Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Network
Syriac Orthodox Church
Syriac Orthodox Church In Malankara (India)
A Discourse On The Annunciation Of The Most Holy Theotokos
By Saint Basil Of Seleucla
1. Our difficulty in attempting to praise the Theotokos. i) Whosoever wishes to praise the Holy Virgin, the Theotokos, will find great reasons for constructing his praises. As for my part, however, being fully aware of my weakness, which is insufficient for a proper response to the magnitude of the events, I remained captive to my astonishment for a long time. I was like a man, weighed down with a heavy load, who had been commanded to immerse himself into a vast ocean and was in agony as to how he would afterwards get out of it. Being laden with my sins, I am hesitant to attempt to speak about this matter, realizing that it is a most crucial task, which only those purified in body and soul, i.e. those who have been enriched with the dazzling light of the divine grace, can undertake. I, however, am destitute of such boldness. My lips have not been cleansed with the divine coal, as Isaiah did, who saw the Seraphim. Nor have I loosened the sandals from the feet of my soul, as the divine Moses did.
2. Our Difficulty in receiving Divine Revelation: The example of Moses. We see, however, that even those who ministered to such magnificent realities experienced dizziness. Like that great Moses, the most meek of all human beings, whom God Himself invited and sent him to minister to and liberate His people, declined to undertake this task for a long time. He actually did this, in spite of the fact that he received great and divine signs, boosting his faith. Indeed, after the liberation from Egypt he was encouraged with greater miracles. He had struck the sea with his rod and opened a way for the people to pass without getting wet feet. That was the time when the fluid nature of the waters of the sea was assimilated with the nature of rough-hewn stones which formed an irremovable wall from both sides. That was also the time when by striking the same rod the solid and arid rock flooded the desert with a plenitude of running currents of rivers. That was again the time when the bitterness of some other waters was transformed into sweetness with the interference of a piece of wood; and when an innumerable crowd of people were fed to the point of satiety with bread that came down from heaven like rain in a manner most weird. That was the time when so many other things were incurred, above and beyond those already mentioned, by the same Moses, which surpass the comprehension of any thoughtful reasoning.
And yet, after such an experience of miracles, when he was asked to ascend to Sinai and to receive the plates that had been written with the finger of God, Moses ordered the others to stay away from the mountainsides and to abstain from having intercourse with their wives; and he ordered the ministers of the Tabernacle of Witness (i.e. the Temple) to climb a little higher, to keep apart from communicating with the laity. And he did this in order to teach the faithful concerning the difference of the priestly order and stance. Finally he placed higher than all the rest Aaron, the High-priest, although he allocated him a place outside the cloud. From all these people, it was Moses alone that approached God and was taught the harmonious constitution of the heavens and how to institute their typological manifestation. Moses, then, who was so great in virtue, hearing the clamor of the trumpets, the thundering and the lightening and acquiring the experience of the other frightful events, was seized by such excessive agony that he was no longer able to hold his own thoughts, but shouted like a person that was struck by fear and horror.
3. Our starting-point must be God and nothing else. ii) This is what Moses did, who heard God speaking to him with visionary experiences and not with riddles and spoke with him mouth to mouth. It is obvious then, what fear would seize me in my wish to offer praises to the Theotokos. I fear in case I deviate from the truth and, although I wish to offer honor with what I shall say, I might err by saying something which is not worthy of the Holy Virgin; and this is so, because my purpose is not to climb up to some tangible mountain. Nor is it to penetrate through the thin layer of atmosphere which surrounds the earth so that I can be brightened with the beautiful dawn of the ethereal substance. My purpose is, as it ought to be, to surpass the amazing arrangement of all these cosmic elements and, as soon as I reach the heavenly apses, not to stand looking at their beauty, but to surpass them with the help of the Holy Spirit, who leads us into the divine mysteries. I also wish to go beyond the choirs of the Angels and to leave them behind me together with their Taxiarchs; to proceed beyond the brightness of the Thrones and the honorable superiority of the Dominions, the hegemony of the Principalities, and the pride of the Authorities. I also wish to go beyond the dominion of the Divine Powers, the discerning power of purity of the many-eyed Cherubim and the unlimited movement of the six-winged Seraphim; and if there is also any other kind of created existence beyond all these, I wish that it shall not stand as an obstacle to my ascent and my decision.
