Palm Sunday/Holy Week-A Reflection

This past weekend we celebrated one of the few days of glory for our Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly life. On Palm Sunday He was received by the crowds in Jerusalem as a victor, as their King. For they heard of the sign of raising Lazarus from the dead, and they believed He was their Messiah Who was to come. But who was it that received Him in this way?

It was the common people, who honored our Lord in this way. St. John tells us it was those who came up to the feast; not the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but the country people that came from various and even remote parts to worship at the feast. The Gospel reading says that the crowd there came up to the feast some time before to purify themselves. Many perhaps, would have looked down upon them as crude, but Christ “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (ICor. 1:27) For Christ, as we know, values men by the state of their souls, not their position and titles of honor. And so, it follows, that He is honored by the multitude rather than by the magnificent of this world. And it was probably a universal crowd not much different than Pentecost when St. Luke tells us that “the visitors consisted of Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.” (Acts 2:9-11)

So this simple universal crowd receives our Lord Jesus Christ and what do they say? It is interesting to compare what the four evangelists say:

St Matthew writes: “And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mat. 21:9)

And St Mark tells us: “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mark 11:9-10)

St. Luke briefly states: “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” (Luke 19:38)

Finally in the gospel of St John: “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” (John 12:13)

The people were looking to Him as the awaited Messiah, but they had a preconception of what the Messiah would be. Our Lord is called the Son of David, king, king of Israel and He Who would usher in the kingdom of David. So the multitude was really looking for an earthly kingdom and a warrior like David to deliver them from Roman rule.

It was the simple folk who were receptive to the Lord, but were they discreet, were they wise? We shall soon be reading the Passion Gospels and see how this same crowd that cried out, “Hosanna” will cry out, “Crucify Him!” Why were they so easily swayed by the Jewish religious leaders so as to turn against our Lord Who did so many signs in their presence? Their minds were set on things of this world, and on earthly glory. They saw before them Jesus bound like a criminal being judged by Pilate, and having been delivered up by their own high priest. They believed He would be a triumphant warrior and set up a kingdom of Israel. But here they see Him as someone helplessly bound standing before the judgment seat of Pilate. So they were swayed and led astray by their religious leaders.

This should be a lesson for us. Is there any danger of us being led astray? We are serving Bridegroom Matins for the first three days of Holy Week which instruct us to be watchful and look to the coming of the Lord. We indeed appear to be drawing close to that actual happening. But the Lord said, “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) The first Eldress (Taxiarchia) of the convent of the Birth of the Theotokos near Pittsburg once commented: “Our holy fathers feared the days that are coming upon us, and they said that those who merely keep the faith will be great.” St. Amvrossy of Optina wrote that in the last times heresies will begin entering because of the poverty in piety. In that letter he spoke as though he thought his correspondent could possibly live to see those days. We need to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. And Friday, when we venerate the Plachanitsa, when we behold Christ Who died for the salvation all; perhaps the theme of our prayers should be:

Preserve, O God, the Holy Orthodox Faith and Orthodox Christians unto the ages of ages.

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The Theotokos at the Cross (conclusion)

The Theotokos at the Cross (conclusion)

So now, we come to the Cross. What did the Theotokos experience as she stood before the Cross of her God and her Son: her Son, Whom she conceived without seed just as she was informed by the Archangel Gabriel? Her Son, of Whom it was said, He will inherit the throne of His father David and of His kingdom there will be no end. Her Son, of Whom it was said, “He will save His people from their sins”; and Who was called “Savior”, “a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel”. Her Son, Who performed more miracles than all the prophets combined by the word of His Own power and foretold this terrible death of the Cross which she was looking upon. This was her Son, to Whom she gave birth, Whom she held in her arms as a babe – her own Child, Whom she cared for and raised, to Whom she was a mother according to the flesh.

In considering this, let us use the hymnography of the Church as a reference point and particularly the Cross-Theotokions in the Octoechos. Mary, the Theotokos, suffered as a mother and in this was fulfilled St. Symeon’s prophecy.

