The Virgin Mary in St Ephrem’s theology

The month of May is traditionally known on as the Month of Mary. The Church holds Mary in the highest esteem; she is venerated but not worshipped by Catholics and Orthodox. A Syrian Father, St Ephrem, –the Harp of the Holy Spirit– the fourth century hymnographer, theologian and deacon as something to offer about the Mother of God.

“As lightning illu­mi­na­tes what is hid­den, so also Christ puri­fies what is hid­den in the nature of things. He puri­fied the Vir­gin also and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is mani­fest purity in all its power. He puri­fied the Vir­gin, having pre­pa­red Her by the Holy Spi­rit… having been born, He left Her vir­gin. I do not say that Mary became immor­tal, but that being illu­mi­na­ted by grace, She was not dis­tur­bed by sin­ful desi­res”

“Most holy Lady, Mother of God, alone most pure in soul and body, alone exceeding all perfection of purity… alone made in thy entirety the home of all the graces of the Most Holy Spirit, and hence exceeding beyond all compare even the angelic virtues in purity and sanctity of soul and body… my Lady most holy, all-pure, all-immaculate, all-stainless, all-undefiled, all-incorrupt, all inviolate spotless robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment… flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone most immaculate.”

“There is in you, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in your mother.”

“You Jesus and your mother are the only ones who are beautiful in all aspects. Because in you, O Lord, there is no deformation, and in your mother, there is no stain.”

“The two women were pure and simple, Mary and Eve. One of them, however, became the cause of our death and the other, the cause of our life.”

St. Ephrem the Syrian

Liturgy for the Annunciation TODAY

Today is the feast of the Annunciation of Mary, the Mother of God. It is a Holy Day of Obligation
 
The Divine Liturgy for today:
 
Monday, March 25, Annunciation of the Theotokos
 
8:45 a.m. Litija and Blessing of Bread
9:00 a.m. God’s blessing and health for children, grandchildren requested by Stephanie Tsitaridis
~Myrovann
 
AND
 
7:00 p.m. For the People of the parish
~Anointing

The Feast of the Annunciation

Today the Church celebrates summit of our salvation.

The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary that she would be the Theotokos almost always falls during the Great Fast. (*) According to the liturgical norms, it is celebrated on whatever day it falls, and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, even on Good Friday. (**) The meaning of the Annunciation, however, is in conformity with the meaning of the Great Fast. The Great Fast is a journey from the sin of Adam and Eve to the Resurrection of our Lord. It is a passage from human pride to fidelity to God’s plan of salvation. The sin of Eve, which became the fundamental sin of the whole human race was to choose one’s own plan for salvation over God’s. It’s result, though, was death. Jesus in the resurrection, takes the power of death and twists it into life, as St. Paul said, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

Jesus was able to do this because he became a human being in the womb of Mary, who replaced Eve’s disobedience with obedience to God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)” Thus, God “condescended” (that is, he came down to be with us) so that the plan of God could be lifted up. “Though he was in the form of God, [Christ] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). Therefore, the Annunciation is a part of Pascha, as Melito of Sardis explained in his Paschal Homily: “And indeed there were many other things proclaimed by numerous prophets concerning the mystery of the passover, which is Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.”

When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death” (65-66). We sing, “Today is the summit of our salvation.” (Troparion)

The Maternity of Holy Anna

The conception of the all-holy virgin Mary in the womb of Anna is celebrated on December 9 in the Byzantine tradition, for a natural reason, that the Eastern ancients thought a girl was in the womb one day less than a boy. However, in the Ruthenian Church in America [and the Ukrainian Church], the feast is now celebrated together with the Roman Church on December 8, nine months before her birth on September 8, because she is the patron of the United States.

It is clear that this is a preparation for the birth of Christ on Christmas, for the first sticheron of the feast begins: “The barren Anna leaped for joy when she gave birth to Mary the Virgin who in turn will give birth in the flesh to God the Word.” Mary, the daughter of Anna and Joachim by way of natural birth is to be the temple of the Word of God incarnate for our sake and for our salvation.

The Eastern and Western Churches put the accent on different aspects of the feast. In the East, we celebrate the miracle of God taking away the barrenness of Anna’s womb. The Protoevangelium of James portrays the sadness of Joachim and Anna. Joachim lamented, “I have searched whether I am the only one who has not begotten offspring in Israel, and I have found of all the righteous that they had raised up offspring in Israel.” Anna wept, “I will bewail my widowhood, and bewail my childlessness.” (1,3 and 2,1) Two angels came, one to Joachim and another to Anna with a divine message that they would bear a child, even in their old age. When God takes away an emptiness, he fills us more than our faith can grasp, and they gave birth not only a child, but to the new Ark of God’s covenant with us.

