The following is a transcript from remarks given by Fr. Evan on the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15, 2014.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Many years to all of you on this Great Feast Day, that of the Dormition or the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God. To many of you who celebrate your name day, we wish God’s blessings upon you.
This morning, the Church assigns to the liturgy, a reading that may seem a bit unusual. It comes from Luke’s Gospel, chapter 10, versus 38-42 and then it is spliced together with a second reading, two versus from the gospel of Luke, chapter 11, versus 27-28. On this day in which we commemorate and remember the falling asleep of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, we might expect that during the Liturgy we might hear the reading that we’ve heard these past 14 days from the 1st Chapter of Luke that tells of Mary’s encounter with the Archangel Gabriel and her agreement with the Lord’s question to enter her own womb the seed of the Holy Spirit and to give birth to the Savior of the world.
But, what we find on this day is a strange reading, a reading that we are familiar with about two sisters, Mary and Martha. These two sisters have a fight. I have three daughters and sometimes they have fights. They complain, you know, we ask them to pick up the basement and one of them is sure to come up and say, “you know, Eleni is not helping, I’m doing all the work.” And then the next one comes up, “Why do I have to organize the Lego box, Spyridon made the mess.” And the same thing happens in this passage. These two sisters have been serving a dinner and afterwards, Martha is taking care of things and what’s Mary doing? She is seated at the feet of Jesus, listening to His teaching. And Martha gets upset. She goes to the Lord and says, “Why don’t you tell my sister to help me.” And the Lord says that wonderful phrase, that we are all familiar with and maybe we have repeated to others in similar circumstances, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, one thing is needful, Mary has chosen the good portion which shall not be taken away from her.”
In its own right, that phrase is most powerful and it is fit rightly on this Feast. Because in a sense, it speaks if you will in prototype about Mary, the Mother of God who herself chose the one thing that was needful, the Lord Jesus and because she did, that inheritance shall be never taken away from her. But, after this phrase and there was a crowd gathered, someone raises up their voice, a woman and says, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that you sucked.”
Now, I have parents and the truth of the matter is that when and if I accomplish something good in this world, those who are truly wise say, “you must have had good parents, right?” That’s all this woman is saying. When she hears the most incredible statement coming out of the Lord’s mouth and she recognizes the wisdom in it, she says, my goodness you must have had a good mom. And we do the same thing or when we notice that someone is rather rotten, we say, “Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Our mothers and our fathers have a great influence on how we turn out. And it’s no different for Jesus, who was truly a human being. Now that’s a staggering concept to consider that the God of the universe has a mom. And that mom helped to develop His character as a person.
Now, Jesus then answers this woman who’s just praised His mother with the following phrase: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Now, to my ears as I hear this phrase and think, oh my, Jesus has just dismissed this compliment to His mother. Something that any good son knows he better not do. If someone complimented my mom and I publically denounced her, it didn’t turn out so good in my house. I have a rather strong mom. But even if you don’t have a very strong mom and you were to hurt your mother’s feelings, how does that work out for you? A good idea, Andrew? No, not a good idea.
Do you think that is what Jesus is doing here? No, he’s pointing out to the woman who has just praised His mother something even more glorious about His own mom. He’s saying, blessed is this woman, for she heard the word of God and kept it. What does He mean? Well, certainly He means that very encounter that occurred between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary. We read about it in Luke’s Gospel in the first chapter. You’ll recall, that in this chapter, Mary is visited by the Archangel and he tells her something astounding, doesn’t he? He says that she is going to give birth to the Son of God. If Mary is at all a sane young woman, this news must have come not only as a shock, but she probably thought, maybe I’m going a bit deaf. Maybe I’m going crazy. I think an angel is visiting me, the Archangel and he’s telling me that I’m going to have the Son of God.
No matter how exalted your visions of yourself may be and when you’re young, you tend to have rather exalted visions…I’m going to be an Olympic gold medalist, I’m going to be the President of the United States, I’m going to be the richest man on Earth. Some of us thought these thoughts when we were little, right? But who in their right mind would ever think, I’m going to give birth to the Creator of the Universe. Yes, that’s what I’m going to do. Probably no one, ever, including Mary. So, can you imagine, that when the Archangel came to her and said, “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you shall name Him Jesus, He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His Father David and His reign over the house of Jacob will be forever and His Kingdom will have no end.”