If there is any man who, in spite of his being tied to the flesh, is able to glance boldly with the meddlesome eyes of his mind and grasp the co-eternal radiance of the Paternal glory (i.e. Christ) with the brilliance and power of true enlightenment, he should start from there to describe the fame of the Theotokos, since she truly is and is truly called Theotokos. Is there anything higher than She? Of course not, inasmuch as there is nothing to be imagined that exists between the Godhead and her humanity. Thus, as it is not easy for anyone to think and to speak about God, for this is something completely impossible, likewise the great mystery of the Theotokos goes beyond every conception and speech. Since, however, she is called Theotokos, because she gave birth to God who became incarnate, I will ascend to God with prayer and will make him the king of my speech. Master, Almighty, King of all Creation, You who enlighten ineffably the incorporeal mind of human beings with Your spiritual Light (noero phos), enlighten my mind that I may perceive the mystery that lies before me without straying, and may speak reverently about my perception transmitting with integrity what I shall speak about. And I say this, because I know that whoever wishes to speak about God runs a triple danger: either to fail to be enlightened, or to slacken in his speech, or to fail to hear the word.
4. The right approach to God: Purify, then, your senses worthily, and come to hear the theological discourse in a manner that befits God. First of all we must all believe that God exists, because the more the human mind stretches upwards, the more it perceives that it is impossible to obtain understanding of God’s existence. Indeed, if he were to labor to say something magnificent, his speech would fall short of the truth. Who, then, can comprehend that which is incomprehensible? Who can speak of that which is ineffable? How could the clay, which received a soul from God, and is ignorant of its own essence, perceive of God who breathed the soul into it? If there is a student of orthodox piety, he will not speculate concerning what God is. He will simply bear in mind that God exists, starting with the things that were created by Him and gaining from them a sense of the divine existence. “For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionately the maker of them is seen” (Wisdom of Solomon, 13:5), i.e. the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the unoriginate origin of all beings, the rich source of radiations, the all-beautiful beauty of the good gifts. The Triad is recognized as a Monad and the Monad is worshiped as a Triad. It is according to the image of this supreme glory that man was made, enriched with divine radiations.
5. Our problem in approaching God and God’s intervention in Christ. This beauty, however, was darkened by the stain of sin, which transformed us into a beastly kind. As David the Psalmist put it, “And man, being in honor, does not understand: he is compared to the irrational beasts with which he was assimilated” (Ps. 48:13). Indeed, man fell below his assimilation with the beasts, as Scripture points out: “The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib, but Israel does not know me and my people have no regard for me” (Isaiah 1:3). Although we were chastised in many ways, we did not return to the higher life, but rather took pleasure in the evil ways of life. Yet, in spite of all that we did, the Master did not disdain his servants. He remembered his mercies, although He never forgot them, and He moved to a greater excess of love for mankind. “Where sin abounded, grace super-abounded” (Rom. 5:20). When He saw us being in despair and unable to help ourselves with our works, but rather being lost through them, and that there was little left before we were all annihilated, he underwent some kind of change (if we may say so), out of sympathy for us. He changed to affection, which we did not deserve, the wrath which we deserved. This is why He sent to the image that was corrupted the maker of the image, in order to restore to it the colors of His goodness. This is why He took upon Him the form of the servant, He who was in the form of God. He did this in order to liberate those who had been led captives to sin; to bring them back to their initial nobility; to raise them to the status of sons of His heavenly Father; to reform them in accordance with His own image. “For those who received Him,” Scripture says, “to them He gave authority to become children of God” (John 1:14). Let no one disparage me, please, if I promised other things in my introduction and now I am occupied with different themes. What I say is to the glory of God our benefactor and at the same time to the glory of His Mother. To Him, then I return the discourse.
