Homily: The 22nd Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 8:26-39: At that time, Jesus and His disciples arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.  

 

In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  

In the Gospel for the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, we encounter the demoniac dwelling in the tombs, benighted and chained by the powers of darkness that controlled him, spiritually-dead and spiritually-decaying whilst still in the world – hardly alive in the miserable, possessed existence that he led, robbed of freedom, dignity, and personhood in his nakedness and enslavement.  

The tenth century monk, Blessed Notker the Stammerer, famously wrote “Media vita in morte sumus… In the midst of life, we are in death…,” and although this refers to us all in our common human mortality, in the case of the possessed man of the Gospel we see this truth in a very graphic and specific way, as he dwelt among the tombs as a possessed and living corpse.  

In many ways, his situation, through the demonic hold upon him, was only a concentration and magnification of the existence of all of the Gadarenes who rushed to the scene when they heard of the miracle of his deliverance and healing – not to rejoice, nor to celebrate and fall down at the feet of the Saviour and glorify Him, but rather to ensure His departure, as His mere presence threatened and challenged the way of life that they did not want changed, as they failed to even appreciate their own spiritual captivity.  

The demons who possessed the tomb-dwelling man recognised Christ, asking, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not”, yet the Gadarenes were insensate to the Saviour, despite the obvious wonder that He had wrought.   

They were in fearful awe seeing the former demoniac “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind”, but as soon as they learned the details and the loss of their pigs they wanted the Miracle-Worker gone and far away from them, and like the demons their attitude was “what have we to do with you?” Awe changed to fear for themselves and their way of life as they beheld the challenging power of Jesus. 

Their profane attachments to the world, summed up in their reaction to the loss of their pigs (an unclean, impure, and forbidden animal in Jewish society) were more important to them than Christ’s power and message.

They wanted no participation in the miracle; no share in true freedom; no part in Christ’s promise; preferring their worldly attachments, uncleanness and impurity symbolised by the herd of swine – and all because they did not want to change, fearing all that Christ represented as He stood before them.  

How little the world has changed, as we look around and find ourselves surrounded by Gadarenes who do not wish to hear the voice of the Saviour in His Gospel and in His Church, and the challenges that His message brings to lifestyles, choices, attachments, ideologies, -isms and worldly passions that have become a way of life.  

Modern day Gadarenes believe themselves free, though they are as shackled and as much in bonds as the man dwelling in the tombs. They do not want change; they do not want challenge; they fear both. They are too attached to life as it is, even though it is like the pigswill that failed to fill the Prodigal Son, no matter how much he ate. 

Society lives out the maxim we read in the sayings of St Anthony the Great, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us’.”   

There are those who see our Faith as a madness and tyranny that enslaves us, unlike them in the ‘sanity’ and ‘freedom’ of their living-death, passionate attachments and spiritual-slavery.  

But our challenge is to be a contrast to this, and to ALWAYS be like the healed and exorcised man, as “he went his way, and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done unto him.”  

The dangerous truth is that we so often vacillate between behaving as the healed man and the Gadarenes, with their attachment to the swine. We cannot have it both ways, 

He could so easily have slipped back into being no different to them despite his new found freedom. The release from the demonic power that possessed him was only a beginning and the starting point of his new-life in which he begged the Lord to receive him as a disciple, to live alongside Him and follow Him from place to place. But, such was the Lord’s will that the man’s discipleship was to be in his own country, proclaiming the great things that God had done for him.

The liberation of this man who had dwelt in the tombs can be seen as a token and foreshadowing of the resurrection, just as our exorcism, baptism and clothing in our baptismal robe are the beginning of our life in the Risen Saviour and the resurrection in the age to come. But, like the new beginning after the driving out of the man’s demons, the new birth of our baptism is no guarantee of continued and sustained new life in Christ unless we are willing to follow, obey and embrace the freedom we have been granted and the salvific promise made to us. 

We cannot vacillate between freedom and slavery, neither can we embrace and accept change that we like and which suits us, whilst rejecting the need for change, involving the rejection of things and behaviours to which we are attached and with which we are comfortable, despite their harmfulness and destructive power in our lives. 

No… we cannot swing between being like the healed man and the Gadarenes. We have a choice, between freedom and the swine-attachments, between liberated personhood in Christ or the dissolution of self, and loss of personhood in spiritual slavery.

When Jesus encountered the paralysed man at the Pool of Bethesda, He asked “Do you want to be made well?” 

It is not enough for each of us to simply answer “Yes”. We must be willing to do everything to preserve our freedom and growing wholeness in Christ, by following Him and rejecting all that can make us sick again, and possibly even worse than we were at the starting point of our first encounter with the Saviour. 

Having being led through the waters of baptism from slavery and the tyranny of the spiritual-pharaoh to the promised land and freedom of life in Christ, let us not look back and long for the fleshpots of Egypt. 

Serving the Lord with gladness, we must reject all that comes between us and life in Christ, even if we initially miss what is harmful, despite the fact that it may have brought gratification and pleasure in our past lives. What is harmful is so often like this. 

We cannot have freedom and slavery; we cannot cling to the swine, whilst being called to obedience and sacrifice. 

Our life has to be simple and spiritually focussed, not divided and contradicting itself. This can often seem like a challenge, but there is no other way for us to live in Christ as we long for the resurrection and the life of the age to come.

Let us rejoice in the spiritual freedom of our present life, even if it a struggle and challenge, going our way proclaiming the great things that God had done for us.

Amen. 

The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God

We magnify thee, O all-immaculate Mother of Christ our God, and we honour thy labours and thy precious omophorion, for the holy Andrew beheld thee in the air, entreating Christ for us.

Dear brothers and sisters, 

Warmest greetings to you all, as we celebrate the feast of the Protecting Veil of the Most-Holy Mother of God.

Slightly belatedly, tomorrow evening, in the church of St Mary, Butetown, we will pray before the icon of the Pokrov – Our Lady’s Protection and Intercession – as the contemplative focus of our service. 

As we look at the icon, we see the Mother of God at the centre of the heavenly Church, flanked by St John the Forerunner and St John the Theologian, surrounded by the throngs of the heavenly powers and saints, interceding for us with the Mother of God, as Queen of Heaven. 

Her omophorion, spread over the church below, is the physical sign of her spiritual protection, and her arms raised in prayer show that her intercession is the constant protection of the Church.

In ancient Israel, the queen -the geburah – was not the king’s wife, but his mother, who, enthroned at his right hand, interceded for those who sought the favour and mercy of the king.

On this feast, as the Queen of Heaven, we celebrate the Mother of God as our protection and intercessor with Christ, our King and our God.

The 10th century vision of the Blessed Andrew of Constantinople in the royal church of Blachernae, was a glimpse of the constant reality of the Mother of God and the heavenly Church interceding with the for the earthly Church and its faithful here below.

Such is the Christ-like love of the Mother of God and the saints, that those who have been translated into glory and have been vouchsafed to enter the courts of the Kingdom of God ever intercede for us before the Lord of Glory. 

The heavenly throng continually grows with the repose of the new generations of saints whom God rewards in His Heavenly Kingdom, year by year, century by century. And, year after year we celebrate this feast as a reaffirmation of the protection and intercession of the Theotokos and the saints, caring for us and raising us to the Lord by their prayers.

Turning to our children and to those young and new in Faith, we should echo the words of the Blessed Andrew, who said to his disciple, the Blessed Epiphanios, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?” 

Amidst the trials and difficulties of our lives, with our pressures and sorrows, when things may me seem hopeless and we may feel lost, we also need to repeat this constant spiritual reality to ourselves: the Holy Theotokos, is always praying for all the world!

In this reality, we need to discover hope, consolation and encouragement, and our Faithneeds to be bolstered and strengthened by the knowledge that Christ has given us His mother as our mother, whose icons day-by-day and feast by feast proclaim everything that she is to us; our Directress; our Unexpected Joy; our Unshakeable Wall; the Joy of all Who Sorrow; the Nurturer of Children; the Consolation of the Afflicted; the Seeker of the Lost; the Surety of Sinners; the Deliverance of Those Who Suffer from Misfortunes; the Giver of Reason.

May every feast of the Mother of God (whether of the events of her life or her wonderworking icons), every hymn and prayer addressed to her, each canon or akathist hymn written and chanted in her honour, bring us closer to her and help us to trust and find comfort in her constant intercession and protection, reminding us that she is always watching over us, wishing to protect us, and intercede for us whether we are aware or not.

