Ser­mon on the Feast of the Prais­es of the Moth­er of God 
(5th Sat­ur­day of Great Lent)

Rejoice, report doubt­ful to unbe­liev­ers!
Rejoice, undoubt­ed boast of the faith­ful
!

— 8th Ikos, Akathist to the Moth­er of God

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spir­it!

Dear Broth­ers and sis­ters,

We sang these words last night as part of the Akathist to the Moth­er of God. They hold an espe­cial­ly deep mean­ing for us, who love and praise her but are sur­round­ed by peo­ple who either open­ly despise her or dimin­ish her role in the Divine Econ­o­my of our sal­va­tion. And yet, we also know that the true teach­ing regard­ing the Theotokos has been ques­tioned and chal­lenged many times through­out the Church’s two-thou­sand year his­to­ry. Why, then, does the Church insist on the Ortho­dox ven­er­a­tion of Mary, the Moth­er of God? Why does the Church call Her “Most Holy” and insist on Her ever-vir­gin­i­ty, not just before Christ’s birth but con­tin­u­ing for the rest of her earth­ly life? Why do we con­fess that She was the cho­sen ves­sel of God, the ful­fill­ment of His prepa­ra­tion of Israel for the com­ing of His Son, Jesus Christ, and that no oth­er woman could have borne this Awe­some Mys­tery of the Incar­na­tion?

There are two answers to these ques­tions: First, the Church holds to these dog­mas because they are unques­tion­ably the Truth proph­e­sied and pre­fig­ured by the Old Tes­ta­ment, ful­filled in Christ, and preached and record­ed by the Apos­tles in the Gospels and Epis­tles. Yet some point to those same Gospels and make oppo­site con­clu­sions. They cite Christ’s own words in the Gospel accord­ing to St Luke — Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it1 — and the sim­i­lar pas­sage from Apos­tle Matthew –Whoso­ev­er shall do the will of my Father which is in heav­en, the same is my broth­er, and sis­ter, and moth­er2 — as exam­ples of Christ dimin­ish­ing His mother’s impor­tance. But we as Ortho­dox Chris­tians know that any por­tion of the Scrip­tures must be read holis­ti­cal­ly, with the whole canon of Holy Scrip­ture and the teach­ing of the Holy Fathers in mind.

These two instances must then be viewed in light of the first chap­ter of Luke, which tells of the Annun­ci­a­tion and of the Vir­gin Mary’s meet­ing with her cousin Eliz­a­beth. Sev­er­al times, we see that the Theotokos is far more than a ran­dom maid­en who “fit the bill”. We see here the archangel’s greet­ing — Hail, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.3. In the next pas­sage, the evan­ge­list tells us  …Elis­a­beth was filled with the Holy Spir­it: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”.4 Even the Theotokos’ own reply to this salu­ta­tion sup­ports the Church’s deeply held ven­er­a­tion: For he hath regard­ed the low estate of his hand­maid­en: for, behold, from hence­forth all gen­er­a­tions shall call me blessed.5 All are in accord: the archangel, mouth­piece of God; Eliz­a­beth, who has been filled with the Holy Spir­it; and Mary, the object of this praise.

In this con­text, Christ’s words in the ear­li­er pas­sages can­not be tak­en as a slight of His all-pure Moth­er. Rather, we see how beau­ti­ful­ly Christ both hon­ors His moth­er and makes her an exam­ple for oth­ers. For who among the human race “kept the Word of God” more per­fect­ly than the Theotokos, who sub­mit­ted her­self to the Archangel’s pro­nounce­ment and remained obe­di­ent to the Good News of her Son’s Incar­na­tion, Suf­fer­ing, and Res­ur­rec­tion? Or who “did the will of the Father in Heav­en” more per­fect­ly than she who took part in the Incar­na­tion of the God-Man — the ful­fill­ment of the prophets and the sal­va­tion of Mankind? And so Christ does not allow the crowd to treat Her as spe­cial only because of her phys­i­cal moth­er­hood, a char­ac­ter­is­tic absolute­ly unique to the Most-Blessed One and impos­si­ble for any mor­tal to repli­cate. He instead makes of her an exam­ple to fol­low – if we keep the Word of God and do the will of our Father, we also can be blessed. The Theotokos is then our “undoubt­ed boast” because she is the ide­al to which we aspire, and the strongest inter­ces­sor for us before the throne of God – “for the sup­pli­ca­tion of a moth­er availeth much to win the Master’s favor.”6

The sec­ond answer to the ques­tions we raised is that the Church under­stands that the Ortho­dox ven­er­a­tion of the Theotokos has impli­ca­tions for the true wor­ship of Her Son. Any devi­a­tion from the Church’s teach­ings regard­ing the Moth­er of God ulti­mate­ly stems from some Chris­to­log­i­cal heresy. Such was the case in Con­stan­tino­ple in the year 428 A.D., when Nesto­rius ascend­ed to the Patri­ar­chal throne. He began to teach that one could not call the Vir­gin Mary “Theotokos”, but only “Chris­to­tokos”, mean­ing Birth­giv­er of Christ. St Cyril, the Patri­arch of Alexan­dria, imme­di­ate­ly under­stood the impli­ca­tion — that Christ was not ful­ly and tru­ly God. St Cyril stead­fast­ly coun­tered Nesto­rius and sev­er­al years lat­er, the Nesto­ri­an heresy was con­demned by the Third Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil and the here­siarch him­self deposed. Like­wise must we pre­serve our love for the Moth­er of God in the face of all the mod­ern world’s doubt and dis­be­lief.

Let us then faith­ful­ly hold to the Faith of the Church, prais­ing and ven­er­at­ing The Most Holy Theotokos in true Ortho­dox man­ner, nev­er fail­ing to make her our boast and our sure hope. By Her inter­ces­sion, may the Lord God have mer­cy on us and save us and show us the Bright Day of His Holy Res­ur­rec­tion. Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dea­con Peter Marke­vich is lec­tur­er in Litur­gics at Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary.


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