08 - St Palamas on Theotokos' Entry, Nov 18, 2018

Ephesians 4:1-6

Luke 12:16-21

A new convert to Orthodoxy once shared with me that it wasn’t until he “got” the Theotokos that he “got” Orthodoxy. This is true! May I therefore take the unusual measure this morning of setting before you not my own words but excerpts from St Gregory Palamas’ sermon on the Theotokos’ Entry into the Temple, the Feast we celebrate this Wednesday, as we begin the Fast of St Philip and, raising our minds on high, draw near to Bethlehem to behold the Virgin giving birth to the precious Rose in the Cave? The sainted bishop expresses the devotion and love we feel for the All-Blessed Panagia, the Holy Mother of Our LORD, God and Savior Jesus Christ. For, she is the Living Temple, the Palace in whom the Creator and King of all creation dwells. It is in her and through her that our God became flesh and dwelt among us, and saved us so that we can become one with God. Without her, there would be no Incarnation, no Christ, no salvation, no union with God.

“In the beginning, God formed Man [alone] with the capacity for mind. But, as the human race progressed, there was no one able to contain God, ‘by whom are all things and for whom are all things’ (Heb 2:10). So, He graciously willed to create this ever-virgin Maid, His Palace, who was shown to be capable not simply of containing the ‘fullness of the Godhead bodily’ (Col 2:9), but—O marvelous wonder!—to bring Him to birth and to form for all men ties of kinship with God.

“She is the sacred starting point of the spiritual Israel, all Christian people, because [in the mystery of His Incarnation] she was the cause of Him who is above all causality. Through Him she lifted men up from the earth and rendered them heavenly, showing them to be spirit instead of flesh, and making them children of God…She made God the Son of Man and men the sons of God. She alone was shown to be the natural mother of God in a supernatural way, and by her indescribable childbearing she became the Queen of the entire creation in this world and beyond, for ‘all things were by Him’ who was born of her, and ‘without Him was not any thing made that was made’ (Jn 1:3).

“The symbols of her rule are not crowns, or choice gems, ornaments and fabrics, or regal costume. Such things were invented for those whose clothes reign rather than their souls. Instead, the tokens of her royal power are indescribable graces beyond our comprehension, abilities and energies surpassing nature and directed heavenwards, higher still than the adornments of heaven. They are prophecies and divine tidings transforming the laws of nature for the better; the coming of the divine Spirit, the overshadowing by the power of the Highest, the extraordinary combination of conception and virginity; and most miraculous of miracles: the delivery of a babe from the womb, the birth from a mother who knew no husband, without destroying the symbols of virginity but preserving them intact.

“We keep [her] festival because we have seen the prize won for the good of us all by her unrivalled patient endurance in the Holy of Holies: God’s marvelous descent to earth through her and our own glorious ascent to heaven through Him. While the holy Maid dwelt in the innermost sanctuary, she ‘Made high ascents in her heart’ (Ps 84:5 LXX), which truly reached as far as the heavens themselves, and drew the heavenly LORD from there to us.  There, according to the Scripture, ‘The King’s daughter was all glorious from within’ (Ps 45:13), and as she was vastly superior to the rest of mankind in the inexpressible beauty of her purity, it pleased the Creator to prepare from her, His creature, as from radiant gold, an image sharing His divine nature, and, ‘being made in the likeness of men’ (Phil 2:7), He adapted the work of His hands to be worthy of Him, its Maker.

“Do you see how she exalted all those below her through herself, and showed what it meant to be a heavenly subject instead of an earthly one. She became the highest Queen of all, and the most blessed Sovereign of a blessed race, sending out all around her, from both body and soul, bright and holy rays of light.

“Within the inmost sanctuary, as though in a sublime palace, she was committed to God as a living royal throne, higher than any other, and provided with all the virtues appropriate to the great King who was to sit there. Where else could be better for God’s tent to be pitched? Surely it was absolutely necessary for the actual tabernacle to be set up in the same place as the figurative one!

“It was because Moses foresaw that she would be the living tabernacle who would hold God that he erected that other tabernacle, indicating to all in advance, by word and deed, the extraordinary all-surpassing worthiness that would be hers from infancy. She was the true shrine and resting-place of God, an incomparably better mercy-seat for Him, and the divinely beautiful treasure-house of the highest pinnacle of the Spirit’s mysteries.

What words, O Mother of God and Virgin, can describe your divinely radiant beauty? You alone were vouchsafed the gifts of the Spirit in their totality; or rather, you alone held mysteriously in your womb Him in whom are the treasures of all these spiritual gifts, and became inexplicably His tabernacle. Therefore, you were the object of His care from your infancy, showing from that time forward, by means of such strange events as this [your entry into the Temple] that you were the unchanging shrine of all His graces.

The reason mankind was brought into being by God was so that they might apprehend the [beauty of] the visible creation, and by means of it, go beyond it with their minds to invisible beauties, that they might sing the praises of God, the one Creator of all. But, the Virgin was made to persuade those who beheld her to marvel at the Creator. She appeared on earth in all her manifold beauty, as a great wonder outshining heavenly luminaries and angels. It had to be so, because if ‘the King’s daughter is all glorious from within’ (Ps 45:13 LXX), her outward appearance and everything about her could not be out of keeping, but were rightly in harmony and concord with what lay within.

For, the prophet does not say that all the glory of the king’s daughter is ‘within’, but ‘from within’, meaning that it pours forth like light from within her to without, revealing to all those who see it the magnificence stored up inside her.

If God requites us according to the measure of our love for Him, and he who loves the Son is loved by Him and by His Father, and becomes in a mysterious way the dwelling of both, as they make their home and walk in his soul, as the LORD promised (Jn 14:23, 2 Cor 6:16), who could love Him more than His Mother? But, who could be more beloved to the only-begotten Son than His Mother?

“Just as it was through her alone that He came to us, and ‘appeared on earth and lived among men’ (Baruch 3:37), whereas previously He was invisible to all, so in the unending age that follows, any progress towards divine illumination, every revelation of the mysteries of the divine order, and every kind of spiritual gift is beyond the capacity of anyone, without her. She brought Christ within the grasp of all. As many as will share in God will do so through her. O Holy Virgin, you did not become the keeper and store of graces so as to have them for yourself, but to fill the universe with grace. Share it abundantly with us, O Lady, and if we cannot contain it, enlarge our capacity, and then lavish it upon us.” O Most Holy Virgin Theotokos, we magnify thee! Holy Father, Gregory Palamas, pray to God for us! Amen!