But, for this to be a reality, we need to seek her protection; to flee to her in times of need; to go to her as our shelter in danger; to know her as our refuge in affliction. We have to do this of our own volition, as she will not force herself upon us or coerce us. Thus, she ever awaits us with patience, compassion and love. Waiting to hear our cry, her embrace and love for the Church and the world always awaits us. 

Encouraged by this feast, let us strive to deepen our relationship with the Mother of God, proactively, with gratitude and loving devotion, and just as St John quite literally took her into his home, each of us must spiritually take the Theotokos into our homes; under the roof of our dwelling and within our hearts that she may always have a place there with us; and within our community of Faith – for the Mother of God is not only at the centre of the Heavenly Church, but also of the pilgrim Church, leading it by her intercession and protection to the Kingdom of her Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to Whom be honour, glory and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father, and His All-Holy, Good and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

“Remember us in thy prayers, O Holy Virgin Theotokos,” the Church sings on this day, “let us not perish in our multiplying sins; cover us from all evil and fierce misfortunes; We trust in thee and, celebrating the Feast of thine intercession, we magnify thee”.

With love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark

The Feast of St John the Theologian

O beloved apostle of Christ God, haste thou to deliver a defenceless people. He Who permitted thee to recline against His breast receiveth thee, prostrate in supplication. Him do thou beseech, O theologian, that He dispel the gloom of the nations which doth beset us, asking for us peace and great mercy.

Dear brother and sisters,

It was a special blessing to honour the Holy Glorious Apostle St John the Theologian today, and to celebrate the feast of his repose in St John’s Church – our spiritual-home dedicated to his glorious memory – with the joy of welcoming sisters from our Cheltenham mission and our sister-parish in Bristol.

Having already celebrated his memory during the Liturgy, at the dismissal a litia was offered before St John’s icon, with the blessing of bread and koliva in his honour.

The megalynaria to the saint summed up so much of what I tried to express in the homily: that a true theologian is one who like St John rests on the bosom of Christ, loving and remaining with Him not only in peace and tranquillity, but also through trials and tribulations, abandoning attachment to the things of the world to follow Him wholeheartedly, with constancy and total dedication.

It was in this bond of love and devotion that God’s Grace communicated spiritual truths and the purist and deepest theology to the fisherman-turned-disciple, who with the other apostles was made most-wise – not through religious studying and academic labours, but through the knowledge communicated by the Saviour who taught us, “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.

St John was called theologian, not because he knew about God, but because he knew God, saw Him and entered into the deepest of mysteries through the purity of a heart devoted and consecrated to Christ.

The Evangelist not only recorded the life and teachings of the Saviour, but also entered into the mystery of eternity before the creation the world, as God revealed the profoundest dogmas, so that St John could could speak of Christ the Ancient of Days and say with confidence, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

More than this, divine-revelation opened his spiritual-eyes to the last things, yet to come, as the Lord revealed the end of time in the Cave of the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos, where John saw Christ as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, Who is and was, and is to come.

Even for us, despite our weakness and inconstancy, it is through the deepest relationships between the Christian and Christ that the simplest, most unlettered and uneducated people are filled with true theology and surpass the wisest of this world. This realisation and knowledge must spur us on to struggle for the true gnosis/knowledge which Christ communicates to those who follow Him.

Like St John, let us fervently abandon our ‘nets and boats’, and follow Christ, leaning on His breast, that we may receive the illumination of the Divine light, become recipients of true wisdom and heralds of true theology.

Holy apostle and evangelist John the Theologian, pray to God for us!

Святы́й апо́столе и евангели́сте Иоа́нне, моли́ Бо́га о на́с!

May God bless you and have mercy, through the prayers of the Holy, glorious, all-praised apostle and evangelist John the Theologian and all the saints.

In Christ – Fr Mark

 

Sermon on the Nativity of the Mother of God: St Andrew of Crete

The present  Feast is for us the beginning of feasts.

Serving as boundary to the law and to prototypes, at the same time it serves as a doorway to grace and truth. “For Christ is the end of the law” (Rom 10:4), Who, having freed us from the letter (of the law), raises us to spirit.

Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, has changed the letter in spirit and gathers everything in Himself (Eph 1:10), enlivening the law with grace: grace has taken the law under its dominion, and the law has become subjected to grace, so that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only so that by Divine power, the servile and subservient (in the law) are transformed into the light and free (in grace), so that we are not “in bondage to the elements of the world” (Gal 4:3) and not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the letter of the law.

Here is the summit of Christ’s beneficence towards us! Here are the mysteries of revelation! Here is the theosis [divinization] assumed upon humankind, the fruition worked out by the God-Man.

The radiant and bright descent of God for people ought to have a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation. Such also is the present feastday, having as its basis the Nativity of the Theotokos, and as its purpose and end, the uniting of the Word with flesh, this most glorious of all miracles, unceasingly proclaimed, immeasurable and incomprehensible.

The less comprehensible it is, the more it is revealed; and the more it is revealed, the less comprehensible it is. Therefore the present God-graced day, the first of our feastdays, showing forth the light of virginity and the crown woven from the unfading blossoms of the spiritual garden of Scripture, offers creatures a common joy.

Be of good cheer, it says, behold, this is the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and of the renewal of the human race! The Virgin is born, She grows and is raised up and prepares Herself to be the Mother of the All-Sovereign God of the ages. All this, with the assistance of David, makes it for us an object of spiritual contemplation. The Theotokos manifests to us Her God-bestown Birth, and David points to the blessedness of the human race and wondrous kinship of God with mankind.

And so, truly one ought to celebrate the mystery today and to offer to the Mother of God a word by way of gift: since nothing is so pleasing to Her as a word and praise by word. It is from here also that we receive a twofold benefit: first, we enter into the region of truth, and second, we emerge from the captivity and slavery of the written law. How so? Obviously, when darkness vanishes, then light appears; so also here: after the law follows the freedom of grace.

The present day solemnity is a line of demarcation, separating the truth from its prefigurative symbol, and ushering in the new in place of the old. Paul, that Divine Trumpet of the Spirit, exclaims about this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things pass away and behold, all things have become new (2 Cor 5:17); for the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by which we draw near to God” (Heb 7:19). The truth of grace has shown forth brightly.

Let there now be one common festal celebration in both heaven and on earth. Let everything now celebrate, that which is in the world and that beyond the world. Now is made the created temple for the Creator of all; and creation is readied into a new Divine habitation for the Creator. Now our nature having been banished from the land of blessedness receives the principle of theosis and strives to rise up to the highest glory.

Now Adam offers from us and for us elements unto God, the most worthy fruit of mankind: Mary, in Whom the new Adam is rendered Bread for the restoration of the human race. Now is opened the great bosom of virginity, and the Church, in the matrimonial manner, places upon it a pure, truly spotless pearl.

Now human worthiness accepts the gift of the first creation and returns to its former condition; the majesty darkened by formless sin, through the conjoining by His Mother by birth “of Him Beauteous by Goodness,” man receives beauty in a most excellent and God-seemly visage. And this creating is done truly by the creation, and recreation by theosis, and theosis by a return to the original perfection!

Now a barren one has become a mother beyond expectation, and the Theotokos has given birth without knowing man, and She sanctifies natural birth. Now the majestic color of the Divine purple is readied and impoverished human nature is clothed in royal worthiness. Now, according to prophecy, sprouts forth the Offshoot of David, Who, having eternally become the green-sprouting Staff of Aaron, has blossomed forth for us with the Staff of Power: Christ.

Now from Judah and David is descended a Virgin Maiden, rendering of Herself the royal and priestly worthiness of Him Who has taken on the priesthood of Aaron according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7:15). Now the renewal of our nature is begun, and the world responding, assuming a God-seemly form, receives the principle of a second Divine creation.

The first creation of mankind occurred from the pure and unsullied earth; but their nature darkened its innate worthiness, they were deprived of grace through the sin of disobedience; for this we were cast out of the land of life and, in place of the delights of Paradise, we received temporal life as our inheritance by birth, and with it the death and corruption of our race.

