|How common it is for us to celebrate the birth and milestones in the life of our friends and those whom we hold dear. We enjoy celebrating their birthday and achievements expressing our camaraderie in their triumphs along their life’s journey, rejoicing when they rejoice. Is this not even more natural for us to do within the Church? There are many saints whom we are drawn to (or, more correctly, they draw us to themselves) and we, therefore, make a point to be aware of the day that their feast is celebrated, take time out to read their life and works, pray honor them recognizing their place in the wider Church as well as in our own lives. Therefore, today, September 8, is no different, and yet it is, due to the greatness of the one we are celebrating this day: the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
Throughout the centuries, she has been revered as the portal of grace, the path to her Divine Son, the silent and humble Queen of souls. Our holy Father St. Gregory Palamas raises this laudation: “God graciously willed to create this ever-virgin Maid, His palace, if I may use the expression, who was shown to be capable of holding the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9) on account of her utmost purity, able not simply to contain Him but – Oh marvelous wonder! – to bring Him to birth and to form for all men, before and after her time, ties of kinship with God.” Indeed, the first connection between the humanity of Jesus Christ and our poor humanity was the Virgin Mother of God.
The Mother of God, first Saint among saints, links us farther back in salvation history. The fateful sin of Adam which resulted in death, wrought suffering, and darkened the horizons of our life, was cancelled out in Mary’s eternal “Fiat!” – “let it be done unto me as thou sayest.” St. Maximus the Confessor attests: “Today a new world and a mysterious paradise have been revealed, in which and from which a new Adam came into being, remaking the old Adam and making all things new.” Mary was the conduit, the passage way, the channel for the Incarnate Word of God to cancel the pain of sin and establish the mercy of His Eternal Father deep within the human heart – once again.
There is a sense in which, before even St. John the Baptist and Forerunner of the Lord, the Holy Theotokos announced, heralded, and made known the “new One” who was to come and save the world from itself. She did so not by words or impressive oratory. She lived no dramatic way of life but that of a teenage housekeeper and mother. She made no claims about herself of any kind – all she did was say “Yes” to God and surrender her anonymity and obscurity to become, in the poetry of the Fathers, the Gate of Paradise, the Burning Bush, the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple of Life – the dwelling place of God and, in the poet Wordsworth’s words, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”
Though the Orthodox reverence for the Mother of God seems strange, if not offensive to some Christian sects, its Biblical basis and the liturgical centrality she has in the Church’s life of prayer, attest to the special place she occupies in the Church’s phronema (her Orthodox mindset). His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlassios affirms this truth: “The birth of the Theotokos is the prelude, whereas the birth of Christ, His self-emptying and His assumption of human nature derived from the All-Holy Virgin, is the conclusion. The introduction and the conclusion form one single book about the mystery of God’s incessant desire for the deification of man.” The Theotokos reminds us that God wants you and me to become, by grace, Who He is by nature! Simply put – Mary, the Holy Virgin, is a sign and symbol that God wants to be close to us.
This truth has given rise to centuries of prayer to the Theotokos. Hymnographers have composed new hymns, canons, and Akathists to her, Iconographers have created a multitude of types, each expressing something slightly different about the Mother of God, her life on earth, and her intervention into human life through miracles and appearances. Many have built great temples and whole monasteries in her honor. Out of devotion saints have written their own private prayers and songs to the Mother of God, asking her to take them under her saving omophorion and bring them into the Heavenly Kingdom.
Mary’s Nativity today, reminds us that she is someone to whom we can draw close and “lay the heads” of our souls on her shoulder. St. Porphyrios of Mt. Athos speaks of this magnetic and intimate quality of the Mother of God: “I very much love our Panagia. When I was young on the Holy Mountain I very much adored her. I had a small icon of the Panagia under my pillow. Morning and night I embraced her. I lived with her night and day. Whatever happened to me, I resorted to her. What can I tell you? She is better than a mother. There was nothing I wanted more. She had everything.”
And so we rejoice in today’s Great Feast in honor of the birth of the Holy Mother of God, the first feast of every new ecclesiastical year. We begin this coming year, not knowing what will befall us, as we did in 2020. In a world fraught with confusion, fear, division, and the redefinition of the “normal”, we long for stability, for a return of meaning and purpose, for peaceful and righteous living in the truth. Among our most powerful intercessors before God, is the Holy Theotokos, Mother of mothers, care for the sick and troubled, silent witness in the noise of a world increasingly losing its moorings. I leave you with a Hymn of Praise to her. Go before her icon in your home, ask as a child would ask a mother, knowing that she stands ready to do for us what she did for humankind, what she did at the Wedding of Cana – direct us to do whatever her Son asks. In Him ultimately is our hope and salvation. To Him be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen
PRAYER ON THE BIRTH OF THE HLY THEOTOKOS
O greatly desired and long awaited one, O Virgin, thou hast been obtained from the Lord with tears! A bodily temple of the Most-holy Spirit shalt thou become, And shalt be called Mother of the Eternal Word. The Burning Bush they called thee, For thou wilt receive within thyself the divine fire: Ablaze with fire but not consumed, Thou shalt bear the Golden Fruit and offer it to the world. Thou shalt be the Bearer of Him Who bears the heavens, To Whom all of heaven offers up praise! The Miracle of miracles shall come to pass within thee, For thou shalt bear heaven, thou who art “more spacious than the heavens!” Thou art more precious to us, O Virgin, than precious stones, For thou art the source of salvation for mankind. For this, may the entire universe glorify thee, O Most-holy Virgin, O white Turtledove! The King of Heaven shall desire to enter the world, And shall pass through thee, O Beautiful Gate! O Virgin, when thou dost become woman thou shalt bear Christ for us; From thy body, the Sun shall blaze forth. AMEN.
Faithfully in the Love of God,