Today is the Second day of Nativity and is called the “Synaxis of the Theotokos.” The synaxis of a feast is the title applied to the commemoration that falls on the day after a Great Feast (but not all Great Feasts) which honors some person who is intimately connected with that feast. “Synaxis” means “assembly,” and today we assemble to honor the Mother of God.
A young man approached St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain and asked him about Mary, the Mother of God. He said that a few of his friends told him that the Bible teaches that only Jesus saves. Being perplexed, he said to St. Paisios that in the Orthodox Church we call upon the Mother of God to save us. To this, St. Paisios replied:
Jesus Christ is the only Savior. He offered Himself for us. Now listen. If you were someone with great power and you went into the city with your mother, everyone would await you and greet you together with your mother, and they would even say the best words about her even if they knew nothing about her. And when you would hear this, you would rejoice and be proud for your mother. Christ also rejoices and has pride for His mother when He hears that we speak well of her. Look. If a poor woman went to your mother and asked her to request from you a position and you granted the favor of your mother, then the poor woman would say that your mother saved her, although you appointed her.
Some people may respond by saying, “But can I not go directly to Christ and ask Him for anything?” Why, of course, but should we not be asking others to pray for us also, especially those whom we know Christ loves in a unique way?
The uniqueness of the Mother of God is revealed throughout the Old Testament wherein we find prophecies speaking of her. All are familiar, in this season of the Nativity of Christ, with the words of Isaiah the Prophet who writes: “a virgin will be with child” (7:14). But other prophecies include:
- Moses speaking of her as Jacob’s ladder set up from earth to Heaven, on which the Lord came down to us and returned to heaven again (Genesis 28:12);
- And again in Exodus 3:2, as the miraculous bush where the angel of the Lord appeared in flames of fire, and the flame burned without consuming;
- The prophet Zachariah writes that she is the shining golden lamp radiating light, from which the inaccessible light of God has shone out on those in darkness and the shadow of death (cf. Zach 4:2, Luke 1:79);
- Isaiah writes that she is the “light cloud where the Lord dwells,” (Is. 19:1);
- Ezekiel writes that she is the locked gate, through which the Lord God of Israel comes in and out, (Eze. 44:2); and
- The prophet Daniel writes that she is the unquarried mountain-peak, higher than human hands, from which that rock was cut which became the cornerstone, (Dan. 2:45; Ps. 117:22)!
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, referring to the end of the Old Testament era and the beginning of the New, writes:
From Apostolic times and to our days all who truly love Christ give veneration to Her Who gave birth to Him, raised Him and protected Him in the days of His youth. If God the Father chose Her, God the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, and God the Son dwelt in Her, submitted to Her in the days of His youth, was concerned for Her when hanging on the Cross – then should not everyone who confesses the Holy Trinity venerate Her?
Not only does she hold some level of magnitude and honor for us because of her relationship to Christ but more specifically because the flesh of Christ is flesh which came from His mother. In the Gospel according to St. John chapter six, we are told about partaking of the body of Christ, and this is the body which came from the Theotokos. St. Symeon the New Theologian explains this:
The same undefiled flesh which [the Word of God] accepted from the pure loins of Mary, the all-pure Theotokos, and with which He was given birth in the body, He gives to us as food. And when we eat of it, when we eat worthily of His flesh, each one of us receives in himself the entirety of God made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of the immaculate Virgin Mary, the very One Who sits at the right hand of God the Father. As He said: “Who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, abides in Me and I in him” [Jn 6:56].
In this way, we see that the Eucharist is not what some may think of as merely a “spiritual reality,” because we actually receive into us the God who became man. Interpreting St. Symeon, Bishop Alexander Golitzin writes, “The Eucharist is the presence of that same body born of Mary and now, through the Resurrection, entirely ‘spiritualized,’ i.e., moved and quickened by the Holy Spirit… The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of the historical Jesus, but it is flesh and blood transformed into what is ‘spiritual and visible,’ the new reality of the world to come.”
In this way, Christ becomes present in our body bodilessly, being mingled with our essence and nature, deifying us who share his body. Therefore, St. Symeon writes: “The Uncontainable was/is contained in a mortal frame, and so, now, He comes to us in the bread and wine. It is the same Christ, and we partake of the same flesh in the Eucharist that was taken from Mary the Virgin and indissolubly wedded to the Creator.”
Beloved of God, do we see how close the Mother of God is to us? Do we see how much God has loved her? How much Christ cared for her throughout His whole life, even to the very end? Do we see the esteem and value that she bears wherein she can say “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48)?
O Theotokos, God took flesh of thy pure blood; wherefore all generations do hymn thee, O Lady, and throngs of heavenly minds glorify thee, for through thee they have clearly seen Him Who ruleth all things endued with human nature.
CHRIST IS BORN!