All started to prefer earth to heaven, so that there remained no hope for salvation, beyond the utmost help. Neither the natural nor the written law, nor the fiery reconciliative sayings of the prophets had power to heal the sickness. No one knew how to rectify human nature and by what means it would be most suitable to raise it up to its former worthiness, so long as God the Author of all did not deign to reveal to us another arranged and newly-constituted world, where the pervasive form of the old poison of sin is annihilated, and granting us a wondrous, free and perfectly dispassionate life, through our re-creation in the baptism of Divine birth.

But how would this great and most glorious blessing be imparted to us, so in accord with the Divine commands, if God were not to be manifest to us in the flesh, not subject to the laws of nature, nor deign to dwell with us in a manner known to Him? And how could all this be accomplished, if first there did not serve the mystery a Pure and Inviolate Virgin, Who contained the Uncontainable, in accord with the law, yet beyond the laws of nature? And could some other virgin have done this besides She alone, Who was chosen before all others by the Creator of nature?

This Virgin is the Theotokos, Mary, the Most Glorious of God, from Whose womb the Most Divine came forth in the flesh, and by Whom He Himself arranged a wondrous temple for Himself. She conceived without seed and gave birth without corruption, since Her Son was God, though also He was born in the flesh, without mingling and without travail.

This Mother, truly, avoided that which is innate to mothers but miraculously fed Her Son, begotten without a man, with milk. The Virgin, having given birth to the One seedlessly conceived, remained a pure Virgin, having preserved incorrupt the marks of virginity. And so in truth She is named the Mother of God; Her virginity is esteemed and Her birth-giving is glorified. God, having joined with mankind and become manifest in the flesh, has granted Her a unique glory. Woman’s nature suddenly is freed from the first curse, and just as the first brought in sin, so also does the first initiate salvation also.

But our discourse has attained its chief end, and I, celebrating now and with rejoicing sharing in this sacred feast, I greet you in the common joy. The Redeemer of the human race, as I said, willed to arrange a new birth and re-creation of mankind: just as the first creation, taking dust from the virginal and pure earth, where He formed the first Adam, so also now, having arranged His Incarnation upon the earth, and so to speak, in place of dust He chooses out of all the creation this Pure and Immaculate Virgin and, having re-created mankind in His Chosen One from among mankind, the Creator of Adam is made the New Adam, in order to save the old.

Who indeed was This Virgin and from what sort of parents did She come? Mary, the glory of all, was born of the tribe of David, and from the seed of Joachim. She was descended from Eve, and was the child of Anna. Joachim was a gentle man, pious, raised in God’s law. Living prudently and walking before God he grew old without child: the years of his prime provided no continuation of his lineage. Anna was likewise God-loving, prudent, but barren; she lived in harmony with her husband, but was childless. As much concerned about this, as about the observance of the law of the Lord, she indeed was daily stung by the grief of childlessness and suffered that which is the usual lot of the childless — she grieved, she sorrowed, she was distressed, and impatient at being childless.

Thus, Joachim and his spouse lamented that they had no successor to continue their line; yet the spark of hope was not extinguished in them completely: both intensified their prayer about the granting to them of a child to continue their line. In imitation of the prayer heard of Hannah (1 Kings 1: 10), both without leaving the temple fervently beseeched God that He would undo her sterility and make fruitful her childlessness. And they did not give up on their efforts, until their wish be fulfilled. The Bestower of gifts did not contemn the gift of their hope. The unceasing power came quickly in help to those praying and beseeching God, and it made capable both the one and the other to produce and bear a child. In such manner, from sterile and barren parents, as it were from irrigated trees, was borne for us a most glorious fruition — the all-pure Virgin.

The constraints of infertility were destroyed — prayer, upright manner of life, these rendered them fruitful; the childless begat a Child, and the childless woman was made an happy mother. Thus the immaculate Fruition issuing forth from the womb occurred from an infertile mother, and then the parents, in the first blossoming of Her growth brought Her to the temple and dedicated Her to God. The priest, then making the order of services, beheld the face of the girl and of those in front of and behind, and he became gladdened and joyful, seeing as it were the actual fulfillment of the Divine promise.

He consecrated Her to God, as a reverential gift and propitious sacrifice — and, as a great treasury unto salvation, he led Her within the very innermost parts of the temple. Here the Maiden walked in the upright ways of the Lord, as in bridal chambers, partaking of heavenly food until the time of betrothal, which was preordained before all the ages by Him Who, by His unscrutable mercy, was born from Her, and by Him Who before all creation and time and expanse Divinely begat Him, and together with His consubstantial and co-reigning and co-worshipped Spirit — this being One Godhead, having One Essence and Kingdom, inseparable and immutable and in which is nothing diverse, except the personal qualities. Wherefore, in solemnity and in song I do offer the Mother of the Word the festal gift; since that He born of Her hath taught me to believe in the Trinity: the Son and Word Without-Beginning hath made in Her His Incarnation; the Father begetting Him hath blessed this; the Holy Spirit hath signed and sanctified the womb which incomprehensibly hath conceived.

Now is the time to question David: in what did the God of all forswear him? Speak, O Psalmist and Prophet! He hath sworn from the fruit of my loin to sit upon my throne (Ps 131/132:11). Here in this He is forsworn and wilt not break His oath, He hath forsworn and His Word is sealed with a deed! “Once — said he — I forswear by My Holiness, that I lie not to David; his seed wilt prevail forever, and his throne, like the sun before Me and like the moon coursing the ages: a faithful witness also in heaven” (Ps 88/89:35-38). God hath fulfilled this oath, since it is not possible for God to lie (Heb 6:18). Consider this: Christ in the flesh is named my Son (Mt. 22: 42), and all nations will worship my Lord and Son (Ps 71/72:11), seeing him sit upon a virginal throne! Here also is the Virgin, from Whose womb the Pre-eternal One issued forth, incarnated at the end of the ages and renewing the ages, likewise sprung forth from my loins! All this is so!

People of God, holy nation, sacred gathering! Let us revere our paternal memory; let us extol the power of the mystery! Each of us, in the measure given by grace, let us offer a worthy gift for the present feast. Fathers — a prosperous lineage; mothers — fine children; the unbearing — the not-bearing of sin; virgins — a twofold prudence, of soul and of body; betrothed — praiseworthy abstinence. If anyone of you be a father, let him imitate the father of the Virgin; and if anyone be without child — let them make harvest of fruitful prayer, cultivating a life pleasing to God. The mother, feeding her children, let her rejoice together with Anna, raising her Child, given to her in infertility through prayer.

She that is barren, not having given birth, lacking the blessing of a child, let her come with faith to the God-given Offshoot of Anna and offer there her barrenness. The virgin, living blamelessly, let her be a mother by discourse, adorning by word the elegance of soul. For a betrothed — let her offer mental sacrifice from the fruits of prayer. All together rich and poor, lads and maidens, old and young (Ps 48:2,148:12), priests and levites — let all together keep the feast in honor of the Maiden, the Theotokos and the Prophetess: from Her has issued forth the Prophet, foretold by Moses, Christ God and Truth (Dt 18:15). Amen.

Greetings for the Nativity of the Mother of God

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings on this joyous feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, by which the imminence of God’s preparation for the Incarnation in time and space was manifested in the world, after centuries in which His prophets preached the coming of the Messiah, and during which the ancestors of Christ looked forward to “the beginning of our salvation”.

This event was long in preparation, and the culmination of God’s interaction with mankind and creation since the ignominy of the Fall and Adam and Eve’s banishment from Paradise. In her “God-bestown birth”, Adam our first-father offers up his offspring, the Mother of God, whom St Andrew of Crete calls “the most-worthy fruit of mankind”, and in the birth of the Virgin, the first-father and first-mother rejoice,

“For, behold! she who was fashioned of the rib of Adam manifestly blesseth her daughter and descendant, saying: “Deliverance hath been born in me, for which cause I am freed of the bonds of hades!”

(First stikheron of the vesperal litia)

The prophet Isaiah, considered an evangelist-before-the-evangelists by St Jerome, had preached,“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel”, and on this feast we celebrate the birth of the Virgin, who would be the Gate through which God would enter the world as its Saviour and Redeemer, with the feast – in the words of St Andrew –“as a doorway to grace to grace and truth.”

Rejoicing, we greet the Mother of God – the portal of our salvation – with hymns, heeding the joyful words of the litia doxastikon at vespers:

“On the right excellent day of our feast let us strike the spiritual harp; for the Mother of Life is born today of the seed of David, dispelling the darkness: the renewal of Adam, the restoration of Eve, the Well-spring of incorruption, our release from corruption. Because of her we have been deified and delivered from death. And we, the faithful, cry out to her with Gabriel: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee, granting us great mercy for thy sake!”

