Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | March 22, 2009

In Her Honor

One of my beliefs is that we come to Orthodoxy not because we choose to, but because we need a sort of stronger medicine not found elsewhere. It’s a sort of “accept no substitutes” approach that leads us to persist through the difficulties of the journey. And of course, the Church likes to tell us that what we’re after are the teachings of the Fathers… and then proceeds to tell us about all its other wonders … and of course this is right… but the reason we care isn’t because we want to flatten our rears sitting through a lot of stuff …and there’s a ton of it… and we will sit gladly through all of it once we’re converted … but only because we find the Fathers give voice to a Christianity that emphasizes the obvious here and now presence of a loving God in our lives and opens our eyes to see in new ways… and that in time this view, might then lead us to open our hearts to live in new ways. And while we might not make a success out of these new ways at first, at least we make a start.

Speaking from my own experience, I think that it is through this apostolic vision that we first begin to see the Gospels in new ways… And while this carries over into the Old Testament, ultimately we want it to carry over into our lives. For as with St. Paul, we pray one day we’ll be given to do that which we want, that we know is pleasing to God, rather than as we actually do… which pleases no one… least of all ourselves.. as on reflection, we find ourselves disappointed to admit to how far we’ve fallen from the mark.

For me, a key step in approaching this vision came through the Magnificat where I came to feel a connection with the Theotokos, and thus a warmth and life in prayer and the Church that renewed my sense of charity… or at least my awareness of the example we have of this simple virtue in the person and life of Mary. And it seemed that this was a good starting point for beginning to understand the work I needed to do (and still need to do!) in my own interaction with others. I continue to be amazed by what she pondered in her heart… the sort of stuff most of us could only blurt out… and regret. Thus it seems to me that more and more, the Church had her figured out right at the start… and without her, either our love is diminished, or love’s restoration risks open-ended innovation. And so as instructed, we hold fast.

Thus in honor of this Tuesday’s feast, I offer an excerpt from Archbishop Lazar Puhalo’s “The Most Holy Theotokos: The Orthodox Christian Teaching about the life of the Virgin Mary, and a prayerful contemplation on the Theotokos for each day of the month”. The selected reading, given as “The Eighth Day of the Month”, stands out for its explication through typology.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… Through faith Sarah received strength to conceive seed and was delivered of a child when she was past the age, because she knew that He Who had made the promise is faithful… And what more should I say, for a time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak, and of Samson and Jephthah, of David also, and of Solomon and of the prophets…” (Hebrews, Chapter 11)

The deeds and faith of those great men of old are spoken of everywhere: patriarchs, priests, judges and prophets, men of faith and renown.

But what of those great women who came before you, Most Holy Theotokos? Were they not also great in faith, and were their lives not also filled with prophecies of the promise?

Let us, Orthodox faithful, turn to the pages of the Sacred Scripture and read of them: Eve and Sarah, Hannah and Esther, Judith and the mother of the Maccabees, Elizabeth and Anna. As we read from the Holy Book, the eyes of our heart are opened by God’s grace, to understand how each of them was a likeness of you, Most Pure Maiden. And we behold how you were higher and more blessed than all of them. Each of these women prophesied in part about the restoration by Christ of God’s holy Church and about the redemption of fallen humanity, but in you, O Maiden full of grace, all these prophecies have been fulfilled.

Let us, believers, contemplate the lives of only a few of these great women of old, our holy foremothers in the faith, and contemplate on the fullness of all which came to pass through the Holy Theotokos.

Eve became the Mother of all mankind, but through her man fell in bondage to Satan, and by her, the gates of paradise were closed against us. Yet in her repentance God received her and through her gave us the promise that from her descendants one could come Who would crush the head of the serpent and set us free.

In you, O full of grace, this promise has been fulfilled. You, Mary, have become the new Eve, the Mother of redeemed mankind. You are the Mother of the new race of mankind called Christians. Through your humility and obedience, the gates of paradise are once more opened, for the Child Whom you bore is the one Who has crushed the head of the evil-one and set us free of his bitter bondage.

Our Mother Sarah gave birth to a child by God’s miracle, according to His promise. God touched her and allowed her to conceive with Abraham, though she was beyond her time. Because of this miracle, Sarah became the Mother of the holy nation. But let us contemplate her life yet further. Did she not lament and weep in anguish, her heart pierced by the sword of sorrow, when she saw Abraham lead her only son away to sacrifice him? And did she not rejoice as a mother who had received her son back, as it were from the dead, when Abraham brought him home again safe and well?

Who does not see the likeness of you, O Theotokos, in our holy Mother Sarah?

You bore a Son in your virginity by the miracle and touch of God. Thus, you became the Mother of that new holy nation named after your Son, Christ. Did you not also see your Son led away to be sacrificed? What anguish filled your soul, what grief overcame you, and what great sword of sorrow pierced your heart seeing Him, though perfect and innocent, nailed to the Cross? But did you not also rejoice in unspeakable ecstasy when you received Him back again, raised from the dead?

The heart of a Mother ever holds and cherishes her child, and though you worship Him as God and Saviour, your heart no doubt embraces Him as a beloved Son.

We read of Hannah the prophetess, the mother of Samuel, and once more we see a prophecy of you, O most spotless Virgin. For, in her day, the priesthood fell into corruption and disobedience to God. Hannah, too, bore a child through a miracle of God, and she became the mother of the new priest and judge of the holy nation. Her son took the place of those priests and judges who had fallen from faith, betraying both Israel and God.

Did not the new and perfect High Priest and Eternal Judge come forth from you, O Theotokos? Jesus Christ our Saviour, Who was born in the flesh from you pure womb, is truly fulfilment of Hannah’s prophecy. What was fulfilled in Hannah was only a shadow of what would be fulfilled perfectly in you, O full of grace.

As we contemplate all the other great women of the Old Testament, we understand that each of them was an imperfect likeness of you, and that all their prophecies have been fulfilled perfectly in you.

Let you heart soar heavenward, O believer, when you think of the Most Pure Virgin, the Theotokos,and let your soul bow in reverence before her. For the hope and expectation of the ages has come to pass through her. Let your minds look heavenward, and turn with humble prayer to the one who bore our God and Saviour, saying:

O you who are most favoured among all mankind, you in whom the prophecies and promises have been fulfilled, I beseech you, O maid Most Pure and blessed, intercede for me that I may be freed from the bonds of the passions, and that my blinded soul may receive the light of understanding to find that blessed path of salvation.

When our forebears lost paradise and brought the Church to barrenness, God proclaimed His promises prophetically through the holy women and filled it with hysop. Thou, O Theotokos, ar the seal of the promise, the fulfilment of the hope of the fallen Church, whererfore we cry out to Him Who came forth from thee: Alleluia.” (Kontakion 8, Akathist for the Joy of Canada.)

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