September 8th (IX - 21)
Icon of the Birth of the Theotokos
Nativity of Our MostHoly Lady Mother of God and EverVirgin Mary. Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God (Kiev). Venerable Icons of the Nativity of MostHoly Mother of God: Izyaslavsk, Syamsk (1524), Novgorodsk (1589), Glinsk (XVI), Lukianovsk (XVI), Isaakovsk (1659). Icons of the Mother of God: Kholmsk, Kursk Znamenie/Sign (1259), Pochaevsk (1559), Lesninsk and Domnitsk (1696).
The Nativity of Our MostHoly Lady Mother of God and EverVirgin Mary: The MostHoly Virgin Mary was born at a time, when people had reached such limits of decay of moral values, that it seemed altogether impossible to restore them. The best minds of this era were aware and often said openly, that God mustneeds come down into the world, so as to restore faith and not tolerate the ruination of the race of mankind.
The Son of God chose for the salvation of mankind to take on human nature, and the All-Pure Virgin Mary, -- alone worthy to contain in Herself and to incarnate the Source of purity and holiness, -- He chose as His Mother.
The Birth of Our MostHoly Lady Mother of God and EverVirgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, on this radiant day was born the MostBlessed Virgin Mary, -- having been forechosen through the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God, and She is revealed as the Mother of the Saviour of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The MostHoly Virgin Mary was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joakim from the tribe of the King and Prophet David, and Anna from the tribe of the First-Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since Saint Anna was barren. Having reached old age, Joakim and Anna did not lose hope on the mercy of God. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to solve the barrenness of Anna -- even in her old age, as He had once solved the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Saints Joakim and Anna made a vow to dedicate the child which the Lord might bestow on them, into the service of God in the Temple. Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Saints Joakim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feastdays at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joakim brought his sacrifice in offering to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, -- considering him to be unworthy since he was childless. Saint Joakim in deep grief went into the wilderness and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for the granting of a child. Saint Anna, having learned about what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple, wept bitterly; never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed, asking God's mercy on her family. The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious spouses had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling -- to be the parents of the MostHoly Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Archangel Gabriel brought Joakim and Anna the joyous message: their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a MostBlessed Daughter Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World. The MostHoly Virgin Mary of Herself in purity and virtue surpassed not only all mankind but also the Angels; -- She was manifest as the Living Temple of God, such that the Church sings in its festal verses of song: "the Heavenly Gate, bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls" (2nd Stikhera on "Lord, I have cried", Tone 6).
The Birth of the Mother of God marks the change of the times, wherein the great and comforting promises of God begin to be fulfilled about the salvation of the human race from slavery to the devil. This event has brought nigh to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, -- a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and life immortal. Our Mother FirstBorn of All Creation is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we steadfastly recourse with filial devotion.
DISCOURSE ON THE NATIVITY OF THE MOSTHOLY MOTHER OF GOD
of Sainted Andrew, ArchBishop of Crete
The present feastday is for us the beginning of feastdays. Serving as boundary limit to the law and to foretypes, it at the same time serves as a doorway to grace and truth. "For Christ is the end of the law" (Rom. 10: 4), Who, having freed us from the writing, doth raise us to spirit. Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, hath changed the writing in spirit and doth head everything within Himself (Eph. 1: 10), enlivening the law with grace: grace hath taken the law under its dominion, and the law is become subjected to grace, such that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only suchlike, that the servile and subservient (in the law) by Divine power be transmuted into the light and free (in grace), "so that we, -- sayeth the Apostle, -- be not enslaved to the elements of the world" (Gal. 4: 3) and be not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the writing of the law. Here is the summit of Christ's beneficence towards us! Here are the mysteries of revelation! Here is the theosis [divinisation] assumed upon humankind -- the fruition worked out by the God-man.