6. The Intervention of Christ. iii) Since, then, he wanted to cleanse the image and decided to make the flesh immortal, he put on the flesh in order to heal the same by the same. He became perfect man in all respects, in order to work out a perfect salvation for the man whom He created. He did this, because, since the initial model of our generation was condemned on account of our sin, there was need for a second initial model which would be sinless and would fulfill all kinds of righteousness. It is by such means that the entire body is reconstructed in union with its head and is offered again to humanity. Thus, as we died in Adam, so we might live with Christ. He could have saved us, of course, without the incarnation, since He does what he decides completely freely. But, He wanted to demonstrate that the nature that was defeated by sin is with Him greater than sin, and thus, to condemn sin in His flesh; to extent His righteousness to all humanity; and to abolish the devil who has the dominion of death. As the divine Apostle says: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us too” (Rom. 8:3,4). “Since, therefore, the children share in flesh and blood, he himself, likewise partook of the same nature, that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). He did not prepare for the encounter with the enemy as He did, because as God He has unconquerable and impervious power, but because He wanted Adam to revoke his own defeat and thus He condescended to the great mystery of the Inhomination, taking upon Him the veil of the flesh and speaking through it to the human beings that had been toed to the flesh. He did this, so that as all things were made by Him, likewise all may be saved by Him as well.
Here one could certainly ask: What, then? Did God neglect the human race in the years that preceded this miracle? No, my friend, I would answer. God provided for our race from the beginning, giving us the appropriate teaching. He led us to His invisible Godhead, by using as means the visible creatures. He also placed inside us the natural law for the knowledge of good and evil. He gave us the power of the imperial rationality, like a charioteer and perfect governor. Since. However, all these goods that were given, were misused by the ancients –inasmuch as, admiring the beauty of the creatures, they did not glorify the Creator, but “worshiped the creation, instead of the Creator” (Rom. 1:25), while they violated the natural law and stayed to unnatural evil. And so God gave them written laws, which teach the true knowledge of God and lead to the path of virtue, and also judges, kings, prophets, priests, who guided them to the better manner of life. In spite of these, the souls of human beings were gravely sick, until the appearance of the healer, who arose out of a virginal chamber.
7. The Miracle of the Incarnation and its relation to man’s creation. (iv.) Arriving at this point of my discourse, and encountering the wealth of the miracle, I remain speechless with amazement. I find no words that match these realities. In what manner could I praise this paradoxical grace? How can I glorify the source of divine philanthropy? How can I present the river of God’s love for the humankind? How can I dare investigate the oceanic depth of this great mystery, unless You, O Theotokos, teach me, who is inexperienced, so that I “may put off the old man who is corruptible with the desires of the deceit” (Eph. 4:22)? How indeed, can I enter into the depths of your pregnancy and find the pearl of the truth, unless I am enlightened by the light of your mercy, and you fill the mouth of my mind with it? Help me in my effort to grasp this truth, so that, having You as my teacher, I may speak about You; not explaining how You gave birth to the incarnate Word – since the manner of this birth transcends the how – but declaring the fact that You became a Mother and remained a Virgin, and that He who was born from You became true man, although He remained true God, restoring the creation of His hands. He is the One who formed man at the beginning and who has transformed him through Himself in these last days. In other words, He is the One who took soil from the earth and constituted Adam, and ensouled him with a spirit that came from Him. But He did not show Adam the manner in which He formed him, in order to debar from him his curious audacity. Thus, being ignorant of the composition of clay and soul, man would not investigate the union of God with the flesh. It was as if He told him: Do not dare ascend to heaven, when you are fallen on the earth. Consider who you are, how you were created, how you were formed, how you were ensouled, how something that is bodiless dwells in your body. Is this bodiless element extended to all the members of the body? Or is it contracted so that it is contained by one member alone? If it is extended, then it makes no sense, because to be able to extend is a property that characterizes bodies. All of us know, however, that the soul is bodiless. If, on the other hand, it contracts, then it makes no sense at all, because then not only the bodiless element will appear to be some kind of body, but also the other members of the human body will appear to be dead, since they will lack the presence of the soul which enlivens them.