Standing by the Cross, O Jesus, She Who gave birth to Thee, wept lamenting and cried out: “I cannot bear this, to see Thee to Whom I gave birth nailed on the wood. I escaped the pain of childbirth since I never knew a husband, so how am I now gripped with pain, and wounded in heart. Now is fulfilled the saying which Symeon uttered, ‘A sword shall pierce thy heart O undefiled One.’” (3)

“O my Son”, the Virgin cried out with tears, “Now hath a sword of sorrow hast rent my heart in that the assembly of lawbreakers with nails hath nailed Thee to the Cross.” (4)

And there are many places in the Church’s hymnography where the Theotokos refers to Christ in such terms as, “The fairest or most comely of all men”, and she cries out questioning, “Where hath this comliness gone?” She also calls Him, “My sweetest Child”, or “Most exceedingly beloved Child”, and she often exclaims such phrases as: “How is it (or Why is it) that Thou dost hasten to make me childless?” To illustrate her pain, the hymnographers also says that while shedding tears, she tore her hair. So she suffered terribly as a mother and as she is the highest of all creation her love was more than any creature. Therefore she suffered more than any other mother could.

Yet did the Virgin Mary at that time have hope in the Resurrection? Or did she understand her Son was dying on the Cross for the sins of mankind? During her life in the Temple she had already perceived that the Messiah would come to heal the effects of the fall on the whole race of Adam. Her betrothed Joseph was told by the Archangel that her Child “shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Christ openly preached that He would be crucified, and rise again, and that He was the good Shepherd Who would lay down His life for His sheep. Together with all this, if we accept the opinion of St. Gregory Palamas that “She flew high above all created things, saw God’s glory more clearly than Moses (cf. Exod. 33:18-23), and beheld divine grace” (5), then we should conclude that she also far surpassed the Apostles in the understanding of who her Son was, and in the comprehension of the mystery of His dispensation. So at the Cross she not only lamented as a mother but as a faithful handmaiden of the Lord she also glorified her Son and God. As the Church’s hymnography tells us, at the cross she cried out:

“Woe is me, my Child! How divine and unutterable is Thy dispensation by which Thou dost enliven Thy creation; I hymn Thy tenderhearted compassion. (6)

The world rejoices receiving deliverance through Thee. My inner self burns beholding Thy crucifixion which Thou dost endure for the sake of Thy merciful kindheartedness, O God, most-good and sinless Lord! (7)

Thou hast torn asunder the record of Adam’s [sin], being pierced with a spear O Master. (8)

But I pray do not leave me in the world alone, but make haste to arise, and also raise up our forefather with Thee. (9)

So when the Theotokos stood at the foot of the Cross, she suffered terribly, more than any of us could comprehend. She suffered as a mother seeing her Son crucified. She suffered as all the followers of Christ, seeing her Lord crucified. She suffered as a Hebrew seeing her people reject and kill Him Whom she knew to be their Messiah. She was also purer than any born of the race of Adam and all creation, and she loved more than all. Therefore she suffered terribly, more than any of us could comprehend. But what is the consequence of all this suffering? What is its fruit?

We can answer by the words which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to St. John the Theologian as he stood at the Cross next to the Theotokos. He said, “Behold thy mother” (John 19:27). And so she is truly a mother, she is a mother to all believers. “Verily she is our advocate before God…she dwells in heaven and ever beholds the glory of God, yet she does not forget us, poor wretches that we are, and spreads her compassion over the whole earth, over all peoples.

And this most pure Mother of His, the Lord has bestowed on us. She is our joy and expectation. She is our mother in the spirit, and kin to us by nature, as a human being” (10). She is truly our mother in Christ, she is our “hope, protection, refuge, rest and joy” (11). For, like her Son, in that [she herself] hath suffered being tempted, [she] is able to succour them that are tempted (cf. Heb. 2:18).
So let us close with a fitting hymn of praise to her. Again from the Octoechos which is foremost a work of that great dogmatician and hymnographer of the Orthodox Church – St. John Damascus:

We praise thee O Virgin Theotokos, as she who mediates for the salvation of our race. For thy Son and our God, Who deigned to receive flesh from thee, accepted the passion of the Cross, to deliver us from corruption as the Lover of mankind. (12)

(1) Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), St. Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex, England, Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1991, p. 392
(2) Saint Gregory Palamas, Mary the Mother of God, Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, edited by Christopher Veniamin, South Canaan, PA, Mount Thabor Publishing 2005, p. 41
(3) The Ochtoechos, Tone 5, Stavrotheotokion on the Friday Matins Aposticha. (All hymns from the Octoechos are original translations from the Slavonic.)
(4) Ibid. Tone 4, Theotokion on the Wednesday Matins Canon of the Cross, Ode 6.
(5) Saint Gregory Palamas, Mary the Mother of God, Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, p. 47
(6) The Ochtoechos, Tone 8, Friday Matins, Stavrotheotokion of the Sessional Hymns after the second reading of the Psalter
(7) Ibid., Tone 8 Wednesday Matins, Stavrotheotokion of the Sessional Hymns after the first reading from the Psalter
(8) Ibid., Tone 4, Theotokion on the Friday Matins Canon of the Cross, Ode 4
(9) Ibid., Tone 4 Thursday Vespers, Stavrotheotokin on Lord I call…
(10) Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 393
(11) See Post Communion Prayers, Prayer to the Theotokos
(12) The Ochtoechos, Tone 3, Resurrectional Dismissal Theotokion

