Behold Thy Mother

Sermon on the Dormition of the Mother of God, Holy Dormition Pskov Caves Monastery, August 28, 2021


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

If we only understood completely her, for the sake of whom we have gathered here in the Holy Dormition Pskov Caves Monastery! All of human life goes into the knowledge of this. God’s final gift on the cross to each of us was precisely her. Everyone standing here has someone dearest of all: your mother. Some of your mothers are, thank God, still alive; others have reposed. And only those who have buried their mothers know the bitterness of orphanhood and its emptiness. Author and frontline soldier Constantine Vanshenkin, who lived through very much in his life, wrote, “An old orchard bears fruit. My parents are old, but they are alive. Thank God. What more can be said?” But when parents depart, this is sad. There is no longer that person who forgives us everything, understands, comforts in any sorrow, and shares that sorrow with us.

On the Cross, the Lord pronounced words directed at each one of us: Behold thy mother (Jn. 19:27), inclined toward his own mother, the Most Holy Theotokos, standing by the cross. These words are important for us, just as are the words: This is My Body… this is My Blood (Mt. 26:26,28). You will be communicants of the true Body and true Blood of Jesus Christ. The word of God is never in vain, or pronounced just to provide people some phantom consolation. And when the Lord said what He said, indicating His mother and making us His brothers and sisters (as we address each other), this is not some phantom consolation. Before God and before the faithful heart, this is the fullness of life; this is thy Mother (Jn. 19:27).

It is for this reason that we so venerate the Most Holy Theotokos. We are called to know with all our hearts and experience that the Lord has given a true Mother both to us who have earthly mothers in this life, and to those whose earthly mothers have gone to the next world. The power of her prayer lies in the fact that we pray to the Lord together with the Holy Theotokos. Of course, we turn to the Lord. The Lord is the only Creator—this is absolute truth for all of us. But just as with our spiritual father prayer is stronger, deeper, and warmer, all the more so is prayer the Lord stronger with the Most Holy Theotokos, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Most glorious Ever-Virgin, Mother of Christ our God, bring our prayer to thy Son and our God,” we pray in hymns to the Most Holy Theotokos. In this is her power! She stands together with us before God, when we turn to her. This is the law of spiritual world; the one that Orthodox Christians have.

We’ve had requests for our earthly mothers that they gladly fulfilled. There are requests that they didn’t fulfill, no matter how tearfully we begged, because they knew that it would either be harmful to us, or that it would deprive us of that special strength that comes only through patience and achievement through work. Now that we are adults we know this. Fulfilling any request for the good; sharing in our sorrow when that sorrow is unavoidable; giving consolation and wisdom to our hearts; helping us where our strength fails us—all of this is not the duty but rather the joy of a mother.

Here, in what were once the impassible oak forests of northern Russia, in this wondrous den was created a monastery in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. The founders of this holy habitation felt a special connection with the Most Holy Theotokos—her help in prayer, her aid in life. Each one of us can experience this. It is strange if an Orthodox Christian who has such a God-given opportunity does not open his heart to the Mother of God. But unfortunately, this happens. People address their prayers to the Mother of God at times out of habit, at times simply because everyone does it—and by this they rob their own selves. Just as does the Lord God, the Mother of God waits for us to give her our whole hearts, for our sincere relationship to her—just like our earthly mother.

May the Most Holy Theotokos—the mother to whom the Lord entrusted us at the cross—give us her maternal aid in everything we need! May the Most Holy Mother of God give us strength and consolation—which is the strength for life, faith, and the knowledge of her Son the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ. Having adopted us, She has made her Son Jesus Christ our true, great and incomparable Lord and brother. This is how far-reaching were the Lord Jesus Christ’s brief words on the cross addressed to the Most Holy Theotokos and His disciples.

After all, the Lord did not say to the apostle John: Take care of my mother (that would have been a natural thing to say). He said, Behold thy mother (Jn. 19:27); Behold thy son (Jn. 19:26). Let us in joy and in sorrow remember these cherished, great words addressed to each of us. May the Lord grant us to experience the full divine power of these words!

Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Pskov and Porkhov
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)


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