Κυριακή 26 Νοεμβρίου 2017

The Life of the Holy Theotokos: Whom the Grave Could Not Contain

The Theotokos (God-Bearer) was born of the elderly Joachim and Anna as an answer to their prayers. After being humiliated and run out of the Temple, Joachim stood in prayer and fasting, in the same cave as once did Elijah the Prophet, begging God to give him and his barren wife a child. In their garden, Anna stood in prayer also, fervently asking God to take away her sorrow. An angel appeared to them both telling them of the great mystery that would be given to them, a daughter who would bear the Life of the World.

Joachim and Anna made a promise that they would give the child back to God, and being very pious and devout, they offered Mary up to be raised in the Temple at the age of three. The High Priest Zacharias, the husband of Anna’s niece and father of John the Baptist, welcomed the child Mary with great delight. Seeing that she would be made the new Ark, carrying within her the New Covenant, he was filled with the spirit and exclaimed, “The souls of the condemned rejoice and the patriarchs exult. Our prophets hoped in thee that they might be delivered from the hands of the devil!” Taking her into the Temple he placed her in the Holy of Holies saying, “Enter into the Holy of Holies, for thou art much purer than myself… For thou art the Temple of God, therefore, remain in the Temple.” The High Priest said that she was the “dry rod of Aaron,” the “bush which burned without being consumed,” “the fleece of Gideon”, and he called her “the Queen David spoke of” saying “At Thy right hand stood the Queen, arrayed in a vesture of inwoven gold, adorned in varied colors”(Ps. 44:8)

The young maiden grew up in the Temple, frequently visiting God in the Holy of Holies. Her parents came to visit her every year until they died of old age. When Mary reached the age of 13, she was forced to leave the temple because, according to Jewish law, a woman became unclean when they started their minstrel cycle. Seeing that Mary was deeply grieved, because she wanted to live in virginity, Zacharias found an older man, Joseph, who would only betroth her. Being betrothed was like engagement, it was before a formal wedding. Betrothal was binding in the Jewish tradition, but during the betrothal period you did not engage in sexual relations. Because of Mary’s desire to stay a virgin, history records that Joseph and Mary stayed only betrothed until Joseph’s death. This is why the Early Church always viewed Mary as being ever virgin.

Not long after living outside of the Temple, Gabriel the Angel announced to Mary what is strange to the angels and to the minds of men, that the Uncontainable God would be contained in her womb. On this day “the Son of God became the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel announces good tidings of grace. Therefore, let us also join him and cry aloud to the Theotokos: ‘Rejoice, thou who art full of grace: the Lord is with Thee!’”(Saint Ramonos). At this Mary was filled with joy and submitting to the will of God she said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”(Luke 1:38). Mary then went into the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the city of Judah. Upon seeing her, Elizabeth’s baby, the future John the Baptist, leaped in her womb and she cried out to Mary, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of your womb!” Being filled with great joy, the Mother of God sung, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His handmaiden; for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” God, in His great mercy, came down from on high and took flesh from Mary to dwell among us and save our souls. She had become the living Throne of God, for He now sat within her.

There was then a decree made, that all men should be registered. Joseph was to go the city of David because of his lineage. While they stayed there, Mary grew great with child and it was time for her to give birth. After much struggle, Joseph and Mary were settled in a manger. In those days, the hills around Bethlehem had many caves where the animals were kept by night. In one of these humble caves was the Christ born; and Mary, like a loving mother, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes. The God of all has been made flesh for us, humbling Himself to even be born in a cave of animals. She rejoiced at this marvel, beholding her son and God. This is the mystery of the universe. How could the One who created hands be held by them? How could the Provider of all take milk from a breast?

When the days of Mary’s purification were completed, according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him into the temple to present Him to the Lord and to offer up a sacrifice according to the law. There was a man that was very old at that time in Israel named Simeon. The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Simeon was filled with the Spirit and was lead into the temple. When Mary brought in the Child Jesus, Simeon picked Him up in his arms saying, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Mary and Joseph marveled at what he said. The old man then turned to Mary and prophesied her suffering during Christ’s Passion and said “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” Mary kept these things in her heart. 

Icon from here (Holy Monastery of St. Herman of Alaska)
When the evil Herod sought to kill the Immortal King, thinking that He was a threat to his earthly kingdom, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt, escaping the horrors of the innocent being slain in Bethlehem. In Egypt, the God of all continued to show His power as a babe in the flesh. Mary walked with him through the cities and idols crumbled before her feet. She was struck in awe as she held her God in her hands. When Herod was dead an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him to return to Israel. On the way back to the Holy Land from Egypt, the family ran into a tree which a demon used to speak out of. People came from far and wide to worship this tree and get advice from it. Upon seeing Christ, the demon fled in great fear and the tree bowed before the feet of the Theotokos. This tree is still there today where many pilgrims go to praise God for His great power. Continuing on their way back home, Joseph was struck in fear when he heard that Archelaus was reining over Judea and, being warned by God in a dream, they turned to the region of Galilee. Mary raised her son and God in Galilee, and He “grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God.”(Luke 2:39).