May God bless you all on this wonderful feast, as we ask the Mother of God to intercede for all of her children, who greet her Nativity with joyful thanksgiving. And, greeting one another, let us rejoice together, for, lo! the Virgin issueth forth from the womb of the barren woman, unto the salvation of our souls!”

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

The Humility of the Mother of God

With wonder will I speak of Mary while I stand in awe, because the daughter of earthly beings has ascended to such a high rank.

Now did grace itself bend down the Son to her, or was she so beautiful that she became the Mother of the Son of God?

That God descended on earth by grace is manifest, and since Mary was very pure she received Him.

He looked on her humility and her gentleness and her purity, and dwelt in her because it is easy for Him to dwell within the humble.

”On whom will I gaze except the gentle and humble?” He looked on and dwelt in her because she was humble among those who are borne.

Even she herself said that he looked on her lowliness and dwelt in her, because of this she shall be extolled, for she was so pleasing.

Humility is total perfection, so that when man beholds God, then he behaves humbly.

For Moses was humble, a great one among all men; God went down to him on the mountain in revelation.

Again humility is seen in Abraham, for although he was just, he called himself dust and ashes.

Again, also, John was humble, because he was proclaiming that he was not worthy to loose the sandals of the Bridegroom, his Lord.

By humility, the heroic in ever generation have been pleasing, because it is the great way by which one draws near to God.

But none on earth was brought low like Mary, and from this it is manifest that no one was exalted like her.

In proportion to lowliness, the Lord bestows manifestation; He made her His mother and who is like her in humility?

Mar Jacob of Serug: Homily Concerning the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, Mary

On the Dormition of the Mother of God

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters, greetings on this feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God.

On this Summer Pascha, we celebrate the falling-asleep and resurrection of the Theotokos as the firstborn of the children of Adam and Eve, truly risen in body and soul, and assumed into the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.

As the Hodegetria, ‘she who shows the way’, the Virgin is glorified in the totality of the resurrection, going physically as well as spiritually before the faithful-departed of every generation into the radiant eternity of the Eighth Day, which shall have no end.

Despite the heavenly nature of this feast, we are sometimes so earth-bound as we look at the plashchanitsa and icon.

Though mindful of the Lord taking His Mother – body and soul – into heaven, and though rejoicing at the empty tomb in Gethsemane, we often fail to reflect on the celestial joy of the glorious reception of the Mother of God into heaven.

In his poetic homily for the feast, Mar Jacob of Serugh reminds us that it is not only the company of the apostles that gathers at the Dormition of the Mother of God, but also the whole throng of the angelic hosts, who rejoice at her translation from death to life.

“Ranks and companies, also choirs of the sons of light; a clamour of watchers and a multitude of burning flames.

Fiery seraphim with wings closely covered by flames, with legions and their heavenly divisions.

Mighty cherubim who were yoked beneath his throne are moved by wonder to give praise with their Hosannas.

Followers of Gabriel, a glowing fiery multitude, and variously transformed in their natures.

Followers of Michael full of movement in their dissent, feasting, rejoicing, making merry this day with their Alleluias.

Heaven and the air of glory were filled with celestial beings, who journeyed and came down to the place of earth.”

Mar Jacob then turns to the saints of the Old Testament – the patriarchs, prophets, judges, kings and righteous ones who are not only the forefathers of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, through whom the Saviour was clothed in the flesh of Adam in His Incarnation.

By the victory of the Cross, Christ harrowed hell and stripped it of the righteous held by the chains and shackles of death, but it was only in spirit that their exodus led them from death life, and from the depths of Hades to the heights of heaven.

As they behold the full realisation of the resurrection, which they still await, Mar Jacob paints a poetic picture of their rejoicing as they see their daughter according to the flesh enter Heaven in that very flesh that has been received from them as her forebears.

On this day Adam rejoices and Eve his wife, because their daughter rests in the place where they are gathered.

On this day the righteous Noah and Abraham rejoiced that their daughter has visited them in their dwelling-place.

On this day Jacob, the honourable old man, rejoices that the daughter who sprouted from his root has called him into life.

On this day the twelve just sons of the lame one rejoiced greatly and are glad in that she visited them.

On this day let also Judah rejoiced greatly, for behold the daughter who has given life, went forth from his loins.

On this day let Joseph rejoice in the great Moses, for one young maiden has called all mankind to life.

On this day let Aaron rejoice in Eliezar and all the tribes of the sons of Levi with their priesthood.

On this day let David the renowned forefather rejoice, because the daughter who was from him, has placed a glorious crown on his head.

On this day let Samuel rejoice with Jeremiah, because the daughter of Judah dropped dew on their bones.

Come Ezekiel, trained in prophetic revelation, if the thing that has occurred is described in your prophecy.

On this day let also Isaiah the prophet rejoice, because she whom he prophesied, behold she visits him in the place of the dead.

On this day all the prophets lifted their heads from their graves, because they saw the light which shone forth on them.

They saw that death is disquieted and flees from within them; and that the gates of heaven and the depths of the earth are opened again.”

Despite their greatness, these Old Testament saints only encountered God in veiled-appearances, types and shadows, with the Lord telling Moses, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.”

In the harrowing of hell they spiritually beheld the Lord, whose body rested in the sepulchre even as He descended in soul to liberate their souls from death. In his Ascension, they – abiding in heaven awaiting the physical resurrection – beheld Him in His glorified flesh.

In their earthly sojourn, they had prophetically looked forward through the centuries to the virgin-mother, the rod of the root of Jesse, who would bear Immanuel – God with us.

In the glory of the Dormition and Assumption they welcomed their daughter, whose childhood entrance into the Holy of Holies of the Temple foreshadowed this day, when she entered the eternal sanctuary on high, following her Son’s translation of glorified human-nature to the right hand of the Father in his Ascension.

Though the forefathers, like all of the departed other than the Theotokos, must await the fulness of the resurrection, they rejoiced with the bodiless powers of heaven as they witnessed her Assumption as the fulfilment of the promise that they await.

With the passing of the centuries, new generations of the faithful are added to the synaxis of angels and humans who celebrate the heavenly translation of the Mother of Life, who leads us from death to life, and our own aspiration to the glorious reality of the Dormition and Assumption demands that we look to the example of the Mother of God in our hope to follow her heavenward-journey.

Striving to embrace the simplicity, humility, purity and God-centred obedience of her life, and imitating her by bowing before the Lord’s will each day, we must constantly echo her words, “Be it unto me according to Thy word”, whilst obeying her command at the marriage of Cana, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Just as her selfless life always pointed to the Saviour, so that she reflected Him as the moon reflects the light of the sun, His teachings and life-in-Him must be the existential reality and narrative of our lives, reflected and realised in each thought, word and deed.

If we are prepared to follow her example, the Theotokos already shows us the way from death to life, and from all that is earthly, temporal and transitory to the eternal glory of heaven, where the saints rejoice – radiant in the resurrection of Christ for all eternity.

Striving to emulate the Mother of God, and to follow her, let us struggle to mount the heights of heaven, rejoicing in the words of Mar Jacob “that death is disquieted and flees… and that the gates of heaven and the depths of the earth are opened again.”

Amen.

St. Ephraim the Syrian on the Holy Transfiguration

From the land comes the joy of harvest, from the vineyard fruits that give food, and from the Scriptures teaching that gives life. The land has one season for the harvest, and the vineyard has one season for the vintage, but the Scripture when read always overflows with teaching that gives life. The land when it has been harvested lies fallow and the vineyard when the grapes have been picked is unproductive, but when Scripture is harvested the grapes of those who expound it are not lacking in it. It is picked every day and the grape clusters of the hope in it are never exhausted. Let us then draw near to this land and enjoy its life-giving furrows; and let us harvest from it grapes of life, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said to his Disciples, ‘There are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of man coming in his glory’.[1]

‘And after six days he took Simon Peter and James and John his brother to a very high mountain and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white like light’.[2] Men whom he said would not taste death until they saw the image of his coming, are those whom he took and led up the mountain and showed them how he was going to come on the last day in the glory of his divinity and in the body of his humanity.