The radiant and bright coming-down of God for people ought to possess a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation. Suchlike also is the present feastday, having as its basis the Nativity of the Mother of God, and as its purposive end -- the uniting of the Word with flesh, this most glorious of all miracles, unceasingly proclaimed, immeasurable and incomprehensible. The less comprehensible it is, the more it is revealed; and the more it is revealed, the less comprehensible it is. Wherefore the present God-graced day, the first of our feastdays, shewing forth the light of virginity and as it were the crown woven from the unfading blossoms of the spiritual garden of Scripture, doth proffer creatures a common joy. Be of good cheer, -- sayeth it, -- behold, this is the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and of the renewal of the human race! The Virgin is born, She groweth and is raised up and prepareth Herself to be the Mother of God All-Sovereign of the ages. All this, with the assist of David, makes it for us an object of spiritual contemplation. The Mother of God manifests to us Her God-bestown Birth, and David points to the blessedness of the human race and wondrous co-kinship of God with mankind.
And thus, truly one ought to celebrate the mystery today and to offer to the Mother of God a word by way of gift: since nothing is so pleasing to Her, as a word and praise by word. It is from here also that we receive a twofold benefit: first, we enter into the region of truth, and second, we emerge from the captivity and slavery of the written law. Howso? Obviously, when darkness vanishes, then light appears; so also here: after the law there follows the freedom of grace.
The present day solemnity is a line of demarcation, separating the truth from its prefigurative symbol, and ushering in the new in place of the old. Paul -- that Divine Trumpeter of the Spirit, -- exclaims thus about this: "For anyone that be in Christ, ye are remade a new creature; the old passeth away and behold all is become new (2 Cor. 5: 17); for the law hath perfected nothing adducing for a better hope, whereby we draw nigh to God" (Heb. 7: 19). The truth of grace hath shown forth brightly...
Let there now be one common festal celebration in both heaven and on earth. Let everything now celebrate, that which is in the world and that beyond the world. Now is made the created temple for the Creator of all; and creation is readied into a new Divine habitation for the Creator. Now our nature having been banished from the land of blessedness doth receive the principle of theosis and doth strive to rise up to the highest glory. Now Adam doth offer from us and for us elements unto God, the most worthy fruit of mankind -- Mary, in Whom the new Adam is rendered Bread for the restoration of the human race. Now is opened the great bosom of virginity, and the Church, in the matrimonial manner, doth place upon it a pure pearl truly immaculate. Now human worthiness doth accept the gift of the first creation and returns to its former condition; the majesty darkened by formless sin, -- through the conjoining by His Mother by birth "of Him Beauteous by Goodness", man receives beauty in a most excellent and God-seemly visage. And this creating is done truly by the creation, and recreation -- by theosis, and theosis -- by a return to the original perfection! Now a barren one is become beyond expectation a mother, and the Birth-giver hath given birth without knowing man, and She doth sanctify natural birth. Now is readied the majestied colour of the Divine scarlet-purple and the impoverished human nature is clothed in royal worthiness. Now -- according to prophecy -- there sprouts forth the Offshoot of David, Who, having eternally become the green-sprouting Staff of Aaron, hath blossomed forth for us with the Staff of Power -- Christ. Now of Judah and David is descended a Virgin Maiden, rendering of Herself the royal and priestly worthiness of Him that hath taken on the priesthood of Aaron in the order of Melchisedek (Heb. 7: 15). Now is begun the renewal of our nature, and the world responding, assuming a God-seemly form, doth receive the principle of a second Divine creation.
The first creation of mankind occurred from the pure and unsullied earth; but their nature darkened the worthiness innate to it, they were deprived of grace through the sin of disobedience; for this we were cast out of the land of life and, in place of the delights of paradise, we received temporal life as our inheritance by birth, and with it the death and corruption of our race. All started to prefer earth to heaven, such that there remained no hope for salvation, beyond the utmost help. Neither the natural nor the written law, nor the fiery reconciliative sayings of the prophets had power to heal the sickness. No one knew, how to rectify human nature and by what means it would be most suitable to raise it up to its former worthiness, so long as God the Author of all did not deign to reveal to us another arranged and newly-constituted world, wherein is annihilated the pervasive form of the old poison of sin, and granting us a wondrous, free and perfectly dispassionate life, through our re-creation in the baptism of Divine birth. But how would this great and most glorious blessing be imparted to us, so very in accord with the Divine commands, if God were not to be manifest to us in the flesh, not subject to the laws of nature, -- nor deign to dwell with us in a manner, known to Him? And how could all this be accomplished, if first there did not serve the mystery a Pure and Inviolate Virgin, Who contained the Uncontainable, in accord with the law, yet beyond the laws of nature? And could some other virgin have done this, besides She alone, Who was chosen before all others by the Creator of nature?
