Know & Imitate the Theotokos
Throughout the church/ecclesiastical year, four of the twelve Great Feast Days center on the person of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ: Her Nativity on September 8th, her Dormition on August 15th, her Entrance into the Temple on November 21st and the Annunciation today March 25th. Let us look closely at Mary in the liturgical texts of today?s feast to learn more about this most special person.
Who is Mary? What makes her so special? Her name ?Maria? or ?Mariam? literally means ?exalted one.?
She is ever-Virgin (Lk.1:27) and this is not limited to just a physical state but her purity and chastity extends to her whole person. As the Archangel Gabriel says, Mary is ?full of grace? and ?God is with her? (Lk.1:28), this is even before the Word of God is conceived within her. Elizabeth, her cousin, the wife of Zacharias and the mother of John the Baptist, calls her ?blessed among women? (Lk.1:42). The hymns and readings of Vespers Service, celebrated last night, tell us more about Mary. She is the ?burning bush? not consumed by the fire of God?s divinity (Ex.3:1-8). She is Jacob?s ?ladder? (Gen.28:12) that is the ?bridge to heaven? (1st Stichera). She is the ?gate of heaven? (Gen.28:17) and the ?divine jar of manna? (1st Stichera) and ?bride unwedded? (4th Stichera).
In addition to these characteristics, let me highlight three more qualities of Mary.
First, she is wise. In the Gospel of Luke, when Gabriel approaches and speaks to her, it says that she was ?troubled? by his message and that she ?considers? it (Lk.1:29). After he expands on God?s message to her, she asks a question, ?How will this be?? (Lk.1:34) This demonstrates that Mary is discerning. We assume that she knew and understood everything but it appears that she did not. So, Mary was cautious but not overly-guarded. The Old Testament reading from Vespers, implies that Mary is the personification of wisdom. It says, ?Wisdom?she has built her house? (Pr.9:1) for the ?fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? (Pr.9:10).
Second, Mary is faithful and obedient. After the Archangel explains how Jesus will be divinely conceived within her womb, she replies, ?Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord? (v.38). ?Handmaiden? in the original Greek is ?doule? or slave. She places herself completely under the direction and authority of God. Mary then says, ?Let it be unto me according to your word? (Lk.1:38). We know her YES to God implies her utterly free response to God. She was not forced, coerced or manipulated. She could have said ?no? but Mary said ?yes?. It is her YES to God that is the beginning of our salvation.
Third, Mary is ?Theotokos? (2nd Aposticha); literally ?God-bearer? or ?Mother of God?. Because Christ is the way, the truth and the life (???), she becomes the ?Mother of Life? (4th Stichera). She becomes the ?Human tabernacle?Lord takes on her flesh making it divine?consecrated as the Temple of God? (4th Aposticha). She is the ?House of God? (Gen.28:17).
Now, knowing Mary better, what can learn from her that we can apply to our own life? Compare Mary to Eve, Adam?s wife in Genesis. ?Eve? literally means ?life?. She was the ?mother of all the living? (Gen.???). She and Adam were in the Garden of Eden, Paradise, communion with God. Yet, Eve was not wise. She did not discern the serpent?s deceitful and false message. Eve did not remain faithful and obedient to God through the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She in fact, trusts and obeys the devil and therefore, she rejects her divine calling.
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, we too must be wise. We cannot on the one hand, over-spiritualize every experience of our life as if God is sending us a message every second of the day. On the other hand, we must understand that God sends us angels and messengers, often the faithful and believing people who love and care for us, to guide and direct us in this life. Having said that, not every angel or spirit is of God. Be wise and discerning.
When confronted with the call of Jesus Christ to accomplish His will in the world, we must be faithful and obedient. He will not force us. We must, of our own free will, consent and accept this call and divine purpose. Our yes to God each day will be the new beginning of salvation for us and for many people around us. The Virgin Mary is not the one and only tabernacle or dwelling place of God. Our faithful and obedient ?YES? to God allows Jesus to be conceived within us. The icon of the Annunciation is most appropriately located on the Holy Gate of the Sanctuary because it is the place where we approach with faith, love and the fear of God to receive Jesus Christ, incarnate in the sacred gifts of bread and wine so that He can be conceived within us. Know the Virgin, imitate her purity and holiness. Know her Son and our God, Jesus Christ. Amen.