Metropolitan Nikolaos (Hatzinikolaou) of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
What a magnificent person our Lady is. She shows us the path and provides us with the way to deification, that is, how each of us can attain a state of likeness with God and communion with him. Our Lady is also a model for our life and a source of strength, with the protection of her intercessions, on this journey of ours. But how is this so?
There are six characteristics as regards the person of the Mother of God.
The first is her humility. This is apparent at the Annunciation, in her response to the Archangel Gabriel. ‘Behold your handmaiden. May it be unto me according to your word’ (Luke 1, 38), that is, her immediate submission and obedience to the will of God which must have been inconceivable and incomprehensible to her. And she did so without a trace of her own will.
The second attribute is her virginal purity, not only in the body but also in the whole of her life generally. We call her Virgin, bridal chamber, unblemished, unstained, incorrupt, unsullied, pure, spotless, and so on. In his homily on the Entry of the Mother of God, Saint Gregory Palamas describes this purity of the person of the Mother of God and, among other things, states that she wasn’t sullied even by earthly knowledge. This is why she didn’t go to school but was educated in spiritual matters within the temple. She studied the heavenly sciences and wisdom at the university of the sanctuary. She wasn’t contaminated by conversations, a change of heart, or by the coarseness of secular communication, but lived in utter serenity, total obscurity.
And this brings us to the third feature of the Mother of God: her obscurity and silence. It’s noticeable that the person of the Mother of God features hardly at all in the Gospels. Indeed, in the Gospel according to Saint Mark, there’s not even a hint of her existence and life. In Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, which contain more information, there are only occasional references, mostly to do with the circumstances of the Lord’s birth. Saint John mentions only the conversation between her and the Lord at the time of the miracle in Cana, as well as the exchange between the Lord, his mother and John at the crucifixion: ‘Woman, this is your son. And then to the disciple, This is your mother’ (Jn. 19, 26, 27). Finally, there’s a reference to ‘the Mother of Jesus’, again by Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles (1, 14). Saint Paul doesn’t mention her at all.
Even though she was such a powerful catalyst of divine providence in the life of humankind, the person of the Mother of God is so inconspicuous. She didn’t speak much; she didn’t create tensions; she had no desire to present proof of the Lord’s divinity after his crucifixion and resurrection. Her biographers tell us in her Life that she lived a few more years after these events. Her quiet life was followed by the earth-shattering event of her dormition, her wondrous departure from this world, summoned by God’s command to be present with him.
So the third feature of the life of the Mother of God, and the characteristic of those who wish to walk the path towards union with God, is obscurity and mystical stillness and silence.
There are another three features to which I shall refer, merely borrowing from the most characteristic names which the Church has attributed to her. The first is, the Mother of God, the second is, unwedded [lit. ‘who has not known wedlock’] and the third is, ever-virgin.
It’s a property of the Mother of God that she gave birth to God, that she bore Christ. All of us believers are called upon in our lives to do this: to beget Christ mystically, to be ‘our letter, known and read by everyone’ (2 Cor. 3, 2).
The second distinctive feature is that she was unwedded, meaning that she had no experience of marriage, that she had not had conjugal relations in order to give life to Christ. By the same token, according to the fathers, all Christians who wish to live the life of purification and to attain the state of deification must, as far as is humanly possible, become ‘untouched’ by nature. In other words, they should, of their own free will, avoid being affected by natural impulses, physical states and even feelings. Being untouched by nature, being liberated from the coarseness of nature, leads to the experience of grace.
The final feature is that she was and remained a virgin; she was permanently in a state of grace. Our Lady wasn’t a virgin only until she gave birth, but she remained a virgin even after birth, this is what ever-virgin means. This permanent retention of the state of grace is the final element that might serve as a model for us on our path towards deification.
If we live thus, following the example of the Mother of God as regards her humility, her virginal purity, her inconspicuousness, and her mystical stillness and silence; if we can share in the mystery and state of giving birth to God within us, that is, of being as far as possible untouched by nature, that is, unaffected by our subjugation to it; and if we can participate permanently in grace, then we’ll be able, even in this world, to experience our mystic union with God. We’ll attain the state of communion with God, that is, deification.
And when the time for our own death comes, it won’t be an end, but a falling asleep, a departure from what is coarse to that which is refined, from the fleeting to the eternal, from the human to the divine, from that which is perishable to the imperishable.
In this spirit, may God grant us real benefit from our Canons of Intercession, and may Our Lady and Mother redeem us from necessities, sorrows, pains and everyday difficulties. Above all, however, may she be the mystical prototype of the other life in grace and in spirit. Amen.