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Sept 10, 2023; Luke 10:38-42, 11:27,28 Dormition
The central event of all human history, God taking on our human flesh and becoming man, could not have even started without the most holy Mother of God answering the Archangel Gabriel with the most blessed words, (Luke 1:38) “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Christ took flesh from her, and He, whom all of creation can not contain was contained within her womb!Last night at Vespers we sang, “She who is higher than the heavens, and more glorious than the Cherubim, she who is held in greater honour than all creation, she who by reason of her surpassing purity became the vessel of everlasting Essence, today commends her most pure soul into the hands of her Son. With her all things are filled with joy, and she bestows great mercy on us.” (Vespers: Litya; Tone -2)
Today at the feast of the Dormition, we celebrate that she is the first fully transformed human to be taken bodily into heaven. Taken directly and tenderly by her Son Jesus Christ. We pray during the “prayers of preparation” of the communion bread, from Psalm (44:10) “The queen stood at Your right hand arrayed in golden robes all glorious.” She is truly our inspiration, our most loving mother and the best and most encouraging example of what is the potential and true calling of a human being, of what St. Athanasius said, “God became man that man might become god.” Never let anyone tell you that woman are somehow second-class members of the Church. She is our mother, the mother of the saints and most esteemed of all the saints.
After her death, the tradition of the Church tells us that her Son our Lord Jesus Christ came and took her most pure body and soul brought her up to be with Him bodily in heaven. The Apostles were gathered up by the Holy Spirit from all over the world where they were ministering and establishing the Church. They were brought together to join the saints living in Jerusalem at that time, to be with her as she completed her time here on earth. All of them were gathered except for Thomas, who was brought from India by the angels 3 days late to the gathering of the apostles. When he arrived amongst the gathered apostles, he asked to be taken to her tomb where they had laid her upon her death 3 days earlier. When they arrived and opened her casket, she was not there, and a wonderful fragrant smell enveloped them. We bless herbs and flowers today in remembrance!
Our dear mother of God is of course the first, the most precious and loved of all our human saints. She grew Christ her son’s humanity in her womb and gave birth to God. But she also has a very unique position in the Church being very much our mother as well. She is the first of our race to be bodily resurrected after her death. She was bodily taken into heaven, foreshadowing our own bodily resurrections at the end of the age. Our dear precious and loving mother of God is there in the heavens at the right hand of her Son, constantly looking out for us and interceding on our behalf with Him. This is what we celebrate today, the completion and fulfillment of the new Eve taking her place above the Cherubim and Seraphim in the throne room of God and present with her Son our Lord both spiritually, and in her transfigured human flesh. We have her Icon at the Apse, the top of the Altar area welcoming all of us to accept fully the Lordship of her Son as she was the first to do at the Annunciation, and welcoming us into the very kingdom of her Son. Her eternal council is, (John 2:5) “Whatever He says to you, do it!”
We know that the fondest desire of God’s heart is to forgive us completely and unconditionally when we come to Him in repentance. He is always present, waiting to do this for us, to gather us up in His loving arms. But we must be active participants in the process. There are two conditions clearly given to us. The apostle John tells us (1 John 1:9, 10) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” So we need to come to God and ask His forgiveness. But first, we need to realize that we have missed the mark and we need forgiveness.
The main purpose of the law is to show us that on our own, without the forgiveness and grace of God, we can never measure up. The law is meant to drive us into the forgiving arms of our dear Saviour Jesus Christ; into a life of repentance and forgiveness – of ourselves and of each other. It is our faith, which energizes our behaviour, that unites us to Christ. When we seek Him, His grace heals what is broken, and completes what is lacking. Our work is to be willing to follow Christ, to accept and share the forgiveness we are granted. He gives us a simple formula, (Luke 9:23) “…deny yourself, and take up your cross daily, and follow Me.”
What is this “deny yourself?” It is considering the other person and placing their well being, mentally, physically, and spiritually before our own “rights” and desires. We have a wonderful example in the life of our dear patron St. Aidan, and his dear friend King Oswald. They had been fasting for great Lent and Holy Week in anticipation of the Paschal feast, and a beautifully prepared Paschal meal was about to be served at the castle on silver platters. Just then, King Oswald received word that a crowd of his needy subjects had gathered outside, hoping to receive Alms. The king immediately ordered that the meal be taken out and served to the needy, and the silver platers be broken into pieces and distributed to them. St. Aidan blessed King Oswald, taking his hand and saying, “May this hand never perish.” After his death, his incorrupt hand was venerated for centuries.
May God help us to train ourselves on every occasion to stop and ask, “how can I lay down my desires and bless the person in front of me?” It is best when this involves some considerable internal struggle. The way of the cross is a bloody and torturous path. Practicing a little daily “asceticism” and purposely saying no to at least one impulsive desire is a good exercise in denying ourselves.
We always have the gift of free will, the ability to choose. Will I attempt to love and find common ground with a troubled or troublesome individual, or label them as “other,” thereby isolating and pursuing a divisive course, rejecting them because they don’t think like me. When we determine to choose to love and forgive, even that which seems unforgivable, we are choosing freedom, we are developing the image of God which is within. We are freeing ourselves as well as them.
May God give us His strength and love to be able to “Deny ourselves and take up our cross daily,” forgiving all who have hurt or wounded us, knowingly or unknowingly. May God, “forgive us our trespasses, in the same way as we forgive those who have trespassed against us,