He led them up the mountain to show them who the Son is and whose he is. Because when he asked them, ‘Whom do men say the Son of man is?’[3] They said to him, some Elias, others Jeremias, or one of the Prophets. This is why he leads them up the mountain and shows them that he is not Elias, but the God of Elias; again, that he is not Jeremias, but the one who sanctified Jeremias in his mother’s womb;[4] not one of the Prophets, but the Lord of the Prophets, who also sent them. And he shows them that he is the maker of heaven and earth, and that he is Lord of living and dead. For he gave orders to heaven and brought down Elias, and made a sign to the earth and raised up Moses.

He led them up the mountain to show them that he is the Son of God, born from the Father before the ages and in the last times incarnate from the Virgin, as he knows how, born ineffably and without seed, preserving her virginity incorrupt; for wherever God wills it, the order of nature is overcome.[5] For God the Word dwelt in the Virgin’s womb, and the fire of his divinity did not consume the members of the Virgin’s body, but protected them carefully by its nine month presence. He dwelt in the Virgin’s womb, not abhorring the unpleasant smell of nature, and God incarnate came forth from her to save us.

He led them up the mountain to show them the glory of the godhead and to make known to them that he is the redeemer of Israel, as he had shown through the Prophets, and they should not be scandalised in him when they saw his voluntary sufferings, which as man he was about to suffer for us. For they knew him as a man, but did not know that he was God. They knew him as son of Mary, going about with them in the world[6], and he made known to them on the mountain that he was Son of God and God. They saw that he ate and drank, toiled and rested, dozed and slept, things which did not accord with his divine nature, but only with his humanity, and so he took them to the mountain that the Father might call him Son[7] and show that he is truly his Son and that he is God.

He led them up the mountain and showed them his kingship before his passion, and his power before his death, and his glory before his disgrace, and his honour before his dishonour, so that, when he was arrested and crucified by the Jews, they might know that he was not crucified through weakness, but willingly by his good pleasure for the salvation of the world.

He led them up the mountain and showed the glory of his divinity before the resurrection, so that when he rose from the dead in the glory of his divine nature, they might know that it was not because of his harsh toil that he accepted glory, as if he lacked it, but it was his before the ages with the Father and together with the Father, as he said as he was coming to his voluntary passion,[8] ‘Father, glorify me with the glory which I had with you before the world existed’.[9]

And so on the mountain he showed his Apostles the glory of his divinity, concealed and hidden by his humanity. For they saw his face bright as lightning and his garments white as light. They saw two suns; one in the sky, as usual, and one unusually; one visible in the firmament and lighting the world, and one, his face, visible to them alone. His garments white as light showed that the glory of his divinity flooded from his whole body, and his light shone from all his members. For his flesh did not shine with splendour from without, like Moses,[10] but the glory of his divinity flooded from him. His light dawned and was drawn together in him. Nor did depart somewhere else and leave him, because it did come from another place and adorn him, nor was it for his use. And he did not display the whole depth of his glory, but only as much as the limits of their eyes could encompass.[11]

‘And there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him’.[12] And the words that they said to him were such as these: they were thanking him that their words and those of all their fellow Prophets had been fulfilled by his coming. They offered him worship for the salvation which he had wrought for the world for the human race; and that he had fulfilled in reality the mystery they had only sketched. There was joy for the Prophets and the Apostles by this ascent of the mountain. The Prophets rejoiced when they saw his humanity, which they had not known. The Apostles also rejoiced when they saw the glory of his divinity, which they had not known, and heard the voice of the Father bearing witness to his Son; and through this they recognised his incarnation, which was concealed from them. And the witness of the three was sealed by the Father’s voice and by Moses and Elias, who stood by him like servants, and they looked to one another: the Prophets to the Apostles and the Apostles to the Prophets. There the authors of the old covenant saw the authors of the new. Holy Moses saw Simon the sanctified; the steward of the Father saw the administrator of the Son. The former divided the sea for the people to walk in the middle of the waves; the latter raised a tent for the building of the Church. The virgin of the old covenant saw the virgin of the new:[13] [Elias and John;] the one who mounted on the chariot of fire and the one who leaned on the breast of the flame. And the mountain became a type of the Church, and on it Jesus united the two covenants, which the Church received, and made known to us that he is the giver of the two. The one received his mysteries; the other revealed the glory of his works.

Simon said, “It is good for us to be here, Lord”.[14] “Simon, what are you saying? If we remain here, who fulfils the word of the Prophets? Who seals the sayings of the heralds? Who brings to perfection the mysteries of the just? If we remain here, in whom are the words, ‘They dug my hands and my feet’[15] fulfilled? To whom do the words, ‘They parted my garments among them, and cast lots for my clothing’[16] apply? To whom does, ‘They gave me gall as my food, and with vinegar they quenched my thirst’[17] relate? Who confirms, ‘Free among the dead?’[18] If we remain here, who will tear up the record of Adam’s debt?[19] And who will pay his debt in full? And who will restore to him the garment of glory?[20]If we remain here, how will all that I have said to you come to pass? How will the Church be built?[21] How will you take the keys of the kingdom of heaven from me?[22] What will you bind? What will you loose? If we remain here, everything that was said through the Prophets will come to nothing.”

He then said, “Let us make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elias”.[23] Simon was sent to build the Church in the world, and he is making tents on the mountain; for he was still looking at Jesus in human terms, and placed him with Moses and Elias. And besides this he showed him that he did not need his tent, for it was he who had made for his fathers a tent of cloud in the desert for forty years.[24]“For while he was still speaking, a cloud of light overshadowed them”. [25] “Do you see a tent made without toil, Simon? A tent that prevents heat and contains no darkness? A tent that blazes and shines?”[26]

And while the Disciples were marvelling, out of the cloud a voice was heard from the Father, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.”[27] At the voice of the Father, Moses returned to his place and Elias returned to his country, and the Apostles fell on their faces to the ground, and Jesus stood alone, because the voice was fulfilled in him alone. The Prophets left and the Apostles fell to the ground, because the Father’s voice in witness, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him”, was not fulfilled in them. The Father taught them that Moses’ dispensation was fulfilled, and that they should listen to the Son, “For Moses, as a servant, spoke what he was ordered to, and he proclaimed what he had been told, and so did all the Prophets, until the one to whom it belongs has come,[28] that is Jesus, who is Son, not servant, Lord and not slave, who is master and not subject, lawgiver and not subject to the law. By divine nature, ‘This is my beloved Son’”. On the mountain the Father made known to the Apostles what was hidden from them. The One Who Is[29] reveals the One Who Is. The Father makes known the Son.

At that voice the Apostles fell on their faces to the ground; for there was a fearsome thunder, so that the earth shook at his voice, and they fell to the ground.[30] It showed them that the Father had drawn near; and the Son called them with his voice and raised them up.[31] For as the voice of the Father had thrown them down, so too the voice of the Son, raised them up by the strength of his divinity, which dwelt in his flesh and was united in it without change, both remain indivisibly and unconfusedly in one hypostasis and one person. He did not, like Moses, become resplendent from without, but as God he blazed with glory. For Moses was anointed with splendour by the appearance of his face, while Jesus in his whole body blazed, like the sun with its rays, with the glory of his divinity.

And the Father cried out, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him”. The Son was not separated from the glory of the godhead, for the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit are one nature, one power and once essence and one kingship. And he cried out to one with a simple name[32] and with fearsome glory. And Mary called him ‘son’, not separated from the glory of his divinity by his human nature; for he is one, God who appeared in a body to the world. His glory revealed the divine nature that was from the Father, and his body revealed his human nature that was from Mary; both natures coming together and being united in one hypostasis. Only begotten from the Father, and only begotten from Mary. And anyone who parts him will be parted from his kingdom, and anyone who confounds his natures will perish from his life. May anyone who denies that Mary gave birth to God not see the glory of his divinity; and anyone who denies that he bore a sinless body will be cast out from salvation and from the life that has been given through his body.

