Rector's Message of August 2014

The preparation for and celebration of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos dominates the month of August. From the first to the fourteenth, (14th through the 27th new style) we fast, and on the 15th, we joyfully observe the commemoration of her blessed falling asleep and bodily glorification by her Divine Son. .

Some sectarians regard veneration for the Holy Virgin as pagan idolatry. Other non-Orthodox Christians, and, sadly, some of the nominally Orthodox who are not immersed in the life of the Church, may simply regard our love and veneration for the Holy Virgin as "optional," an "extra" thing we do that is not "required" for our salvation. But this is not so. The Church does not artificially separate the Savior from His mother in the flesh, just as She does not separate His Divinity from His Humanity. If one loves Christ, one must love His mother. To do otherwise is disrespect and hatred not only to the Mother of God, but also to her Son, and to the mystery of the Incarnation. Our relationship with the Most Holy Theotokos is intimately bound up with our relationship with her Son.

What are we doing, then, when we pray to the Holy Virgin? We are not worshipping her as God; every Orthodox Christian knows that she is not God and would not even think such a thing. We know that she is alive and hears us, because "in Christ all are alive," and she is pre-eminently, of the entire human race, alive in Him. We speak with her as children with a loving mother. We express our love and admiration as to one pre-eminently lovable and admirable. We come to her with the confidence of slaves possessing a most compassionate Mistress who will intercede with the Master on their behalf.

Furthermore, by the Church's hymns and prayers in praise of the Virgin, we express our absolute belief in the reality of the Incarnation - that God really and truly became man for our sake, and as a man, he has a mother and grandparents and relatives; he is part of a real human family, just as you and I are. If He has deigned, in His surpassing condescension, to make us His flesh and blood, how can we not own the most humble and grateful allegiance to the one who gave him our human nature: the Most Holy Virgin?

Just think: without her "Yes" to God, we would not have been saved. Just think: the Flesh and Blood of Christ which we receive in Holy Communion is the same flesh and blood He received as an unborn child in her womb, now glorified and made eternal and illimitable by His Resurrection.

We are indeed her children. Let us, especially in this month dedicated to her, sing her praises and seek her intercession with the One she bore for our salvation. Let us pray that if we glorify her blessed repose, then at the hour of our own death, she will be present to us as an invincible protrectress, and as the Hodigitria (guide) to the throne of her Divine Son.

The Holy Virgin as the Exemplar of Christians

Oh, how much there is for every one of the faithful to learn from the life of the Virgin Mother of God! Let us consider here only two things. She had the habit of going frequently to Golgotha, to the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Bethlehem, and to other places to which her Son had given special meaning. In all these places, and especially on Golgotha, she prayed to God on her knees. She thus gave the first example and impetus to the faithful of the practice of visiting the holy places out of love towards Him who, by the presence of His suffering and glory, made them holy and famous.

Secondly, we see how she, in prayer for her swift departure from this life, prayed that he soul, at its parting from the body, might not see the punishment of darkness and its terrors, and, shielded from the overshadowing of darkness, might not encounter the power of Satan. See how terrible it is to pass through the toll-gates! If she who bore the Harrier of hell and who herself had a tremendous power of the demons could thus pray, what then of us? In her great humility, she commended herself to God, not trusting to her own works. So much the less should we trust in our own works, and so much the more should we commend ourselves to God's hands, beseeching His mercy especially in that moment of the soul's parting from the body.

- from the Prologue from Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, the entry for the 15th of August.

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