The Theotokos at the Cross

The Theotokos at the Cross

Since we are in the week of the veneration of the Cross and have just celebrated the Annunciation–on the Old Calendar–I have decided to post something on the Theotokos at the Cross. This will be in two posts and the endnotes will be in the second of these. What follows is an article in the book, “O Full of Grace, Glory to Thee”.

What did the Theotokos experience at the Cross of her Son and God? This is the question we want to ponder in this article. The Scriptures, together with historical information from apocryphal sources, and other early Christian writings have said nothing directly about this. There is no doubt that an exact answer has not been revealed to us, as St. Silouan the Athonite acknowledges:

The Mother of God committed to writing neither her thoughts nor her love for God and her Son, nor her soul’s suffering at the Crucifixion, because we could not have understood, for her love for God is stronger and more ardent than the love of the Seraphim and Cherubim, and all the host of angels and archangels marvel at her. (1)

Some of our Church Fathers, however, have contemplated this question and expressed opinions on this topic. These opinions cannot be termed dogma. That is because a reply to this question has neither been revealed in the historical record available to us, nor has it been formally investigated and articulated by the Church. Consequently, we also can only set forward an opinion on this theme.

In responding to this issue, we must first consider what knowledge was revealed to the Theotokos concerning her Son. What did the Theotokos know and think about her Son? When she stood at the Cross of our Lord, in addition to the fact that she knew He was her Son according to the flesh, whom did she believe Him to be? Let us begin our inquiry by considering the time she spent in the Temple in Jerusalem as a child and examining what St. Gregory Palamas says about this part of her life.

St. Gregory writes of the Theotokos:

With profound understanding she listened to the writings of Moses and the revelations of the other prophets when, every Saturday, all the people gathered outside, as the Law ordained. She learnt about Adam and Eve and everything that happened to them: how they were brought out of non-being, settled in paradise and given a commandment there; about the evil one’s ruinous counsel and the resulting theft; about their explusion from paradise on that account, the loss of immortality and the change to this way of life full of pain. In addition, she saw that as time passed, life continued under the inherited curse and grew ever worse, God’s creature made in His image was estranged from the Creator and became more and more closely associated with the one who had evilly schemed to crush him….No one was capable of putting an end to this impulse which brings destruction on all men alike, or to the uncheckable rush of our race towards hell. When the holy Virgin Maid heard and understood this, she was filled with pity for humanity and, with the aim of finding a remedy to counteract this great affliction, she resolved at once to turn with her whole mind to God. She took it upon herself to represent us, to constrain Him who is above compulsion, and quickly draw Him towards us, that He might remove the curse from among us, halt the advance of the fire burning men’s souls, weaken our enemies, answer our prayers, shine upon us with the light that never sets and, having healed our sickness, unite His creature with Himself.

Having thought over these things so revelant to her, the Virgin full of grace interceded for all humanity in an amazing way defying description. (2)

It is quite logical and natural that the one of whom God would choose to be born would ascertain this. The notion that the Theotokos, even during her life in the Temple, would understand the catastrophe of the fall of man along with the need of a Savior, and therefore become our advocate before God, fits, just so precisely, perfectly, and beautifully into God’s intricately woven plan for our salvation. Mary, who was to give birth to God, went above and beyond the mainstream of Judaic thought, which was expecting the Messiah to be an earthly king. She was able to perceive the true role of the Messiah to be the One who would heal the effects of the fall. And so the young girl, Mary, “interceded for all humanity in an amazing way defying description.”

In continuing our inquiry, we shall now turn to accounts from the Scriptures, beginning with the Annunciation. The young maiden Mary, who had lived in the Temple from infancy, expressed a desire to keep her virginity; therefore she was put into the care of the elderly Joseph and espoused to him. And the Archangel Gabriel being sent from God came to Mary and said,

Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women…behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:28-35)

One of the great Archangels of God appears to Mary, informing her that she shall bear a child without the touch of a man, Who shall inherit the throne of David, Whose kingdom shall have no end and Who shall be called the Son of God. Mary knew the Scriptures very well; such things were never seen in the history of Israel. A woman to conceive without the seed of a man – this was to be the prerogative of her who would bear the Messiah (cf. Is. 7:14). And a man being called the Son of God – this appellation was not known to apply to any born of man; it was only the One Who joined the three young men in the Babylonian furnace Who was thus called (cf. Dan. 3:25). Who then, was this that was to be born of her?

