Donnerstag, 8. Mai 2014

The Ort­ho­dox Vene­ra­tion of The Mot­her of God - Saint John of Shang­hai & San Francisco

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH tea­ches about the Mot­her of God that which Sacred Tra­di­tion and Sacred Scrip­ture have infor­med con­cer­ning Her, and daily it glo­ri­fies Her in its temp­les, asking Her help and defense. Knowing that She is plea­sed only by those pra­i­ses which cor­re­spond to Her actual glory, the Holy Fat­hers and hymn-writers have entre­a­ted Her and Her Son to teach them how to hymn Her. “Set a rampart about my mind, 0 my Christ, for I make bold to sing the pra­ise of Thy pure Mot­her” (Ikos of the Dor­mi­tion). “The Church tea­ches that Christ was truly born of Mary the Ever-Virgin” (St. Epip­ha­nius, “True Word Con­cer­ning the Faith”). “It is essen­tial for us to con­fess that the Holy Ever-Virgin Mary is actu­ally Theo­tokos (Birth-giver of God), so as not to fall into bla­sp­hemy. For those who deny that the Holy Vir­gin is actu­ally Theo­tokos are no lon­ger belie­vers, but discip­les of the Pha­ri­sees and Sad­du­cees” (St. Ephraim the Syrian,“To John the Monk”).
From Tra­di­tion it is known that Mary was the daugh­ter of the aged Joa­chim and Anna, and that Joa­chim des­cen­ded from the royal line of David, and Anna from the pri­estly line. Notwit­h­stan­ding such a noble ori­gin, they were poor. Howe­ver, it was not this that sad­de­ned these righ­teous ones, but rat­her the fact that they did not have chil­dren and could not hope that their des­cen­dants would see the Mes­siah. And behold, when once, being dis­dai­ned by the Hebrews for their bar­ren­ness, they both in grief of soul were offe­ring up pray­ers to God­Jo­a­chim on a moun­tain to which he had reti­red after the pri­est did not want to offer his sacri­fice in the Temple, and Anna in her own gar­den weeping over her barrenness-there appea­red to them an angel who infor­med them that they would bring forth a daugh­ter. Overjoyed, they pro­mi­sed to con­secrate their child to God.
In nine months a daugh­ter was born to them, cal­led Mary, Who from Her early child­hood mani­fe­sted the best qua­li­ties of soul. When She was three years old, her parents, ful­fil­ling their pro­mise, solemnly led the little Mary to the Temple of Jerus­a­lem; She Her­self ascen­ded the high steps and, by reve­la­tion from God, She was led into the very Holy of Holies, by the High Pri­est who met Her, taking with Her the grace of God which rested upon Her into the Temple which until then had been wit­hout grace. (See the Kon­takion of the Entry into the Temple. This was the newly-built Temple into which the glory of God had not des­cen­ded as it had upon the Ark or upon the Temple of Solo­mon.) She was sett­led in the quar­ters for vir­gins which exi­sted in the Temple, but She spent so much time in prayer in the Holy of Holies that one might say that She lived in it. (Ser­vice to the Entry, second sti­cheron on Lord, I have cried, and the “Glory, Both Now…”) Being ador­ned with all vir­tues, She mani­fe­sted an example of extra­or­di­na­rily pure life. Being sub­mis­sive and obe­di­ent to all, She offen­ded no one, said no crude word to any­one, was fri­endly to all, and did not allow any unclean thought. (Abrid­ged from St. Ambrose of Milan, “Con­cer­ning the Ever-Virginity of the Vir­gin Mary.”)
Despite the righ­teo­us­ness and the imma­cu­la­te­ness of the life which the Mot­her of God led, mani­fe­sted their pre­sence in Her. They could not but be mani­fe­sted: Such is the pre­cise and fait­h­ful tea­ching of the Ort­ho­dox Church con­cer­ning the Mot­her of God with rela­tion to ori­gi­nal sin and death.” (Bis­hop Igna­tius Bri­an­cha­ni­nov, “Expo­si­tion of the Tea­ching of the Ort­ho­dox Church on the Mot­her of God.”) “A stran­ger to any fall into sin” (St. Ambrose of Milan, Com­men­tary on the I I 8th Psalm), “She was not a stran­ger to sin­ful temp­ta­tions.” “God alone is wit­hout sin” (St. Ambrose, same source), “while man will always have in him­self somet­hing yet nee­ding cor­rection and per­fection in order to ful­fill the com­mand­ment of God; Be ye holy as I the Lord your God am Holy (Levi­ti­cus 19:2). The more pure and per­fect one is, the more he noti­ces his imper­fections and con­si­ders him­self all the more unworthy.
