22 November OS 2017 – Nativity Fast; 10th Week of St. Luke; Afterfeast of the Entry of the Theotokos; Ss. Philemon and Archippus, Apostles
Today we continue to celebrate the Great Feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, on which we recall how at the age of three she was dedicated to the Lord by her holy parents Joachim and Anna, in fulfillment of the vow they had made when beseeching the Lord for a child. From the age of three until she was betrothed to the Righteous Joseph, she dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, being fed by an angel and contemplating the highest divine mysteries continuously, remaining in ceaseless prayer at all times.
St. Gregory Palamas, in his Second Homily on the Entry, brings to light many remarkable insights of the Church into the great mystery of the Theotokos – who she is and what is her part in the great mystery of salvation. Here is one profound passage:
She alone forms the boundary between created and uncreated nature, and no one can come to God except through her and the Mediator born of her, and none of God’s gifts can be bestowed on angels or men except through her. As in the case with lamps on earth constructed of glass of some other transparent material, it is impossible to look at the light or enjoy its rays except through the lamp, so it is beyond the reach of all to look upwards to God or be helped by Him to make progress in any direction, except through the Ever-Virgin, this God-bearing lamp who is truly radiant with divine brightness. “God is in the midst of her,” it says, “she shall not be moved (Ps. 45:5).” – from “On the Entry of the Mother of God into the Holy of Holies II,” in The Homilies by St. Gregory Palamas (Mount Thabor Publishing).
What this means practically for us is that we must wholeheartedly pray to Panagia (the Most Holy Theotokos) for our salvation and that of those whom we love. No one comes to the Father apart from Jesus Christ, and no one comes to Jesus Christ apart from the Holy Virgin Mary. There is a mistaken notion among modernist Orthodox that we have a core of beliefs in common with the iconoclasts (today represented by the Protestants), to which core the veneration of the Holy Virgin and having a relationship with her is a secondary or optional addition, good but not necessary, an “enrichment.” This is false. There is no salvation for a Christian who refuses honor, homage, and childlike supplication to the Holy Virgin. True Christian life includes not only assenting to the dogmas about the Mother of God, but also having a lively relationship in prayer with the Mother of God.
The Church’s treasury of prayer provides us with the means to acquire this relationship. The two pre-eminent and most beloved forms of prayer to the Theotokos are the Salutations (Hairetismoi) of the Akathist Hymn and the Small Canon of the Supplication (Paraklisis) to the Mother of God. Many pious families throughout the centuries have made a practice of saying one or the other (or both!) of these every day. We could resolve to do this, or to adopt another practice, such as saying the prayer “Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice…” (Theotoke Parthene) so many times per day, or a daily prayer rope of 33 or 100 prayers, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!”
We also have the great, inestimable gift of being able to run to the Holy Virgin with all of our sorrows in time of need. When we are at our lowest, when things seem at their worst, when we see no way out of this or that situation, let us run to our icons, fall down on our knees in prayer and prostrations, and beg Our Most Pure Lady to help us. She is truly our Mother, and she cares for us incalculably more than our own mothers according to the flesh. She is the Joy of All Who Sorrow and Quick to Hear all those in need. Let us lay bare our souls and hearts before her in prayer, and we will receive speedy consolation through the grace of Her divine Son, whose virginal and immaculate Nativity from the immaculate Virgin we are now preparing to celebrate.
My most holy Lady, Mother of God, by thy holy and all-powerful prayers banish from me, they humble, wretched servant, despondency, forgetfulness, folly, carelessness, and impure, evil, and blasphemous thoughts out of my wretched heart and my darkened mind. And quench the flame of my passions, for I am poor and wretched, and deliver me from my many cruel memories and deeds, and free me from all their bad effects; for blessed art thou by all generations, and glorified is thy most honorable name to the ages of ages. Amen. – from the Morning Prayers in the Prayer Book published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY, 1960 edition.