Message from Fr Constantine, July - August 2021
Reflections on the Life of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary: Fr. Constantine's Message
When reflecting on the Life of Mary, the Mother of God, it is impossible to miss the abundant love and virtue she contained in her person. Her very birth was a miracle of God. “πάντα ὅσα ἠθέλησεν ὁ κύριος ἐποίησεν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐν τῇ γῇ/Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth” (Psalm 135:6, ESV). It pleased God to choose the aged Joachim and Anna to conceive Mary, the holiest person of all time, past, present and future. In Jesus’ ministry, He said “I tell you, among those born of women ...[no man]...is greater than John [the Baptist]” (Luke 7:28, ESV). St. John the Baptist is the greatest man born from two human parents, but Mary is the greatest human being born from two human parents. Period! Mary and St. John were perfect in their obedience to the will of God, in so far as a human can be. They both truly deserve the title of “Christian”, for they are reflections, in virtue and conduct, of Christ Himself (despite the fact that Christ was born after them!).
Throughout her life, Mary’s purity and dignity were preserved. Holy Tradition teaches us that at age 3, Mary was dedicated to living in the Temple of God, in service to the temple, and being educated there. We see this in the hymns and celebration of the November 21st feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple:
“Today the Theotokos, the temple that contains God, is led into the Temple of God; and Zacharias welcomes her. Today the Holy of Holies is exultant, and the chorus of Angels mystically celebrates. Together with them let us also keep the feast today, and with Gabriel let us cry aloud: Rejoice, O Maiden full of grace, the Lord is with you; and He has the great mercy.”
At age 13, it was customary for temple virgins to marry and raise a family. There was no concept of living “as a single” in Jewish antiquity, nor was there a well-established community of celibate ascetics to join, such as we have today in Orthodox monasticism. Yet, Mary went against the cultural grain, desiring to remain in perpetual virginity, to be wed to God alone, as it were, so that all her focus might remain in service of God. Holy Tradition and the scriptures teach us that the Venerable Joseph, a widower with adult children, was selected by God to watch over Mary and care for her. After the Annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel, in which she consented to bearing God incarnate, and Jesus’ birth and flight to Egypt, we know next to nothing about how Jesus grew to adulthood. Yet, knowing the sanctity of Mary, and this great responsibility she and Joseph had received in raising Jesus, you can be certain that they raised Him with much reverence and love, passing on to Him all that they knew.
The Holy Gospels do not contain much information about Mary - we know that she was among the followers of Jesus, and that, according to Holy Tradition, she encouraged many believers, and quietly taught others as well. She was faithful to her Son and our God, being present at the Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection of Christ, as well as the Ascension, as depicted in the feast day’s icon.
Toward the end of her pure life on earth, Mary was informed by the Archangel Gabriel that she would pass away. The hymns and icon of the Dormition, or Falling Asleep, of Mary, which we celebrate on August 15th, depicts the Apostles being gathered from around the known world, to the home of St. John the Theologian (St. John had been entrusted by Jesus to care for Mary (cf. John 19)). After her repose, she appeared to the apostles, encouraging them to persevere in the Christian life. She is a par excellάnce example to the church of what we can hope for - the resurrection of soul and body in the kingdom of heaven, where there is no pain, corruption or sorrow of any kind.
May we strive to study the Holy Scriptures regarding her, and our Holy Orthodox Tradition, through the hymns, icons and commentaries of the saints, about her. May we ask for the interceding prayers of Mary, the “Panagia” (most holy of all people), for God’s strength to imitate her virtuous way of life, which was continually directed toward God.
With Love, in Christ,