The facts themselves bear witness and his divine acts of power teach those who doubt that he is true God, and his sufferings show that he is true man.[33] And if those who are feeble in understanding are not fully assured, they will pay the penalty on his dread day. If he was not flesh, why was Mary introduced at all? And if he was not God, whom was Gabriel calling Lord? If he was not flesh, who was lying in the manger? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and glorify? If he was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if he was not God, whom did the shepherds worship? If he was not flesh, whom did Joseph circumcise? And if he was not God, in whose honour did the star speed through the heavens? If he was not flesh, whom did Mary suckle? And if he was not God, to whom did the Magi offer gifts? If he was not flesh, whom did Symeon carry in his arms? And if he was not God, to whom did he say, “Let me depart in peace”?[34] If he was not flesh, whom did Joseph take and flee into Egypt? And if he was not God, in whom were words “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” fulfilled?[35] If he was not flesh, whom did John baptise? And if he was not God, to whom did the Father from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”? If he was not flesh, who fasted and hungered in the desert? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and serve? If he was not flesh, who was invited to the wedding in Cana of Galilee? And if he was not God, who turned the water into wine? If he was not flesh, in whose hands were the loaves? And if he was not God, who satisfied crowds and thousands in the desert, not counting women and children, from five loaves and two fishes? If he was not flesh, who fell asleep in the boat? And if he was not God, who rebuked the winds and the sea? If he was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee eat? And if he was not God, who pardoned the offences of the sinful woman? If he was not flesh, who sat by the well, worn out by the journey? And if he was not God, who gave living water to the woman of Samaria and reprehended her because she had had five husbands? If he was not flesh, who wore human garments? And if he was not God, who did acts of power and wonders?[36] If he was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay? And if he was not God, who through the clay compelled the eyes to see? If he was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if he was not God, who by his command brought out one four days dead? If he was not flesh, who sat on the foal? And if he was not God, whom did the crowds go out to meet with glory? If he was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest? And if he was not God, who gave an order to the earth and threw them onto their faces.[37] If he was not flesh, who was struck with a blow? And if he was not God, who cured the ear that had been cut off by Peter and restored it to its place? If he was not flesh, who received spittings on his face? And if he was not God, who breathed the Holy Spirit into the faces of his Apostles? If he was not flesh, who stood before Pilate at the judgement seat? And if he was not God, who made Pilate’s wife afraid by a dream? If he was not flesh, whose garments did the soldiers strip off and divide? And if he was not God, how was the sun darkened at the cross? If he was not flesh, who was hung on the cross? And if he was not God, who shook the earth from its foundations? If he was not flesh, whose hands and feet were transfixed by nails? And if he was not God, how was the veil of the temple rent, the rocks broken and the graves opened? If he was not flesh, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”? And if he was not God, who said “Father, forgive them”? If he was not flesh, who was hung on a cross with the thieves? And if he was not God, how did he say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”? If he was not flesh, to whom did they offer vinegar and gall? And if he was not God, on hearing whose voice did Hades tremble? If he was not flesh, whose side did the lance pierce, and blood and water came out? And if he was not God, who smashed to gates of Hades and tear apart it bonds? And at whose command did the imprisoned dead come out? If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles see in the upper room? And if he was not God, how did he enter when the doors were shut? If he was not flesh, the marks of the nails and the lance in whose hands and side did Thomas handle? And if he was not God, to whom did he cry out, “My Lord and my God”? If he was not flesh, who ate by the sea of Tiberias? And if he was not God, at whose command was the net filled? If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles and Angels see being taken up into heaven? And if he was not God, to whom was heaven opened, whom did the Powers worship in fear and whom did the Father invite to “Sit at my right hand”. As David said, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, etc.” If he was not God and man, our salvation is a lie, and the words of the Prophets are lies.

But the Prophets spoke the truth, and their testimonies were not lies. The Holy Spirit spoke through them what they had been commanded. So too John the pure, who leant on the breast of flame,[38] reinforcing the voices of the Prophets, speaking of God in Gospels, taught us when he said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him nothing that was made, was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.[39] God the Word from God and only begotten Son from the Father, consubstantial with the Father; the One who is from the One who is, preeternal Word, ineffably born, without a mother, from the Father before all the ages. The same is born, without a father, in the last times from a daughter of man, from Mary the virgin, as God incarnate, bearing flesh from her, and becoming man, which he was not, while remaining God, which he was, that he might save the world. And he is the Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten from the Father, and only begotten from a mother.

I confess[40] the same to be perfect God and perfect man, acknowledged in the two natures united hypostatically, or in person, indivisibly, unconfusedly and unchangeably; having put on flesh that is animated by a rational and intelligent soul, in all things becoming passible like us, sin alone excepted. He is both earthly and heavenly, temporary and eternal, starting and without beginning, timeless and subject to time, created and uncreated, passible and impassible, God and man, perfect in both, one in two and in two one. One person of the Father, one person of the Son, and one person of the Holy Spirit. One godhead, one power, one kingship in three persons or hypostases. So we glorify the Holy Unity in Trinity, and the Holy Trinity in Unity. In this the Father cried out, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him”.

All this the holy Catholic Church of God has received. In this Holy Trinity it baptises for eternal life. Into this Trinity it sanctifies with equal honour, confesses it without separation, without division; worships it without error, confesses and glorifies it. To this Unity in three persons belong glory, thanksgiving, honour, might, majesty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] Matt. 16:28, but quoted from memory. The biblical text has ‘in his kingdom’. This saying is regularly linked to the Transfiguration, which follows immediately, by the Fathers. St John Chrysostom, in his commentary on this verse, says,

[2] Matt. 17:1-2. The reading ‘very’, rather than ‘apart’, is that of D. ‘Simon’ is not in the text of the Gospel.

[3] Matt. 16:13.

[4] Jer. 1:5.

[5] This sentence is frequent in the liturgical texts. In the second Kathisma for Christmas Matins it is given as a quotation, “But as it is written: ‘where God so wills the order of nature is overcome.’” But what is the source? It occurs in inauthentic texts attributed to St Athanasios and St John Chrysostom and in St John Damascene’s Sacra Parallela. Athanasios Quaestiones aliae [spur.], Response 19 [PG 28:792, ll. 15-16]. Cf. Sermon on the Natvity [Sp.], [PG 28: 960, l.28]. Chrysostom On the Nativity [dub.], [PG 56: 385, l. 33]. John Damascene Sacra Parallela, [PG 95:1265, l.19]. In the first passage from Athanasios the text appears to be a citation.

[6] Cf. Baruch 3:38, one of the key ’incarnation’ texts from the Old Testament.

[7] Matt. 17:5.

[8] This phrase forms the opening of the Dismissal for the first half of Holy Week in the Byzantine rite.

[9] John 17:5. Again the citation is free, omitting ‘with yourself’ after ‘Father’. This is odd, since the somewhat awkward repetition in the original would seem to be the explanation of the curious repetition in the previous sentence, ‘with[syn] the Father and together with [meta] the Father’. The former is the preposition used of the Holy Spirit in the Creed. There is also an echo of Philippians 3:6-8.

[10] Cf. Exodus 34:29-34.

[11] This idea is a feature of the liturgical texts for the feast and is found in St John Chrysostom’s commentary on this passage.

[12] Matt. 17:3.

[13] The same idea is found in St John Damascene’s homily on the feast, ‘Today the virgin of the old proclaims to the virgin of the new the good tidings of the Lord, the virgin born from a Virgin’. He does not name Elias and John, and it is more than likely that the words ‘Elias and John’ in the present text are a gloss that should be deleted, especially since the next sentence makes the references quite clear.

[14] Matt. 17:4.

[15] Psalm 21:17.

[16] Psalm 21:19.

[17] Psalm 68:22.

[18] Psalm 87:5.

[19] Cf. Colossians 2:14.

[20] Adam’s ‘garment of glory’ is a theme of Jewish exegesis and is found in the Syriac texts

[21] Cf. Matt. 16:18.

[22] Cf. Matt. 16:19.

[23] Matt. 17:4.

[24] Cf. Exodus 40:34-38, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting”.

[25] Matt. 17:5.

[26] It is not clear whether these questions, as in the previous paragraph, are the imaginary words of Christ. I think it is likely and have therefore put them in quotation marks.

[27] Matt. 17:5.

[28] Cf. Gen. 49:10. This verse presents many problems, of both text and interpretation. Many mss have the finite verb, as here. And this is the almost unanimous reading of the Fathers. Modern critical editions of the lxx prefer the participle, which is the reading of the great uncials.

[29] Exodus 3:14.

[30] Matt. 17:6.

[31] Matt. 17:7.

[32] i.e. ‘Son’.

