Sermon of His Eminence, Bishop Parthenius, Elder and Abbot of the Bigorski Monastery on the feast of the Dormition of Theotokos, delivered before the beginning of the all-night vigil on August 27th, 2020 AD
Let us be grateful tonight, my dear ones, to our Most Holy Theotokos, who even in these difficult times gathered us in our Holy Monastery, to celebrate together the All-Holy Dormition and to give our hearts to her as a prayer offering for the whole world. It is truly a great joy and honour for me to see you gathered together, under the maternal protection of the Queen of Heaven. Because we are fully aware that the world around us is undergoing great trials and people, hindered by the threat and fear for their health, restrain more and more from gathering in a crowd. However, we believe and know that with the maternal help of the Most-Blessed, all the temptations that trouble us will be overcome. Indeed, in the course of things, both regarding the overall history of mankind and the personal life of each individual, the final word belongs to the Lord, her Son, and our Savior Jesus Christ, Who was given a human body through Her.
Our Holy Father John of Damascus, the Divine Poet of the Church of Christ, in one of his hymns calls the Mother of God “Glory of the universe, who grew from men.” What a definition this is, what great honour! Imagine, a Woman became the glory of the whole Universe! Only this Person in the entire history, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, could call Her Son, the One Who is the absolute and infinite Perfection, the Creator of the celestial and the material world – could address Him with the words: “My Child.” He, on the other hand, called that Woman: “My Mother”. What a wonderful and inexplicable mystery! The Word of God entered this world through Her, complying so much to our weakness, that He became like one of us. And She, that perfect and pure creation of God, on Her part, shared the dark destiny of suffering in this tormented world, because of the original sin of man. This was foretold to Her by St. Simeon the God-receiver when she took the forty-day-old baby to the temple in Jerusalem. Namely, that profound mystic, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophesied to the Most Holy Mother of God: Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Luke 2: 34-35). Saint Simeon uttered these words, foretelling her terrible suffering when she saw her Son crucified.
You have probably read or heard from the Old Testament about the Prophet Abraham, who is called the father of many nations. When God told him this prophecy, he added another “a” to his name, signifying the multitude of his future descendants: Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee (Genesis 17, 5). Before that event, however, Abram and his wife, Sarah, could not have children until they were visited by three strange Travelers, by three wonderful Angels — in fact, by the Triune God. Abraham then received a promise from one of the three men that he would have a son by the end of the year. He was a hundred years old at the time, and his wife ninety years old, so it was naturally impossible for them to have a child. But Abraham was a firm believer in God’s promise and providence, unlike Sarah, who even mocked the words of the Angel. Soon Abraham’s faith was proven not to be in vain. He and Sarah miraculously gave birth to a son, Isaac. Somewhat later, God once again tested the faith of His servant Abraham by speaking to him and commanding him to sacrifice for an offering his only-begotten Son: Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest… and offer him there for a burnt offering …(Genesis 22, 2) Abraham, the neighbour of God, reaffirmed his unwavering trust in God’s providence and his love for God and prepared everything to offer his only begotten Son, which certainly did not happen because the Lord does not need human sacrifices. Abraham has since become the prototype of the faith and the father of all faithful in the Old Testament Israel, as well as the father of all the Christians of the New Testament era, who are the new Israel.
Unlike the old Sarah, who at first did not believe and mocked God’s promise, the new Sarah, the Holy Mother of God, not only demonstrated faith the words of the Archangel Gabriel when he came to announce the conception of the Son of God but also placed herself with all her being, in the service of God’s Providence. Even though in her case it was even more impossible for her to conceive because She did not know of a man. The Gospel tells us just how meekly and humbly She asked the Archangel: How shall this be, seeing I know not of a man? (Luke 1,34) When the servant of God explained to Her that She would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and that She would conceive a Son in her womb, the Mother of God, without any doubt, immediately expressed her readiness and desire to serve God to the end for the salvation of the humankind. Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy words! (Luke 1,38) What faith and purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary! She is the only one in history since Adam up to the present day, Who did not defile the icon of God in Herself, who preserved intact the image and likeness of God in Her. That is why she became a successor of the Prophet Abraham by faith. If Abraham in the Old Testament was called the father of all by faith, Theotokos is now the guide of us all in the Church and the Mother of all Christians.
Consequently, when in the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist, we take communion with the body and blood of Christ, not only do we receive Christ in ourselves, but we also become part of the Mother of God, because She gave that body to the Word of God and this, naturally makes Her our Mother as well. Thus, through Her we were given Divine kinship, we became relatives of Christ. The Most Holy Mother of God made a family from all the nations, from all the people, gathered us in one home, the Church of God, which is the body of Christ. She related us with Herself, with one another and with God. Therefore, in one of the beautiful and full of profound theology verses about the Feast, it is said: “Do not forget, Theotokos, those of close kinship, who faithfully celebrate your Dormition.” What a sublime and incomprehensible thing! Through the Mother of God, we became relatives of God!
