The Mother of God intercedes for us

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Mother of God intercedes for us
Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God (Old-Style)
28 August, 2008
Philippians 2:5-11 ; Luke 10:38-42 ; 11:27-28

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

On this day we are celebrating the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, and at the same time, the arrival from all the parts of the earth of the apostles (who were still alive), in order to participate in her burial. This is a significant occasion in many ways. It is not for nothing that the all apostles were brought back to Jerusalem for the burial of the Mother of God. They came back because of love. They came back out of obedience. They came back out of honour and respect.

It is important for us to remember this because there is more that happens to the Mother of God after her burial. We see on the icon of her burial that the Saviour has come to take her soul away with Him. The icon is showing this tiny child, all wrapped-up in white swaddling-bands that our Lord has in His arms. This tiny, wrapped child represents her soul, her spirit. He takes her away. When the apostles go to visit her grave afterwards, they find that the grave is empty. We are to understand from this that the Mother of God, of whom we have no bodily relics remaining, was taken into heaven right away. She is the first fruits of the Resurrection, one might say. It is true that, even today, we can still venerate some of her clothes. There is a belt left behind, and several other articles of her clothing (one of which I had the blessing to venerate when I was in Georgia a few years ago). These holy items are remaining, but there are no bodily relics left of her. This is a very significant detail, because even of most of the apostles there are some remaining bodily relics which we can venerate in certain places. That there are no bodily relics of the Mother of God underlines the fact that her body was taken away into heaven by the Lord.

The second thing to remember would be the words of the Gospel and the Epistle, of the feast, together with the hymns that we have been singing about the Mother of God, and about this feast. The Mother of God, herself, is not someone who came from nowhere. She came from a long line of people whom we know about. We know the ancestry of Joseph, too. We know where the Mother of God came from. We even know who her relatives are – for instance, Saint Elizabeth, and Saint John the Baptist. We also know from her own words in the Magnificat (the ninth Canticle of Matins) that she considered herself to be the lowliest of persons. In the course of her life, she was always very much in the background. She was always present, somehow, in the course of the labours of our Lord during the time of the three years of His ministry amongst us. In those years she was always there, too, in the background. Sometimes we hear that she is coming with His other relatives to speak to Him.

Our Lord responds : “'My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it'” (Luke 8:21). However, His Mother is the prime example of hearing the Word of God and keeping it. By keeping it, I do not mean holding on to it tightly. I mean (and the Gospel means) keeping it by living it. This is further emphasised by our Lord. When the woman exclaims that the one who bore Him and who raised Him is blessed, He responds in effect that this is true, but He continues : “'More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it'”. Of course, these words refer directly to His mother.

The Mother of God, who gave our humanity to the Saviour in the Incarnation, considered herself to be the lowliest of the low. Humility and service are the way of the Orthodox Christian. The Mother of God, in the course of her life, is always showing us this example. She is the example to the whole Church. That is why her icon is always on the iconostasis : not only because of the Incarnation, but because of her being the example to us all of how to live the Christian life. She, in her humility, is exalted. She serves us, by interceding for us, just as her Son has always and is serving us. Her Son is always caring for us, and still, therefore, serving us and showing us the way, Himself.

Today, when our Lord is speaking to Martha, He is telling her that her difficulty is not that she is lacking love for Him, but that she lets herself be distracted by all the cares of serving, preparing meals, and so forth. She has lost sight of what comes first. Our priority is to hear our Saviour speak, as Mary, her sister, is doing. Our priority is, again, hearing our Saviour speak, and then acting on what we hear. I think, perhaps, that our Lord is saying to us all that there is always the time to do, to act ; but there is not always the moment to hear, and to listen. It is important for us to remember that, too. We have to take the time (just as we do on feast-days like this) to come together and to be in the Lord’s presence. There are always many other times to be doing things. However, when the time comes to hear the Lord, and be in His presence, this truly must come first for us. In doing so, we are following not only what our Lord says, not only the example of the Mother of God, but also the words of the Apostle.

