On the Heavenly Intercession of the Mother of God

A Sermon given at the Paraclisis to the Mother of God

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

We have no other help, we have no other hope, but Thee O pure Mother of God. Help us, in Thee we hope, and in Thee we boast, for we are Thy slaves, let us not be put to shame.”

With such prayerful feelings the Church always turns to the One Who by the grace of God was made the Protectress of the whole world and every Christian soul individually. And what joy these grace-filled words produce in ours souls, especially when the soul is burdened with the weight of sins or sorrows, or enfeebled by despondency or despair! Then the Christian heart invisibly draws encouragement, consolation, and tranquility from these words. What joy they bring to our souls!

In difficult and sorrowful moments, when the soul is given over to some sinful temptation, we especially are in need of mercy and bright hope in aid. The Lord according to His essence is greatly merciful and good, and Not to the end will He be angered (Ps. 102:9); but there are so many unreasonable actions on our part by which we ourselves block access to divine grace and bring God’s righteous anger upon us. For example, when we do not forgive our neighbor’s offences with our whole heart, as we can see from the proverb of the ungrateful debtor, where the Savior says unequivocally, So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matt. 18:35). Or when our heart is puffed up with pride, then according to God’s word, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble (Jas. 4:6). Then God’s grace departs from us, and His wrath comes upon us. In moments of abandonment, when God’s wrath is weighing upon us, the soul especially needs God’s mercy. And how can we change God’s wrath to mercy when we have lost our boldness before God, when even the saints condemn us and do not intercede for us, and the debt of our sins is beyond measure, so that a whole lifetime would not be enough to repay it? What can we do, and to whom can we run, from whom can we await salvation? From the One Who became our Mother by grace. She is the hope of the hopeless, the refuge of sinners, the Mother of Christians, Mary, the Most Pure Lady. For if a sinner comes to such a wretched state, on the one hand he has angered God, but on the other hand, he has no help in the form of intercessions from saints. But even then the intercessions of the All-Holy Virgin do not abandon him. Although you know this, it is nevertheless not superfluous to remember it once again, in order to more deeply affirm your faith in the intercessions of the Mother of God for us.

We have said that the Lord is angered by our iniquities. So that this would be even more edifying, to learn what the expression “is angered” means, and to know more clearly how terrible is God’s wrath that is kindled from human sins, let us turn to the many examples in Holy Scripture where God appears as a God of vengeance. First the light-bearing angel sinned, and the Lord was angered and cast him from heaven like lightening; the abyss of unquenchable fire and outer darkness opened up and he was imprisoned there for the ages along with the fallen angels. Adam sinned, and the Lord in His wrath cast him from paradise and condemned him to work the soil filled with thorns and thistles, to earn his bread in the sweat of his brow. People sinned in the time of Noah, and the Lord in His wrath sent them the flood, forty days of rain, and drowned them. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gamora and other cities sinned, and the Lord in His wrath rained down fire from the heavens upon them and scorched them. The Jews sinned, and the Lord in His wrath gave them over to be conquered, pillaged, and taken captive by their enemies—be they the Chaldeans, or the Assyrians—and they are still a gainsaying among peoples. God’s beloved friend David sinned, and the Lord nevertheless in His wrath did not forgive him without having given him first a heavy punishment: the death of his children and a plague that impoverished almost his entire kingdom. And we can see very many other examples from those ancient times.

We Christians also sin, and the Lord is angry with us and punishes us, as he punished in antiquity. Sicknesses, untimely death, famine, wars—all of these are God’s whips by which the Lord punishes us from the external side, visible punishments. We are also smitten with internal punishments that touch our souls, when the Lord departs from us and takes His divine grace away from us, which is the cause of a darkened intellect, a weakened will to do good, ignorance, and irreverence toward the truths of the faith and to all things sacred, obstinance in doing evil, and finally, lack of repentance. This is also a sign of God’s wrath: the blinding of the eyes of our heart and obstinance in evil and unrighteousness. The holy fathers say that sin is the highest evil; and for God, Who is the highest good, there is nothing more hateful that sin; and God’s righteous judgment punishes nothing as it does sin—that brazen transgression of divine commandments. From this we can see how great God’s wrath should be against a person who abides in sin. It is so great that even righteous Job feared that wrath more than eternal torments: O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! (Job 14:13). St. John Chrysostom fears it more than a thousand punishments: “We can imagine that even a thousand Gehennas would be less tormenting than to see God’s face turning away from us, and His meek eye not bearing to look upon us.”

When God is greatly angered at a sinner, can anyone intercede before Him, assuage His anger, and turn it to kindness and mercy? The Jews in the wilderness committed the worst iniquities that a man can do against God—they fell into idolatry, made themselves a golden calf and bowed down before it as to a god, and they rejected the true God Who had freed them from Egyptian slavery. The Lord was very angered and wanted to destroy them, to erase them from the face of the earth. Moses interceded and asked: Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people (Ex. 32:11–14).