The first great recorded miracle that Christ performed was at the request of the Theotokos. When they ran out of wine at the wedding feast in Cana, Mary said to her beloved son, “They have no wine.” Jesus replied to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with Me and you? My hour has not yet come.” Then the Theotokos told the servants to obey Him saying, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” When Jesus called Mary ‘woman’ it was a title of respect and distinction, showing love and honor toward His mother. From her childhood, Mary grew in love for her God, constantly dieing to this world and her passions to serve only Him. It is true when the Archangel preached that she was full of grace for she truly bore God incarnate for us and served Him unceasingly, setting an example for all those who choose to follow Him.

Everyday that passed Mary’s motherly love grew for her Child. She kept in her heart the words that Simeon had told her, and knew the fate her Son would have to face. When Jesus was put to trial, unlike most of the Apostles, Mary never left her son. She stood by Him and grieved bitterly. When the God of all, who stretched out the heavens, was transfixed with nails on the cross, His mother still stood very close to Him. None of us could imagine the agony that the Theotokos must have felt. Her son and God was suffering before her. Her own flesh was being mocked and beaten. While other disciples denied Him and fled, her Motherly love kept her close. Seeing her son dying, she heard Him cry out to her “Woman, behold your son” and then turning to the Disciple John He cried, “Behold your mother.” With this Christ gave His mother not only to St. John, but to all His faithful disciples. She is the mother of all Christians by her example of faithful endurance and love.

Christ’s body was given to the righteous Joseph to be buried and laid in a new tomb. Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Susanna, Mary of Bethany, Martha of Bethany, and Mary the Theotokos were all there to anoint their God, wrap Him in a fine linen shroud and bury Him according to Jewish tradition. The stone was then rolled over the front of the tomb to seal it. Seeing the rock close off the entrance, the reality of God’s death painfully struck the heart of Mary, and Symeon’s Words were fulfilled. On the third day after Christ’s death the Theotokos lead the same group of pious women back to her son’s tomb. They came very early in the morning bringing spices and oils to anoint the body of their Savior. Coming to the tomb, they were shocked in horror, seeing that it was empty and the stone was rolled away. An angel, who was sitting the empty tomb, said “the ointment is meet for the dead, but Christ is shown to be remote from corruption. But cry ye, ‘The Lord is risen, granting the world the Great Mercy.’” Full of joy, the Mother of God ran off preaching the good news about her risen son.

Forty days after His resurrection from the dead, Christ ascended back into the Heavens. After this, Mary truly became a mother to the Apostles. She was with them to comfort and encourage them in their ministry. During this time, John, who was ordered from the Cross to take care of Mary, traveled with the Mother of God to visit all the Churches and Bishops. Once they set out to visit Saint Lazarus, who Christ raised on the fourth day, for he had been appointed Bishop of the Island of Cyprus. On this journey a storm blew them off course and they landed on the beautiful peninsula of Mount Athos. The Theotokos thought this land was so beautiful that, after she fell down in prayer, Christ appeared to her and dedicated this land to her, and many Monasteries were built there that still exist today. During this time, Saint Luke the Evangelist also painted the first Icon of her, which is still existent today. Mary also helped strengthen and encourage the early Churches in the right path. She frequently visited the Holy Sites where her son once walked, especially Golgotha, to pray and offer songs to God. The Theotokos was ever serving Christ and His Church until her repose.

The repose of the Mother of God was very sorrowful. Eleven of the Apostles, excluding Thomas, gathered from far and wide to lament and say goodbye to their Mother. They formed a procession with her pure body and carried it into Gethsemane. They all wept and sung psalms, lamenting over their Mother. While they were carrying her, a certain Jewish priest, Jephonias, saw them and was filled with great anger because he protested against the purity of Mary. He ran up to the funeral bier and attempted to push the Virgin’s pure body into the dirt. Before he could even reach the Theotokos, the Lord sent the Archangel Michael to protect His mother by cutting of the man’s hands. Jephonias screamed in horror, repented and was healed. The Apostles then laid her in a cave, wept, and sealed the tomb. 

Meanwhile the Apostle Thomas arrived from his missions in India and was grieved because he did not get to venerate the Mother of God for the last time. The Apostles, seeing Thomas’s great sadness, agreed to gather once again and open the tomb of Mary so that they may all venerate her together. When the Apostles opened the tomb, they discovered her body gone and became filled with distress. The Apostles feared that someone had stolen their Mother’s body. That night the Apostles agreed to gather together for a common meal. It was at this time that the Theotokos appeared to them, revealing that her son had glorified her human body in Heaven and sat her at His right hand as an intercessor and Mother for His Church. Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos, Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

First Printed in DTTW #14, 2007

See also

About "Death to the World!"
Theotokos (tag) 
The All-Holy Mother of all the world
Mary and the Temple
Male and Female Created He Them
The Icon of the Theotokos
About the Dormition of the Theotokos, in five languages 
The Hawaiian Myrrh-Streaming Icon of the Mother of God - Orthodox Hymn in Hawaiian
The Service of the Small Paraklesis (Intercessory Prayer) to the Most Holy Theotokos

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