The Western Church, on the other hand, puts the accent on Mary’s purity from all sin from her conception, defined by Pope Bl. Pius IX in 1848 as the Immaculate Conception. The theology behind this is that the incarnation of the sinless Word of God must come from a sinless temple, the womb of Mary which was never touched by sin, even from her conception.

It is unfortunate that this dogma has become a bone of contention between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Both believe in the ancestral sin, but in different ways, so that for the Orthodox the main curse of the sin of Adam and Eve is death, while for the Catholics, it is original sin. May we seek unity and not division. Most Orthodox theologians do believe that the “ancestral sin” has infected the human race, but might disagree about the way it does this. In our dialogue, we must seek a mutual understanding, perhaps in the words of Orthodox theologians who saw a “pre-purification” in Mary. “And in every way [the Lord] became a man, save sin, for he had been conceived from a virgin, after she had been pre-purified with respect to soul and body through the Holy Spirit” (Gregory the Theologian, Homily 38 on the Theophany) or St. John Damascene, who wrote, “O all-blessed loins of Joachim, from which the all-pure seed was sown. O epic womb, in which the all-holy infant was born, after she was formed, and a little later increased by nutriments from Anne. Her (Anne’s) belly conceived in itself an ensouled heaven, wider than the wide space of heaven.” (Both quotes from Christian Kappes’ book, The Immaculate Conception, 21 and 60)

Conception of the Theotokos by holy Anna

On Saturday, December 8, at 9:00 a.m., we will celebrate the Conception of the Theotokos by holy Anna. The Divine Liturgy will be served in both English and Ukrainian. It is a holy day of love; the feast has the rank of Sunday.

This of Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, honors her title as the patroness of the USA. In these times, we need the maternal protection of Mary as she is the consummate intercessor for us before the Throne of Grace.

In places the feast is also called the Maternity of St. Anne or in the Latin Church the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Kondakion sung in the Liturgy reads:

Today is the conception of the mother of our salvation, for she begins her life in a fruitless womb. Anna rejoices over this with Joachim, and the thought of his liberation fills Adam with joy. We, too, salute her conception today and cry out to her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.

Entrance of the Theotokos

“Seeing the entrance of the pure one, angels marveled in wonder how the Virgin could enter the holy of holies.” (Refrain to Irmos 9, on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple)

“Entrances” are a big deal in our liturgical tradition, (e.g., the Small Entrance and Great Entrance at Divine Liturgy), surrounded by great solemnity. Why? Because they are “transitional” moments; that is to say, they signify the most crucial and challenging aspect of life in general, and life in Christ more specifically – transitions. We “enter” any given day, for example, transitioning from nighttime not instantly, but by going through our morning “ritual” (getting out of bed, washing up, praying, making coffee, getting dressed, exercising, etc.). We also “enter” into communion with Christ, again and again, not instantly, but step by step, preparing ourselves with the help of traditional prayers and customs.

The feast we’re celebrating today on the Older Calendar focuses on “entrance,” the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. Similar to the entrances mentioned above, Her “entrance” into “the holy of holies” involves both preparation and transition. She is to be prepared, in the temple, for the pivotal moment in Salvation History, the descent upon Her of the Holy Spirit and conception, in Him, of God the Word. There is so much more to say on this topic, on how daunting and even potentially terrifying this “transition” was, for the three-year-old Mary from Nazareth, but this reflection is already too long.

So I’ll just say, let our Lady’s courageous “entrance” today be an inspiration and encouragement for all my entrances and other transitions. Let me not fear them but walk through them, by the protection and guidance of the Blessed among Women. Amen!

Meditation by Sr. Vassa Larin

(Please note, you can get these reflections daily via EMAIL, simply by typing in your email-address at our website: www.coffeewithsistervassa.com)

Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel.”

(Proto-Evangelium of James, chapter 7 and beginning of chapter 8)

One monastic commentator on today’s feast writes:

“A Jerusalem church in honor of the Mother of God was dedicated on this date in the sixth century. A century later, St Andrew of Crete mentions a yearly feast commemorating the entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

“The details of the feast are drawn from the apocrypha, such as the Gospel of James, since canonical scripture has no account of the early life of Mary. The setting of the feast is in the temple rebuilt by Zerubabel,, which no longer contained the Ark of the Covenant. In the feast-day icon, the priest and prophet, Zecharaiah, father of John the Baptist, escorts the Virgin into the Holy of Holies. The Theotokos is thus received as the Living Ark, for in the fullness of time, God himself will come to dwell in her.