8. The ‘Logic’ of the Incarnation. Do you see, therefore, how inconceivable is the conception of these things? How, then, could you discover what lies beyond your potentialities? If, of course, you could understand your existence, then naturally, you would also investigate my incarnation as well. But even then, it would be too daring on your part to do so, because there is an infinite chasm between God and human beings. If, indeed, you do not know your own existence, how will you know the one which transcends you? Therefore, let the insane ones become sane by abandoning the Jewish intoxication, i.e. those who say that it is impossible for a woman to conceive without contact with a man. What, then, is more difficult for them to accept, that one can be born of a woman, or that one is formed from the earth? That a virginal womb can conceive, or that the earth can be ensouled, so that it can see, hear, and do whatever it wishes? God, then, again took soil and formed man. Again He took soil from the Virgin, i.e. the flesh which He took from her, and formed man, in the manner that He knows, and became Himself man. How, then, those who believed in the former, belie the latter? And how do they confess the almighty power of God in connection with the former, but reproach Him in connection with the latter? Because He who created the former, He also renewed the latter. We must not say, then, that there is anything that is impossible for God, because wherever God is at work, there the impossibility is abolished. Nor is there anything disgraceful in connection with the human nature, according to the prudent judges of the truth. Our entire body has the role of an instrument, since it does not know what to do by itself, but simply serves our will. The soul uses the body as a musician, striking the notes of virtue, or carries out the cracklings of evil. No one, therefore, should regard the human body as indecent, or defame it as something alien to God. Because it is not how a creature is that brings shame, but how it acts that incurs disgrace. It is not the eye, nor the hand, nor any other member of the body that sins, but he who misuses the hand, the eye and the other members. This is, indeed, why the Creator became a communicant of the human nature, receiving a human birth from the Virgin and Theotokos; that He may truly put on flesh that was ensouled, but without participating in the act of the lawless. As Scripture says, “He committed no sin, and no guile was found in his lips” (cf. Is. 53:9 and II Pet. 22).
9. The unique Dimensions of the Incarnation. O holy womb, God-bearer, within which the written record of sin was torn apart, God became man, while remaining God, endured the pregnancy, underwent a birth as we human beings do, without emptying the bosom of the Father, although he filled the embrace of His Mother. God is not partitioned when He operates what He wills. He remains undivided and procures the salvation of the world. Gabriel, of course, abandoned the heavens when he came to the Virgin and Theotokos. The Word of God, however, who fills all things, did not abandon the heavens, where He is worshiped, when He became incarnate inside the Theotokos. Just as the word which is written on a piece of paper is entirely imprinted on it, and is also entirely present in the mind which gave birth to it, and, in addition, is entirely present within those who read it, likewise the Word of God, or rather as the Word Himself knows, is entirely within His body and entirely within His Father, and fills the heavens and contains the earth and upholds the entire creation. Who can arraign God for mediocrity? Who will reproach Him for His becoming poor for our sake and thereby making us rich in the kingdom of heaven? What will they say who suffer from impious piety? Who “fear for a fear, where there is no fear” (Ps. 52:6)? Will God suffer something, as they think, although He is the one who heals the passions of human beings with impassibility? They wonder whether the birth of God who became incarnate was entrusted to a woman’s womb. But this is how God is glorified! This is how He is shown to be impassible, since the passible body which He put on was the one that clearly manifested the impassibility of the Godhead. Indeed, if the created sun does not suffer any pollution in its purity when it comes in touch with filthy and unsavory places, how could this not be far more the case with the Sun of righteousness who enlightening a pure Virgin and taking from her His all-holy body remains impassible within it as God? This is indeed the case, because, when human beings had come face to face with perfect destruction, and had lost all hope of salvation, God’s coming was needed to take place, as the prophets had foretold.
10. The Prophetic witness to the Incarnation. Isaiah said, “Behold the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they call his name Emmanuel, which means God with us” (Is. 8:14, Luke 1:31). And again, “Because a Child was born to us, a Son was given for us, whose authority will be on His shoulders… etc… Father of the age to come” (Is. 9:6). And elsewhere, again the same prophet foresees the communion in Christ which will be formed from foreign nations, and says, “Behold our God, He will come and will save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then the lame shall jump as the deer and the tongue of the mute will be mighty” (Is. 35:4,5). Jeremiah shouts in Baruch, “He is opur God, and no one else shall be regarded as a God beside Him. He invented every path of knowledge and gave it to Jacob, His child, and to Israel, His beloved. Then He appeared on the earth, and was conversed with human beings” (Baruch 3:36). Micah says, “And you Bethlehem, house of Ephratha, are not insignificant among the thousands of Judah. From you a leader will be raised for me who will be the ruler of Israel. And his going out is from the beginning, from the days of the age” (Micah 5:2). Zachariah also says, “Rejoice and be glad daughter of Zion, cause I come and will dwell in your midst, dsays the Lord. And many nations will turn to the Lord and will constitute His people” (Zachariah 2:10,11).
