Friday, September 16, 2011

Met. Ephrem on the Nativity of the Theotokos

The Arabic original can be found here. This sermon was given in Tripoli on September 8, 2011.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Beloved, we are still at the beginning of the Church year, since the year begins for the Church in September. The first great feast is the one that we celebrate today, the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. You notice that on all the feasts of Our Lady Mary, her Nativity, her Dormition, her Entrance into the Temple, this passage from the Gospel is read and along with it this passage from the Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians. This Epistle says that the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming like a human, and humbled himself to the point of death, death on the cross. Why do you think that the Church chooses this Epistle for the feasts of Our Lady Mary? And what is the intimate bond between the Lord Jesus and the Virgin Mary? And what is the importance of the Virgin Mary in the economy of salvation?

This Epistle is connected to the mystery of the Incarnation. The Lord Jesus is the Son of God who was incarnate and became man in order to suffer, to rise, and to save us from the weight of death and sin. And so he came down! This divine self-abasement is what the Apostle Paul is expressing when he says “He emptied himself”. This is the mystery of the divine plan, how the God empties himself , “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming like a human, and humbled himself to the point of death, death on the cross.” But what did the Virgin do? The Virgin is a human like us, but in her purity, faith, and obedience she did more than any person on the earth in the past, present, or future, and resembled the Lord Jesus in self-abasement, obedience, humility, and self-emptying. The Bible describes this human person as the divine ladder, Jacob’s ladder, that connects earth to heaven and also connects us to heaven because by the grace of God she did what Christ did, but in the opposite direction, since she began as a human person and was elevated and divinized by God’s grace. This is the teaching of the Church, that this woman “the Virgin Mary” was divinized and elevated from earth to heaven and thus by God’s grace became a divinized person.

This is the way that we must look at Mary. We must come to resemble her, that is, be obedient. The Gospel says that she is blessed through all generations, but the Lord says is today’s Gospel passage, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” This means that the Virgin Marry is blessed because she heard the word of God and kept it. She was obedient to God’s word and to the Gospel and his is what gave her patience, love, and obedience and this is why she said “behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord”—the word ‘handmaiden’ means ‘servant’. That is, she came to resemble Christ who became a servant in order to save us. How lovely it would be if we had this grace to be humble and to heed the word of God, to keep it, and to apply it in our life. Amen.

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