Sermon of the Most Reverend Archimandrite Parthenius, said at the beginning of the vigil in honour of the icon of Most Holy Theotokos – “It is Truly Meet”
Good evening to all of you, my dear and I wish you a warm welcome!
From the bottom of my heart I wish that the Holy Mother of God fills your hearts with the grace that miraculously pours from her holy icon “It is Truly Meet”!
In the Akathist of the Annunciation, the church poet in a verse describes the Blessed Virgin Mary as “the scent of Christ’s fragrance”. And indeed, she is the miraculous myrrh of Christ that perfumed the universe with the fragrance of Divine love and beauty. Through the Mother of God, however, came the abundant God’s Grace in this sinful world, giving mankind the opportunity to be deified. The Immaculate Most Holy Virgin became “the heavenly door which opened to us the Doors of Paradise”. Tonight I will tell you about her graceful power. Last Sunday, in the evening, while one of my spiritual children was confessing to me in the guests’ room, I sent one of the brother monks to bring me the icon of the Holy Virgin Mary from my cell, so that my spiritual children could confess in front of the icon and I could read them the prayer for dismissal of sins. Later on, the brother who brought me the icon told me the following:
“Father, that night I felt outraged, had some internal turmoil, a restlessness in my thoughts… But when I took the icon and looked at the face of the Holy Mother of God, I immediately felt a great silence filling my heart, calming my thoughts and having the impression like entering a new dimension of ease and tranquility and joy…”
Such is our Mother: always visiting us with the grace from her holy icons, fulfilling our hearts with silence and peace. Simply, she takes us to the Heavenly Kingdom. Her motherly character is miraculous. After Christ, She is the greatest person in the history of mankind. If it wasn’t for her free will fully committed to God and if she didn’t witness it with her holy life, we couldn’t have been visited by God from above; God wouldn’t have become a Man… It’s through her, this most holly Woman and Virgin, that the Son of God came down to Earth. She was the door through which the Deity came down and brought the divine energies that can save and deify people. The Logos took human image through her and physically entered human history.
The humble Virgin Mary proved to be the wonderful vessel of God’s Grace.
In which way did she became the vessel that pours Christ’s fragrance to the world?
First, with her pure life and her faultless most holy soul. She shone like a graceful and divine lily amidst all the impurities of this world, remaining immaculate. Therefore, if we want to become participants and conductors of the salvational and deifying Grace of God, it is necessary to be ascetic in purity and justice. However, except purity, we should enrich ourselves with virtues as well. It is not enough to preserve yourself from sin. This would be the passive attitude. No… It is also necessary to cherish virtues, especially the most sublime among virtues – love. Just imagine how great, simply incomprehensible must have been the love of the Most Holy Theotokos towards God, so that she could be chosen to become the Mother of God! And also, how her inexpressible love made her forget everything else, rising above this deluded world, not allowing anything to defile her, not even a smallest thought, so that surrendering herself to Christ, she became the chosen vessel and dwelling of the One Who cannot be contained. And her sacrificial love towards God made her, according to the words of St. Gregory Palamas, “A justification of those before her and a representative of those that came after her.”
Therefore, my dear, let us pray to her for her maternal help, so that we could become true Christians, filled with love; Christians who, above all, would strive for virtues, mostly for the virtue of love. Because no one can call himself a Christian unless he practices the virtue of love; the one who constantly talks about rules and canons, complying always with them, will always judge other people and never himself. What God demands from us is to love. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9, 13). As you can see, God always talks about the virtue of love. Such is His language – the language of mercy. He is the Father of all, whereas the Most Holy Virgin Mary is the Mother of all humanity. And, is there such an unreasonable father who would reveal to the world the defects of his child? The parents obviously know and notice the defects of their children and feel sorry when someone mocks at them; at the same time the parents try to find a way to hide their children’s weaknesses from the eyes of other people, while correcting them with love and goodness. Tell me, at this point, wouldn’t God be angry at us if instead of love and mercy He sees us condemning our brother or sister? Because that sinner, your brother or sister is your neighbor, even if he or she comes from a different country and religion, this person is still a child of God and He wants to grant him salvation as well. The Good God craves for all people to be saved by the cognition of truth.
Nowadays, I think that as Christians, we lack the most important virtue – and that is love. That insufficiency you can notice among the faithful in the Church, who regularly attend services, fast, strive to fulfill certain rules, leaving, however, the virtue of love aside. I can notice this with many people and with my spiritual children as well, because as you know, they come and confess to me, even people who are not my spiritual children. People, in general, strive more towards rules and canons rather than towards the essence of faith. And the essence of faith is to love God and our neighbor. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. Our Mother, The Mother of God, had completely fulfilled these commandments. The love towards God was her ultimate care and at the same time she also cherished the love towards her neighbors. She judged, nor offended anyone, fulfilling herself only with virtues. This kind of life made her a worthwhile dwelling place of Christ. The Virgin Mary became The Mother of God.
Through the Immaculate Theotokos the incarnation of our Savior and God Jesus Christ was made possible, which allowed us to become like Him, sons of God, gods by grace, dwellings of the Holy Spirit. If in the times of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was given only to particular righteous persons and prophets, nowadays every Christian is given the opportunity to have the Holy Spirit in his heart and soul. We have the privilege to be touched by the Holy Spirit, to be deified by Christ Himself by taking His Flesh and Blood through the Holy Communion. That is why, my dear, we must practice the greatest of the virtues – love, offering our hearts only to God. In that way we will become true Christians and we will not worry our Heavenly Mother, who wants us to become children of love, who would not condemn but rather cry for their sins, and when their hearts softens, cry for the sins of the all humanity. In this world filled with the stink of terrible human sin, faithful Christians will spread the scent of the Christ’s pleasant myrrh. This is the scent that the Immaculate Virgin Mary brought to the world. As you can see, God didn’t turn His face away from us because of our sins, but as a Good Father, came through Theotokos among us wishing to raise us from this sinful life. So, the humble and meek Girl from Nazareth became the intermediary through whom mankind was given the abundance of gifts from God. While I was on Mount Athos and according to the blessing from my Elder, was practicing the Jesus prayer, one of the elder and more spiritual monks asked me one day:
– How do you start your prayer canon? I answered to him:
– I start first with – ‘Heavenly King’, the ‘Trisagion’, the Lord’s Prayer and I continue with the Jesus prayer.
– No – he said to me – First we start repeatedly with ‘Hail Mary’… because she is the door through which we can reach Christ.
And so, I was thought that at the beginning of my prayers I should repeat Hail Mary many times before I continue with the Jesus prayer. Because the Theotokos is the path that leads us to Christ, She is our Mother who in a motherly manner takes us to our deification.
Let us pray tonight for our neighbors and also for the whole world, so that God, by the prayers of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, grants us the virtue of love, which we need a lot!
May you all have a good vigil!