraid of her Baby, lying on the straw, and human envy deprived the Son of God of any rest even in a cave, in this modest haven.

Filled with fear and trembling, she ran across the Palestinian plains, clutching Her Child to her breast, tirelessly hurried day and night through forests and deserts, knowing neither roads nor paths, only to save Him from the sword of the royal executioners. However, she did not tremble and did not weaken in spirit on the way, she was not exhausted from anxiety and fatigue, encouraging herself with the thought that the Lord God is the great King over all the gods and that in His hand were both the mountain peaks and the valleys of the earth (cf. Ps . 49:1, 45:3-4), for even from early youth she put into her soul the teaching of the wise Preacher: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, 'I have no pleasure in them'” (Eccl. 12:1).

She endured all this with faith in God, never even suspecting that the name of the Mother of God would bring her more bitterness than joy. And could she think differently after such magnificent forebodings of the Archangel Gabriel? And could it even occur to someone that people would meet the Heavenly Messenger and their Savior with such hostility?

After all, even when the glory of her Son began to sweep all over the world, heavy forebodings and worries did not leave her maternal soul. She constantly accompanied Jesus, following Him from afar, in the mass of curious people, looked at him with apprehension and absorbed His words, but did not dare to come closer to Him, being afraid to bother Him. She knew about His boundless love for all people, heard His words: “My mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

He ceased to belong only to her, having become a living Source for the whole world, so that everyone who wished came to drink from Him. But again, He was not so kind to anyone as to the heart of the Mother. In that boundless mass of people who followed Jesus on their heels throughout Palestine and enthusiastically greeted Him, the only shining eyes that always looked at Him intently, the only lips constantly that repeated His holy words and silently lifted up prayers for Him - that was His Mother.

Jesus, on the other hand, walked confidently forward, not looking back at the deaf fury of sinners rising up against Him. Nothing disturbed or frightened Him. He was always equally majestic and decisive - both on the Mount of Olives, at the entrance to Jerusalem and at other solemn moments, and at the last supper at parting with the disciples before the procession to Golgotha. And only one attentive ear heard the gnashing of teeth against Jesus and one soul foresaw the intentions of the unbelievers, who “catch the soul of the righteous and condemn innocent blood” (Ps. 93:21), and every day her heart was filled with fear from what she heard and felt. It was His Mother.

She wanted to be alone with Jesus at least at night and tell Him about everything that reached her ears, what people said about Him and what they were preparing for Him - she tried to tell Him all this, so that He would be even more attentive and careful, although she knew that He knew everything better. But even at night He had no rest, instructing His disciples and preparing them for further exploits. And she was burning with the desire, at least during the hours of the night's rest, far from the bustle of the world, to exchange a word with Him, pressing His tired head to her. However, this desire of hers was not destined to come true, so she spent the nights without her Son, looking with tearful eyes at the starry sky and turning to the consoling words of King David "O Lord, according to the multitude of my griefs within my heart, your consolation have soothed my soul" (Ps. 93.19 ).

But all these spiritual experiences, all worries and sorrows, all the malice and hatred of people that Mary had to endure for her Son, all this was nothing compared to the terrible blow that was being prepared both against Jesus and against her soul. After all with her own eyes she saw Her Son bound, spat upon and bloodied under a crown of thorns and heard those hellish cries: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" She followed Him to Golgotha, saw how He was exhausted and fell under the cross, leaned down to the ground and collected drops of His blood in the dust. She heard the sounds of nails hammered into His hands, which had once embraced her, she saw Him on the cross, naked and disfigured, undergoing terrible torments, sweating and parting with the last strength.

Oh, if only she could fall at His bleeding feet, embrace them and kiss them! But even that was impossible for the poor Mother. O mothers who mourn over their sick sons, remember Mary, who suffered under the cross, on which her Son was tormented in terrible torment! Remember and strengthen your hearts with what she also encouraged herself: hope in God's mercy!

Christ breathed out. But in the greatest agony, before committing the spirit to His Father, He remembered someone and looked down at the earth. Finding His Mother with His eyes, He saw her lamenting and exhausted. Clearly realizing another of His duties towards her, He, looking at His most beloved disciple, John, said to His Mother: “Woman! Behold, thy son” (John 19:26).

Christ's disciples dispersed all over the world to teach and save the human race. They left their homes and families and devoted all their strength to preaching the teachings of the Savior. They were no longer as fearful as on the night when Jesus was captured, but they became fearless and powerful giants, neglecting all danger.

While they were in Palestine, Holy Mary also communicated with them, helping them in confirming the commandments of the Savior, encouraging them for every good and strengthening them. But when the disciples withdrew from Palestine to distant, foreign and unknown lands, she remained in the house of John.

She did not waste time in vain, but used every minute for the benefit of the human race, the same human race that crucified her innocent Son! She devoted her labors and cares to hospitals and dungeons, consoled, taught and instructed anyone who needed support or advice. She lived strictly according to the commandments of her Son and therefore could satisfy people's sorrows and was a source of healing refreshment, from which everyone felt freshness and relief and was strengthened by heavenly love. The good deeds to which she entrusted herself filled her soul with great blessedness and consolation, which was a retribution for all her troubles and sorrows that she had previously endured. After all only after Her Son was resurrected, her eyes were opened to what was happening and there was hope.

But now the time has come for Mary to close her eyes and surrender her spirit to God. It happened in peace and silence. Her death did not cause any turmoil and anxiety. Palestine, which had witnessed such amazing and stormy events and was all agitated by the suddenness and unexpectedness of what had happened, calmed down and serenely went about everyday life, only occasionally looking at her face covered with glory and darkness in the mirror of the recent past. The world is in a hurry for its everyday, familiar business.

The Mother of God rests on a bed. And the world does not feel any change, does not feel that the most charitable Lady has left its midst. The world is always the same: with empty rumors and petty concerns about bodily needs, it steals holiness from the most solemn moments in the history of mankind. As the greatest strugglers for its happiness died in torments, it placidly and with incessant hubbub from a multitude of voices rushed after bread. But now, as the great Benefactress of people lies on her deathbed, the street noise and cacophony of voices is not silent even for a minute.

But when they carry her to her resting place, when the Apostles sing funeral hymns, vivid memories of the Great Teacher of love and His meek and majestic Mother will rise in the soul of this world. And there will be, surely there will be those who will join the Apostles and irrigate the grave of the exemplary Nazarene woman with warm tears, and manage their lives and affairs according to the Gospel of her Son. Suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, the world will forget about its worries and restore in memory the whole life of this Lady, who had strong faith, and she herself will be convinced that the name of the Lord is a strong tower: “The righteous flees into it and is safe” (Prov. 18.11).

Silence and peace reign in the house of the Apostle John. Nothing disturbs this reverent atmosphere. A small modest room is lit by two rows of lamps standing around the deathbed. One might think that there is no one in the room, although in fact almost all of Christ's host is gathered in it at that moment. Here are His Apostles, who have just rushed from all over the world to escort the Mother of the Teacher to her eternal abode.

With their heads bowed, they stand around the bed of the Theotokos. And she rests. An imprint of goodness and some mysterious happiness shines on Her face, testifying to the absence of any sorrow, and Her final “Farewell!” is filled with mercy and condescension to the whole world, which showed so little sympathy, hospitality, or love to her and her Son.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.