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MANY YEARS ON THE FEAST

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  • Fr. Panagiotes Carras
    A Homily on the Dormition of Our Supremely Pure Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary by St. Gregory Palamas Both love and duty today fashion my homily for your
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 28, 2001
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      A Homily on the Dormition of Our Supremely Pure Lady Theotokos and
      Ever-Virgin Mary

      by St. Gregory Palamas



      Both love and duty today fashion my homily for your charity. It is not
      only that I wish,
      because of my love for you, and because I am obliged by the sacred
      canons, to bring to
      your God-loving ears a saving word and thus to nourish your souls, but
      if there be any
      among those things that bind by obligation and love and can be narrated
      with praise for
      the Church, it is the great deed of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. The
      desire is double, not
      single, since it induces me, entreats and persuades me, whereas the
      inexorable duty
      constrains me, though speech cannot attain to what surpasses it, just as
      the eye is
      unable to look fixedly upon the sun. One cannot utter things which
      surpass speech, yet it
      is within our power by the love for mankind of those hymned, to compose
      a song of praise
      and all at once both to leave untouched intangible things, to satisfy
      the debt with words
      and to offer up the first fruits of our love for the Mother of God in
      hymns composed
      according to our abilities.

      If, then, "death of the righteous man is honorable" (cf. Ps. 115:6) and
      the "memory of the
      just man is celebrated with songs of praise" (Prov. 10:7). How much more
      ought we to
      honor with great praises the memory of the holiest of the saints, she by
      whom all holiness
      is afforded to the saints, I mean the Ever-Virgin. Mother of God! Even
      so we celebrate
      today her holy dormition or translation to another life, whereby, while
      being "a little lower
      than angels" (Ps. 8:6), by her proximity to the God of all, and in the
      wondrous deeds which
      from the beginning of time were written down and accomplished with
      respect to her, she
      has ascended incomparably higher than the angels and the archangels and
      all the
      super-celestial hosts that are found beyond them. For her sake the
      God-possessed
      prophets pronounce prophecies, miracles are wrought to foreshow that
      future Marvel of
      the whole world, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. The flow of generations
      and
      circumstances journeys to the destination of that new mystery wrought in
      her; the
      statutes of the Spirit provide beforehand types of the future truth. The
      end, or rather the
      beginning and root, of those divine wonders and deeds is the
      annunciation to the
      supremely virtuous Joachim and Anna of what was to be accomplished:
      namely, that they
      who were barren from youth would beget in deep old age her that would
      bring forth
      without seed Him that was timelessly begotten of God the Father before
      the ages. A vow
      was given by those who marvelously begot her to return her that was
      given to the Giver;
      so accordingly the Mother of God strangely changed her dwelling from the
      house of her
      father to the house of God while still an infant . She passed not a few
      years in the Holy of
      Holies itself, wherein under the care of an angel she enjoyed ineffable
      nourishment such
      as even Adam did not succeed in tasting; for indeed if he had, like this
      immaculate one,
      he would not have fallen away from life, even though it was because of
      Adam and so that
      she might prove to be his daughter, that she yielded a little to nature,
      as did her Son, Who
      has now ascended from earth into heaven.