[33] The following list of contrasting pairs of sentences to highlight the two natures of Christ is like a number of similar ones in the Fathers. In Greek there is one towards the end of St Gregory the Divine’s third Theological Oration, On The Son; another in St Cyril of Jerusalem’s fourth Catechetical Lecture. In Latin St Leo the Great has similar passages both in his Tome to Patriarch Flavian (Letter 28) and in his letter to the Monks of Palestine (Letter 124). In Syriac the list in Narsai’s seventeenth Homily, An Exposition of the Mysteries, most closely resembles the one in our text both in length and rhetorical form. Since the allusions to the Gospels are clear, I have not overloaded the translation with a list of references in the footnotes.

[34] In the liturgical tradition Symeon addresses his prayer the Infant in his arms.

[35] The chronology of the events surrounding Christ’s nativity implied by the order in this list is interesting.

[36] At first sight this ‘couplet’ is curious. All the others can be easily linked to specific incidents in the Gospels, whereas this one seems quite general, and the modern Greek translator gives no reference. It is, I believe, a reference to the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage, Matt. 9:20-22, where the Gospel mentions Jesus’ clothing, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made whole”.

[37] This goes some way beyond what the text says.

[38] That Christ’s body is one ‘of flame’ is a feature of St Romanos’ Kontakion 30, On the Apostle Thomas, though the references here are to the risen Christ.

[39] John 1:1-3, 14.

[40] This confession of faith uses strongly Chalcedonian in language is unlikely, to say the least, to have been written by St Ephrem, who died some eighty years earlier.

The Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God

Dear brothers and sisters,  

Greetings, as we celebrate the Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos in 1579, when, after the devastating fire which destroyed much of the city, the Most Holy Mother of God revealed the location of her wondrous icon in the ashes of a ruined house. 

We should rejoice in the fact that the All-Merciful Lord chose a child to be the herald of the good-tidings of the Wonder-Working Icon; that the Mother of God revealed the treasure of her icon not to a cleric, a monastic, a state officer, or an educated or respected dignitary, but rather to a nine-year-old, whose mind was not filled with worldly ‘learning’, facts, knowledge and theories; but, a girl blessed with a child’s simplicity and trust, and a heart and soul overflowing with faith and the fear of God. 

This reminds us that spiritual encounter and true gnosis is not simply dependent on learning and education – important though they may be – but that knowledge and faith begin with God in Divine Revelation, and that faith is the gift of God, not the achievement of man.

For the young Matrona, Faith was learned from Church services; from the readings and hymns of the seasons of the year, with its feasts and fasts; from the sacred icons, and the stories narrated and saints memorialised in them; from hearing the lives of the saints which even the illiterate knew by heart; by experiencing, listening and seeing; in short by PARTICIPATION and EXPERIENCE.  

But, in addition to this, this feast reminds us of the importance of REVELATION and Matrona’s part in the events of this feast is solely because God and the Mother of God freely chose her, to be the recipient. 

“God is the Lord, and has revealed Himself to us.”  We believe this, but we so often take such an anthropocentric approach to faith that we forget that God is the source of both faith and knowledge. We begin to see the process starting with us, with our bookshelves, reading, study and catechism classes, and the revelatory aspect of faith fades. Put simply, we begin to understand faith back-to-front. Faith begins with revelation, so faith  and knowledge necessarily begin with God. 

In our daily services we pray: “Blessed are Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes. Blessed are Thou, O Master, grant me understanding of Thy statutes.  Blessed are Thou, O Holy One, grant me understanding of Thy statutes.”

This is nothing less than a prayer for Divine Revelation, and for God to grant us the gift of understanding what He has revealed to us.

This revelation is part of our personal relationship with the Living God, and though we may read and study dogmatics and theological treatises, spiritual-understanding is ultimately a gift from God – Who, if He so wishes can totally bypass all of the usual channels and mechanics of learning. 

We read and hear the stories of God-Bearing ascetics whom others presumed to be highly educated, as they ably expounded the teachings of the dogmatic and ascetical Fathers, and great swathes of the Philokalia. Those who knew the ascetics explained the truth – that these men had not been schooled, were sometimes illiterate, and had never possessed, let alone read a book.  Rather, through asceticism and pure prayer, they acquired the Mind of Christ, and in that Mind and through the Divine Encounter, Truth was opened and revealed to them. 

What do we sing in the Beatitudes, the third antiphon of the Liturgy? “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God”… the pure in heart, not the learned, educated and knowledgeable.

God does not need university degrees and accolades of higher education, but purity and openness to faith. This is how the fishermen were made most-wise, and became theologians who knew (rather than knew about) the Incarnate-God, who revealed Himself to them in the purity of their hearts and minds.

The Lord reveals Himself to the pure in heart, and no matter how educated we are, without striving for that purity we can have no experiential knowledge of God: no personal encounter, but can only know about Him, rather than knowing Him. For those of great sanctity, their purity is enough, and within it, God may reveal all things.

As we celebrate Divine Revelation in this feast, how ironic it was that the authorities scoffed at the child chosen by the Mother of God, so that Matrona and her mother had to dig themselves to find the sacred treasure; how those in authority looked down on a mere child, refusing to believe her and dismissing her claim; and how they insulted God in not considering the possibility that He might chose a mere child as the herald of revelation.

But through all of this, God and the Theotokos teach us a salutary lesson by choosing a child. 

What does Christ tell us? “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  

This is the upside-down-ness of the Gospel at work, yet so many people are still far from grasping this. 

The example of the child, Matrona should encourage us to struggle to preserve child-like innocence and trust in God in our Christian lives; recognising that God is the source of knowledge and Faith, no matter how much or how hard we read and study, and that although it is important for us to deepen our knowledge of Faith, true knowledge and understanding are ultimately a gift of God, and not the fruit of learning.

Revelation does not depend upon our intellectual abilities, depth of learning or theological knowledge. We remain powerless and reliant on God, the Source of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

For our catechumens, still learning and perhaps with gaps in knowledge; for our newly baptised, at the beginning of the journey of Faith; for those who feel that others are for more knowledgeable or educated than them – this feast is a challenge and an encouragement.

Trust in God as the source of knowledge and Truth, and work with Him to acquire true knowledge. Be active in seeking to learn His statutes, but by trusting in Him and not in your own ability.

And as we strive for the understanding of the Law of God, let us heed the Paschal Canon’s words, “Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with inaccessible light of the Resurrection, and shall hear Him saying clearly, “Rejoice!” As we sing the triumphant hymns!” 

Let us – with our busy, complicated, worrisome and temptation-clouded lives – strive for child-like purity, simplicity and trust, so that we may not only seek Him, but have Him reveal His truth unto us, and by becoming like little children, enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

On the Feast of the Royal Martyrs

Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Feast!  

Mosaic in the crypt of the Church on the Blood, above the spot on which the Imperial Family were martyred.

It was great blessing to celebrate the Holy Royal Martyrs today, and in so doing, we looked beyond the bloody-horror and violence of their martyrdom to appreciate the priceless treasure that God has granted to the Orthodox people by calling the Imperial Family to enter the mystery of Golgotha, and  to drink from the cup of suffering and martyrdom, as they were conformed to the image of the Saviour, as we heard in the Apostle reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans: 

“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  (Romans 8: 29-30)

As God lovers, He called the Royal-Martyrs “according to His purpose”, and in their suffering for that Divine purpose – contrary to the wisdom of the world – they were conformed to the image of Christ, the Suffering Servant, pouring out Himself for His people, until He was without beauty or comeliness. 

In the Gospel for the feast, we heard, 

“If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:18-20) 

The world vision promoted by Lenin (returned to Russia at the expense of the Western powers) and his fellow Bolsheviks, was at odds of the world represented by the Royal Martyrs: of Christian Monarchy defending and promoting the Church and Faith; of society built upon the precepts of the Gospel; of national life in which the Church, Divine Services, and Christian Tradition was shaped by the rhythms and routines of the fasts and feasts, and the seasons of the Christian year. 

As a visible embodiment of Orthodox authority, Christian governance and sacral-kingship, the Royal Martyrs were an impossible threat to the Marxist-Leninist vision, the Royal Martyrs and had to be destroyed – by lies, deception and hate, and ultimately by the violence to which these gave license. 

For Orthodox Christians the resultant false ‘histories’ and mythologies necessary to dehumanise the Royal Martyrs, to justify unspeakable violence, and to desensitise the Russian people and the wider world to the horrors of the Ipatiev House and the Four Brothers Mine are an irrelevance and distraction from the glorious works of grace wrought by God through His saints. 

