August 15, 2018 Length: 6:45
In this his 400th episode of iSermon, Fr. Ted is invited to give the sermon at the Great Vespers of the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary at Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Toronto, Canada.
All of us came here today for a reason. The question is: Why are we here? Why did we come to this church, Panagia, our beloved Panagia? What did we come to see? We came to see the Panagia; we came to see the holy Virgin Mary. We came to celebrate her falling asleep: her death. But why? Why celebrate it? Fr. Athenagoras rightly said in Greek that God did not abandon his creation, us, even though we abandoned him. So he chose to become one of us, to enter into humanity, to become a human being, to live and to die like one of us. Of course, we give this great honor of the Incarnation, the way it happened, the way God chose for it to happen, we give the honor to the Panagia, to the Virgin Mary, who said yes to God when the Archangel Gabriel came to her and told her that she would give birth to Christ.
A lot of times, because we love the Panagia so much and we give her so many different names—we say Panagia, which means all-holy; we call her Aeiparthene, ever-virgin—we call her by so many names that sometimes we forget that she is a human being like us. We elevate her, we put her up on a pedestal as we should, and we give her honor for what she did and the life that she led that sometimes we forget, as Fr. Athenagoras said, that she was a simple young lady who had the courage to say yes to God and to live a life that was holy.
So when we look at her death, when we celebrate her death tonight, we are celebrating not sadness, but we are celebrating hope. Why are we celebrating hope? How can the death of the Virgin Mary give us hope? Because, contrary to how many people see her, sometimes as the Great Exception—the Virgin Mary is something special, something more, something beyond all of us—the Orthodox don’t see the Virgin Mary as the Great Exception. The Orthodox see the Virgin Mary as the Great Example. She is one of us, and because she is one of us and was able to achieve the highest state of holiness of any human being, it gives hope to us. So when we celebrate her death, it shows that a human being, just like us, who lived, who suffered, who cried, and who also died, was able to reach this state of holiness.
This is extremely important for us as Orthodox Christians. It’s extremely important for us, because it gives us hope. It gives us hope in our own struggle. Why do we go to church? Why do we go to confession? Why do we take communion? Why do we go and listen to the beautiful hymns from the chanters? Why do we listen to the Gospel? Why do we read the Bible at home? Why do we do anything in the religious life if not to become holy? This is the goal of the Christian. The Scripture says that you should be holy like your Father in heaven is holy. This is the goal of every Orthodox Christian: to become a saint. So the Panagia is this perfect example for us.
We see that as soon as the Panagia said yes, God entered into her, and she carried within her Christ, the God-man. What happened after Christ’s resurrection? He gave us holy Communion. What do we do in holy Communion if not take God inside of us? In a very real way, not in a symbolic way, but in a true mystical way. So this teaches us that the yes of the Panagia—the Virgin Mary said yes to God, and God entered into her—the most profound miracle. When we say yes to God and we go to church, we prepare ourselves, God enters into us as well, and he comes and he indwells within us, and he lives with us. This is why in the Scripture Christ is called Emmanuel. What does Emmanuel mean, Emmanuel? It means God with us, meth ymon o Theos. God is with us, and he enters into us as he entered into our Panagia.
This is the goal of every Orthodox Christian. This is what the holy Fathers call theosis. And this is what we celebrate today with her death. We celebrate her humanity as well as her holiness: her mere humanity, which is as important as her sanctity, and we should remember that, because we should never forget the Maria, not just the Hyperagia Theotokou, but the Maria behind the title, the human being who trusted in God, who gave her life to God, and was taken up to heaven by God. This is our elpida; this is our hope, and this is why we are here tonight.
May God bless all of you for coming tonight. May the Virgin Mary continue to bless us, to intercede for us to our God the Father, and may she always pray for us and for our salvation. Amen.