The Most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, Our Panagia
"Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David. The virgin's name was Mary (Mariam in Hebrew). And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice highly favoured one, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women!" Then the angel said to her, Do not be afraid Mary for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew). He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the Throne of His father David. And He will reign over the House of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there will be no end. Then Mary said to the angel, How can this be since I know no man? And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you. and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, also that Holy One who will be born will be called the Son of God". From the Gospel of Luke 1:26-35
"O holy Virgin Mary, tell us, thy children, of thy love on earth for thy Son and God.
Tell us how thy spirit rejoiced in God thy Saviour.
Tell us of how thou didst look upon His fair countenance,
and reflect that this was He Whom all the heavenly hosts wait upon in awe and love.
Tell us what thy soul felt when thou didst bear the wondrous Babe in thine arms.
Tell us of how thou disdt rear Him,
how sick at heart, thou and Joseph sought Him three long days in Jerusalem.
Tell us of thine agony when the Lord was delivered to be crucified,
and lay dying on the cross.
Tell us what joy was thine over the Resurrection.
Tell us how thy soul languished after the Lord's Ascencion.
We long to know of thy life on earth with the Lord but thou wast not minded to commit all these things in writing, and didst veil thy secret heart, in silence." A hymn by St Silouan the Athonite.
My love for the Theotokos is a new dimension in my life. As a Protestant I did not really understand Her place in Orthodox worship. But when I became Orthodox, when I became a member of the Orthodox 'family' I begun to understand why we love her so much. The place of the Theotokos is a mystery of the Church. And it is a mystery that is only to be known and experienced by the members of our Orthodox family. The saints know this better than anyone else. It is a matter of relationship. She is the the most humble of human beings. So even in Her ministry to us she is a mother, really. Mothers do not sound the trumpet before them while they take care of their children, they just love their children. It is a natural thing. And I know she loves us no matter what. No saint has become a saint without a close relationship with the Theotokos. The self-acting prayer of Jesus in the heart is Her gift. Many saints have received this gift while praying before Her icon.
Saint Silouan the Athonite tells that;
"Once when I was a young novice I was praying before an icon of the Mother of God, and the Jesus Prayer entered into my heart and there begun to repeat itself of its own accord". "Here is a wondrous thing which passes understanding: she dwells in heaven and ever beholds the glory of God, yet she does not forget us, poor wretches that we are, and spreads her compassion over the whole earth, over all peoples. And this most pure Mother of His, the Lord has bestowed on us. She is our joy and our expectation. She is our Mother in the spirit, and kin to us by nature, as a human being, and every Christian soul leaps to her in love". From Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony p.391,393.
"If one examines all the feasts of the Orthodox Church carefully one realises that the Church wants to connect our life with Christ. The ecclesial year begins on the 1st of September and finishes at the end of August. At the beginning of September we celebrate the Birth of the Theotokos. It is with the birth of the Most Holy Mother of Christ that the backwards countdown for man's salvation starts. The ecclesial year continues with the Nativity of Christ up to Pentecost, which is the feast of man's deification, and ends up with the glorious Dormition of the Panagia which shows the glory that a man can reach when he is united with Christ. Thus, keeping the analogy, that what happened with Panagia should also happen to us, Christ should be born in our heart". The Feasts of the Lord p.11, by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, Trans. by Esther Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery 2003.
According to St Symeon the New Theologian (Ethical Discourse 1) the saints are related to the Theotokos in three ways.
"First they are related because of human nature, since both they and she come from the same clay and the same breath. The Panagia was the Mother of God, but at the same time she was also a human being as we are. Secondly, they are related because it is through the flesh taken from her that they have a part in common with her" When we commune of the sacraments, of the Body and Blood of Christ, we commune of the deified flesh of the Word which He assumed from the Virgin. Therefore as St Symeon teaches, in communing of the Body and Blood of Christ, we commune also of the flesh of the Theotokos.
Thirdly, the saints are related to the Panagia "because through the holiness in spirit which came to them thanks to her, each one conceives and also possesses in himself the God of all, just as she possessed Him within herself". From St Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite by Metr. Hierotheos Vlachos p.270.
The Most Holy Virgin is our foremost guide to the heart because, as Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos tells us ; "When the nous( in St Paul's terminology 'spirit', the nous is the energies of the heart, the spiritual organ by which it has communion with God) withdraws from God and wanders in search of sensory things, it is ill and this in reality is man's illness. The nous needs to be cured first: to be freed from all its slavery to created things, and to be liberated from all the sensations of created things. There must be forgetfullness of things below, laying aside of all concepts, and then initiation into the things above. This is called hesychia of the nous and is also called 'the way of hesychia' and 'holy hesychia'. In attaining health of his soul through holy hesychia a person attains the vision of God, by which he is deified. Using this method we are relieved of lower things and turn towards God. Our Panagia used precisely the same method, according to St Gregory Palamas, and in the holy of holies she attained deification by Grace and became a borderline between uncreated and created". Ibid p.281-282
"She transmits grace to the saints 'in order that as in charge of the office where holiness is given, she may convey gifts of holiness to all without exception, without leaving anyone without a share, even of the hidden things of the universe, that is to say of those inaccessible things" St Gregory Palamas in Homily 53, Ibid. p.295. "and so also in the coming unending age every advance in divine illumination and every revelation of the most divine mysteries and every idea of spiritual gifts is impossible to contain without her. She, having first received the fullness of that which fills the universe, made it containable to all, bestowing on each according to
the ability and measure of his purity. The Panagia is both treasury and office for granting the wealth of the divinity" St Gregory Palamas in Homily 53, Ibid p.296
"She also is a cause of those before her and patron of those after her and a cause of things eternal; she is a promise of the prophets, foundation of the Apostles, support of the martyrs, platform of the teachers, she is the glory of those on earth, the delight of those in heaven, the adornment of all creation; she is also the principle and source and root of the ineffable good things, she is the summit and completion of every saint" St Gregory Palamas in Homily 53, Ibid p.297
We should all long for the day when our purification is complete, when along with all the saints we may join the Theotokos in worship to God saying; "My soul doth magnify the Lord , and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things and holy is His name. And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation". Luke 1: 46-50
Therefore, let us pray;
"O Virgin Lady, O Mother of the man-befriending God! Direct my heart to contrition and humble it; fill mine eyes with saving tears and illuminate them with the light of thy prayers, that I might not fall asleep in the sleep of death.
Sprinkle me with the hyssop of thy lovingkindness and cleanse me. Wash me with my tears, that I might be made whiter than snow.
O Mother of my Lord Jesus Christ, receive this my shameful confession and mine entreaty. Ravish my mind and keep the remainder of my life in repentance without offence.
At the time when my humble soul departs from my body, when - woe is me - I will have to speak with the enemies outside the gates; then O Lady, regard me with thy merciful eye; free me from all the merciless tormentors and the terrible taskmasters of the prince of this age; be my defender and destroy all record of my sins. Lead me saved and unashamed to the throne of thy Son and His unoriginate Father and the All Holy Spirit- the Light- creating Trinity, one in essence". St Ephraim the Syrian in 'A Spiritual Psalter' p.229