Let us attend to the manner in which the Church Hymns the Panagia, the All-Holy One, the Theotokos or God-bearer, the Ever-Virgin Mary. First from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
“It is truly meet and right to bless you, O Theotokos,
Ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God.
More honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,
Without defilement you gave birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify you!”
Notice how St. John extols our Lady for her God-bearing. The fathers of the Third Ecumenical Council some 24 years after his death affirmed that Mary is the Mother of God, Christ being true God and true Man. Their opponent, Nestorius had tried to confuse the issue by preferring the term Christokos – bearer of Christ.
Now of course Mary gave birth to Christ but Nestorius was playing with words quite deceitfully because he separated the divine nature into the Person of Word only loosely if at all joining that to the Person of Jesus as possessing only a human nature. Hence Jesus was not God Incarnate… just a human being, somehow united to the Divine Word, the Logos… two persons not one.
Why was and is this important for the Church? Why is it vital to confess Mary as Theotokos, God-bearer such that one cannot truly be a Christian and deny that? Simply on account of the Gospel; it is our Good News that in Jesus Christ God Himself has come amongst us in the flesh to reunite us to God by destroying death and corruption, the baleful consequences of our original rebellion.
If Jesus Christ is not God such that His Mother is not Mother of God then we have no salvation. God’s grasp on our humanity has loosened. We are only left with good works and the hope that somehow God will come a little closer to us on that score. The passion and resurrection of Christ become little more than instructional lessons rather than a divine rescue mission. No, it won’t do. Mary is Theotokos, Mother of God Incarnate.
But it doesn’t end there. For Christ to save us his Mother must bring Him to us. Christ will not come unless a representative human makes that coming possible, his Mother. God absolutely needs a woman, this woman to complete his plan of salvation. What was true then is true now. Receive Christ? Receive His Mother.
Now to the Hymn from the Liturgy of St. Basil:
“All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace,
The assembly of Angels and the race of men.
O Sanctified Temple and Rational Paradise! O Glory of Virgins!
From you, God was incarnate and became a child, our God before the ages.
He made your body into a throne, and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens.
All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace! Glory to you!”
The characteristic sense of this is joy, ecstatic, unadulterated joy ... stretching right round the Cosmos… joy in what the Mother has done to enable the Logos to come. Because she has done this the whole of creation is pregnant with hope, for this Hope is Christ Himself, the Song of God’s Word now in the flesh. This joy is not only a joy in God but also a joy in humanity, in our human nature redeemed in Christ and always redeemable - with repentance. Mary’s outstanding, glorious “Yes!” to God at the Annunciation is the beginning of the outbreak of this joy. The Cosmos shudders with delight. The curse is broken. Death will be overthrown and the Mother will be the first to taste of this resurrection fruit in and beyond her falling asleep, assumed into heaven as the glorious Queen – more joy.
This joy extends to you and me and is the basis of all Christian hope. By embracing in full the Christian life, fortified and transformed by the Holy Spirit in our prayer and the sacraments of the Church, we too can share in this joy. Our humanity is exactly the same as that of Mary so what she was able to do and become we are able to do and become.
This joy is so radically different from what we encounter in the world. What we see in the world is shallow and passing: momentary episodes of happiness, pleasures that corrupt in excess, satisfactions that are finite. Endlessly dissipating such false promises have to be continually reinvented or reinvigourated. Based on human factors only they are doomed to fail; simply because death intervenes and all that is possible is the illusion that they will last. They won’t. True joy can only be found in Christ. Speak to His Mother and you will find that to be so. “All of creation rejoices in you.”
That joy first found in her can be ours as well if with her we simply say “Yes” to God. So let us say “yes” to God and receive His Body and His Blood ... a Body and a Blood giving willingly by Himself on the Tree and willingly by her in His conception by the Holy Spirit. In truth, no Son without the Mother; no Mother without the Son. Hold on to that joy!