A homily by His Grace Bishop Partenij, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Bigorski, on the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, given at Divine Liturgy after the reading of the Gospel, on August 28th in the year of our Lord 2022.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Beloved, in the Gospel reading appointed for the feasts of the Theotokos, there is only one sentence that actually relates directly to the Theotokos, and it is at the very end. These words are spoken by a woman who, upon hearing the sweet, divine words of the Lord Jesus Christ, exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!” (Luke 11:27). Indeed, this may be but one sentence, but it is one with eternal meaning. Yes, blessed and thrice-blessed and ever-blessed is the womb of the One Who has become a paradise of the Word of God and a gate of salvation for us; the womb through which the Son of God became the Son of the Virgin, the person through whom God became man and man becomes god by grace. It is our Most Holy Lady Theotokos, blessed among women, who through her unspeakable humility, through her complete surrender to God and His will, was chosen to become the Mother of God; to carry the Unplaceable and the Incomprehensible in her most pure womb. Though she was limited by her body like all of us, She became wider than the heavens and is grace incarnate. She preserves her virginity and purity for the sake of God, and from Him, she received immeasurable strength, and so she became the Mother of all mankind.
And behold, we all have recourse to Her and hope in Her mercy, because Her miracles are more numerous than the stars in the sky. All Christians feel her wonderful, motherly love, and more than a few new believers received Her help. That is why the whole human race flocks to Her, prays to Her and calls Her blessed. As she herself prophetically said when she met Elizabeth, the mother of Saint John the Baptist: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46-48). These inspired words came true in their entirety, beginning even in her time with the woman who tenderly exclaimed that Her womb was blessed, and this same praise continues to this day. For over two thousand years, from generation to generation, the Church of God proclaims at every service: “It is truly meet to call you blessed, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and Mother of our God.” She is constantly praised and ever revered as blessed. In fact, her praises are the crown of every church service, since every service ends with a prayer and doxology to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Quite simply, the assembly of the faithful and even the whole world cannot breathe, live, or survive without the prayerful intercessions of the One Who brought the Word of God to Earth.
Beloved, I repeat that the world we live in is especially in need of the prayerful protection and motherly intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos. Today human society, perhaps like never before, needs a motherly image and to know what motherly love truly is. Therefore, we should pray to the One who became the Mother of the world and the model for all mothers, and through whose love, motherhood received its true and holy dignity. In our own time, we see that, unfortunately, motherhood, the most sacred thing, is also in danger. Not only is this sacred and exalted Christian virtue being mercilessly trampled upon, but all that Christ left us in the Church’s tradition for our salvation is being destroyed. We hear about moral decay, violations of basic human dignity, surrogate mothers, same-sex marriages, gender reassignment, and so on. In a word, Christian civilization, and therefore our very humanity, is extremely endangered. But we who have been honored by God with the true knowledge of God should with love, effort, and prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos preserve that which is most sacred and cherish the family with great love, for it is the kind of community which God has blessed. Women, on the other hand, should make a special effort to preserve motherhood, to fight for the Faith and Christian values, just like the Myrrh-bearing Women and the Holy Martyrs throughout history, who bravely faced all the trials and challenges and never accepted any compromises in their faith in Christ for the sake of their personal satisfaction or to conform. This is how with their faith and asceticism as the cornerstones of a good and authentic life, they managed to build a truly healthy and progressive society.
History shows us that without Christianity, there can be no normal or strong society. We can see quite clearly that today, without Christ, society is going insane. We see what is happening all around us and also in our own society, all over the world, and in particular in Europe, to which we geographically belong and whose community we aspire to join. As a European-oriented country, we wish to enter this society of unified European nations, whose culture is based on Christian foundations. Civilized Europe as we know it is the fruit and accomplishment of the Christian experience, this is something that is confirmed by the entirety of European history. But what is happening with Europe today, in this so-called post-Christian age? Darkness! We are filled with fear and disgust when we hear of unhealthy proclivities becoming more and more entrenched in society. The family as the basic social unit, like a miniature Church, is almost gone. The Mother of God weeps because of this. So often now, all over the world, we see Her miraculous icons shedding tears. Our Mother is crying because Christians are abandoning the Gospel and Christ. They become godless neopagans or very nominal Christians. They do not truly believe in the Gospel, Christ, or eternal life. They do not believe in Christ’s power to transform and save. Many Christian women, for whom the Holy Mother of God should be an icon of motherhood, have instead surrendered to hedonism, fornication, and vanity. Don’t be like that, my dears. The Mother of God showed us that a woman is the greatest saint. It is no coincidence that the resurrected Christ first appeared to the Myrrh-bearing Women: He wanted to show them, to their sensitive, maternal hearts, that they would have a decisive role in the new world that He would create. He met them in their sorrow and said to them: “Rejoice! Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren” (Matthew 28:9-10).
The Christian preaching and teaching of the past two thousand years have been based on a woman, on a mother. It is she who is the guardian and pillar of the family. Her image is that of the Mother of all mothers, the Queen and Mother, the Most Holy Theotokos. To her, my dear mothers, pray for all Christian women, that they do not lose the sacred image and role they have. Let’s pray together to the Mother of God for this because if we have mothers who raise children in a Christian spirit, we will not be in danger and our Christian race will be strong. May our Queen and Mother, who is the protector of Christians, our “golden tower and twelve-walled city” help us in this, in whom we take refuge from all worries and temptations and where we find our paradise. Let us also ask her to make us delight in our hearts with that inexpressible peace, with sacrificial Christian love and pure, illumined thoughts, blessing ourselves and the whole world.