      But after that unutterable nourishment, a most mystical economy of
      courtship came to
      pass as regards the Virgin, a strange greeting surpassing speech which
      the Archangel,
      descended from above, addressed to her, and disclosures and salutations
      from God which
      overturn the condemnation of Eve and Adam and remedy the curse laid on
      them,
      transforming it into a blessing. The King of all "hath desired a mystic
      beauty" of the
      Ever-Virgin, as David foretold (Ps. 44:11) and, "He bowed the heavens
      and came down"
      (Ps. 17:9) and overshadowed her, or rather, the enhypostatic Power of
      the Most High
      dwelt in her. Not through darkness and fire, as with Moses the God-seer,
      nor through
      tempest and cloud, as with Elias the prophet, did He manifest His
      presence, but without
      mediation, without a veil, the Power of the Most High overshadowed the
      sublimely chaste
      and virginal womb, separated by nothing, neither air nor aether nor
      anything sensible, nor
      anything supra-sensible: this was not an overshadowing but a complete
      union. Since what
      overshadows is always wont to produce its own form and figure in
      whatever is
      overshadowed, there came to pass in the womb not a union only, but
      further, a formation,
      and that thing formed from the Power of the Most High and the all-holy
      virginal womb was
      the incarnate Word of God. Thus the Word of God took up His dwelling in
      the Theotokos in
      an inexpressible manner and proceeded from her, bearing flesh . He
      appeared upon the
      earth and lived among men, deifying our nature and granting us, after
      the words of the
      divine Apostle, "things which angels desire to look into" (1 Pet. 1:12).
      This is the
      encomium which transcends nature and the surpassingly glorious glory of
      the Ever-Virgin,
      glory for which all mind and word suffice not, though they be angelic.
      But who can relate
      those things which came to pass after His ineffable birth? For, as she
      co-operated and
      suffered with that exalting condescension (kenosis) of the Word of God,
      she was also
      rightly glorified and exalted together with Him, ever adding thereto the
      supernatural
      increase of mighty deeds. And after the ascent into the heavens of Him
      that was
      incarnate of her, she rivaled, as it were, those great works, surpassing
      mind and speech,
      which through Him were her own, with a most valiant and diverse
      asceticism, and with
      her prayers and care for the entire world, her precepts and
      encouragements which she
      gave to God's heralds sent throughout the whole world; thus she was
      herself both a
      support and a comfort while she was both heard and seen, and while she
      labored with the
      rest in every way for the preaching of the Gospel. In such wise she led
      a most strenuous
      manner of life proclaimed in mind and speech.

      Therefore, the death of the Theotokos was also life-bearing, translating
      her into a
      celestial and immortal life and its commemoration is a joyful event and
      festivity for the
      entire world. It not merely renews the memory of the wondrous deeds of
      the Mother of
      God, but also adds thereto the strange gathering at her all-sacred
      burial of all the sacred
      apostles conveyed from every nation, the God-revealing hymns of these
      God-possessed
      ones, and the solicitous presence of the angels, and their choir, and
      liturgy round about
      her, going on before, following after, assisting, opposing, defending,
      being defended. They
      labored and chanted together to their uttermost with those who venerated
      that life-
      originating and God-receiving body, the saving balsam for our race and
      the boast of all
      creation; but they strove against and opposed with a secret hand the
      Jews who rose up
      against and attacked that body with hand and will set upon theomachy.
      All the while the
      Lord Sabaoth Himself, the Son of the Ever-Virgin, was present, into
      Whose hands she
      rendered her divinely-minded spirit, through which and with which its
      companion, her
      body, was translated into the domain of celestial and endless life, even
      as was and is
      fitting. In truth, many have been allotted divine favor and glory and
      power, as David says,
      "But to me exceedingly honorable are Thy friends, O Lord, their
      principalities are made
      exceeding strong. I will count them and they shall be multiplied more
      than the sand" (Ps.
      138:17). And according to Solomon, "many daughters have attained wealth,
      many have
      wrought valiantly; but she doth exceed, she hath surpassed all, both men
      and women" (cf.
      Prov. 31:29). For while she alone stood between God and the whole human
      race, God
      became the Son of Man and made men sons of God; she made earth heavenly,
      she deified
      the human race, and she alone of all women was shown forth to be a
      mother by nature
      and the Mother of God transcending every law of nature, and by her
      ineffable
      childbirth-the Queen of all creation, both terrestial and celestial.
      Thus she exalted those
      under her through herself, and, showing while on earth an obedience to
      things heavenly
      rather than things earthly, she partook of more excellent deserts and of
      superior power,
      and from the ordination which she received from heaven by the Divine
      Spirit, she became
      the most sublime of the sublime and the supremely blest Queen of a
      blessed race.

