On the occasion of the Nativity of Theotokos
The All-Holy Virgin
“An was incarnated by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and became man”
Dear friends, humanity is the summit of earthly creation, and if God created nothing else, mankind would be enough to testify that there is a God, an all-wise God, omnipotent and benevolent. What an excellent creation man is! We see a beautiful statue and admire it, and no one dares to say the statue created itself without the sculptor. But, when compared to a human, what is a statue, even the most perfect one kept in a museum and considered a treasure of infinitive value? The statue is dead, inanimate, idle. It has eyes but does not see, ears but does not hear, feet but cannot walk. Man, however, is alive, with soul, and active and creative statue, which when studied more and more gains more and more admiration. Common sense says that, just as every statue was made by an artist, man was created by God.
Man is a marvelous creation of God, a little bit less than the angels, and is divided into man and woman. Man and woman are equal. They have the basic characteristics of human personality, reason, conscience, will and the rest. They do possess differences, but the differences between man and woman does not reduce, but rather enhance the admiration due to humanity. They add beauty and charm, making human life a pleasant thing. Since the first man until now, billions of people have been born. Of these billions of people, men and women, there have been some who have tried to destroy the grandeur of humanity by their criminal acts, they tried to degrade the human personality and put the human race to shame. Mankind fell from the lofty height of honor and dignity into the slime of dishonorable passions, and became like the wild beasts. Reading history and seeing contemporary reality, one shudders and is ashamed of mankind’s horrible crimes and shameful acts. Among billions of people, however, there are still some who, by their acts and virtues, have honored and continue to honor humanity, demonstrating that we were created for a higher purpose, making us aspire for heaven, for the blessed life which man lived in Paradise before the Fall.
If someone should ask which human being of all the billions of human beings who have lived on earth reached the highest point of moral grandeur, in other words, who is the greatest of all Saints, we would answer not on our own authority, but would give the answer to the Church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth (II Tim.3:15). Our Church, having the Holy Scriptures as a foundation, answers that, after Christ, who is not a mere man, but the God-Man and a Saint in the absolute sense, comes a woman. She is the All-Holy Virgin Mary.
The Virgin Mary, by God’s grace and through her virtues, came to such a high state of holiness that she surpassed not only every human being, but even the angels and the archangels. The spiritual height and depth of the Virgin, to use the word of the Akathist Hymn, are unattainable: “Hail Height insurmountable for the human mind; Hail Depth inexplorable to angelic eye.”
The Virgin, as our Church praises her, is ‘more honorable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim’. If mankind is a miracle of divine creation then the Virgin Mary is the most exceptional miracle of divine grace.
From the moment when the first woman, Eve, sinned and carried mankind along with her into the abyss of calamity, centuries and millennia had passed. In the midst of this terrible darkness, one hope warmed souls, namely, that the situation would one day be radically different. The ancient prophecy, the first prophecy after the Fall of the First Man and First Woman, the First Gospel as it was called, spoke about a woman, a woman whose son would fight and defeat satan, and would give the world new life. From careful study of this prophecy, it is apparent that this woman would not give birth in the usual way women give birth. This woman would give birth without knowing man. She would bear as a virgin. This prophecy about the virgin is repeated more precisely and with different symbols in the Old Testament. The Book of Isaiah gives the clearest prophecy: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Eight hundred years before the star of Bethlehem shone, Isaiah saw the Virgin and her son Emmanuel.
The Virgin gave birth to her only-begotten son, our Lord Jesus Christ. But how did the Virgin give birth? Unbelievers of every century have argued against this and will continue to do so. What do we answer? We say: “which is a greater miracle – a Virgin to give birth or the world to be created from nothing?” Certainly, the greater is the creation of the universe from nothing, and if this greater one took place, why not a lesser miracle, the Virgin Birth?
The all-holy Mother of God was a virgin before giving birth, during birth, and remained a virgin after giving birth. Our holy Lady is ever-virgin. Our Church preaches this as a revealed truth, and we proclaim this truth each time we recite the Symbol of Faith, saying: “and was incarnated by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
We Orthodox do not deify the Virgin, as some heretics like Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses accuse us. We do not believe that the Virgin is a Goddess, but we say that the Virgin is superior to the angels, and that is why we call her Most Holy – that God selected the Most holy Mother in order to take flesh and be born. For this reason we call her Theotokos, God-birthgiver. Because of her exceptional virtues she is the perfect example of Woman.
But while the Holy Scripture and the Church in its teaching elevate the Virgin to ineffable heights, and angels and archangels bow before her, we have in our own country many nominal Christians who open their foul mouths and blaspheme her worse than heretics and unbelievers!
Dear Christians, let us all fight to stop this blasphemy and save ourselves from God’s wrath.
This chapter was taken from the book
“ON THE DEVINE LITURGY – VOL.2” by Bishop Augoustinos N. Kantiotes.
Rev. Fr. Asterios Gerostergios