Yesterday was the Protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos on the new calendar, and so, what follows is a ser5mon on this feast taken from the book: “O Full of Grace, Glory to Thee.
The Protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos
“Today the Virgin standeth forth in the church, and with the choirs of the saints she invisibly prayeth to God for us”. (1) Beloved of God, these few words from the hymnography of today’s feast declares to us the point that the Church wants to impress upon us in its institution of this commemoration. Today we are remembering, and celebrating, a particular historical event. We are commemorating one of a number of revelations of the intercession and protection of the Mother of God for us.
On this day, in the year 911, St. Andrew the fool for Christ, and his disciple St. Epiphanius, saw the Mother of God standing in the Blachernae Church of Constantinople. She was suspended in the air, praying for the protection of the imperial city which was on the verge of being attacked.
That which they saw, as was said, was a revelation. It was not a vision of something abstract and in need of interpretation, but it was something quite palpable, something actual, a fact, and so a revelation of something real. It was the manifestation of a particular truth, that is, the intercession and protection of the Mother of God. The people of Constantinople had gathered in the Blachernae Church beseeching help for their city which was about to be besieged. They were in jeopardy, and the Mother of God was praying for the people. As we know, the city of Constantinople was protected and saved from destruction through her prayers. Therefore, this feast is called the Protection of the Theotokos. Yet this intercession and protection of the Mother of God is not something abstract, nor is it something of the past, lost in history, and no longer active. On the contrary it is something real and active, and not only in one great church, or in churches at large, or in some particular holy places, nor is it limited to some number of elect holy people. But the intercession and protection of the Mother of God is something real and active everywhere and for everyone. And although she may help us in physical danger as in the historical background of today’s feast, or assist in material needs, her help is foremost and primarily in connection with those things that lead to salvation.
For just as Our Lord, according to the Apostle Paul, “desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (ITim. 2:4), so does our Most Pure Lady desire the same. And what is the source of this desire of hers? Her love for the people, her love for the people of God. In her love she surpasses all, not only all of mankind but even all the ranks of the angelic hosts. For she is the highest of all creation, having contained within herself one of the Holy Trinity, God the Word, to Whom she gave birth. Therefore she also possesses greater grace of the Holy Spirit than all. So her natural human goodness, which she nurtured and developed as far as one could, empowered by this grace, makes her love for God and the people greater than all. Perhaps this is why in the Post- Communion Prayers we call her the “tenderhearted, loving Mother of the merciful God”. (2)
Let us take a few minutes to reflect upon this: Mary, one of our own race, and the Mother of God, loves us. She loves us greatly. She desires our salvation. She painfully longs for our salvation. She intercedes for us, and as with heartfelt sighs she pleads for our salvation. This is something we should never forget. It is something we should ever be aware of. So let us now consider: How should we react to this great love of the Mother of God for us? It is certainly impossible for us not to love her in return. And how can we express this, our love, for the Mother of God? By working, by struggling for that which she desires more than anything else. And what is it that she desires more than anything else? Our salvation, just as God does, so does she desire that “all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”.
So we must struggle to work out our salvation. How? We know the difference between good and evil. We must reject all evil and fulfill all the good we know, then, the good that we do not know will be revealed to us. And so we shall have an ascent in the understanding and fulfillment of the precepts of the gospel which are words of eternal life. Let us strive for our salvation and not disappoint the Mother of God who loves us so much. Let us avoid all sin. For through sin we disappoint the Mother of God, and we must admit that we thus hurt her. Would any of us here want to hurt the Mother of God who loves us so much? Of course not! So let us make her glad. Let us make our way of life a cause of joy to the Mother of God. Let us be aggressive in that which is good. Let us not be self-satisfied or stagnant in whatever state we are in, for salvation is an unending process of growth in the likeness of God. So let us struggle to ever increase in all good, in purity, in humility, in love — things in which the Mother of God abounded. Thus we shall be a cause of joy to the Mother of God and through her intercessions we shall be given the grace of the Holy Spirit. And if we preserve and grow in this grace we ourselves can become as a God-bearer. Not that we give birth like a parent but that we give birth to God in our very being, that is, that we carry or contain God within ourselves. If God thus lives within us when we pass from this life, this state of grace shall make for us an entrance into of the kingdom of heaven, because when we appear before God He will recognize us as one of His own.
Let us, therefore, strive for this grace which is available to us. For what in this world can be compared to this grace in value? Is there anything so precious, so valuable, as having God perceptibly live within us? Why should any of us immerse ourselves in the life of this world with its pleasures, its comforts, its entertainments, when God is ready to give us a participation in His life? What is so demeaning as to immerse ourselves in the things of this world when we can participate in the uncreated divine energy of God, which is His life? We shall be judged, so let us do what is right. Let us remember how the Mother of God is always praying for us, and so in our actions let us ever do good deeds, and in our minds let us be ever immersed in the things of God. If we do this, God will not forsake us, and when we depart from this life He shall receive us into His heavenly kingdom. There, together with the Mother of God and all the saints, we shall glorify Him throughout the endless ages, world without end. Amen.
(1) The Menaion of the Orthodox Church, trans. Reader Isaac E. Lambertsen, Vol. II October, Liberty, Tennessee, The St. John of Krondstadt Press, 1999, p. 11
(2) The fifth Prayer of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion, to the Most Holy Theotokos. Translation is from the Slavonic.