This salvational and deifying kinship is confirmed by Christ Himself in the Gospel. Namely, one day he was in a house, preaching all day, probably hungry and tired, had no time to eat while sowing the word of God in the hearts of the people. His Mother, being concerned, wanted to reach Him somehow, but she could not because of the people, so she asked them to summon Him. Someone came to Christ and told Him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seeking for thee. And he replied to them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother and my sister, and mother (Mark 3, 32-35). Of course, this does not mean that He despised His Mother, but simply wanted to show us that by coming to Earth in a human body which He took from the Mother of God, He made us all His body, relatives of God. These mysteries of the Church are great and difficult to understand. How can God become Man, for our sake, so that we could become gods by grace?! How can a Woman place the Incontainable in Her womb?! Mystery above all mysteries! That is why today the Divine service of the Feast constantly repeated: “Oh, wonderful miracle!” “Your mysteries are wonderful, Mother of God!”
In the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, at the end of the creation of the world, on the sixth day, it is said: And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31). Interpreting this, some of the Holy Fathers of the Church say that God in His Providence, by that “very good” meant the Most Holy Mother of God, Who remained completely pure until the very end and Who preserved the untouched and undefiled the perfection of God’s creation. The only One Who has fully preserved the Divine beauty. Every other human being has fallen and sinned, falls, and sins. There is not a single one who has not defiled the likeness of God in himself. Only She, the Pure, and the Most Holy remained to be the perfect icon of the Holy Trinity. That is why she was honoured with becoming the Mother of God, becoming a flawless instrument through which God’s Plan for the salvation of the world was fulfilled, making possible the kinship of the human race with the eternal and supernatural God. For, according to the teaching of the Holy Church, God created the world and man, to finally unite creation with Himself. So, even if the fall of the first created one in Eden did not happen, the Word of God would still have become a Man through His most perfect creation – the Immaculate Virgin Mary and would have related human nature to Himself. In the end, He did this by incarnating from the Virgin and suffering on the cross. He had to undertake suffering and death, because of the fallen nature of our forefathers. Because of their disobedience and sin and the consequences of it, this world became dramatic and tragic. That is why His coming to this world was so dramatic and His leaving was also tragic, through His death on the cross. But, despite the corrupt humanity and the reign of sin on Earth, amid all that infernal filth and mud, a Divine lily appeared among the many thorns in this world, the Empress Mother, Who received the Incontainable and gave it to us all. And He, sacrificing Himself and taking crucifixion for all of us, has proven just how much he loves us and loves our kinship with Him.
The dignity that we Christians have is great. Today, every Christian has the potential to be the son of God, to carry Christ in him. The Mother of God allowed us to be gods by grace. This priceless gift has been received and adopted by the countless Saints of the heavenly Church, whom we glorify and pray to, and they hear our prayers and help and support us. We are invited to follow their example and we have a responsibility to become saints of God. At the Holy Liturgy, before we are offered the Holy Gifts, the Body and Blood of our Lord, the priest, raising the Bread with his hands, exclaims: “The sacred is for the saints.” Every Christian, then, is called to be a saint. Let us consider, my dear ones, what great responsibility we have. Our faith should not be reduced to just going to church, getting baptized, venerating icons, and then, when we go out, forgetting the words of God, His love, the good deeds we should do in His name. The most important thing is to have a love for God and our neighbours. Remember the words of Christ, that the fulfilment of the Law of God is summarised to only two commandments, namely – those for love: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with thy neighbour as thyself (Matthew 22, 37-39)! So it is love that makes us the relatives of Christ. And love for man comes only from our sincere and true love for God. It was through love that Christianity proved and had shown that man can be related to God.
Let us ask the Most Holy Mother of God tonight to grant us the miracle of her endless motherly love. And believe me, she will do it, if we pray to her sincerely and from the heart. Because, what good mother would reject her child? What mother does not want only the best for her child? No matter how bad the children are, the real mother will never leave them, but will constantly grieve for them, will look for them, will simply do everything, possible and impossible, to save them. Then, how much more would the Mother of all mothers, the Purest of all, the Glory of the Universe love her children?! She is The One Who gave us the privilege to address her with Mom!
May our heavenly Mother enlighten with her love those who are far from the light of Christ, as well as warm the hearts of us, the Christians, who have ceased to be the salt of the Earth, as Christ our God commanded us. May She intercede for us in everything, with Her maternal freedom before Her Son and our God, so that more people may see the mysteries and the beauties of the life in Christ and be saved!
I wish you all a beautiful and prayerful vigil, for the benefit of everybody present here, for our loved ones, and the sake of the whole world. Amen!