I think Mary said, yeah right. And why do I say that? Because she said to the angel, “How can this be, I’m a virgin?” If you realize for a moment what’s going on in the text, she’s cornered the Archangel Gabriel. The Archangel Gabriel has been given a message, he goes and gives the message, he wasn’t told by God, get into a dialogue. He wasn’t told by God, convince this young woman to listen. He’s just told, go and tell her something. And she says something very basic. How, I’m a virgin? Notice, this isn’t what Eve, our first mother did. She gets drawn into a conversation and begins to buy into a lie, but Mary doesn’t do that. No, how can this be? And what does the Archangel say? It’s almost like he’s scratching his head and stepping back slowly and kind of questioning himself and he says, “Well ummm, the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, for that reason, the Holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” In other words, I think God’s going to do something by His Holy Spirit and He’ll make it possible.
Now, once she identifies whom this messenger comes from, in other words, oh you’re coming from God, the Father and His Holy Spirit shall descend upon me, then she says, “Ok, let it be unto me, the bondslave of the Lord, according to your word.” Now what does it say here in the gospel passage that we read today? “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” And what does it say here in Luke, chapter 1, verse 38, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.”
Who kept the word of God? Mary. It’s right here in the text. But I have a question for you. When we say the word of God, what do we mean? Jesus Christ. We don’t mean something written. When we say the word of God, we mean the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the Word, the Reason, the Savior, the Redeemer, the Deliverer. And she’s the one who kept Him. How did she do that? She accepted the invitation by God and she drew into her very self, the Logos, the Word, Jesus. And if that’s not enough, what did she then do? She began to unite her flesh with His flesh. That’s exactly what happens when a woman is pregnant. Do you know they find the DNA of the child in the DNA of the mother, even after birth? That’s what scientists have figured out. But the Church understood that way before and said His flesh and her flesh became one flesh. That’ staggering! For the first time ever, in the history of humanity, the Divine and the human are united in truth.
Now, have you ever heard of a prototype? What’s a prototype? It’s a first type. Proto is first. The first type, prototype. Mary is a prototype. She’s the first Christian. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to unite your life with Jesus. She’s the first that did it. You start to wonder, why is it that the church is constantly honoring this person? Because she is the person who showed first and foremost what is going to be done in all of humanity. We’re going to unite our lives with Christ.
Now, I know I’m going on a bit long, you’re not used to me speaking more than 10 minutes, but you came on a weekday, so sit tight. Now, she’s a prototype, who’s the other prototype that we exalt above all other prototypes in the Church? Jesus. He’s the one who first entered into death and then resurrected. But what do we say in the hymn today? In giving birth you remained a virgin, ok, we’ve talked about that. In your falling asleep you did not forsake this world, that’s her intercession, we’re not going to talk about that today. Oh Theotokos, for as Mother of Life, you have yourself passed into life. This prototype, Jesus, who died and resurrected is followed by this prototype who herself participated in death and resurrection and will be followed by you as a prototype.
I have one more text for you. John, chapter 5. This is the gospel that’s read when you die. When they lay your coffin here on the solea of the Church, if I am the priest serving, I’ll take it and place it on your casket and I’m going to read this passage to you, your dead body, I’m going to read this.
John, chapter 5: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. That’s John Chapter 5 verse 24. For the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear live.
Who heard the word of God? Mary. Who kept the word of God? When she died, does this passage of scripture come true for her? Yes. She is a prototype for us. When we die, if we have heard the word of God, if we have kept the word of God, if we have enmeshed our life with the word of God, when we die, we will be transferred from death to life just like Jesus was, just like Mary was. Maybe now you feel just a bit, the importance of this Great Feast and how with solemnity and yet with great celebration, the Church commemorates this day. Mary who died is a prototype, what will happen for all of us who die. For she heard the word of God and kept it.