In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Today we celebrate one of the many feasts of the Most Holy Theotokos in our Church. The Mother of God has always, from the first days of the Church’s existence, been a special person for the reflection and love of all Christians, for the deep understanding of what God wrought and continues to do in our lives. Let us remember what happened at that moment in human history, for the sake of which the Most Holy Theotokos came into the world, was chosen by the Savior, and why we so revere her.
The time before the coming of the Savior, before the incarnation of God the Word, the time before God became Man—because there was no other path to salvation for the human race that could return people to the path preordained by God for us—was a very frightening and unusual time. The holy Psalmist David talks about this: They are become corrupt and loathsome in their ways; there is none that doeth good, no not one. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there be any that understand or seek after God. They are all gone astray, they are altogether useless, there is none that doeth good, no not one (Ps. 13:3). Perhaps this is an exaggeration, we might think. Truly, there are enough good people, in fact many, and we know them perfectly well. But at the same time we recognize perfectly how mixed up human goodness is with individual human evil even in the best and most excellent person. That is why all people without exception are given repentance.
And so in that moment, when mankind was ready for deicide—we know what happened thirty-three years after the incarnation of God the Word—at that moment the Lord is totally entrusted to one person: the Most Holy Theotokos. This was absolute and total trust, for after all God—and we confess this, we believe this, and this is the foundation of our faith—the Almighty God consciously became a helpless little Infant in the arms of a human being, in the arms of a representative of the human race, which has free will. Today that is the will to good, tomorrow something happens and it’s the will to evil; we know this about our own selves.
It is complicated to talk about a mother of each of us. After all, God, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, made the Most Holy Theotokos—and we read about this in Holy Scripture, in the Gospel according to St. John—the Mother of each of Christ’s disciples. And these are not just words; this is not just an image. It is Church dogma, the basic knowledge of the Church; it is the foundation of our confession of the Church: the Mother of God became the Mother of each of Christ’s disciples. We know people who have performed ascetic labors from history or from our own lives. We know how the mother of such a person fretted over her child. How dear to her were the co-strugglers of her son or daughter. How she encompassed them all with her love. And we can to some extent understand why all of us who strive to be Christ’s disciples are the children of His mother, infinitely loving her Son and living by His life, as any mother would, sharing His goals.
Therefore the experience of the life of generations upon generations of Christians, all Christian peoples, recognizes the special place of the Most Holy Theotokos in the life of Christians and individual people—Christ’s disciples. That is why we particularly pray to her, that is why we also with such trust and hope relate to our prayers to the Most Holy Theotokos.
Her actions, like the actions of a real mother, are often unnoticeable. For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed (Lk. 1:48). Often—and those mothers standing here know about this—a son or daughter does not notice the endless care of their loving mother. They perceive this blessing that pours around them as their due—well, the usual thing. But in fact it is maternal care.
In Russia, in ancient Rus’ there was always a special relationship to hope in the Most Holy Theotokos. And every time when Rus’ sinned, when we understood that we have angered God by our sins, the first prayer was to the one who He gave us as our Mother. After all, this is a very special thing—you can’t refuse your mother.
That is how it was several centuries ago, in 1521,1 when Khan Mehmet Gerei was advancing on Moscow, destroying everything around it. He was a Crimean Khan who had made it his goal to make Moscow his tribute-payer, and that is what he did. Moscow was already a rich, fattened city. Moscow was taking tribute from the surrounding princedoms. Earlier it paid that tribute to the Tatar princes, the princes of the Horde. Then it started taking more and more for itself, just like we often see here today. And the morals in the city were very low.
The chroniclers write without any contrivance—not in the sense that according to the custom they had to say that we sinned much, God was angered, and He sent us yet another Horde. No, that is how it really was. The Church chroniclers even write about a vision of the Moscow holy hierarchs leaving the city in order not to defend it—that is how serious the sins of our compatriots and fellow citizens of Moscow were. And when the Muscovites came to their senses, when the Tatars burned the St. Nicolas-Ugresh Monastery right next to the city, when everything around had been destroyed—only then did repentance come. They understood how they could possibly repent of so many sins. Again they turned to the protection of the Mother of God—she will forgive no matter what. And that is what happened.
That is how it happens in our own lives rather often. The Mother of God is a special, infinitely holy and great gift to the Christian world. Not because this is fair or unfair, logical or illogical, but because we Christians are simply a family—a family with our own problems, with our own weaknesses, and we are saved as a whole family by the Church.
Rational people cannot understand this, and our Protestants can’t make sense of it. How could it be, and why? If a person has sinned it means that legally he should be punished; that is for his own good. And suddenly the Most Holy Theotokos intercedes for the Orthodox! Well, why on earth, this is not fair, it is not legal, not correct.
But we live by different values, different dimensions; we live in this special, united family—by no means perfect earthly family. So that by going through trials, through the awareness and repentance of our sins we would become a completely different family—the one painted here on our church dome, a family of saints; and a family in which there is only one feeling: love, gratitude, joy in God, while all egotistical feelings, all feelings of error are already far behind. Amen.