This Virgin is the Mother of God -- Mary, the MostGlorious of God, from the womb of Whom the MostDivine issued forth in the flesh and by Whom He Himself did arrange a wondrous temple for Himself. She conceived without seed and gave birth without corruption, since that Her Son was God, though also He was born in the flesh, without mingling and without travail. This Mother, truly, avoided that which is innate to mothers but miraculously fed with milk Her Son, begotten without a man. The Virgin, having given birth to the seedlessly Conceived-One, remained a Pure Virgin, having preserved incorrupt the marks of virginity. And so in truth She is named the Mother of God; Her virginity is esteemed and Her birth-giving is glorified. God, having conjoined with mankind and become manifest in the flesh, hath granted Her an unique glory. Woman's nature suddenly is freed from the first curse, and just as the first did bring in sin, so also doth the first initiate salvation also.
But our discourse has attained its chief end, and I, celebrating now and with rejoicing sharing in this sacred feast, I greet you in the common joy. The Redeemer of the human race, -- as I said, -- willed to arrange a new birth and re-creation of mankind: like as under the first creation, taking dust from the virginal and pure earth, wherein He formed the first Adam, so also now, having arranged His Incarnation upon the earth, -- and so to speak, in place of dust, -- He chooses from out of all the creation this Pure and Immaculate Virgin and, having re-created mankind within His Chosen-One from amidst mankind, the Creator of Adam is made the New Adam, in order to save the old.
Who indeed was This Virgin and from what sort of parents did She come? Mary, the glory of all, was born of the tribe of David, and from the seed of Joakim. She was descended from Eve, and was the child of Anna. Joakim was a gentle man, pious, raised in God's law. Living prudently and walking before God he grew old without child: the years of his prime provided no continuation of his lineage. Anna was likewise God-loving, prudent, but barren; she lived in harmony with her husband, but was childless. As much concerned about this, as about the observance of the law of the Lord, she indeed was daily stung by the grief of childlessness and suffered that which is the usual lot of the childless, ?- she grieved, she sorrowed, she was distressed, and impatient at being childless. Thus, Joakim and his spouse lamented that they had no successor to continue their line; yet the spark of hope was not extinguished in them completely: both intensified their prayer about the granting to them of a child to continue their line. In imitation of the prayer heard of Hannah (1 Kings 1: 10), both without leaving the temple fervently beseeched God that He would undo her sterility and make fruitful her childlessness. And they did not give up on their efforts, until their wish be fulfilled. The Bestower of gifts did not contemn the gift of their hope. The unceasing power came quickly in help to those praying and beseeching God, and it made capable both the one and the other to produce and bear a child. In such manner, from sterile and barren parents, as it were from irrigated trees, was borne for us a most glorious fruition -- the Immaculate Virgin. The constraints of infertility were destroyed -- prayer, upright manner of life, these rendered them fruitful; the childless begat a Child, and the childless woman was made an happy mother. Thus the immaculate Fruition issuing forth from the womb occurred from an infertile mother, and then the parents, in the first blossoming of Her growth brought Her to the temple and dedicated Her to God. The priest, then making the order of services, beheld the face of the girl and of those in front of and behind, and he became gladdened and joyful, seeing as it were the actual fulfillment of the Divine promise. He consecrated Her to God, as a reverential gift and propitious sacrifice -- and, as a great treasury unto salvation, he led Her within the very innermost parts of the temple. Here the Maiden walked in the upright ways of the Lord, as in bridal chambers, partaking of heavenly food until the time of betrothal, which was preordained before all the ages by Him Who, by His unscrutable mercy, was born from Her, and by Him Who before all creation and time and expanse Divinely begat Him, and together with His consubstantial and co-reigning and co-worshipped Spirit, -- this being One Godhead, having One Essence and Kingdom, inseparable and immutable and in which is nothing diverse, except the personal qualities. Wherefore, in solemnity and in song I do offer the Mother of the Word the festal gift; since that He born of Her hath taught me to believe in the Trinity: the Son and Word Without-Beginning hath made in Her His Incarnation; the Father begetting Him hath blessed this; the Holy Spirit hath signed and sanctified the womb which incomprehensibly hath conceived.
Now is the time to question David: in what did the God of all forswear him? Speak, O Psalmist and Prophet! He hath sworn from the fruit of my loin to sit upon my throne (Ps. 131 : 11). Here in this He is forsworn and wilt not break His oath, He hath forsworn and His Word is sealed with a deed! "Once, -- said he, -- I forswear by My Holiness, that I lie not to David; his seed wilt prevail forever, and his throne, like the sun before Me and like the moon coursing the ages: a faithful witness also in heaven" (Ps. 88 : 35-38). God hath fulfilled this oath, since it is not possible for God to lie (Heb. 6: 18). Consider this: Christ in the flesh is named my Son (Mt. 22: 42), and all nations will worship my Lord and Son (Ps. 71 : 11), seeing him sit upon a virginal throne! Here also is the Virgin, from Whose womb the Praeternal One issued forth, incarnated at the end of the ages and renewing the ages, likewise sprung forth from my loins! All this is so!
People of God, holy nation, sacred gathering! Let us revere our paternal memory; let us extol the power of the mystery! Each of us, in the measure given by grace, let us offer a worthy gift for the present feast. Fathers -- a prosperous lineage; mothers -- fine children; the unbearing -- the not-bearing of sin; virgins -- a twofold prudence, of soul and of body; betrothed -- praiseworthy abstinence. If anyone of you be a father, let him imitate the father of the Virgin; and if anyone be without child -- let them make harvest of fruitful prayer, cultivating a life pleasing to God. The mother, feeding her children, let her rejoice together with Anna, raising her Child, given to her in infertility through prayer. She that is barren, not having given birth, lacking the blessing of a child, let her come with faith to the God-given Offshoot of Anna and offer there her barrenness. The virgin, living blamelessly, let her be a mother by discourse, adorning by word the elegance of soul. For a betrothed -- let her offer mental sacrifice from the fruits of prayer. All together rich and poor, lads and maidens, old and young (Ps. 48: 2, 148: 12), priests and levites -- let all together keep the feast in honour of the Maiden, the Mother of God and the Prophetess: from Her hath issued forth the Prophet, foretold of by Moses, Christ God and Truth (Deut. 18: 15). Amen.
The Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God (Kiev), occupies an unique place in the Russian Orthodox Church. On the icon is depicted the Mother of God, and incarnated of Her is the Hypostatic Wisdom -- the Son of God. In Wisdom or Sophia, ponders the Son of God, about Whom in the Book of the Proverbs of Solomon it says: "Wisdom hath built up Her House supported of seven pillars" (9: 1). These words refer to Christ, the Son of God, Who in apostolic epistles is called "Wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1: 30), and the word "House" refers to the MostHoly Virgin Mary, of Whom the Son of God is incarnated. The arrangement of the icon testifies concerning the fulfillment of prophecy. On the icon of Kievan Sophia is depicted a church and standing at it is the Mother of God in chiton-robe, with a veil on the head, under hallway of seven pillars. The palms of Her hands are outstretched, and her feet are set upon a crescent moon. The Mother of God holds the Praeternal Christ-Child, blessing with Her right hand, and holding the Infant with Her left. On the entrance cornice are inscribed the words from the Book of Proverbs: "Wisdom hath built up Her House supported of seven pillars". Over the entrance are imaged God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. From the mouth of God the Father issues the words: "I am affirmation of Her footsteps". Along both sides are imaged the seven Archangels with outstretched wings, holding in their hands symbols of their duties. On the right side: Michael with flaming sword, Uriel with a lightning flash hurling downwards, Raphael with alabaster vessel of myrh. On the left side: Gabriel with a lily blossom, Selaphiel with a scale, Jerudiel with royal crown, and Barachiel with flowers on a white shawl. Under a cloud with the crescent moon, serving as footrest for the Mother of God, is imaged an amvon-stair with seven steps (depicting the Church of God on earth): those standing on the seven steps are the Old Testament witnesses of the manifestation of Wisdom -- the Forefathers and the Prophets. On each of the seven amvon-stair steps are inscribed: faith, hope, love, purity, humility, blessedness, glory. The seven steps of the amvon-stair are set upon the seven pillars, on which are inscribed images and their explanation taken from the Apocalypse.
The Syamsk Icon of the Mother of God was found at the Syamsk-Vologda monastery, established in the XVI Century. In the year 1542 during a fire occurring at the monastery, only the wonderworking icon alone was saved. After the fire the monastery was rebuilt. And in the year 1770 at the monastery was built a church in honour of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God, and in it was placed this wonderworking icon of the Mother of God.
The Glinsk Icon of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God appeared in the XVI Century in the Glinsk wilderness of the Kursk region. A monastery was established in 1648 and received its name from the boyars (nobles) named Glinsky.
The Lukianovsk Icon of the Nativity of the Mother of God -- is from a church in honour of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God in the village of Ignat'ev. In 1594 it thrice appeared in the wilderness area of Pokovitino-Ramen'e, not far from the village. The priest Grigorii, having consulted with his parishioners, petitioned the blessing of Patriarch Job to transfer the church to the place of the appearance of the icon. Together with the transferred church was also resettled the priest.
During the time of a Polish-Lithuanian invasion the church was looted. In the year 1640 the Monk Lukian arrived in Ramen'e from an Uglich monastery and found in the neglected church two icons which remained unharmed: the temple-icon of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God, and an Altar-icon -- the Smolensk Mother of God. A new church was built in honour of the appearance of the two wonderworking icons, at the Lukianovsk monastery.
The Isaakovsk Icon of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God appeared in the year 1659 not far from the village of Isaakievo. The peasants wanted to take the icon to their own village, but they were not able. They then turned to the priest, and he having vested, and in the company of choir and people with church banners, set off to the place of appearance of the image of the Mother of God. Located in the branches of a willow tree, there radiated from the icon an extraordinary light like unto the sun. After the singing of a molieben the priest reverently took the icon with the tree wood and carried it to the Isaakievo village into the parish church. On the following day the icon was not in the church. It was at the place where it was first found. At this place of the appearance of the wonderworking icon they built a chapel, around which gradually formed a skete-monastery. With the blessing of Sainted Jona, Metropolitan of Yaroslavl' and Rostov, at the place of the chapel there was built in 1662 a wooden church in honour of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God. In the year 1758 a stone church was built in place of the wooden, into which they transferred this image.
The Kholmsk Icon of the Mother of God,by a tradition transmitted through Bishop James the Emaciated, was written by the Evangelist Luke. It was brought from Greece to Russia during the time of the Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir, who after Baptism received many icons as a gift from Constantinople. The Kholmsk image of the Mother of God is rendered on a board of cypress wood. In the year 1261 at the time of an invasion of the Tatar (Mongol) Horde, the city of Kholm was pillaged, and the icon of the Mother of God likewise suffered: the jeweled framed was taken, the painting damaged and the icon itself thrown down. After an hundred years the holy icon was relocated and solemnly placed in the Kholmsk cathedral. On the icon there remain two deep gashes: one on the left shoulder of the Mother of God, the other -- on Her right hand. The tradition was preserved, that the invading Tatars, having plundered and damaged the holy icon, -- were then punished: they lost their eyesight and their faces became distorted. Accounts about the miraculous signs, worked by the Kholmsk Icon of the Mother of God, are recorded in a book by Archimandrite Ioannikes (Golyatovsky) entitled "The New Heaven".
The Kursk Znamenie (Sign) Icon of the Mother of God -- is one of the most ancient icons of the Russian Church. In the XIII Century during the time of the Tatar invasion, when all the Russian realm was put to the extremest tribulation, the city of Kursk, ravaged by the Horde of Batu, fell into desolation. One day in the environs of the city an hunter noticed the ancient icon, lying on a root face downwards to the ground. The hunter lifted it and saw that the image of the icon was similar to the Novgorod "Znamenie" Icon. With the appearance of this icon immediately there appeared its first miracle. Just as the hunter lifted up the holy icon from the earth, right then, at that place where the icon lay, gushed up strongly a spring of pure water. This occurred on 8 September 1259. The hunter decided not to leave the icon in the forest and settled on as a resting place an ancient small chapel, in which he put the newly-appeared image of the Mother of God. Soon inhabitants of the city of Ryl'a heard about this, and being in location not far away, they began to visit the place of the appearance for venerating the new holy image.
They transferred the icon to Ryl'a and put it in a new church in honour of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God. But the icon did not long remain there. It disappeared and returned to its former place of appearance. The inhabitants of Ryl'a repeatedly took it and carried it to the city, but the icon incomprehensibly returned to its former place. Everyone then realised, that the Mother of God preferred the place of appearance of Her Image. The especial help granted by the Mother of God through this icon is bound up with important events in Russian history: with the war of liberation of the Russian nation during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian incursion in 1612, and the 1812 Fatherland war. From the icon several copies were made, which also were glorified.
The Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God is situated in the Pochaev monastery. On the hill where the monastery is not located, two monks settled in the year 1340. One of the monks went to the top of the hill after prayer and suddenly he saw the Mother of God, standing on a stone and encircled by flame. He summoned the brother to look at the marvel. A third witness of the vision was the herdsman Ioann Bosoi. He ran to the hill, and the three of them together glorified God. At the stone where the MostHoly Mother of God stood, there remained definitely the imprint of Her right foot.
In 1559 Metropolitan Neophytes of Constantinople, journeying through Volynia, visited the noblewoman Anna Goiskaya living at the estate of Orlya, not far from Pochaev. In farewell blessing he left Anna an icon of the Mother of God brought from Constantinople. They began to notice that from the icon there issued a radiance. When Anna's brother Philip was healed in 1597 in front of a monk, she gave the wonderworking image over to the monk, living at Pochaev hill. The holy image was placed in a church raised up in honour of the Dormition of the mother of God. A monastery was later established there, on the means of which Anna Goiskaya provided a large portion.
The wonderworking icon began to be called the Pochaev Icon. Among the accounts of help from the Queen of Heaven the following is well known.
A monk of Pochaev monastery was taken into captivity by the Tatars. Held in slavery, he thought of the Pochaev monastery, its holy things, the Divine services, the church singing. In particular the monk yearned for the time of the pending feast of the Dormition (Uspenie) of the MostHoly Mother of God, and he prayed tearfully to the Mother of God for deliverance from captivity. And suddenly, through the prayers of the MostHoly Virgin, the walls of the dungeon disappeared, and the monk found himself at the wall of the Pochaev monastery.
The celebration of the Pochaev Icon is done also on the Friday of Bright Week and on 23 July.
The Domnitsk Icon of the Mother of God appeared in the year 1696 on the bank of the Domnitsa River in Chernigov diocese, not far from the city of Berezna. At the place of appearance of the icon a monastery was established, in which was situated the wonderworking image. In the year 1771 the inhabitants of the city prayed before the holy icon and were delivered from plague through the intercession of the Mother of God.
© 1997 by translator Fr. S. Janos.