The Vir­gin Mary, having given Her­self enti­rely up to God, even though She repul­sed from Her­self every impulse to sin, still felt the weak­ness of human nature more power­fully than others and ardently desi­red the com­ing of the Saviour. In Her humi­lity She con­si­de­red Her­self unworthy to be even the servant-girl of the Vir­gin Who was to give Him birth. So that not­hing might distract Her from prayer and heed­ful­ness to Her­self, Mary gave to God a vow not to become mar­ried, in order to please only Him Her whole life long. Being betro­t­hed to the elderly Joseph when Her age no lon­ger, allowed Her to remain in the Temple, She sett­led in his house in Naza­reth. Here the Vir­gin was vou­chs­a­fed the com­ing of the Archan­gel Gabriel, who brought Her the good tidings of the birth, from Her of the Son of the Most High. Hail, Thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Bles­sed art thou among women … The Holy Spi­rit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overs­ha­dow thee. where­fore also that which is to be born shall be holy, and shall be cal­led the Son of God (Luke 1:28–35).Mary recei­ved the ange­lic good tidings hum­bly and sub­mis­si­vely. “Then the Word, in a way known to Him­self, des­cen­ded and, as He Him­self wil­led, came and ente­red into Mary and abode in Her” (St. Ephraim the Syrian, “Pra­ise of the Mot­her of God”). “As ligh­t­ning illu­mi­na­tes what is hid­den, so also Christ puri­fies what is hid­den in the nature of things. He puri­fied the Vir­gin also and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is mani­fest purity in all its power. He puri­fied the Vir­gin, having pre­pa­red Her by the Holy Spi­rit, and then the womb, having become pure, con­cei­ved Him. He puri­fied the Vir­gin while She was invi­o­late; where­fore, having been born, He left Her vir­gin. I do not say that Mary became immor­tal, but that being illu­mi­na­ted by grace, She was not dis­tur­bed by sin­ful desi­res” (St. Ephraim the Syrian, Homily Against Her­e­tics, 41). “The Light abode in Her, cle­an­sed Her mind, made Her thoughts pure, made cha­ste Her con­cerns, san­cti­fied Her vir­gi­nity” (St. Ephraim the Syrian, “Mary and Eve”). “One who was pure accor­ding to human under­stan­ding, He made pure by grace” (Bis­hop Igna­tius Bri­an­cha­ni­nov, “Expo­si­tion of the Tea­ching of the Ort­ho­dox Church on the Mot­her of God”).
Mary told no one of the appea­rance of the angel, but the angel him­self reve­a­led to Joseph con­cer­ning Mary’s mira­culous con­cep­tion from the Holy Spi­rit (Matt. 1: 18–25); and after the Nati­vity of Christ, with a mul­ti­tude of the hea­venly host, he anno­un­ced it to the shep­herds. The shep­herds, com­ing to wors­hip the new-born one, said that they had heard of Him. Having pre­viously endu­red suspi­cion in silence, Mary now also liste­ned in silence and kept in Her heart the sayings con­cer­ning the gre­at­ness of Her Son (Luke 2:8–19). She heard forty days later Symeon’s prayer of pra­ise and the prop­hecy con­cer­ning the wea­pon which would pierce Her soul. Later She saw how Jesus advan­ced in wis­dom; She heard Him at the age of twelve tea­ching in the Temple, and eve­ryt­hing She kept in Her heart(Luke 2:21–5 1). Even though full of grace, She did not yet fully under­stand in what the ser­vice and the gre­at­ness of Her Son would con­sist The Hebrew con­cep­tions of the Mes­siah were still close to Her, and natu­ral fee­lings for­ced Her to be con­cer­ned for Him, pre­ser­ving Him from labors and dan­gers which it might seem, were exces­sive. There­fore She favored Her Son invo­lun­ta­rily at first, which evo­ked His indi­ca­tion of the supe­ri­o­rity of spi­ri­tual to bodily kins­hip (Matt. 12:46–49). “He had con­cern also over the honor of His Mot­her, but much more over the salva­tion of Her soul and the good of men, for which He had become clo­t­hed in the flesh” (St. John Chryso­stom, Com­men­tary on John, Homily 2 1). Mary under­stood this and heard the word of God and kept it (Luke11:27, 28). As no other per­son) She had the same fee­lings as Christ (Phil. 2:5),unmur­muringly bea­ring the grief of a mot­her when She saw Her Son per­secu­ted and suf­fe­ring. Rejoi­cing in the day of the Resur­rection, on the day of Pen­tecost She was clo­t­hed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spi­rit Who des­cen­ded upon Her taught (Her) all things (John 14:26), and instructed (Her) in all truth (John 16:13). Being enligh­te­ned, She began to labor all the more zea­lously to per­form what She had heard from Her Son and Rede­e­mer, so as to ascend to Him and to be with Him.