Do you see how Moses’s intercession made God merciful, and the Lord cancelled His punishment? But after all, Moses was only a simple slave before God, just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were only slaves. But who is the Most Holy Virgin Mary before God? The Mother most beloved of all creation. St. John Damascene says that there exists a boundless difference between slaves of God and the Mother of God, and if the intercessions of the slave Moses held back God’s wrath and did not allow it to strike the idolatrous Jews, then the intercessions of the Mother of God, Mary, even more powerfully hold back that divine wrath and does not allow it to fall upon sinful Christians. God, Who to Whom all the saints pray, sometimes hears them and sometimes does not. He is the Lord, and they are slaves; they ask for mercy, which it is His free will to give or withhold. Didn’t the apostle Paul ask three times but was not heard? But when asked by the Most Holy Virgin, God always hears her. He is her son, and she is His Mother; after all, that the Son should fulfill his Mother’s request is not mercy but a natural obligation. When Beersheba, Solomon’s mother, entered the royal palace, the king, as Divine Scripture says, rose from his throne and bowed down before her, set for her another throne, and she sat down at his right hand. And when she said that she has come to ask one mercy from him, he said to her, Ask, my mother, for I will not turn away from thee (3 Kings 2:19–20). King Solomon knew that although he is the king, he must honor his mother as the queen. After her dormition from earth to heaven, the Most Holy Virgin entered the divine chamber of glory with great honor, so that she was seated higher than all the heavenly hosts of angels and archangels and all the saints. She was seated at the right hand of the throne of God, as the Holy Spirit foretold: At Thy right hand stood the Queen, arrayed in a vesture of inwoven gold, adorned in various colors (Ps. 44:10). And the Lord fulfills her requests: “Ask, My Mother, ask what you will, and I will fulfill your wish; and let the world know Who your Son is, and who my Mother is, and thus shall all generations glorify you. Ask for healing of the sick, ask for help to the wretched and poor, ask that whatever city or countryside in which My name is honored be preserved from famine, pestilence, and wars; ask and I will fulfill your request. Let your glory be glorified by My glory. Let My glory consist in the glorification of My Mother.”

So, our ancestors had a steadfast and deep faith in the heavenly intercession of the Mother of God, and often turned to her in their needs, sorrows, and grief with warm and fervent prayer. And the Mother of God never put their faith to shame, but always gave them speedy help—to the Russian Orthodox people, as well as to everyone who asked according to their faith. It has been told that one pious, God-fearing woman went to church with her son who served as a sailor in the Black Sea and who had a long and dangerous route ahead of him. Before sending her son off on his long journey, she came specially to the church in order to serve a moleben before the icon “Of the Sign” for his health and well-being. At the end of the moleben, the mother stood on her knees before the icon and exclaimed with tears: “Queen of Heaven, I entrust my son to you, and my hope is in you. Return him to me from the bottom of the sea. And truly, as this ship sailed it was hit with a terrible storm and was completely shipwrecked, so that the entire crew was swallowed by the waves. Along with all the others was the son of this God-fearing mother thrown overboard by the waves. Sensing his imminent death he suddenly remembered the icon “Of the Sign” and with faith called out for help to the Mother of God, with faith crying to her, “O Queen of Heaven, my mother asked You about me. Save me for her.” After that a wave hit him so hard that he lost his senses and memory. When he regained consciousness he saw himself on the seacoast and gave thanks to the Prayerful Intercessor for his salvation. This wondrous miracle of the Mother of God, who by the faith and prayer of a mother saved her son! This story also serves as yet another confirmation of the power of a mother’s prayer, and that a mother’s prayer really can save a child from the bottom of the sea.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, from the little to the great, honor and revere the name of the Most Pure Virgin Mary and call on her, the Protectress of our lives, in all your needs both of both body and soul. Not a single animal perished in the Ark; neither will any Christian perish who runs to the protection of the Holy Virgin, who is the ark of salvation. Let all God’s wrath of be turned in your direction, but if she will intercede, she will change all that divine wrath and displeasure to mercy and lovingkindness, for “The prayers of a Mother to the Master’s lovingkindness can accomplish much.” Therefore our Holy Church sings, “No one who comes to thee is turned empty away, O Pure and Most Holy Theotokos, but asketh Thy mercy and recieveth the gift to his beneficial request.”

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, after the Lord Jesus Christ let us honor and revere the name of the Most Pure Virgin Mary. Let the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be written in our hearts and never leave our lips. Let the names of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Most Pure Virgin Mary be the beginning and end of our morning and evening prayers. Enter and leave the Church with these names, begin and end every work with them, so that we might be vouchsafed in the hour of our last breath to have on one side the Lord Jesus Christ, and on the other the Most Pure Virgin Mary, and together be glorified in the Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

15/28 October, 1960

Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)


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