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Homily for 8/28/05 - Dormition of the Mother of God

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  • David Moser
    The Dormition of the Mother of God is one of the great feasts of the Church. Today we remember the falling asleep or death of the Theotokos. This is a
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 28, 2005
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      The Dormition of the Mother of God is one of the great feasts of the Church.
      Today we remember the falling asleep or death of the Theotokos. This is a
      noteworthy event in that the Ever Virgin Mary is the greatest among the
      saints and so is the "gold standard" for us of how we respond to Jesus
      Christ. Her repose is the culmination of a truly Christian life; she is a
      "fully developed" Christian. This feast gives us the opportunity to look at
      her life and to see how it can and should be for all of us.



      The Ever-Virgin Mary is in no way different from any other human being. She
      was born, like all of us, into the fallen world with the same "infection" of
      sin and death and the same subjection to corruption as the rest of us. Her
      life is therefore something that all of us can imitate in our own Christian
      walk. What is it about her life that makes it exceptional? The Ever-Virgin
      Mary was a person who lived her life completely oriented towards the love of
      God. From her very early age when she entered the temple of her own accord
      (as we recall in the feast of the Entry of the Virgin) she consistently
      directed her will to choose only those things which were pleasing to God,
      she directed both the spiritual and physical energies of her life towards
      God. She lived a life of ascetic labor constantly cutting off her own will
      to conform herself to the vision of God. She lived a life full of the
      virtues and of the knowledge of God. She lived a life of unquestioning and
      unswerving faith in God. She lived a life of constant prayer. This life
      that she led brought her to the end of her life when she willingly
      surrendered her earthly life and was received into the arms of her Son and
      Savior Jesus Christ and entered into the Kingdom of God where she shines as
      more brightly with the light of Christ than any of the saints.



      The first thing that she did in her life was to use her will to direct all
      of her spiritual and physical powers towards a Godly life. This is simply a
      matter of choice for all of us. Now in saying that it is "simply a matter
      of choice" I recognize that it is in fact not so simple at all. Our free
      will is unruly and headstrong and is bent on getting its own way. Therefore
      this choosing requires effort on our part and as we choose God, to a greater
      or lesser degree, we also are affected by that choice. The Ever-Virgin Mary
      trained her will from her very earliest moments to choose God's will rather
      than her own self will. Many of us, coming to this realization of the
      importance of choosing Christ later than she, also find that our self will
      has developed its own strength and stubbornness. As a result we must, at
      first, put forth a great effort to constrain our self will and bring it into
      line with God's will. (Note here that we conform our will to God's will - we
      do not conform God's will to our will.) Having done this we must also be
      vigilant that our self will does not reassert itself and again run wild.
      This turning of the self will to God's will, choosing to serve God rather
      than ourselves is the very first step in our salvation. It is a matter of
      orienting our whole lives on the pivotal point of seeking salvation, of
      seeking to be united to Christ and to become like Him.



      Having made this choice, the Mother of God manifested her choice in her
      actions and vision of God. At every opportunity she cut off her self will
      though ascetic labor, she weakened the demands of the passions so that the
      physical energy produced by them could be harnessed and channeled into
      spiritual pursuits. In order to do this, her spiritual energies had to be
      focused also on a goal. This goal is the Kingdom of God which, as she
      constantly turned her spiritual eyes towards heaven, became the object of
      her vision, her goal as it were. Everything she saw and experienced was
      interpreted in the light of the Kingdom of God, she was illumined by the
      grace of God falling from heaven upon her soul and this light enabled her to
      begin to see with the spiritual vision the path to the Kingdom of God. In
      following her on this path of salvation, we too turn our spiritual vision
      upon the Kingdom of God, letting that vision fill our soul and our mind and
      heart with its beauty and grace. Just as the Holy Virgin, living in the
      temple, perceived her surroundings as an icon of the reality of heaven, so
      we, when we enter the Church or gaze at the icons of the Savior and the
      saints can begin to perceive the reality of heaven for ourselves. She used
      this vision of heaven to guide her actions, to deny herself and cut off her
      own desires and passions focusing the whole of her earthly life on imitating
      the heavenly life. Her actions became the reflection or manifestation of
      her heavenly vision.



