“Magnify O my soul, the honourable Translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven.” (Refrain for the 9th Ode of the Canon)
From the moment that our first parents, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and fell into sinfulness, our Lord, out of His great love for mankind began to craft our redemption. He began to prepare to take our flesh upon Himself, to enter into the world that He had created, and to redeem it from the curse and destruction that had been wrought by the sin of Adam and Eve. Seeing that we were bound and held captive to sin and that we were under the power of corruption and death, God set about to free us from our captivity and to heal the wounds that had been wrought by the sin of our first parents. From the very moment that Adam and Eve were clothed with the garments of skin and exiled from Paradise, our Lord began to prepare the means by which He Himself would take on our flesh, become incarnate, and so effect our cure, our freedom, our salvation.
For generations He selected the line of those who would continue to serve Him: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah. He carefully chose the best of humanity both in body and soul and shaped them until the time was right. Finally He selected from among all of the tribe of Judah, the righteous Joachim and Anna to be the parents of the one who would be born the finest, most perfect person that humanity had to offer. This pinnacle of mankind was none other than the Virgin Mary – and it was through her that God came into the world.
Throughout the generations and centuries, God guided those who would serve Him, His chosen people, and from them brought out the finest product of the human race, the perfect human being. It was through the Virgin Mary then, that God directly encountered and entered His creation. This was her purpose, to provide the door, the gateway, the portal by which God came down from Heaven into the world, the Ark. Her coming was prophesied over and over again with many images. Today let us look specifically at the image seen by the Patriarch Jacob in a dream, for he saw the gateway between heaven and the world as a ladder, a heavenly stairway upon which God Himself stood. It is this ladder that is the image of the Virgin Mary.
On this ladder, the patriarch saw angels descending and ascending and indeed this reminds us that there are not many ways to heaven, but only one – and that path lies through Christ, for He alone is our salvation
On the feast of the Nativity of Christ, this great purpose of the Virgin Mary is fulfilled – through her God has taken flesh and entered into the world. It would seem that the great purpose of her life is fulfilled, that now her only duty is to nurture and protect this Child, Who is the God/man Jesus Christ.
But on this ladder, by which our Lord Jesus Christ descended from heaven, we see that there are not only angels descending (showing us the coming of Christ) but also those who were ascending. This shows us that through Christ those of us in this world can ascend into heaven and enter into the Kingdom of God.
Today on the feast of the Dormition, the death of the Virgin Mary, we see the second part of her great purpose initiated. While on earth, she was the portal by which God came down to us. Now she has passed from this world and stands at the right hand of our Lord as the Queen of Heaven arrayed in a vesture of interwoven gold and adorned in varied colors. (Ps 45:9 LXX) In heaven she now fulfills a new purpose – she is the portal, the gateway, the ladder which leads from earth to heaven. Through her all of mankind stands before the throne of God. St Gregory Palamas praises the Virgin saying, “Standing between God and the whole human race, she alone made God a son of man, and men sons of God, rendered the earth heaven and made mankind divine.
She alone among women, was declared the Mother of God by nature, transcending every nature. Through her unutterable childbearing she became the Queen of all creation in this world and beyond, and through herself she raised up those below her, and made her subjects heavenly instead of earthly. She shared in the noblest honor, the most sublime power and the ordination bestowed from heaven through the divine Spirit and was set high above all, the supremely blessed Queen of a blessed race.”
It should be no surprise to us that the Virgin Mary occupies such an exalted place in the Kingdom of God. Nor should we be surprised that she is the ladder by which we ascend into heaven. In our so-called, democratic society, sometimes the concept of a hierarchy seems foreign to us and perhaps even suspect. We tend to view the Kingdom of God as more of a democracy wherein all are equal. But this is not the case. We see even from the disposition of the ranks of angels, from those standing near the throne of God, the Seraphim and Cherubim, to those who are further from the throne of God but nearer to us, the Archangels and Angels. Their place is determined by their task and all rejoice fully in the presence of God Who is Himself “everywhere present”.
Also let us consider the words of our Lord Who promised His apostles that in the Kingdom of Heaven, they would sit upon thrones and judge the twelve tribes. The choir of the saints also indicates to us, that even among the members of the Body of Christ there are different stations and different kinds of glory.
However this hierarchy is not like the hierarchies of this world which are beset by our fallen nature, St Gregory instructs us that, “It is an eternal custom in heaven that those who are lesser should participate through those who are greater in what lies beyond.” In other words, those who are nearer to God are always reaching back to bring along those who are behind or below them. And St Gregory tells us, “The Virgin Mother is incomparably greater than all. So as many as will share in God, will do so through her, all those who know God will know her as the one who holds Him whom nothing can contain…” Being exalted above the rest of creation, she then also reaches down to all those who come after her, that we might be raised up and draw near to God ourselves. He continues, “Just as it was only through her that the Son came to us, was seen on earth, and lived among men … so from now on for endless eternity all progress towards the manifestation of divine light, every revelation of divine mysteries and all forms of spiritual gifts are beyond everyone’s grasp without her. … She brought Him, Who fills all things, within reach of all…”
Let us never forget then, that the Mother of God is there for each of us as a quick and ready helper. She is so much closer to God than all others who draw near to him, and she is therefore able to intercede more powerfully than any other. Therefore when we call out to her for help, she is quick to hear us and quick to petition her Son on our behalf. She stands not just near to the throne of God, but she stands with her Son at the right hand of the Father and from this intimate place, pleads with God on behalf of those who call out to her.
Today, as we celebrate the remembrance of the death of the Virgin Mary, let us also remember that she was also raised bodily by her Son our Lord Jesus Christ and taken into heaven. She is the Queen of heaven and of all creation, the Mother of the God/man Jesus Christ, the one chosen by God as the portal by which He descended from heaven into His creation, and the portal by which He brings us up into His presence. As she stands nearer to God than any other creature, she also reaches down to us as our ready helper, to lift us up to stand with her in the presence of God.
Do not neglect to call out to her, do not doubt that she will pray for you or that her Son, hearing the voice of His beloved Mother, will be quick to act on her requests for your benefit. In her own nature, she is the perfect human being, and having been transformed by the grace of God and filled with the Holy Spirit, she is now also the perfect resurrected human being and she is our helper, our friend, indeed in Christ she is our own mother who cares for us.
As we prepare to meet Him, this preparation for the meeting of the heavenly King before the dread judgment seat, after death, is essentially the person’s, you and me, our preparation throughout the whole of our life. This preparation means a change in all our thoughts, and the moral change of all our being, so that the whole man would be pure and white as snow, washing clean everything that defiles the body and spirit, so that they are adorned with every virtue: repentance, meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity, chastity, mercifulness, abstention, spiritual contemplation, and burning love for God and neighbor.
And so, ye participants in the Christian feasts, and especially the present feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, ye who are brightly adorned with every virtue and translated to the heavenly kingdom, to Her Son and God, proclaim to each and every one about preparing their souls to be the dwelling place of the Lord, about continual repentance, and about the incorruptible adornment of Christian virtue. Let your death also be unashamed and peaceful, serving as the pledge of a good answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ. Amen.
Thank you Fr David