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Weekly Message 08-17-08: The Birthgiver Of God

In these days, just prior to the glorious feast of the Falling Asleep in the Lord of the Mother of God, we are gathered by the grace of the Holy Spirit to sing the praises and extol the virtues of the Birthgiver. It is as if we are collecting together, synthesizing as it were, all the virtue and holiness that is celebrated in all her august feast days throughout the year. Because she is one of us, because she is the perfect human being after Jesus Christ, the God-man, we are challenged by the reminder of the Church to seek after her perfection made possible only by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Human language is barren and sterile, even impotent before the truth of her exaltation in the sight of our Creator God.

From the very first feast celebrated by the Church, that of the Annunciation, we come to appreciate how the love of our heavenly Father so completely embraced her that she is chosen above all women from the beginning of time until its very end, to be the instrument through which salvation is introduced to mankind. A special feature of this holyday is the Canon at Matins which has the character of a dialogue between the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. Also among the more popular elements of the feast is Magnification or extolling her which is featured in the format of our salutation to the virgin mother in the words of the heavenly messenger: "With the voice of the archangel we cry to you; 0 Pure One; rejoice, 0 full of grace, the Lord is with you!" This feast is the actual joy of our own hearing and glad reception of the good news of salvation and our own glorification of the Virgin Mary who becomes the Mother of God in human flesh. We are dramatically reminded of her auspicious place in the salvation story of mankind on the Royal Doors of the properly constituted icon screen. There we view the Annunciation depicted showing us by her humble consent, she becomes the door through which the Son of God enters the world in human flesh. He who could not be limited or contained in the heavens agrees to be placed, even contained in the womb of the Birthgiver who then is described as the platitera a word meaning, "more spacious than the heavens."

The actual initial feast day extolling the grace-filled Mother of God is that of her Nativity celebrated appropriately at the very beginning of the liturgical year. Her birth proclaims joy to mankind because it is a solemn testament our God has not forgotten us, is continually preoccupied with our salvation and through her has reconciled us to himself. Without her consent, without the extraordinary response to an unheard of invitation, death is destroyed and we are granted eternal life. With her birth the objective of our God is made manifest. The "Vessel of Light," the "Book of the Word of Life," the "Door to the East," the "Throne of Wisdom" is being prepared on earth by the Holy Trinity. Her description and titles are inspired by God's revelation to us in Scripture and the biblical readings give ample proof of the overwhelming wisdom and divine insight of the Body of Christ, our blessed Church. At vespers for this holyday, the vision of the temple with the "door of to the East," perpetually closed and filled with the "glory of the Lord" symbolizes and speaks of Mary, called in the hymns of the feast, "...the living temple of God filled with divine glory" Ezekiel 43: 27 - 44: 4. According to the Book of Proverbs (9: 1 - 11), Mary is identified with the "house" which Divine Wisdom has built for himself. The door to paradise was closed by angels in Adam's sinfulness but is now opened and once again announced by an angel messenger from heaven. Here in prelude, we are taught, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" Proverbs 9: 10.

The feast of the Entrance of the Birthgiver of God in the Temple emphasizes an important truth for believers in Christ. There is no doubt verses from the Old Testament Psalms, used extensively for this holyday, provide a great inspiration for the consecration of Mary's life to the service of our heavenly Father in the Jerusalem Temple. She who enters the temple becomes a temple herself of the eternal God. "Hear O daughter, and consider and incline your ear, forget your people and your father's house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your Lord, bow to him ... With joy and gladness they are led along, as they enter the palace of the king. .. Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore, the people will praise you forever and ever" Psalms 45: 10 - 17. Does this not coincide with the insightfulness of Mary herself when she utters, "...all ages to come shall call me blessed" Luke 17: 48?

On this feast day we are reminded the Virgin Birthgiver is filled with the glory of God and it fills her and all people who "...hear the word of God and keep it" Luke 11: 27. This particular celebratory event reminds us to celebrate too, in the person of Christ's mother, that we also are the house and tabernacle of the Lord. "We are the temple of the living God, as God said, `I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people'" 2 Corinthians 6: 11; Isaiah 52: 11. In another instance we read, "Are you not aware that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you ... For the temple of God is holy and you are that temple" I Corinthians 3: 16, 17? St. Paul cannot contain himself when he meditates, saying, "I will welcome you and be a father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" 2 Corinthians 6: 18.

The final feast brought to us by the Church of Christ is that of her Dormition or Falling Asleep. During the two week fast period which we observe carefully, we pray and live so as to transformed and inspired by her life, her death and subsequent glorification. Vespers hymns teach us that the Mother of Life, "...has passed over into heavenly joy, into the divine gladness and unending delight" of the Kingdom of her Son because we recount her saying "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" Luke 1: 47. We are thus shown that "all you who have been baptized into Christ have not only put on Christ" Galatians 3: 27, but are to be exalted by our God for being faithful followers.

In the life of the Church, we are shown that all which happens to Mary happens likewise to all who imitate the holy life of humility, obedience and love. With her all who follow the Saviour faithfully will be "blessed" to be "...more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare, more glorious than the seraphim" if we but follow her example and utilize the generous grace imparted by our God to each of us. All of us will have Christ born in us by the Holy Spirit. All become temples of the living God. All then share in the eternal life of his kingdom who live the lifestyle of the Virgin Mary for the gift of whom, in thanksgiving, we ascribe all honor, adoration and glory to our Heavenly Father, his Divine Son and the all Holy and adorable Spirit now and ever and forever. Amen.

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