      But now the Mother of God has her dwelling in Heaven whither she was
      today translated,
      for this is meet, Heaven being a suitable place for her. She "stands at
      the right of the
      King of all clothed in a vesture wrought with gold and arrayed with
      divers colors" (cf. Ps.
      44:9), as the psalmic prophecy says con- cerning her. By "vesture
      wrought with gold"
      understand her divinely radiant body arrayed with divers colors of every
      virtue. She alone
      in her body, glorified by God, now enjoys the celestial realm together
      with her Son. For,
      earth and grave and death did not hold forever her life-originating and
      God-receiving body
      -the dwelling more favored than Heaven and the Heaven of heavens. If,
      therefore, her
      soul, which was an abode of God's grace, ascended into Heaven when
      bereaved of things
      here below, a thing which is abundantly evident, how could it be that
      the body which not
      only received in itself the pre-eternal and only-begotten Son of God,
      the ever-flowing
      Wellspring of grace, but also manifested His Body by way of birth,
      should not have also
      been taken up into Heaven? Or, if while yet three years of age and not
      yet possessing that
      super- celestial in-dwelling, she seemed not to bear our flesh as she
      abode in the Holy of
      Holies, and after she became supremely perfect even as regards her body
      by such great
      marvels, how indeed could that body suffer corruption and turn to earth?
      How could such
      a thing be conceivable for anyone who thinks reasonably'? Hence, the
      body which gave
      birth is glorified together with what was born of it with God-befitting
      glory, and the "ark
      of holiness" (Ps. 131:8) is resurrected, after the prophetic ode,
      together with Christ Who
      formerly arose from the dead on the third day. The strips of linen and
      the burial clothes
      afford the apostles a demonstration of the Theotokos' resurrection from
      the dead, since
      they remained alone in the tomb and at the apostles' scrutiny they were
      found there, even
      as it had been with the Master. There was no necessity for her body to
      delay yet a little
      while in the earth, as was the case with her Son and God, and so it was
      taken up
      straightway from the tomb to a super-celestial realm, from whence she
      flashes forth most
      brilliant and divine illuminations and graces, irradiating earth's
      region; thus she is
      worshipped and marvelled at and hymned by all the faithful . Willing to
      set up an image of
      all goodness and beauty and to make clearly manifest His own therein to
      both angels and
      men, God fashioned a being supremely good and beautiful, uniting in her
      all good, seen
      and unseen, which when He made the world He distributed to each thing
      and thereby
      adorned all; or rather one might say, He showed her forth as a universal
      mixing bowl of all
      divine, angelic and human things good and beautiful and the supreme
      beauty which
      embellished both worlds. By her ascension now from the tomb, she is
      taken from the
      earth and attains to Heaven and this also she surpasses, uniting those
      on high with those
      below, and encompassing all with the wondrous deed wrought in her. In
      this manner she
      was in the beginning "a little lower than the angels" (Ps. 8:6), as it
      is said, referring to her
      mortality, yet this only served to magnify her pre-eminence as regards
      all creatures. Thus
      all things today fittingly gather and commune for the festival.

      It was meet that she who contained Him that fills all things and who
      surpasses all should
      outstrip all and become by her virtue superior to them in the eminence
      of her dignity.
      Those things which sufficed the most excellent among men that have lived
      throughout the
      ages in order to reach such excellency, and that which all those graced
      of God have
      separately, both angels and men, she combines, and these she alone
      brings to fulfillment
      and surpasses. And this she now has beyond all: That she has become
      immortal after
      death and alone dwells together with her Son and God in her body. For
      this reason she
      pours forth from thence abundant grace upon those who honor her-for she
      is a receptacle
      of great graces-and she grants us even our ability to look towards her.
      Because of her
      goodness she lavishes sublime gifts upon us and never ceases to provide
      a profitable and
      abundant tribute in our behalf. If a man looks towards this concurrence
      and dispensing of
      every good, he will say that the Virgin is for virtue and those who live
      virtuously, what the
      sun is for perceptible light and those who live in it. But if he raises
      the eye of his mind to
      the Sun which rose for men from this Virgin in a wondrous manner, the
      Sun which by
      nature possesses all those (lualities which were added to her nature by
      grace, he shall
      straightaway call the Virgin a heaven. The excellent inheritance of
      every good which she
      has been allotted so m uch exceeds in holiness the portion of those who
      are divinely
      graced both under and above heaven as the heaven is greater than the sun
      and the sun is
      more radiant than heaven.