“The feast, then, is another step in the preparation for the birth of Christ. What began as a legend has been used by the Church for centuries to emphasize the dedication of God’s Mother to service in the Lord’s house, to foretell to all the coming of Christ.

Protection of the Theotokos

There is only one God, one Creator, one Savior, one Redeemer. Yet this one God has chosen to be friends with his creation. As St. Paul told us, he humbled himself to become a man, like us in every way except sin. There are many ways he could have become a man, but he chose to be born of a woman who in her human nature, accepted completely the will of God, so that through her God could enter into our time and our story. Then, at Cana, it was his mother, a woman, who by her plea, guided God to make wine out of water, telling the stewards, and through them, saying to all of us, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

Today, we rejoice and celebrate in this human being, who through her will, God intervened in human life to bring us salvation. This is why we can celebrate her protection, why we can sing, “Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us,” and why we can even pray, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” Glory to God, who has made us partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Nativity of Mary

THE REPROACH OF CHILDLESSNESS
The Nativity of Mary
(Saturday, September 8)

“By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, / Joachim and Anna are freed from the reproach of childlessness (ὀνειδισμοῦ ἀτεκνίας); / Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death. / And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: / The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life!” (Kontakion-hymn of the Nativity of the Theotokos)

As those of us on the “New” Calendar celebrate the great feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos this Saturday, our attention is drawn to the whole topic of the “reproach of childlessness,” endured for decades by the Holy Virgin’s parents, Joachim and Anna. They were liberated from this “shame,” just as we were freed from the “guilt” of sin, by the birth of the Birth-Giver of God, the “only” child from a marriage that endured even as it was “reproached.”

Many of us can relate, on some level, both to the “guilt” and the “reproach” (often from the voices inside our own heads) of being unproductive, or not productive enough, in the ways we or others might expect us to be. We don’t “do” enough; we don’t “make” enough (money, for example); we procrastinate, and neglect, and find ourselves failing to check off all the items on our “To Do” list, at the end of the day. Or perhaps we are single or divorced, and feel that we’ve failed to “produce” the family we “should” have. What to do, with the human “guilt” and constant “reproach” we might carry around, as a result of this state of affairs?

Two things: 1. Faith, and 2. Gratitude. We embrace faith in a God Who does produce new life from otherwise-“barren” and unexpected places, in His own time, – for example, from a Virgin-womb, and from a stone Tomb just outside Jerusalem. In reliance on Him, we can move forward, and do move forward, even if our growth is not noticeable, or fast enough, to our minds at the moment. And we can embrace gratitude for things as they are, at the moment, in the here and now, in the gentle realism that is humility, rather than stare into the gaping hole of our “should have done’s” and “must do’s,” in constant dissatisfaction. Because, as they say, Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, – that’s why it’s called a “present.” Give us “this day” our daily bread, I say to God today, and forgive us our debts, those “guilts” and “reproaches” we carry around, as we forgive our debtors. By the prayers of the Theotokos, Saviour, save us!

Blessing of Herbs and Flowers on the Dormition

Blessing of Herbs and Flowers on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God –August 15

At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy tonight, Father Iura blessed herbs and flowers brought by the faithful for our feast. Why is this part of our Tradition?

Holy Tradition reveals to us that the Apostles, with the exception of St. Thomas, were transported mystically to Jerusalem in order to be with Mary, the Mother of God –the Theotokos– as she about to repose, and to be present at her burial. When the Apostle Thomas arrived the next day, the Apostles opened the tomb so that he could pay her reverence. The opened tomb revealed the body of the Virgin was missing, and filled with herbs and flowers interpreted as the sweet fragrance of Paradise. The faithful see this a certain sign of Mary’s purity and holiness.

Her passing is commemorated as the Dormition (the falling asleep) which is observed on August 15 preceded by a preparatory fast. The death of Mary’s body doesn’t last as she is believed to be body and soul, physically living the Most Holy Trinity in heaven.

As part of our celebration of Dormition, therefore, the priest blesses herbs and flowers which are used and kept in the homes. The blessing recalls for us the numerous cures and healings given to us by an extraordinary grace bestowed by the Mother of God. Holy Tradition and practice tells us that the herbs are used as natural medicine. During times of family strife or illness, it is a pious custom to place the flower petals in the house censer, together with the incense, and cense the whole house with it.