July- August 2018
Post date: Oct 2, 2018 4:43:56 AM
The later part of summer in our Orthodox faith centers on the Dormition of the Theotokos. The feast and the two paraklesis services that are served daily in the period preceding it remind us of the important place of the Virgin Mary in the Church and in the lives of the faithful. This is by no means new. St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, whom tradition holds to be the child picked up by Jesus when He said “Let the little children come to me,” wrote to the Theotokos.
Thou oughtest to have comforted and consoled me who am a neophyte, and a disciple of thy [beloved] John. For I have heard things wonderful to tell respecting thy [son] Jesus, and I am astonished by such a report. But I desire with my whole heart to obtain information concerning the things which I have heard from thee, who wast always intimate and allied with Him, and who wast acquainted with [all] His secrets. I have also written to thee at another time, and have asked thee concerning the same things. Fare thou well; and let the neophytes who are with me be comforted of thee, and by thee, and in thee. Amen.
We see here the reverence that a bishop of the Church, a man whose faith was such that he asked his fellow Christians not to prevent his martyrdom, has for the Theotokos. He acknowledges that, by virtue of her closeness to Christ, she is “acquainted with His secrets.” She knows Him better than St. Ignatius does and is able to make Him known to those who so desire. That intimacy that the Theotokos has with her Son and God is the reason we are able to sing:
Relentless onslaughts of distressing troubles now disquiet my humble soul. * And the gloomy clouds of tribulation shroud my heart. * But since you are, O Bride of God, * Theotokos and Mother * of the divine pre-eternal Light, * shine on me the light that is full of joy. (Great Paraklesis)
In our services dedicated to the Theotokos, we join in with St. Ignatius; we ask that the Theotokos teach us about her Son. We know that she is a trustworthy guide, for she never did look to gain favor or a position for herself. As she said to the archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation “behold, the maiden of the Lord” so in her reply to St. Ignatius she shows her humility. She begins her reply with “The lowly handmaid of Christ Jesus to Ignatius, her beloved fellow-disciple.” As at the Annunciation, the focus is not on her, but on God. Yes, she plays an important role in salvation, but that role is to guide us to her Son and that is a role she performs with utmost humility.
St. Ignatius, with the rest of the Church, approaches the Theotokos with great love and respect: the mystery of being intimate with God is one that can only be approached with humility and awe. That is true for us, as well as the Theotokos. For the Theotokos, she is aware that her role is an unrepeatable one. She is the rod from the root of Jesse, the unfading rose, the unhewn mountain. She says of herself that “all generations will call [her] blessed,” but in all that she is still “the lowly handmaid of Christ Jesus.” That humility is the example the Theotokos sets for our conduct as Christians. In that humility, she herself imitates God who clothed Himself in humility, according to St. Isaac the Syrian:
Humility is the raiment of the Godhead. The Word who became human clothed himself in it, and he spoke to us in our body. Everyone who has been clothed with humility has truly been made like unto Him who came down from his own exaltedness and hid the spleendor of his majesty and concealed his glory with humility, lest creation be utterly consumed by the contemplation of him. (from Ascetical Homilies)
As the one “more exalted than the heavens” and humanity’s greatest example of humility, we draw near to her and ask for her help at this time when we prepare for her dormition, emulating her humility
Do you shelter, O Good One,
Those who in their faith flee unto you,
With your strong hand, you protect;
We who sin have no one else,
Who intercedes for us
Before God, praying endlessly,
In ills and all dangers,
For us who are laden with
Our many sins and mistakes;
Mother, of our God in the Highest
Therefore, we fall down to you, humbly;
From all the misfortunes, keep your servants safe. (Small Paraklesis)
Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, Savior, save us!
With love in Christ,