      Who can describe in words thy divinely resplendent beauty, O Virgin
      Mother of God?
      Thoughts and words are inadequate to define thine attributes, since they
      surpass mind
      and speech. Yet it is meet to chant hymns of praise to thee, for thou
      art a vessel
      containing every grace, the fulness of all things good and beautiful,
      the tablet and living
      icon of every good and all uprightness, since thou alone hast been
      deemed worthy to
      receive the fulness of every gift of the Spirit. Thou alone didst bear
      in thy womb Him in
      Whom are found the treasuries of all these gifts and didst become a
      wondrous tabernacle
      for Him; hence thou didst depart by way of death to immortality and art
      translated from
      earth to Heaven, as is proper, so that thou mightest dwell with Him
      eternally in a
      super-celestial abode. From thence thou ever carest diligently for thine
      inheritance and by
      thine unsleeping intercessions with Him, thou showest mercy to all.

      To the degree that she is closer to God than all those who have drawn
      nigh unto Him, by
      so much has the Theotokos been deemed worthy of greater audience. I do
      not speak of
      rnen alone, but also of the angelic hierarchies themselves. Isaiah
      writes with regard to
      the supreme commanders of the heavenly hosts: "And the seraphim stood
      round about
      Him" (Isaiah 6:2); but David says concerning her, "at Thy right hand
      stood the queen" (Ps.
      44:8). Do you see the difference in position? From this comprehend also
      the difference in
      the dignity of their station. The seraphim are round about God, but the
      only Queen of all is
      near beside Him. She is both wondered at and praised by God Himself,
      proclaiming her, as
      it were, by the mighty deeds enacted with respect to Him, and saying, as
      it is recorded in
      the Song of Songs, "How fair is my companion" (cf. Song of Songs 6:4),
      she is more
      radiant than light, more arrayed with flowers than the divine gardens,
      more adorned than
      the whole world, visible and invisible. She is not merely a companion
      but she also stands
      at Cod's right hand, for where Christ sat in the heavens, that is, at
      the "right hand of
      majesty" (Heb. 1:3), there too she also takes her stand, having ascended
      now from earth
      into the heavens. Not merely does she love and is loved in return more
      than every other,
      according to the very laws of nature, but she is truly His Throne, and
      wherever the King
      sits, there His Throne is set also. And Isaiah beheld this throne amidst
      the choir of
      cherubim and called it "high" and "exalted" (Isaiah 6:1), wishing to
      make explicit how the
      station of the Mother of God far trancer Is that of the celestial hosts.

      For this reason the Prophet introduces the angels themselves as
      glorifying the God come
      from her, saying, "Blessed be the glory of the L,ord from His Place"
      (Ezek. 3:12). Jacob
      the patriarch, beholding this throne by way of types (enigmata), said,
      "How dreadful is
      this Place! This is none other than the House of God, and this is the
      Gate of Heaven"
      (Gen. 28:17). But David, joining himself to the multitude of the saved,
      who are like the
      strings of a musical instrument or like differing voices from different
      generations made
      harmonious in one faith through the Ever-Virgin, sounds a most melodic
      strain in praise of
      her, saying: "I shall commemorate thy name in every generation and
      generation. Therefore
      shall peoples give praise unto thee for ever, and unto the ages of
      ages." Do you see how
      the entire creation praises the Virgin Mother, and not only in times
      past, but "for ever,
      and unto the ages of ages"? Thus it is evident that throughout the whole
      course of the
      ages, she shall never cease from benefacting all creation, and I mean
      not only created
      nature seen round about us, but also the very supreme commanders of the
      heavenly hosts,
      whose nature is immaterial and transcendent. Isaiah shows us clearly
      that it is only
      through her that they together with us both partake of and touch God,
      that Nature which
      defies touch, for he did not see the seraphim take the coal from the
      altar without
      mediation, but with tongs, by means of which the coal touched the
      prophetic lips and
      purified them (cf. Isaiah 6:6-7). Moses beheld the tongs of that great
      vision of Isaiah when
      he saw the bush aflame with fire, yet unconsumed. And who does not know
      that the
      Virgin Mother is that very bush and those very tongs, she who herself
      (though an
      archangel also assisted at the conception) conceived the Divine Fire
      without being
      consumed, Him that taketh away the sins of the world, Who through her
      touched mankind
      and by that ineffable touch and union cleansed us entirely. Therefore,
      she only is the
      frontier between created and uncreated nature, and there is no man that
      shall come to
      God except he be truly illumined through her, that Lamp truly radiant
      with divinity, even
      as the Prophet says, "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be
      shaken'(Ps. 45:5).