In the 1990’s, after aCcross had been set up on the site of the Ipatiev House, it was illumined by a heavenly light, as the clouds opened and rotated above the Cross, and no snow fell within the large circle of light which fell upon the ground around the site of the martyrdom. In the same decade, a former guard of the “Museum of the Workers’ Revenge” in the Ipatiev House signed an affidavit describing how she would hear beautiful church-singing from the basement room of execution, and that light shone from beneath the door during the night.

In on November 7 1997, the anniversary of the Revolution, an icon of the Tsar-Martyr began to weep myrrh, and the following May, during a procession to mark the Tsar’s birtday, another icon began to weep myrrh during a procession. At this time. of course, the Moscow Patriarchate had yet to canonise the Royal Martyrs. Our Russian Orthodox Church Church Outside of Russia had already done so in 1981.

Through the prayers of the Royal Martyrs, the godless have been brought to Faith; hardened hearts have been softened; the young have been delivered from depression, despair and destructive lives; addicts have been delivered from alcohol and drugs; childless women have been granted children; students have received help in studies; soldiers and refugees have been delivered fom capture and great dangers; families have been reconciled and healed; the sick and infirm have received healing – such as a blind child who received sight after his face was covered with a towel that had absorbed the myrrh from a myrrh-weeping icon of the Tsar.

We encounter the sanctity, rightness, and righteousness of the Royal Martyrs in these miracles, and to those of Faith, the lies and salacious stories bandied in the newspapers in America, Britain, and the Russia ‘proletarian-press’ on the eve of the revolution, seem two-dimensional, flimsy and ridiculous compared to the miracles through which Almighty God has glorified the Royal-Martyrs ever since their martyrdom. 

To return to the Apostle, “…whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified” – and despite the lies the world invented and wrote about them, God has glorified the Royal Martyrs through countless miracles and outpourings of grace. 

Through earthly suffering, they were translated to heavenly glory and, as the Russian Empire and the wider world was gripped by the satanic plague of Bolshevism and Revolution, the All-Merciful Lord raised up the Royal Martyrs as intercessors and as spiritual warriors whose intercessions and merciful care for their land would resurrect the Russian Orthodox Church and people. 

For the faithful, the countless miracles and wonders of the Royal Martyrs should dissolve the propaganda, myths and lies invented, not only by communists, but also by the western powers who sought the destruction of the dynasty as part of the destruction of Russia as a world- power at the beginning of the 20th century – the same powers who wished to see a defeated and humiliated Russia carved up into ‘zones of influence’ distributed between themselves.

And, as we read of the events surrounding the end of the House of Romanov, and the passion and sufferings of the Royal Martyrs, we should not worry ourselves with imagined alternative outcomes; ‘what-ifs’ – imagining how things could have been different though a White Army Victory or escape form the Urals; or rueing over the lack of rescue by royal relatives. 

The lives of various holy men and women make it clear that the death of the Imperial Family was their calling – their sacrificial-vocation – to ultimately play their own metaphysical and spiritual part in the deliverance and salvation of Russia from the darkness and evil which it was entering. “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” (Romans 8:36-37) For the Royal Martyrs, there suffering was not only for the sake of Christ, but for the sake of Russia.

It is widely believed that their fate had been revealed to St Seraphim of Sarov, who recorded this in a letter shortly before his death in 1833, sealing it with five wax seals and addressing it “to the fourth sovereign who will arrive in Sarov, and as yet is not known”. At the canonisation of St Seraphim in 1903, the letter was given to the Tsar, who wept bitterly on reading it, but kept the contents a secret. 

In Diveyevo, on their return from the canonisation, the Tsar and Tsarina visited Blessed Pasha of Sarov, who told the Tsar, “Your Highness, come down from the throne yourself.” 

Before her death she had her cell-attendants physically support her to make prostrations before the Tsar’s portrait, and when they asked her “Why, Mamashenka, do you pray so to the Tsar?” she replied “Silly ones. He will be higher than all the Tsars.” Shortly before her death in 1915, having already called him a martyr, Blessed Pasha kissed the feet of his portrait, saying, “My dear one is already near the end.”  

The following year, in 1916, the Eldress Maria Mikhailovna of the Novgorod-Desyarina monastery greeted the visiting Empress with the words, “Here comes the martyr, Tsaritsa Alexandra!” And, in May the same year, a startets in the Sarov Hermitage, related a vision to the celebrated writer, Sergei Nilus: 

“At a time of his profound sorrow over the sufferings of the Royal Family, when he was praying for them with tears, he fell asleep during his prayers. He saw himself in Tsarskoe Selo, and over the Alexander Palace there stood a bright, radiant pillar that reached up to heaven. Then the elder went up to the palace, where he saw a wondrous vision. The Emperor was sitting at a desk, occupied with writing. Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was sitting at another small table reading books. Close by, the Empress and her daughters were sitting and doing handiwork, and among them was the radiant Elder, St. Seraphim, the Wonderworker of Sarov, giving them spiritual instruction and consolation. When Elder Seraphim saw the archimandrite he went up to him and said, ‘Don’t be too grieved. Father, don’t be despondent; God will not abandon His chosen and beloved children. He has the power to snatch them away from evildoers, but He desires for them, not earthly happiness, but heavenly. It is easier for the Lord to send legions of angels to destroy all their enemies than it is for us to speak a word, but He only takes away their enemies’ reason, so that they destroy themselves. The Lord has sent me for a while to console, strengthen and protect the Royal sufferers, for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and they have need of our heavenly assistance in difficult moments of sorrow. Look at the resplendent light that emanates from the faces of the Royal sufferers — this is a sign that they are under God’s special care, as righteous ones. Just as, from the beginning of the world, the righteous have been vilified, wronged and slandered by iniquitous people — followers of the first liar and deceiver, the devil; so also have these righteous Royal sufferers been vilified, humiliated, slandered and wronged by evil people, instigated by the same universal evildoer who rose up against the righteous ones and against our Creator and God Himself, Christ, the Giver of life. Look at the face of the Empress and you will see that the light emanating from her face is brighter than the others — this is a sign that she has borne more slanders and false accusations than anyone, from followers of the universal slanderer.’ This vision made such a powerful impression on the archimandrite that when he related it he could not restrain his tears.” 

Placing their hope in God, the Royal Martyrs accepted the portion He allotted them, and accepting their cup of suffering, they lived in a spiritual and prayerful captivity, reassured of the love of God through their Faith and relationship with Him, reflecting the sentiments of the Apostle: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” (Romans 8:35-37) 

Peace and trust in God shine through this realisation, and can be seen in royal correspondence, such as in the letter that the Empress wrote to Colonel A.V. Syroboyarsky from detention in Tsarskoe Selo, in 1917,: 

“Everything can be endured if you feel His (God’s) presence and love and if you believe in Him steadfastly in everything. Severe trials are helpful – they prepare us for the other life, for the distant journey.  

It is easier to bear one’s own sufferings than to see the woe of others without it being possible to help them… 

One must ever thank God for all that He gives, and even if He took it away, then perhaps, when one endures without a murmur, all will be even brighter. One must always hope… 

You see, we have not lost our faith, and I hope we never will. It alone provides strength, the streadfastness of spirit, to endure all. And one must be grateful for everything, for it could be much worse…Isn’t that so?” 

If we, as Christian people can reflect this spiritual fortitude, constant hope in God and immense Faith, refusing to lose our trust in His love, then that love will flow into the world with a joy that shocks and challenges evil, violence and cruelty with the mind of Christ, so that we can join with the Apostle Paul, with the Royal Martyrs and all the saints in confessing “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) 

Emulating the Royal Martyrs in Faith, let us put aside earthly cares, knowing that all things are in the hands of God, and that whatever may happen to us in life, His love remains immeasurable and immovable; His inscrutable will always seeks what is needful for us in the eternal scheme of His providence and wisdom, rather than according to the fickle standards and measures of success in  the world; and that in all things He seeks our transformation to reflect His image and likeness and to be with Him in the endless blessedness of the Kingdom – not a temporary and passing Kingdom of this world, but the endless glory of the age to come. 

Let us abandon ourselves into His hands, with the faith, hope, humility and spiritual-courage of the Royal Martyrs.

Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us!