Homilies
My present talk for your appreciation is occasioned both by love, and by
necessity. I speak not only by reason of my love for you, and because I desire
that the word of salvation should be brought to your God-loving hearing, and so
nourish your souls; but also, it is necessary for me, in addition to praising the
Church, to expound on the majesty of the ever-Virgin Mother of God. This wish,
being twofold, impels and inclines me, and unwavering duty also compels me;
though speech cannot comprehend that which is higher than any word, just as
the eye cannot fix its gaze upon the sun.
Although we cannot speak about that which surpasses all words, we may offer
hymns of praise out of love for the Mother of God, according to our ability. If "the
death of His saints is precious in the sight of the Lord" (Ps. 115/116: 15), and
"the memory of the just is praised" (Prov. 10:7), then how much more is the
memory of the holiest of the saints, through Whom all holiness has been
accorded to the saints? I refer to the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, Whose memory
it now behooves us to celebrate with the most exalted praises.
We now celebrate Her holy Dormition, or Death, through which She was brought
"a little lower than the angels," (Ps. 8:5) and yet She ascended incomparably
higher than the angels and the archangels..., and is above them because of Her
closeness to God, and by the wondrous deeds which were, from the beginning,
written and accomplished regarding Her.
It was on Her account that the God-inspired prophets prophesied, and the
miracles were performed that foreshadowed this great and universal wonder: the
ever-Virgin Mother of God. The testimonies of the Spirit, in various ways, indicate
beforehand types of the future truth. (Joachim and Anna, in their old age, would
become parents of a child) who would without seed give birth to the One
begotten of God the Father from eternity....
The King of all greatly desired the beauty of the ever-Virgin (Ps. 44/45:11),
...and He overshadowed Her, or rather, the... Power of the Most High dwelt within
Her. He did not manifest His presence through darkness and fire as with the
God-seer Moses, nor through storm and clouds as with the Prophet Elias, but the
Power from on High overshadowed the all-pure and virginal womb, separated...
neither by air..., nor by anything sensible.... Thus, the Word of God took up His
abode in Her in an inexpressible way, and came forth incarnate in the flesh. He
"showed himself on earth and conversed with men" (Baruch 3: 38), deifying our
nature and granting us, according to the divine Apostle, that "which the angels
desire to look into" (1 Pet. 1:12). This is... the most glorious glory... of the
ever-Virgin Mary.
What words are there to explain what transpired after the inexplicable birth? In
Her co-operation and suffering with the condescension of the Word of God, She is
also glorified and exalted together with Him, in His great and wondrous majesty.
But with the Ascension to Heaven of Him Who was incarnate of Her, She in turn
rivaled those great works surpassing mind and speech, which through Him were
Her own, with manifold deeds and prayers, and also Her solicitude for the whole
world, and the inspiration She gave to preachers sent to all the ends of the earth.
She was a support and consolation for all, and toiled with the rest in the
proclamation of the Gospel. Thus She lived a difficult life proclaimed in mind and
word. Therefore, the death of the Theotokos was also life-bearing, carrying Her
over into heavenly and immortal life. The remembrance of it is a joyous feast and
universal solemnity.... Into the hands of Her Son the God-bearing spirit of the
Ever-Virgin Mary was given; and indeed a short while afterwards, Her body was
translated by Him into the eternal heavenly habitations. This was fully just and
proper.
In actual fact, through the ages many were granted the divine condescension,
glory and might, as David also says: "Thy friends, O God, have been greatly
honored by me; and their rule has been greatly strengthened. I will number
them, and more than the sands shall they be multiplied" (Ps. 138/139:17-18).
"Many daughters," according to Solomon, "have obtained riches, and many have
wrought valiantly" (Prov. 31: 29-30). And here is the All-Pure Virgin Mary, and
She is most exceedingly exalted over all and for all. While she alone stood
between God and the human race, God became the Son of Man, and made men
sons of God. She made Heaven of earth and deified the human race. She alone of
all women is shown to be a mother by nature and the Mother of God transcending
every law of nature. Through ineffably giving birth, She has become the Queen of
everything in both the earthly and heavenly creation. Through Herself, She
exalted those subject to Her, and while on earth showed obedience to heavenly
rather than earthly things, and She shared in greater rewards and greater power.
Through the ordination She received from Heaven through the Divine Spirit, She
became the most exalted and most-blessed Queen of a blessed lineage.
Now She has Her proper habitation in Heaven, into which today She is translated
from earth, for Heaven is a most fitting place for Her. She stands at the right
side of the Almighty "adorned in golden robes, arrayed in diverse colors" (Ps. 44
[45]: 9-10), as the Prophet-King David said of Her. Beneath the golden robes,
Her divinely radiant body is arrayed with the diverse colors of all virtues. She
alone, in her body glorified by God, enjoys the celestial habitations with Her Son.