The Apostle says to us that our responsibility is not to think too highly of ourselves, but rather to think of everyone else as being better than oneself (see Philippians 2:3). Our Lord, Himself, says that the one who is last will be first in the Kingdom. Those who are the least will be exalted to the highest (see Matthew 23:12 ; Mark 9:35 ). This has been the case with the Mother of God. As I have said, she has been almost invisible, even in the Scriptures. She is always there, but she is not talked about. Nevertheless, we see her. We get glimpses of her. She is always there, whether or not she is physically present. She is always faithful. She is present at the foot of the Cross when almost everyone else became frightened and ran away. Let us not forget this. She, and Saint Mary Magdalene, and the Apostle John, were the only ones there. Everyone else had became frightened, and they kept their distance.

The Mother of God is now exalted to the highest in the Kingdom. She is spoken of in our hymns as the General of the armies of the angels. Her intercession is extremely strong. I am going to give this following example, because this subject is now coming up from time to time. There was a book that I read a long time ago that was printed in 1907 during the time of the Russian Empire. This book talks about the death experience of a man who had led a dissolute life. He never went to church. The only recollection he had about being in church was when, as a little boy, he was there with his babushka. He had since then led a profligate life, unchurched, caring only about the world.

Then he caught pneumonia. Of course, in the days of 1907, not everyone by any means survived pneumonia, because this was long before antibiotics. In his case, he wrote that he was very, very sick. Then he suddenly noticed that he was outside himself, looking down, and the doctors were saying that there was no hope. He was definitely going, and he felt someone (he did not know what it was, but it was obviously an angel) take him by the arm and lift him up. Up they went into the darkness, and then they began to go towards this light. As they progressed towards this light, he also began to hear nasty, accusing voices, and he began to see horrible, dark, distorted figures. They were pointing at him, and accusing him of the misdeeds of his life. They were telling the angel that he had no right to take this person with him because he belonged to them because of his way of life. This man writes that he was absolutely terrified, and he did not know what to do.

Suddenly, there came to his mind (or rather to his heart) the prayer that his babushka had been saying, and that he had heard in church. That was all he remembered about church, or prayer, or anything. That prayer was : “Most holy Theotokos, save us”. So he began to say this prayer. As soon as he said it, a fog came around him. The more he said it, the thicker the fog became. This fog eventually muffled the clarity of the sound of those accusing voices, and then made them incomprehensible. He was progressing more and more, and finally there was no more sound of those voices, and no more anything. His fears subsided ; the cloud lifted, and he came close to the light. He felt very warm, and he felt very much love and joy. Suddenly, he head a voice saying : “Not ready”. Immediately he was turned back, and was taken back to his body. By this time, his body was in the morgue of the hospital. This was, of course, an Orthodox hospital in the days of the Empire. So, when he came to himself, there was a psalm-reader in the morgue who was reading the Psalms over the dead bodies of the people in the morgue. This is our Orthodox way.

He wrote that he came back to himself rather violently, and almost scared to death the psalm-reader. When he came back to himself like this, he also came back in complete repentance. He wrote this little pamphlet in order to let other people know what had happened to him, in the hope that someone who might read the pamphlet would also repent, and turn to the Lord. Then he talks about the joy of living the Christian life. His life was completely turned about. His life was turned about at the prayers of his babushka. He was turned about because when he said this prayer, the Mother of God immediately protected him. There is much more anecdotal evidence that others have similarly called for help, and it came from her immediately. She is the one who is strong enough, by her prayers and her authority, to scatter the demons because of her harmony in love with her Son. She brings to bear the love of her Son on everything. She is the one who inspired him to turn his life about to Christ, and to follow Christ.

As we see in most of the icons, the Mother of God is constantly showing us her Son. Our lives, likewise, always have to show Christ. Our love for our Saviour should be such that in everything that we are doing, in everything that we are, we are showing Who is Christ. Let us ask the Mother of God to pray for us more and more so that we will have the strength to serve her Son with the same love, and to imitate her obedience and her humility. Let us ask her to protect us so that we will not lose sight of her Son, nor lose sight of our purpose in this life, nor lose sight of our way of serving : first hearing the Word of the Lord, and then living it out. As we know very well, Saint Herman of Alaska summarises those very words of our Lord when he exhorts us : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In the very same way, let us glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.