The Nativity of the Theotokos (the Mother of God)

The birth of Mary is celebrated every year on September 8. A hymn from the Liturgy of the day reads,

By your nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna [Mary’s parents] are freed from barrenness; Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, you people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: the barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life!

Given the words of that hymn, the world, and many of our Christian brethren must think us fools and mad! But, we Orthodox Christians commemorate the birth of Mary, the mother of our God, without apology and with confidence. We honor her, we do not worship her. We acknowledge her as the New Eve: her obedience in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel releases the knot of Eve’s disobedience. By Mary’s obedience, God the Son (who is the New Adam) can rescue, release, and save all of humanity. By Mary’s “YES”, God becomes fully human — a creature — and by his Incarnation gathers all of humanity and all of creation in himself in a relational union (Eph 1: 10)!

We commemorate the birth of the Mother of God because she was prepared from of old. The final sentence of the Divine Liturgy’s “Prayer of the Trisagion” expresses this truth:

Through the intercessions of the holy Theotokos and of all the saints who from the beginning of the world have been well pleasing to thee.

Icon of the Annunciation

Consider the Burning Bush. The Fathers of the Church understood this event to express a type of Mary. Upon the call of Moses, the bush was not consumed which shone forth the fire of God’s self-revealing presence (Exodus 3: 1- 6, 14). Building upon this, the Archangel Gabriel addresses her: “Greetings ‘having been graced,’ the Lord is with you.” The phrase, “having been graced,” is my translation of the Greek perfect, passive participle kecharitomene. Being in the perfect aspect (or tense), it confers the meaning that an action occurred in the past, but its effect continues into the present. Mary was “graced” from her birth, and even long before that day. Additionally, we also read this from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Now, when the fulness of time came, God sent his Son born of a woman…” (Gal 4: 4). St. Paul is stating that Mary is expressed from and is part of the fulness of time since she plays the key role in the coming of Christ into the world!

We Orthodox Christians commemorate the birth of the Mother of God because she stated this in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38). By this consent God becomes man — Jesus who is the Christ! Thus, by his death we are freed from death! By his resurrection we are given eternal life! By his ascension we ascend with him into his glory (Col 3: 1- 4)!
We commemorate the birth of the Mother of God because she held God within her uterus as God took human form from her (the fulfillment of the type that is the Burning Bush). She nourished God at her breasts. She was at his Cross. She was in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost. She died and was carried into the Kingdom of Heaven by her Son where she is seated as Queen Mother and intercedes in behalf of all of her spiritual children who call upon her.

We commemorate the birth of the Theotokos because St. Elizabeth first honored her: “Elizabeth was filled with Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’ And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord might come to me?” (Luke 1: 41b – 43). So we must commemorate her birth as we sing of it along with St. Elizabeth in this hymn:

 

Your nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe! The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, has shone from you, O Theotokos! By annulling the curse, he bestowed a blessing. By destroying death, He has granted us eternal life!

The following is a homily which corresponds to this posting:

In Christ who was born of the Virgin,
Fr. Irenaeus

 

 



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