September 16, 2023

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

 ...continued from part four.

13. Once again, that she dwelt in that untrodden place is not something that honors the Virgin, but rather that place. Just as the old Passover is honored by the addition of the slaughter that it symbolized, and the baptism of John by the spiritual baptism, and the rest of the symbols by the true realities. Because, if other symbols symbolized and led to other realities, the Holy of Holies certainly led to the all-holy Virgin. The fact that entry into the Holy of Holies was allowed only to the High Priest and that once a year while he had previously been cleansed of sins, indicated the mysterious pregnancy of the Virgin, who bore within her the only sinless One, the One who with a single sacred rite and once throughout the ages wiped out all sin. And the fact that the Holy of Holies was again untrodden to all men, except the holiest of all, was a sign that showed that the blessed Virgin never brought into her soul anything that was not entirely holy. And the temple was so highly respected, precisely because it was going to receive her in it, since nothing else of what was in it was possible to give it this majestic modesty. Nothing, indeed, was so valuable that its value would put it beyond the reach of many. It was even possible for all people to hold the manna in their hands and take it in their dwellings and eat it. And the staff had nothing more sacred than the priests who held it and for whose sake it blossomed shoots and leaves. Finally, of the tablets, the most precious of all, the ones that contained the law, everyone could hold them in their hands. So what should we consider that honored that place so much, if not the prefigurations of the All-Immaculate, that is, that all the things that were there had their reference and led to her? For this very reason, while it was inaccessible to all men, it was accessible to her. And as soon as the Virgin appeared, she immediately abolished the law that had been in force from the beginning, which shows on the one hand that the temple did not allow any other people to enter, because it honored her and reserved itself only for her, and on the other hand, that it was so far superior to men and never accepted even the slightest element of human inferiority. And this was done in order to show that, if the space that represented the Virgin was so far away from everyone and had, so to speak, nothing in common with people and the universe, what should we think about the realities themselves, since of course it is possible to know the height and value of the largest from the measure of the smallest things?

14. For, just as these very objects by their existence appear and safeguard in the shadow the description and shape of the objects which are described, in the same way the fact that the Virgin was separated from all human things and having come from the earth she had nothing afterwards to take from it, but she kept her will invulnerable from all evil, was symbolized as it were by some vague and dim symbol from the Holy of Holies. And this is a natural consequence and goes along with the logic of things and the natural order. Because it was necessary for a person to prove himself superior to all sin by using the willingness of thought and the power of his own self, without having received the gift of being the mother of the sinless one, that is, before even acquiring kinship with Him. And this for many reasons: First of all because it was necessary for the human nature to appear as it was created, in order to bring the craftsman the honor and glory he deserved. Because of course neither in the progenitor nor in his descendants was it possible to find a whole man, since they were all corrupted by sin. Again the second Adam, being also God by nature, did not present His second nature, ours, so that it alone could be seen. Because He did not have the relationship to sin that man should have in this life. Having a tendency towards both, He did not choose good from evil, nor did He run towards good, while He could have become evil, but it was certainly never possible for Him to sin. So He had to appear as one who, while He could sin, did not sin at all, thus showing how God wanted man to be in this life. For otherwise, if nature did not find in the person of any man the form for which the Creator had fashioned it, the skill of the Creator would prove to be in vain, even in the best of His works. Then how is it reasonable that the law of God should not be observed in its fullness at one time, but that there should be occasion for the wise man to legislate to no purpose, without there being any one to follow all the laws, and to order things in which no one is going to discipline and speak without finding anyone willing to listen to him so that he, who is in all ways happy, should not be in this?

15. Therefore, that which was in every respect necessary to happen, that is to say, that there should be an executor of the divine decrees, someone pure from all sin, who else but the excellent one could incarnate Him? And excellent was the blessed Virgin in the judgment of God, the one whom He Himself chose as a temple for Himself, preferring her to the whole world. Since it was absolutely necessary for a person to clearly manifest human nature as it really is and all the others failed to achieve it, all that remained was for the Virgin to achieve it. Therefore, as I said above, God put in us power to overcome sin by being vigilant and fighting, and He would adorn us, when we had overcome, and by making us completely immovable in the good. Both these were brought into human nature by the Virgin alone. The first with what she herself achieved in herself, the second with Him whose mother she was.

