+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Joachim and Anna were freed from the reproach of childlessness and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death, by thy holy nativity, O Immaculate One, which thy people, redeemed from the guilt of sin, celebrate by crying to thee: The barren woman giveth birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life.”
The feast that we are celebrating today is the turning point of all of human history. Everything that happened from the time of the fall up until this moment had one purpose and one purpose only: to bring into the world the Most Holy Mother of God. As St. John Damascene writes: “It is with justice and truth that we call holy Mary the Theotokos; for this name embraces the whole mystery of the Economy of salvation.”
This moment is the first really new moment that the world, “grown old in evil days” had ever seen since our forefathers Adam and Eve first brought it under the dominion of sin and death. Every promise that God ever made, to Eve or to Noah, to Abraham or to David, to the children of Israel or to the nations walking in darkness, is now made incarnate in the world today, in the person of the Holy Lady Theotokos. In her, as St. Andrew of Crete says, is the “clear fulfillment of the whole of prophecy, of the truth of Scriptures inspired by God, the living and most pure book of God and the Word in which, without voice or writing, the Writer Himself, God and Word, is everyday read.”
And truly, of all the miracles and wonders wrought by God throughout all of time, the miracle of the Theotokos is the greatest, because within Her is contained them all; within Her is every grace and every mercy ever given to the sons of men.
For what was the world before this new moment of the birth of the Theotokos? It was a world of haughty rebellion, of arrogance and pride, ingratitude and greed, of selfishness and hatred and every kind of lust and vileness and impurity. Even the people of Israel, chosen by God, shown countless signs and wonders, given to converse with God Himself and to know His holy will, even this nation fell over and over again into depravity and apostasy, “sacrificing their sons and daughters unto demons.” Even David, a man after God’s own heart, was guilty of adultery and murder. And even Joachim and Anna, for all of their righteousness and virtue, were barren.
It is in the midst of all this that the grace of God acts. The Lord God takes our wickedness, our ingratitude, and our barren and fruitless virtue, and brings forth something so pure, so holy, and so good that a single glimpse of Her could cause even the hardest heart to break. All the beauty of heaven and earth are as dust and ashes before the Most Pure Mother of God, although She was formed of the same weak and passionate flesh as you and I, born as we were into this sinful and corrupt world, and yet who stands now already resurrected and transfigured in the age to come, incorrupt and immortal, god by grace, before whom the demons tremble and flee.
St. Dionysius the Areopagite gives us a glimpse of this spiritual reality in a letter to the Apostle Paul: “I witness by God, that besides the very God Himself, there is nothing else filled with such divine power and grace. No one can fully comprehend what I saw… when I was brought before the countenance of the Most Holy Virgin, I experienced an inexpressible sensation. Before me gleamed a sort of divine radiance which transfixed my spirit. I perceived the fragrance of indescribable aromas and was filled with such delight that my very body became faint, and my spirit could hardly endure these signs and marks of eternal majesty and heavenly power. The grace from Her overwhelmed my heart and shook my very spirit. If I did not have in mind your instruction, I should have mistaken Her for the very God. It is impossible to stand before greater blessedness than this which I beheld.”
And as incomprehensible as it is, you and I and every human being that has ever walked this earth were created for precisely this reason: that even we sinners would also become like the Mother of God is, coming forth as the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array. On the great and dreadful day when the Lord comes in His Kingdom, all the children of God will partake in some measure of the splendor and holiness which shines now so brilliantly in the Mother of God.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells us this in today’s Gospel, when the woman in the crowd cries out: “blessed is the womb that bare Thee,” and He answers: “yea indeed, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” And if, as the Lord said in yesterday’s Gospel reading, “he that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward,” then we might dare to say that if we receive in honor the Mother of God, we too shall receive the Mother of God’s reward: eternal life with Her Son, to reign for all the ages with Him in everlasting glory.
And so we can see in the Mother of God everything: the purpose and meaning of our life, the power of God’s grace and the ineffability of His mercy, the beauty of holiness and the blotting out of every sin, the hope of redemption and the promise of the life which is to come.
Yet let us remember that the Mother of God is not simply an idea or an emblem or a story, but a person, who on this day was born in our very own flesh and blood, and who now stands beside the Throne of God in His Kingdom, more present and more alive than you or I or any other created being. Let us not only look to Her for hope, but run beneath Her protection, trusting in Her love and begging Her that She would not let us Her helpless and sinful children perish, but that where She is, we too might one day be, through Her holy intercessions, by the grace and mercy and love for mankind of Her only-begotten Son, together with His unoriginate Father and His most holy and good and life-creating Spirit. Amen.
On this Sunday we celebrate the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, or, as they are also called, the “physicians without silver.” They are those saints who, out of pure love of God and neighbor, healed the sick and mended the souls of others while asking nothing in return. It was a pure self-sacrifice born out of love. Today we remember the great saints Cyrus and John, Tryphon, Artemius, and the others, as well as Cosmas and Damian, who lived and were martyred in Roman times. And of course, we also remember and honor our great patron, the martyr and healer Panteleimon.