      We too, having chosen God, will begin to focus our spiritual and physical
      attention away from the things of this world and from anything that will
      distract us from the Kingdom of Heaven and turn our vision instead upon
      heavenly things. In this it is necessary to purge from your mind and heart
      those distracting and competing visions personal glory, worldly wealth and
      success, the esteem of men and all of the temptations of the world. It is
      also necessary to turn our actions away from those things which do not
      conform to the heavenly vision. The greater our focus on the Kingdom of God,
      the easier this becomes, however, it is still necessary as always to purge
      from our lives the passions and desires that lead us away from Christ and
      back into our own self will. This we accomplish by ascetic labor and by
      self denial. The purpose of this is not to eliminate the good things or
      pleasures of this world from our lives, but rather that they might be used
      and directed to their intended purpose, that is to help us in our spiritual
      journey on the path of salvation.



      As she developed her spiritual vision and focused it upon God alone, she
      began to learn about God, not through books or lessons or academic pursuit,
      but through direct experience of the heavenly kingdom, guided by the High
      Priest Zachariah who had received her as a child into the temple. This
      knowledge of God was manifested in her life by the development of virtues.
      As she learned about God and as she gained direct knowledge of Him, she
      began to direct her actions on not only the asceticism of denying herself
      but on the positive action of developing the virtues in herself. Having put
      off the rags of self righteousness and of her passions through self denial,
      she began to clothe and adorn herself instead with the robe of righteousness
      and the adornments of the virtues (such things as love, humility, patience,
      tolerance, mercy, generosity, charity and so on). In this way she became
      more and more like God. Of course, all of this is the result of the action
      of the grace of God in her life (not of her own ability or strength) to
      which she oriented herself from the beginning.



      Just as the Mother of God opened herself to the grace of God so that she
      might gain knowledge of God through direct experience and through this grace
      allowed, even encouraged, the virtues to develop in her, this is also our
      task. We too must pursue the knowledge of God, not just knowing about Him
      from the outside, but gaining direct experience of Him through prayer and
      interaction with Him, and by seeing His constant presence and providence in
      our lives. Through learning the lives of the saints we can learn also to
      recognize the hand of God acting in our own lives just as He acted in
      theirs. This knowledge of God is then manifested in us, through our desire
      to imitate Him, in the development of the virtues. As we see and experience
      God more clearly, we also begin more closely to imitate Him and to acquire
      for ourselves the beauty of the virtues that we might please Him. The
      psalmist describes this action by likening it to a bride preparing for her
      wedding, "As a bride adorns herself with jewels so hast Thou adorned me".
      This acquisition and development of the virtues in our lives that we might
      please God is not something done out of fear or an attempt at bargaining,
      but it is truly an act born out of our love for God (as a bride for her
      bridegroom).



      As the experience of God became for the Virgin an ingrained part of her
      nature, as it became a natural part of her life, so she also developed an
      unwavering, unswerving faith. Knowing the nature of God, recognizing His
      hand in her life and in the world, the Ever-Virgin was able to put all of
      her trust and faith in Him, having confidence in His good will and
      providence for her, knowing that He desired for her only that which would
      bring her safely into His Kingdom.



      For us to have this same unswerving faith, we must also nurture the
      knowledge of God in our souls so that it becomes a "second nature" for us.
      The more we know God, the more our faith in Him will become complete and
      doubtless. The closer our relationship with God the more confidence we have
      in Him and the more we will be able to put in His hands. Faith is not
      something magical that we will into being on our own, rather it is the
      result that grows out of the knowledge of God. Faith does not produce a
      relationship with God, rather faith is the result of our relationship with
      God.



      On the spiritual side this relationship with God leads us to Truth (for God
      is Truth) and on the physical side, this relationship with God leads us to
      Good (for God is all-good). Our salvation, that is our deification (the
      acquiring of the likeness of God) comes with the union of the Truth and the
      Good. Just as the Apostle James tells us that faith without works is dead,
      Truth with out Good is incomplete and Good without Truth is empty. However,
      the joining of the two brings us into union with God. This is the
      culmination of the Godly life, that in the same person Truth and Good are
      united and the likeness of God is manifested in a person united with God.
      This deification, this likeness of God is what we observe in the Ever-Virgin
      Mary at the end of her life. Like a fruit that grows on the vine and ripens
      to its full sweetness and perfection so also the Virgin, at the end of her
      earthly life, was filled with the sweetness of grace and ripened to
      perfection. And just as such a fruit is picked by the owner of the
      vineyard, so also the Holy Virgin is plucked from this world and taken into
      the Kingdom of Heaven by God. Such is the goal of all of us, to be filled
      with the sweetness of grace and to have the image and likeness of God ripen
      in us to perfection. This is our salvation, this is what we strive for,
      this is our goal. This is what we see in the life of the Mother of God and
      this is what we desire for ourselves.
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