As we know, soon after the Annunciation, Mary visited her cousin Elisabeth. And when Mary greeted her:

Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. (Luke 1:41-44)

In his Gospel St. Luke tells us that Mary abode with Elisabeth about three months and returned home. This would have been until the time of the birth of St. John the Baptist. St. Luke records in his gospel:

And his [John the Baptist’s] father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham. (Luke 1:67-73)

And concerning his son, Zacharias continues to say,

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us. (Luke 1:76-78)

And so Mary, who was to become the Theotokos, was conscious of all this. Let us reiterate: from the time of her life in the Temple, she discerned from the Scriptures the need of a Savior who would deliver the race of Adam from the consequence of the fall in paradise. She desired this and prayed for it with her whole heart; it was the focal point of her life in the Temple. She is told by the Archangel Gabriel that she would bear a son without the touch of a man who shall be called the Son of God and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Elisabeth says to her, “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Then the priest Zachrias prophesies calling the Son to be born of her, “an horn of salvation”, and signifies Him as the One whom the prophets foretold. As he continues, he speaks of salvation through remission of sins. Mary knew all this, who did she believe her Son would be?

Now let us proceed to the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savoir Jesus Christ in the flesh. The righteous Joseph sees that his betrothed is with child – the young Mary, whom he received into his care from the Temple because she wanted to preserve her virginity. As he was troubled and considered putting her away, an angel appears to him in a dream revealing the Child’s conception of the Holy Spirit. Joseph is told to name the child Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21). Who was it that preserved the information of this occurrence? Nowhere do the Gospels speak of Joseph being alive at the time of Christ’s public ministry. So it is not possible that any of the evangelists could have heard this directly from Joseph. It is obvious that he must have told Mary, his betrothed. So again she hears that the Son to Whom she would give birth was to save His people from their sins. How would He accomplish this?

Then at the birth of Christ itself, the shepherds receive a revelation of multitudes of angels praising God. In coming to see the Christ-child, they inform the Holy family of it. And Magi from the orient are led to Palestine by a star. After asking Herod, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:2), “the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Matt. 2:9). All this, far surpassed any occurrence in the history of Israel and the Scriptures – Mary was aware of all this. And so, as it is recorded in the Scriptures, forty days after the Nativity, the Church celebrates His Meeting in the Temple.

“And when the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were accomplished, the parents brought the child Jesus to Jerusalem to the Temple” (Luke 2:22). It is then that the righteous Symeon signifies Jesus as God’s Savior, “a light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of Israel” (Luke 2: 32). He goes on to tell Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Luke 2:34-35).

So again, the new born Babe of Mary is designated as Savior, this time by the righteous Symeon. He also calls the Holy Child, “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.” Did Mary know exactly who this Child was that she recently gave birth to? Greater things were spoken of Him than any of the prophets. Yet with all this good beyond any expectation, the evil and suffering to come is also foretold. For her Son is described by Symeon as, “a sign to be spoken against”, and she is told, “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.” “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

In addition to all that has been said thus far, we know that the Theotokos, along with the Apostles and the rest of the followers of Christ, witnessed the miracles of His Divine power and heard His preaching. He healed men’s sicknesses and cast out devils. He had power over the natural world, stilling the sea and winds, changing water into wine and multiplying the loaves and fish. He raised the dead, and even Lazarus after he had been dead four days. He did these things not by praying to God, as the prophets before Him, but by the word of His Own power. Yet Christ also foretold His Passion, the Cross, His death, and Resurrection on the third day.

So now we come to the Cross….to be continued

The Annunciation: Did Mary doubt?

The Annunciation: Did Mary doubt?
I apologize to my readers for being late with this post. I was hoping to have it ready in the middle of last week before celebrating the Sunday of the Cross. But since we are still approaching the Annunciation on the Old Calendar, and time-wise it is actually a universal event, I hope this will be of interest.