The heavenly Daniel, declaring the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, speaks about the birth from the Virgin as follows: “I was looking until a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands and destroyed the image” (Dan. 2:34). And a little further on, “And the stone which destroyed the image became a great mountain which filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35). Then, explaining that dream, he says: “And in the days of those kings, God will raise a kingdom from heaven, which will not be corrupted in the age. And his kingdom will not be delivered to anyone else. He will reduce and sift all other kingdoms, and will be resurrected throughout the ages” (Dan. 2:44). And again, the same prophet says: “I saw a night vision and behold there came along with the clouds of the sky someone like a Son of Man, who arrived before the ancient of days. And then, all authority and honor and the kingdom was given to Him, and all the nations and races and tongues were subjected to Him. His authority is an eternal authority, which will never pass away. And His kingdom will not be corrupted” (Dan. 7:13,14). Zephaniah says: “The Lord will appear to them, and will destroys all the gods of the nations, and each one of them will bow to Him in its place” (Zeph. 2:11). Above all of them and more than them, however, it is David the prophet-king that cries: “He will come down like rain upon the fleece, and like a drop that drips upon the earth. And He will prevail from the one sea to the other and from the rivers to the ends of the inhabited world” (Ps. 71:6,7). And a little later, “His name will be blessed unto all the ages. And it existed before the sun. And through Him all the races of the earth will be blessed and all the nations will call Him Blessed” (Ps. 71:38).
11. The Annunciation of the Theotokos. (v.) What need is there to bring to the middle what the prophets said, that foretold the presence of Christ which came about through the Theotokos? What magnificent voice could worthily praise the Theotokos, since it was through her that we received so many good gifts? What flowers of praises can we use to make the crown that we owe Her? It was from her that the flower of Jesse sprouted afresh, and She crowned our race with glory and honor. What proper gifts can we offer Her, since all the things of the world are unworthy of Her? If Paul says about the Saints, that “the world is not worthy of them” (Heb. 11:38), what should we say about the Theotokos, who shines so much more above all the martyrs as the sun transcends the brightness of the stars? O virginity, which rightfully makes the angels rejoice, who are sent to minister to human beings, although they previously disdained our race. Gabriel rejoices, because God entrusted to him the annunciation of the divine conception. This is why he begins his greeting with the joy and the grace: “Rejoice, who are full of grace, the Lord is with You” (Luke 1:28). “Rejoice, who are full of grace”, i.e. let Your face shine with joy. Because it is from You that the joy of all human beings will be born, and from You that that the ancient curse will cease, since the dominion of death will be abolished, and all will receive the hope of the resurrection. “Rejoice, who are full of grace”, You, the unfading paradise of purity, in which the tree of life was planted, in order to bear the fruit of salvation for all human beings and to open the fourfold fountain of the Gospels which springs forth rivers of compassion to those who believe. “Rejoice, who are full of grace” as You mediate between God and human beings, so that the middle wall of the enmity might be abolished, and the heavens might be united with the earthly beings. “The Lord is with You”! Because You are, indeed, the worthy temple of God, which sheds forth the perfume of purity, and in which the Great High-Priest will come to dwell, who will be according to the order of Melchizedek, “motherless” and “fatherless” (Heb. 7:3) –“motherless” because He is “from the Father” and “fatherless”, because He is “from You the Mother”! “And when She saw,” Scripture says, “she was greatly troubled at his words” (Luke 1:29), because these words that he said to Her were very strange. But Gabriel, to remove all agony and psychic trouble, forestalls the ignorance with the consolation, and says: “You have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). And immediately afterwards he presents to Her the grace which surpasses any other, as he says to Her: “Behold, You will conceive and bear a Son, who will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. To Him the Lord God will give the throne of David, his father, and He will reign in the house of Jacob eternally, so that His kingdom will have no end. And Mary said to the angel. How can this happen to me, since I do not know a man” (Luke 1:31-34)? There is no other way for women to conceive, she says, except by association with a man. How, then, is it possible that such an immaculate experience can take place in me? Your strange annunciation brings to me a message which is difficult to accept. How can I produce fruit without seed? How can I give birth to a son while I am still unmarried? Your questions are reasonable, says