The end of the eart­hly life of the Most Holy Mot­her of God was the begin­ning of Her gre­at­ness. “Being ador­ned with Divine glory” (Irmos of the Canon of the Dor­mi­tion), She stands and will stand, both in the day of the Last Jud­g­ment and in the future age, at the right hand of the throne of Her Son. She reigns with Him and has bold­ness towards Him as His Mot­her accor­ding to the flesh, and as one in spi­rit with Him, as one who per­for­med the will of God and instructed others (Matt.5:19). Merci­ful and full of love, She mani­fests Her love towards Her Son and God in love for the human race. She inter­ce­des for it before the Merci­ful One, and going about the earth, She helps men. Having expe­ri­en­ced all the dif­fi­cul­ties of eart­hly life, the Inter­ces­sor of the Chri­stian race sees every tear, hears every groan and entre­aty directed to Her. Espe­ci­ally near to Her are those who labor in the battle with the pas­sions and are zea­lous for a God-pleasing life. But even in wor­ldly cares She is an irre­pla­ceable hel­per. “Joy of all who sor­row and inter­ces­sor for the offen­ded, fee­der of the hungry, con­so­la­tion of tra­vel­lers, har­bor of the storm-tossed, visi­ta­tion of the sick, pro­tection and inter­ces­sor for the infirm, staff of old age, Thou art the Mot­her of God on high, O Most Pure One” (Sti­cheron of the Ser­vice to the Hodi­gi­tria). “The hope and inter­ces­sion and refuge of Chri­sti­ans,” “The Mot­her of God uncea­sing in pray­ers” (Kon­takion of Dor­mi­tion), “saving the world by Thine uncea­sing prayer” (Theo­tokion of the Third Tone). “She day and night doth pray for us, and the scep­ters of king­doms are con­fir­med by Her pray­ers” (daily Nocturne).
There is no intel­lect or words to express the gre­at­ness of Her Who was born in the sin­ful human race but became “more honorable than the Cheru­bim and bey­ond com­pare more glo­rious than the Serap­him.” “See­ing the grace of the secret myste­ries of God made mani­fest and clearly ful­fil­led in the Vir­gin, I rejoice; and I know not how to under­stand the strange and secret man­ner whe­reby the Unde­fi­led has been reve­a­led as alone cho­sen above all cre­a­tion, visible and spi­ri­tual. There­fore, wis­hing to pra­ise Her, I am struck dumb with ama­ze­ment in both mind and spe­ech. Yet still I dare to pro­claim and mag­nify Her: She is indeed the hea­venly Taber­na­cle” (Ikos of the Entry into the Temple). “Every tongue is at a loss to pra­ise Thee as is due; even a spi­rit from the world above is fil­led with dizzi­ness, when it seeks to sing Thy pra­i­ses, 0 Theo­tokos. But since Thou art good, accept our faith. Thou knowest well our love inspi­red by God, for Thou art the Pro­tector of Chri­sti­ans, and we mag­nify Thee” (Irmos of the 9th Can­ti­cle, Ser­vice of the Theophany).

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