The earth, the grave and death could not hold forever her life-originating and
God-receiving body - a dwelling place more radiant than Heaven and the
habitation of the heavens.
Actually, if Her soul, which was a habitation of God's grace, is borne up to
heaven, forsaking the mundane, as becomes clear from many examples, and as
we believe, how could that body which received within itself the Only-Begotten
and Pre-eternal Son of God, the inexhaustible source of grace, and also showed
forth His Body by giving birth to Him, not be carried up from earth to Heaven? If,
when only three years of age, and not yet having in Herself the super-celestial
Indwelling, nor yet having begotten the Incarnate One, She took up habitation in
the Holy of Holies... [November 21], then how could that body decay and turn to
dust?
Therefore, the body which gave birth, is glorified together with the One Who is
born, with glory befitting God, and it is raised together. The "Ark of Holiness"
(Ps. 131 [132]: 8) is resurrected together with Christ, Who arose on the third
day, as expressed in prophetic song. There was, moreover, the evidence for the
Apostles of Her resurrection from the dead: the shroud and burial cloths, which
remained in the grave, and which alone were found there by those who came to
look things over: just as it had been with Her Son and Lord.
It was unnecessary that She should tarry a certain while upon the earth, as had
Her Son and God; and therefore, She was taken directly from the grave into a
celestial habitation, from whence She shines with a resplendant radiance,
illuminating all the earth. For the faithful, this is something worthy of veneration,
worthy of praise and of song.... In this way, She was at the start, "a little lower
than the angels" (Ps. 8:6) in Her mortality, but this only served to the increase
the majesty of the Mother of God. Therefore, it is entirely proper that everyone
gather today and commune for the present Feast.
It is fitting that She who contained the One Who fills all things, and is above all,
should Herself should surpass all and become foremost of all by Her virtues and
utmost worthiness. Those things that through all the ages helped all the best
individuals who ever lived to reach such virtue, and that which all those have
individually by the grace of God, whether angels or men, She combines within
Herself, and She alone brings them to fulfillment.... After death, she has found
immortality, and in Her body dwells in Heaven together with Her Son and God.
Therefore, She pours forth abundant grace on those honoring Her. She even
bestows on us the boldness to hasten unto Her, for She is the vessel of so many
graces. She distributes blessings generously on us, and never ceases this
profitable bestowal and gracious help.
Seeing in Her the source and dispenser of every blessing, one could say that the
Virgin is, for virtue and for virtuous people, what the sun is for visible light and
for the creatures living in it. But if he transfers his mental gaze to the Sun which
arose for mankind in a marvelous way, eternally shining forth from the Virgin, the
Sun, Which by nature has everything that is granted Her by grace, then he shall
call the Virgin Heaven. And this is so because of the will of God. The inheritance
of all blessedness that She has received surpasses in holiness any beneficence
beneath or above the heavens, just as the heavens are more vast than the sun,
but the sun shines brighter than the heavens.
What words can describe your divinely radiant beauty, O Virgin Mother of God? It
is indeed impossible to represent your attributes in thoughts and words, for they
so exceed both thoughts and words. However, it is fitting to sing your praises, if
you will permit this out of love for mankind. You are the fount of all gracious
gifts, and the fullness of all righteousness, the chosen and living image of every
blessing and every good, for you alone are worthy of the gifts of the Spirit. You
alone carried in your womb the One in Whom is the treasury of all these gifts,
and you became a miraculous habitation for Him. Now, having passed from
mortality into immortality, and rightfully gone forth from earth to Heaven, into
the Pre-eternal habitation to dwell with Him eternally. From that place you care
for your inheritance, and with incessant supplications to Him, you move Him to
mercy for all.
How much closer to God than all those who draw near to Him is the Mother of
God? To that degree She has been deemed worthy to be heard. I speak not only
of the earth-born, but even of the holy ranks of angels.
It was of the leaders of the angelic hosts that Isaiah once wrote: "and the
Seraphim stood round about Him" (Is. 6: 2). But David said concerning Her: "the
Queen stood at Thy right side" (Ps. 44 [45]: 9-10). Do you not see the difference
of standing? And from this difference it is possible to discern also the difference
of rank according to worthiness. The Seraphim are around God, while right beside
Him is the only Queen, Who is praised and glorified by God Himself, saying of
Her, as it were, to His (Angelic) Powers that are round about, what was said in
the Song of Songs: "Thou art fair, my companion" (Song 4: 1). She is brighter
than any light, sweeter than the divine gardens, more beautiful than the whole
world, both the visible and invisible.
She in all due justice stands not only near, but at the right hand of God, since
where Christ is enthroned in the Heavens, She also stands there, having gone up
from earth to Heaven. Not only does She love, She is also loved in return more
than anyone else, according to the laws of nature, and because She is His true
Throne. Isaiah also saw this Throne amidst the choir of the Seraphim and he
called it high and exalted (Is. 6:1), thus indicating that the Mother of God is
exalted above the Heavenly Powers.
