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September 9, 2023

Encomium on the Nativity of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos (St. Nicholas Cabasilas) - 4 of 5


 ...continued from part three.    

9. Thus the All-Immaculate with her rightful gifts and their utilization herself wove for herself this crown. For, while the help she received from God was the same as that received by all, she so far exceeded the others by what she added of herself, that she not only conquered wherever they were conquered, but also conquered so brilliantly, so that her victory may be sufficient for her own glory as well as for other people and be like a victory achieved by all. For she did not prove the human race worse by surpassing it as an adversary, but embellished it. Nor did she make it ashamed as if defeated, but showed it more brilliantly. Not even by becoming extremely beautiful herself did she reveal the ugliness of her race, but she gave them more beauty. Nor again, by successfully defending human nature in herself, did she thereby clearly transfer the cause of sin to each man separately, making the responsibilities heavier for men. On the contrary, having herself prospered in an unprecedented way, she dishonored and defeated sin, in order to free from all evil the oppressed and vanquished. And thus the beauty which was given to human nature, she preserved not only in herself, but, as far as possible, in all other men, unadulterated by every foreign element.

10. And if anyone wanted to examine, they could find many and brilliant proofs for all this. First of all, nothing prevented God from coming down and dwelling in her when needed. Because He certainly could not come down if the dividing wall was built between them, which would happen if there was something related to sin in her, because, as the Prophet says, "your sins separate between you and Me." And of course we should not think that the wall existed and resisted the descent of God, and that when God came down He overthrew it with His power. Because the means by which He deemed it good to catalyze this barrier did not exist, since He Himself had not yet descended. And I certainly mean blood and the passion, because this is the only way sin had to be defeated, since even to those who lived in the age of the Mosaic law - and to whom grace was foreshadowed - Scripture says that "without the shedding of blood, there could be no remission of sins."

Besides, who does not recognize that God's judgments on the Virgin prove that she was innocent of the slightest sin? Because the Judge Himself, who "does not judge with favoritism", judging both the common mother of all people (Eve) and the Virgin, Eve, who sinned, He punished by allowing her to live with sorrow, while the Virgin was found worthy to rejoice. Since, then, sorrow belongs to sinners, those to whom joy belongs, it is evident that they have nothing in common with sin. For this very reason, before the Virgin, God did not say "rejoice" to absolutely any other person throughout the centuries, since they were all still subject to and sharers of the old, unfortunate inheritance.

But this also becomes evident to those who examine the preparation of the Virgin for the ministry of the mystery. When she asked about the way in which the paradoxical birth would take place and what alteration she had to undergo in order to conceive and give birth to God, Gabriel answered and spoke about the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High and other related things. But nowhere in the glad tidings of the Angel was there any talk of release from guilt and forgiveness of sins. However, this preparation would certainly be needed before anyone else. Because, since Isaiah, when he was about to be sent as a mere herald of the hitherto unknown mystery (of the Incarnation), was in need of purification and even by fire, the fact that no purification was asked of her who, when the time came, had to minister in the realization of the mystery - and this not only with the tongue, but also by offering the soul and the body and her whole existence - does this not clearly show that she had nothing to discard? If there are some of the holy teachers who maintain that the Virgin was purified by the Holy Spirit, we must consider that when they say purification they mean the addition of gifts, since they themselves say that in the same way the Angels are also purified, in whom there is certainly nothing wicked.

It seems that this is exactly the same testimony that the Savior wanted to give about His mother after the mysterious birth when in a public gathering He said that "my mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice." He said these things wanting to adorn not so much them, but His mother. Because the mother is certainly adorned, when it is emphasized that what makes people worthy to be called His "mother and brothers" is the care for the observance of the divine law. Indeed, the fact that He did not honor the Virgin merely by the name of mother, nor did he call her only, but truly had her as his mother, clearly shows that she had surpassed every height of holiness.

For, if He recognized as exact guardians of the law those whom He honored only by name, did He not thus make it plain that in her, to whom He also gave reality, that is, in her who was truly His mother, He never and under no circumstances found anything not befitting His wills and laws? He showed, on the contrary, that He recognized in the Virgin a virtue that so far surpasses all human measure, to the point that it would make someone truly something, rather than being merely named, that is, as much as reality lies beyond names. For, just as there was no way for her to give birth to Christ better than she gave birth to Him, nor to become His mother in a more real way than she became, but she reached the extreme limit of authenticity in her relation to Him, so it was not possible for her to reach and to attain a greater measure of virtue than that by that which she lived her whole life.

11. But the following is also a clear sign that the blessed Virgin was free from all evil: the fact that she had entered the most holy part of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, which was not to be entered even for the High Priest himself, if he had not previously been cleansed from all sin, certainly in the way that it was then possible to cleanse sins. Because by having no need for expiatory sacrifices and other purifications he proved that he had nothing to purify. And she not only entered the Holy of Holies in this so paradoxical a way, but also dwelt there from infancy to her youth. There was thus no need for purification sacrifices either at birth or during her development. And the surprising thing is that even to the people who lived in those years, this thing did not seem to contradict any of the sacred institutions, that is, for the High Priest to fear and tremble when he crossed the entrance, and this once a year and without omitting the expiatory sacrifices, and the Virgin should use the Holy of Holies as her residence and eat and sleep and spend her whole life there. So the Virgin participated in human things, but in a way superior to other people, since she did not need people to offer her the things necessary for her food, but an Angel prepared her table. It is thus proved how much she was above all things and purer than to need the purification of the law, which was manifest in the eyes not only of Him who sees in secret, but also of men. So great and brilliant was her virtue that it was impossible to remain hidden. And though her age and her birth and her life could not proclaim her virtue, and indeed to men who were yet blind and plunged in deep darkness — since the Sun of righteousness had not yet appeared — nothing hindered the light of the Virgin to shine and the beauty of her soul to make, overcoming all obstacles, the ray that had reached the earth felt by the blind. And this was natural. For what could exist so great as to conceal the magnitude of that virtue and wisdom, which, according to the prophet, "covered even these heavens"? For she who was so powerful beyond all human wickedness, that she could at once and easily obliterate it all, how therefore was it possible for her to be concealed by the mist of wickedness, when she appeared?

12. That is why the people who had discerned in the Virgin the greatest and most wonderful things, such as no one else had ever had, honored her with the best they had, offering her the most sacred place that existed for her abode. Thus, the space that they had set apart and dedicated as a gift of the whole earth exclusively to God, they also gave as a residence to the Virgin. Why did they think that the same place should be both the temple of God and the abode of the Virgin? Because God should be worshiped and the Virgin honored with the same things, or rather the same house that had the Virgin in it should also be the temple of God.

And God who knew her much better, being the One who knows the heart, just as He knew what the Virgin was worthy to receive from Him - and not only knew, but also had the power to give - adorned her with everything that was truly worthy of her. Thus, having brought her out of that sacred untrodden place, He led her into another tabernacle made not of clouds, nor of angelic or archangelic wings, nor of any other built and servile things, but became Himself for her the blessed tabernacle, He "who dwells in the unapproachable light." And as the most sacred Gabriel announced, she was "overshadowed by the Power of the Most High, by the Lord himself." Because God only found Himself able to become a tabernacle worthy of her, she who alone became a tabernacle worthy of God.

PART FIVE
 
 

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