the Archangel, and I beg your forgiveness that I respond to You. I foretell the birth, but I cannot explain the manner it will take place. This is exactly the only thing that I know. This conception will not take place with the mediation of a man, but with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It will be the power of the Most High that will overshadow You, and will accomplish this event. Why, then, do You put forth the law of nature before the lawgiver of nature? For, how can You welcome your Maker if You are not strengthened by the very Same? Is your womb wider than the heavens? Do you perhaps surpass the magnitude of the creation, or who can contain the Creator within her nature? Your ally is beside You! “The power of the Most High will overshadow You”! If this power did not overshadow You, You would not contain the One who is uncontainable. If He who is to be born of You does not cooperate with You at His birth, the clay will not be able to uphold its Maker. Since, again, You ask me, how can the seedless produce fruit (?) put this in Your mind, in order to believe the miracle. How was it that at the beginning of creation the earth produced fruit without seeds? He who made it possible for the earth to bring forth fruit, He will also make possible for your womb to bring forth fruit. To the former one was said, “Let the earth produce herb of grass” (Gen. 1:11), and thus the nature of things came to pass, and all things were beautified with all kinds of fruit. To You, however, is said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon You, and the Power of the Most High will overshadow You, and He who will be born of You will be called Holy, Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
12. The Mystery of the Divine Birth. “Behold the servant of the Lord, let it be done to me according to Your Word” (Luke 1:38). That was the moment when the procedure of the divine conception was put to operation. What logic could fathom the unsurpassable ocean of the unwedded pregnancy? Which mind is so clear and powerful in perception as to see the unseen? Here there is need of language superior to the human, or rather truly divine inspiration which will grant the result of the investigation. How did the uncreated and uncontainable essence of the Word, which has nothing in common with anything in creation, at which not even the Cherubim dare to look, although they are superior to all the other orders, come to share in the powerless and earthly nature of humanity? This is a Mystery that took place then and continues to be a Mystery. At that time, creation encountered what was never seen before, a Son, who was father of the birth-giver, an Infant who preexisted his mother, a Child who was more ancient than the ages! And this was so, because He who was born was not a mere man, but God the Word who became incarnate from the Virgin, who put on flesh, of the same essence (consubstantial) with that which is mine, so that He might save the same by the same. If He had taken a different body than that which is mine, He would not have shared in my flesh, nor would He have made me a sharer of life. If He had not become poor by taking on my creaturely substance, I would not have been enriched with the divine kingdom. But, He, Emmanuel, came into this world which He had created from of old, like a Child that was born recently, although He was God before the ages. He sat in a manger, because He found no place to lodge, and he prepared eternal lodgings. He came into a cave, yet a star announced Him. He received gifts from Magi, but he granted the gift of redemption from sins. He was upheld in the arms of Symeon, although as God He embraced the universe. He manifested Himself as a babe to shepherds, but He was acknowledged as God by the armies of the Angels who sang His glories in the heavens and the peace on earth and the goodwill among human beings.
13. The experience of the Theotokos! All these things the Mother of the Lord and true Theotokos kept in her heart, as Scripture says (Luke 2:51), adding on all the strange happenings that surrounded Him, and thus she multiplied the rejoicing of Her heart, with joys and amazements, as She perceived the glories of Her Son and God. Of course, when She saw the divine infant, I think that She was seized with fear and desire as She talked to Him alone to one who was also alone, as follows: What name, my Child, is appropriate that I should use for You? Should it be a human one? But, You had a divine birth! Should it be perhaps a divine one? But, You took on human flesh! What shall I do with You? Should I feed You with milk? Or should I theologize about You? Should I look after You as a mother, or should I worship You as Your servant? Should I squeeze you in my bosom as my son, or should I pray to You as my God? Should I give You milk, or should I offer You incense? What shall I do with this ineffable and supreme miracle? The heavens are for You Your throne, and yet it is my embrace that holds You! You appeared entire here below, and yet You have not been absent from up there! Your descent that took place was not local, but was accomplished as divine condescension. I praise Your philanthropy, but I search to understand Your economy!
14. The Mystery of the superbly-blessed Theotokos. (vi.) Did you see what a great Mystery was achieved by the Theotokos – a Mystery that transcends every tongue and thought? What then? Shall we not be amazed at the great power of the Theotokos and at the fact that She exceeds all the Saints that we honor? If Christ gave so much grace to His servants, that they could heal the sick, not only by touching them, but also by their shadow falling upon them – for, as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles informs us, they brought to the middle of the market the sick and the shadow of Peter healed them (Acts 5:15), whereas someone else took hold of the handkerchief which Paul had used and, putting it on the sick, liberated them from the evil demons (Acts 19:12) – what power do we think that He gave to His Mother? Would He not have given Her greater power than that given to His followers? This is obvious to everyone. It is also amazing, indeed, that what the Saints were able to do while alive, was not covered by the earth when they died. Because, even though their bodies were hidden within graves of stone, they still have power to save those in need, when they approach them worthily. If, then, He granted to them such power that they can do such miracles, what did He give in exchange for her maternal milk to His Mother who gave birth to Him? And what charismas did He bestow on Her beatification? If Peter was called “blessed” (Matth. 16:17), and the Lord entrusted to Him the keys of the heavens, how would She not be called “superbly-blessed” (ὑπερευλογημένη) exceeding all others, inasmuch as the She was deemed worthy to give birth To Him Whom Peter confessed? If Paul was called “vessel of election” (Acts 9:15), because he upheld the most reverend name of Christ and preached Him to the entire world, what kind of “vessel of election” would be the Theotokos? She did not contain the manna as the golden jar, but she contained the heavenly Bread within her womb, which is given to the believers as food and strength.
15. The epilogue. As I am moved by a deep sense of reverence with all this, I do not wish to say anything additional concerning the Theotokos; lest I am more humiliated on account of my inability to match her worthiness. I will fold the sails of my discourse, and I will take refuge in the safe port of silence after I address two words, as an epilogue, to the faithful who have gathered here. Since we gained so many goods and feel victorious by recounting the achievements of the Theotokos, let us repay our Lady Benefactor with a prize which returns to us as benefit. What is this repayment? It is “the love that we owe to one another, which fulfills the law.” Because, as it says, “the whole law is fulfilled with this, i.e. with the, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom. 13:9,10). And also, “Because the command, You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, and any other such commandment is recapitulated into this one word, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom. 13:9). Above all we are obliged to keep the body of the Church undivided. And we shall achieve this, if we keep the wealth of unanimity inviolate. We should not pretend that we defend the right faith (orthodoxy), when we defend the hatred that intrudes between us. We should not encourage evil under the guise of piety. Not should we deviate from the orthodox doctrine, on account of unlawful alliances, which lead us to prostitute the truth. Rather, we should look after, along with the orthodox faith, the acquisition of good conduct, because neither one exists without the other and neither one is sufficient on its own to yield a perfect result. “Faith without works is dead, just as works without faith are such as well” (James 2:20). Tying, therefore, ourselves firmly with the bonds of love let us offer to the Theotokos the following prayer:
O Most Holy Virgin, against whom everyone who
tries to speak of you reverently and gloriously sins, not with respect to
the truth but to your value, have pity on us from the height of the heavens,
from where You watch over us, and grant us peace in this circumstance. Guide
us so that we may not be put to shame at the throne of judgment, but may
appear worthy of standing at His right hand, when the rapture to the heavens
will take place and we shall become partakers with the Angels in the praise
of the uncreated and consubstantial Trinity, realized and glorified in the
Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and in
the ages of the ages, AMEN!
Originally posted in Coptic orthodox Church site -lacopts.org and reproduced with permission,