Therefore, the prophet also showed these angels as glorifying the God Who came
forth from Her, proclaiming: "Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place
(Ezek. 3:12). The Patriarch Jacob, seeing this throne through types, cried out:
"How fearful is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is
the heavenly gate" (Gen. 28: 17). David again, joining with the multitude of the
saved, who are like the strings of an instrument, or like varied voices of different
generations harmonious in one Faith through the Ever-Virgin, praises Her in
psalmody, saying: "They shall mention Thy name from generation to generation:
therefore the nations shall give thanks to Thee forever" (Ps. 44/45: 17-18).
Do you not see, that all of creation glorifies the Virgin Mother, and not only for
some prescribed interval, but rather forever, unto ages of ages?
It is obvious, moreover, that She will never cease to benefit all creatures through
all the ages to come. I speak not only about the creatures we see around us, but
also of the chief commanders of the heavenly hosts, the bodiless and celestial
hierarchies, It is only through Her that they, and we, are united to God, and
touch the Intangible. Isaiah shows this clearly: he saw that the Seraphim did not
take the coal from the altar directly, but held it with tongs, by which he touched
the coal to the lips of the prophet to purify them (Is. 6: 6).
Moses saw the tongs of Isaiah's great vision when he beheld the bush burning
with fire, yet not consumed (Ex. 3: 2). Who does not know that this bush and
these tongs are the Virgin Mother? She conceived the fire of Divinity (Him Who
takes away the sins of the world) without being burned, although the Archangel
was present at the Conception. Through Her He was joined to the human race,
cleansing us through this inexplicable union. Therefore, She is the only boundary
between created and uncreated nature; and no one can come to God unless they
are illumined through Her, the Lamp truly radiant with divinity. As the
Prophet-King says, "God is in the midst of Her, she shall not be moved" (Ps.
45/46:5-6).
If recompense is given according to the measure of one's love towards God, and
if one who loves the Son is loved by Him and by His Father, and becomes the
abode of Both, and if They mysteriously abide and dwell in those who conform to
the promise of the Lord (Jn. 14: 21), then who would love Him more than His
Mother? He is Her Only-Begotten Son, and She also conceived Him virginally, so
that the love of Him Who took flesh from Her might be shared with Her twofold.
And who will the Only-Begotten love more than His Mother? He was Begotten of
Her inexplicably in the fullness of time without a father, just as He was Begotten
of the Father in eternity without a mother. How could He Who came to fulfill the
Law not increase the honor due to His Mother even beyond the requirements of
the Law?
Thus, since through Her alone did He Who "appeared upon earth and lived among
mankind" (Baruch 3: 38), come unto us, being invisible to all before this time, so
in the age to come, without Her intercession... every form of spiritual gift would
be beyond the capacity of created beings. She alone has received the fulness of
Him Who fills all things, and now through Her, all may receive it, for She
dispenses it according to the capacity of each, and in proportion to the purity of
each, since She is both the treasury and the overseer of the riches of God.
It is an eternal law in the heavens, that the inferior enter into communion with
what is beyond being through the superior. Certainly, the Virgin Mother is
incomparably superior to all. It is through Her that all partake of God, who
otherwise would not partake. Those who know God understand Her to be the
container of Him Who contains all. All who praise God praise Her together with
Him. She Herself is the pardoner of all that went before Her, and intercessor for
all that came after Her, and agent of eternal blessings. She is the subject of the
prophecies of the prophets, the principle of the Apostles, the foundation of the
martyrs, the premise of the Church's teachers. She is the glory of the earth-born,
the joy of heavenly beings, and the adornment of all creatures. She is the
beginning, the source and root of inexpressible blessings. She is the supreme
perfection of all that is holy.
O divine, and now heavenly, Virgin! How can I relate everything concerning you?
How can I glorify you, the Treasury of Glory? ... mere movement towards you
illumines the mind, ...through you the spirit of a man is enlightened by... the
Holy Spirit. You have become the treasury of divine gifts, and their repository;
though not to keep them for yourself, but so that you might fill all of created
nature with the gifts of grace. For the Master of those inexhaustible treasures
entrusted them to you so that they might be bestowed. Why else would He have
granted blessings, which would otherwise remain hidden and unbestowed?
Therefore, O Lady, grant your mercy and your grace abundantly to all your people,
your inheritence. Deliver us from the misfortunes afflicting us. Behold how much
and how greatly we are oppressed... by those both without and within. By your
might transform all for the best.... bestow your help and healing commensurate
with our passions, ...granting to our souls and our bodies abundant grace for
every need. Though we may be incapable of containing your riches, increase our
capacity and so grant them to us that we, saved and strengthened by your grace,
may glorify the Pre-eternal Word Who was Incarnate of you for our sakes,
together with His Unoriginate Father and Life-Creating Spirit, both now and ever
and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Sermon on the Dormition of the Virgin Mary
Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica