Entry of the Theotokos

One of the "Great Forgotten Feasts" because of our pride in this egalitarian age.

Let us explore holiness; we are called to it also!

Luke 10:38‑42; 11:27‑28

2010

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

 

Today, brothers and sisters, we celebrate The Entrance of the Theotokos Into the Temple.  This is, in many places, an almost forgotten feast.  Certainly outside of Orthodoxy it's almost unknown, and even among the Orthodox it's barely known; it's not considered very important.

 

But this is a feast about holiness because the Theotokos was holy not because she was made holy but because she chose to be holy.  The Lord chose her because of her character.

 

In America and Europe now, basically in so much of the world, we don't understand these ideas.  We don't understand that someone can be venerated ‑‑ a human being because of their holiness ‑‑ because we are such egalitarians.  "You're not better than me!" - that's sort of the creed of America, Europe and all over the world now.  There's such intense pride in our lives, and I don't think that was as present in the ancient world because in the ancient world someone could say to you, do this, and you had to do it and you had no choice.  You had no lawyer.  You had no government that was going to do some frivolous suit for you.  You were on your own.  And people that were stronger than you, they were stronger, and you had no say about it.  Nowadays we think we have a say.  We're very proud.  And that is why I think this feast is in many ways forgotten. 

 

I've thought about this a lot actually, to be honest with you.  This feast is about holiness, that a human being can be holy.  This is something that we don't understand because we are not holy.  But we should understand that it's possible.  We should understand that we're called to it, and we should understand that the Theotokos shows us how we should pursue it. 

 

The reading in the Gospel is not about the Theotokos.  It's about another Mary,  the sister of Lazarus, and Martha, another sister.  But it's just by coincidence that the name is the same.  The Church has taken this coincidence and sort of made it into almost like a pun.  It's taken two portions of the Scripture that are separated from each other by a good number of lines and concatenated them together. 

 

The story is about Mary and Martha and about how Martha says to the Lord, "won't you tell Mary to help me because I am serving and I don't want to serve alone", and the Lord rebukes her, and says, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part." 

 

Then we skip quite a few lines until it comes to where in a totally separate incident that has nothing to do with where they were eating dinner at Lazarus' home, where a woman is in the crowd and says, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the breasts which thou has sucked," and then He says, "Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it."

 

Now, to understand this, you must understand the figure of speech that's being used.  He says "yea, rather," and it sounds like He is contradicting, but actually this is a way of emphatically saying "yes" and saying "and in addition, something else is even more true."  Yes, blessed is the womb that bare the Lord.  But even more so, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. 

 

The inference here that the Church understands, and the reason why these two parts of Scripture are concatenated together for every Feast of the Theotokos is because the Theotokos epitomizes this person that hears the Word of God and keeps it.  And that is why she's blessed. 

 

And the Lord knew that she would do this because of course He knows all things.  He didn't make her do it, as the Latins would think.  He didn't make her to be something that we are not. 

 

She's as human as we are.  You can see in the Scriptures that she was confused too just like we would be.  She wasn't always sure about things in the Scriptures, but she was holy.  All she cared about was God.  And so, when the Word of God came to her through the archangel, she believed it and did it. 

 

And all the rest of her life, as the Word of God came to her ‑‑ and by the way, it comes to us all the time, not necessarily through angels; it comes through the Holy Spirit within us ‑‑ When she heard the Word of God, she kept it.

 

We should be in awe that a human being, flesh and blood, could obey God so completely and so totally.  Let us not make her into something she is not.  She was not made to be holy.  She chose to be holy.  So can we.  If we had her focus on holy things, we would be holy.  It is certainly possible to become holy.  But among all that are born of women, the Theotokos ‑‑ that is, mortals born of women ‑‑ the Theotokos is the greatest, of course.  And we recognize her as such, and we extravagantly praise her as such in this Service. 

 

And every Service basically, no matter how small, includes something in praise to the Theotokos, in obedience to her words, which were in Luke" "every generation shall call me blessed.  So we call her blessed."

 

Most of Christendom or a good portion of Christendom does not really call her blessed, and she's not special to them.  And I believe with all my heart that the reason for this is because we don't recognize holiness; we don't understand it.  In our hearts do we know that the Lord came so that we could become perfected, and that the Theotokos is an example of this perfection which is possible? 

 

 

If you look to the saints and don't see your own perfection, as in a figure sort of, let's say through the glass darkly, then you don't understand why we praise the saints.  We praise the saints because it is possible to become holy.  And the saints show us these various paths of becoming holy.  One truth but various ways because some were bishops, and some were deacons, and some were martyrs, and were cobblers, and some were farmers.  All different paths but one truth.  And the overriding principle for all of them was they heard the Word of God and they kept it, and this is why we celebrate the Theotokos so much in our liturgical life, because she is the best example of that.

 

There's not much amazement anymore in our world about people.  There's a certain sense that everybody is equal, and we are a part of this society.  This is part of our world too.  We have this infection in us.  And even though the world is full of all kinds of hero worship, whether it be a rock star or some entertainment figure or somebody in sports, there's still the fundamental thing that they're no better than me.  Well, you know what?  The Theotokos is a lot better than me.  A lot better than you too because she chose to be better.

 

We've hardly any idea how to become like she is.  But the Lord has called us to holiness.  And somehow it's going to happen.  I don't know how because I look at my life and I see so many things that are so discordant, so wrong.  But there is that sure and certain hope in my heart also that the Lord won't abandon me. 

 

He won't abandon you either if you struggle for holiness and if you have the humility to recognize that there are people who are better than you ‑‑ the Theotokos for certain and all of the saints ‑‑ and that we should strive to emulate them and look in our hearts and see where there is this kind of spirit of the age, this egalitarianism, that you're‑not‑better‑than‑me kind of idea. 

 

Really, if you look at it, if you look at the way you behave, so much of our behavior is because we figure you're not better than me.  How dare you cut me off in traffic; you're not better than me.  How dare you slander me so that I don't get a promotion at work; you don't deserve it more than me.  How dare you be rude to me or ignore me, or whatever.  So much of our sin is because we worship ourselves more than we worship God. 

 

And if you look for when the Theotokos began to be forgotten in so‑called Christendom, it was really when such pride came up from humanism and from the so‑called enlightenment, that age has now progressed to be a cancer over all the world, so that we don't recognize what holiness really is. 

 

Holiness is humility.  Holiness is turning the other cheek when someone slaps you, giving them your coat when they ask for your cloak, and when they force you to go one mile, going with them two.  This is foreign to modern sensibility. 

 

I guess you have to say the Theotokos is as anti modern as it gets because she is just pure and holy and humble and just heard the Word of God and kept it.  And she is far above us.  And yet, the Lord wants us to join her and all the saints with Him.  It is certainly possible, but we must change the way we think. 

 

This is why feasts of the Theotokos are very, very important.  Even those so‑called, in people's minds, a "minor feast".  Of course, this is one of the Twelve Great Feasts, but people don't think of it as very great.  They think, okay, I've got to go to Nativity and I've got to go to Pascha and maybe Pentecost, maybe Dormition.  But these other feasts of the Theotokos are not so well known.

 

Every time that we have a feast like this, in my heart I think how wonderful it is that a human being could become so holy, could accept God's will so completely.  And then my next thought is why don't I do that?  I don't really know, to be honest with you, why I don't do that.  I mean, I know there are passions in me that keep me from doing those things.  But why are those passions there?  I know the truth.  Don't you know the truth too?  Why do we do it?  This is a mystery to me, why we sin so completely, so often. 

 

But if we focus on the holy ones, the saints, and preeminently the Theotokos, then we could be inspired by them.  And of course, they pray for us.  It says, "the effective and fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much," so much more one who has "fought the good fight" and "finished the course," such as the Theotokos and all of the saints.  Of course they hear our prayers, and they pray for us in a way that we can't even imagine, with a focus and a holiness that we don't understand, and the Lord hears their prayers.

 

Let us rejoice that a human being could become so holy as the Theotokos, of her own will and with God's grace helping her.  And may God help us to attain to this holiness also.  Amen.

Transcribed by the handmaiden of God Helen. May God save her and her loved ones!

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2013    

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