      If recompense is bestowed according to the measure of love for God, and
      if the man who
      loves the Son is loved of Him and of His Father and becomes the dwelling
      place of Both,
      and They mystically abide and walk in him, as it is recorded in the
      Master's Gospel, who,
      then, will love Him more than His Mother? For, He was her only-begotten
      Son, and
      moreover she alone among women gave birth knowing no spouse, so that the
      love of Him
      that had partaken of her flesh might be shared with her twofold. And who
      will the
      only-begotten Son love more than His Mother, He that came forth from Her
      ineffably
      without a father in this last age even as He came forth from the Father
      without a mother
      before the ages'? How indeed could He that descended to fulfill the Law
      not multiply that
      honor due to His Mother over and above the ordinances of the Law?

      Hence, as it was through the Theotokos alone that the Lord came to us,
      appeared upon
      earth and lived among men, being invisible to all before this time, so
      likewise in the
      endless age to come, without her mediation, every emanation of
      illuminating divine light,
      every revelation of the mysteries of the Godhead, every form of
      spiritual gift, will exceed
      the capacity of every created being. She alone has received the
      all-pervading fulness of
      Him that filleth all things, and through her all may now contain it, for
      she dispenses it
      according to the power of each, in proportion and to the degree of the
      purity of each.
      Hence she is the treasury and overseer of the riches of the Godhead. For
      it is an
      everlasting ordinance in the heavens that the inferior partake of what
      lies beyond being,
      by the mediation of the superior, and the Virgin Mother is incomparably
      superior to all. It
      is through her that as many as partake of God do partake, and as many as
      know God
      understand her to be the enclosure of the Uncontainable One, and as many
      as hymn God
      praise her together with Him. She is the cause of what came before her,
      the champion of
      what came after her and the agent of things eternal. She is the
      substance of the prophets,
      the principle of the apostles, the firm foundation of the martyrs and
      the premise of the
      teachers of the Church . She is the glory of those upon earth, the joy
      of celestial beings,
      the adornment of all creation. She is the beginning and the source and
      root of unutterable
      good things; she is the summit and consummation of everything holy.

      O divine, and now heavenly, Virgin, how can I express all things which
      pertain to thee?
      How can I glorify the treasury of all glory? Merely thy memory
      sanctifies whoever keeps
      it, and a mere movement towards thee makes the mind more translucent,
      and thou dost
      exalt it straightway to the Divine. The eye of the intelfect is through
      thee made limpid,
      and through thee the spirit of a man is illumined by the sojourning of
      the Spirit of God,
      since thou hast become the steward of the treasury of divine gifts and
      their vault, and
      this, not in order to keep them for thyself, but so that thou mightest
      make created nature
      replete with grace. Indeed, the steward of those inexhaustible
      treasuries watches over
      them so that the riches may be dispensed; and what could confine that
      wealth which
      wanes not? Richly, therefore, bestow thy mercy and thy graces upon all
      thy people, this
      thine inheritance, O Lady! Dispel the perils which menace us. See how
      greatly we are
      expended by our own and by aliens, by those without and by those within.
      Uplift all by thy
      might: mollify our fellow citizens one with another and scatter those
      who assault us from
      without-like savage beasts. Measure out thy succor and healing in
      proportion to our
      passions, apportioning abundant grace to our souls and bodies, s
      fficient for every
      necessity. And although we may prove incapable of containing thy
      bounties, augment our
      capacity and in this manner bestow them upon us, so that being both
      saved and fortified
      by thy grace, we may glorify the pre-eternal Word Who was incarnate of
      thee for our
      sakes, together with His unoriginate Father and the life-creating
      Spirit, now and ever and
      unto the endless ages. Amen.



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