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, “Rejoice, O full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” Then said Mary unto the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:26-34)

Why wasn’t Mary rebuked as Zechariah? In the Temple when the angel announced to him that his wife would bear a son he replied, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years?” Their answers to the angel are basically the same. So then, why wasn’t Mary rebuked? Did Mary doubt?   Our Lady Theotokos did not doubt, she exercised discretion. As a person’s purity increases so does his discernment. Our most pure Lady Theotokos was discreet. In order to understand this we must consider the historical background and look into the account of Mary’s life before the visit of the Archangel Gabriel.

From the age of three she lived at the Temple of the Lord in of the Lord in Jerusalem. When she reached the marriageable age for young women of her time she was obliged to leave the Temple and marry. But we learn from early Christian literature that Mary had vowed to remain a virgin. So let us take a few excerpts from the historical information we have available (I will use the titles for these works as given by recent scholars). First “The Protoevangelium of James” tells us:

When she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, test perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? And they said to the high priest: Thou standest by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto thee, that also will we do. And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 8, p. 363)

This lacks detail and leaves us with a question that needs to be answered: Why did the high priest need to pray specially for her? Why was she different from all the other young women at the Temple? In “The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew” we read more:

Then Abiathar the priest offered gifts without end to the high priests, in order that he might obtain her as wife to his son. But Mary forbade them, saying: It cannot be that I should know a man, or that a man should know me. For all the priests and all her relations kept saying to her: God is worshipped in children and adored in posterity, as has always happened among the sons of Israel. But Mary answered and said unto them: God is worshipped in chastity, as is proved first of all. For before Abel there was none righteous among men, and he by his offerings pleased God, and was without mercy slain by him who displeased Him. Two crowns, therefore, he received-of oblation and of virginity, because in his flesh there was no pollution. Elias also, when he was in the flesh, was taken up in the flesh, because he kept his flesh unspotted. Now I, from my infancy in the temple of God, have learned that virginity can be sufficiently dear to God. And so, because I can offer what is dear to God, I have resolved in my heart that I should not know a man at all.
Now it came to pass, when she was fourteen years old, and on this account there was occasion for the Pharisees’ saying that it was now a custom that no woman of that age should abide in the temple of God. (Ibid, pp. 371-2)

Finally, in “The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary” we have a few more details:

The virgin of the Lord advanced in age and in virtues; and though, in the words of the Psalmist, her father and mother had forsaken her, the Lord took her up.7 For daily was she visited by angels, daily did she enjoy a divine vision, which preserved her from all evil, and made her to abound in all good. And so she reached her fourteenth year; and not only were the wicked unable to charge her with anything worthy of reproach, but all the good, who knew her life and conversation, judged her to be worthy of admiration. Then the high priest publicly announced that the virgins who were publicly settled in the temple, and had reached this time of life, should return home and get married, according to the custom of the nation and the ripeness of their years. The others readily obeyed this command; but Mary alone, the virgin of the Lord, answered that she could not do this, saying both that her parents had devoted her to the service of the Lord, and that, moreover, she herself had made to the Lord a vow of virginity, which she would never inviolate by any intercourse with man. And the high priest, being placed in great perplexity of mind, seeing that neither did he think that the vow should be broken contrary to the Scripture, which says, Vow and pay, nor did he dare to introduce a custom unknown to the nation, gave order that at the festival, which was at hand, all the chief persons from Jerusalem and the neighbourhood should be present, in order that from their advice he might know what was to be done in so doubtful a case. And when this took place, they resolved unanimously that the Lord should be consulted upon this matter. And when they all bowed themselves in prayer, the high priest went to consult God in the usual way. Nor had they long to wait: in the hearing of all a voice issued from the oracle and from the mercy-seat, that, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, a man should be sought out to whom the virgin ought to be entrusted and espoused. For it is clear that Isaiah says: A rod shall come forth from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall ascend from his root; and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of wisdom and piety; and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. According to this prophecy, therefore, he predicted that all of the house and family of David that were unmarried and fit for marriage should bring their rods to the altar; and that he whose rod after it was brought should produce a flower, and upon the end of whose rod the Spirit of the Lord should settle in the form of a dove, was the man to whom the virgin ought to be entrusted and espoused. (Ibid. pp. 385-6)

We see that young Mary had a vow of virginity which was blessed by the priests. So then, who is this that comes to her and tells her she will bear a child. Is it really an Archangel or is it satan tempting again as he did with Eve. Young Mary, who was to become the Mother of God, was discreet and she questioned. And when she learned that the conception would come to pass through the power of the Holy Spirit without the touch of man she replied: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke1:38).

Through the prayers of the all-holy Theotokos may we acquire these virtues of discretion and obedience.