Because through the Virgin, man demonstrated clearly and in action the power that existed within him against sin. The Virgin indeed remained from the beginning to the end of her life untouched by all evil thanks to her vigilant attention, her firm will and her majestic wisdom. While in Christ, who was born from her in an inexpressible way, man also received the prize. Christ was sinless without needing to fight and conquer, He came to life crowned as a ruler who presents Himself to His opponents adorned, before the battle even begins, with the trophies of victory. He did not keep his will intact from all evil by vigilance, as if there was even a chance to receive sin, but His will was from the beginning completely undefiled and impervious to all evil, just as He received His body from the grave alive beyond all corruption. Thus, with the situation in which our race was in, the quality of the gifts that God gave us also went hand in hand. One gave birth to the other, that is, man becoming sinless through his struggles brought Him the gift of having the good completely immovable within him.

16. Thus the first purity was given to nature by the mother in her progress. And the Son gave the second and better. And this is certainly what should happen to a blessed mother, that is, to be blessed in everything that concerns her son, to be defeated by the virtue of her child and to achieve greater feats through him and to be glorified more thanks to him than thanks to herself. Thus He manifested in this world, as in heaven, a pure and whole man, such as He was made in the beginning and such as He should remain and such as He would be afterwards, if He strived for His goodness. For, since the human nature had to meet with the divine and unite with it so closely that the same substance existed in both, it was first necessary that each should appear pure. And God certainly manifested Himself as it was possible for Him to manifest Himself, while man was manifested by the Virgin alone. And so Jesus, who was God and became man, was presented after each of His two natures had previously been manifested separately. Just as, after God first created the intelligible world, then He created the perceptible and in a third phase He created the one that consists of both, man, so God existed from the beginning, and man appeared only at the end of the ages, and in these last days the God-man appeared. And it seems to me that if God united with human nature only at the end of the ages and not earlier, this happened because human nature had not yet existed in a true way, but for the first time in this age it appeared.

17. Thus the All-Immaculate did not create man, but found him broken; nor again did she give us nature, but preserved it; nor did she create us, but offered that by which we were regenerated. She thus became the molder's assistant, the statue collaborated with the craftsman. She returned to the statue what it had before and He added what it did not have. And He certainly would not have added what was missing, if He had not found what was there, on top of which He had to add the second. Eve was the only helper for Adam out of all the other animals in Paradise. And God, in order to manifest His goodness, alone of all beings was helped by the Virgin. For nothing else partook of Adam's nature but Eve, and nothing therefore could take part in his actions. But none of the rest of existence participated so much in the goodness of God as the Virgin; so no one else could help Him. Because of course even the best craftsman reaches his goal and it becomes obvious that he is excellent, if he finds the right instrument that serves him in the realization of his art. God, however, found not merely an instrument, perfectly suited to His purpose, but an able partner, the blessed Virgin, and thus He manifested Himself. And all the other time He remained, so to speak, for the most part invisible, since there was no one to reveal Him. But as soon as the Virgin was there, He too became completely manifestated. For just as of all the heavenly bodies only through the medium of the air do we clearly see the sun - because the air does not put anything of its own before our eyes with the light - in the same way she had nothing else but purity and than was preeminently akin to the first light.

18. Therefore, celebrating with boundless joy, we arrive bright and in a brilliant way in this day, in which all these received their beginning. On the day that not only the Virgin was born, but rather the whole world, who first and only saw the true man, from whom the possibility of becoming true men also arose for all. Today the earth brought forth her fruit in a pure fashion, whereas all the other times she gave fruit full of thorns and thistles, from this harvest that came from sin. Today the sky understood how it was not made in vain, since He for whom it was created was revealed, since the sun saw that which received light in order to see it. Today the whole creation felt itself better and brighter, after shining the common jewel of the universe. Today "all the Angels of God sang with a loud voice hymns and praises to their Lord," so much more than when He adorned the sky with the crown of stars, as she who rises today is higher and brighter than every star and for the whole world more beneficial. Today the blinded nature of men received a penetrating eye, the Virgin, through which it came to see the greatness of this day. For, as later on he was blind from birth, so when God encountered human nature wandering and stumbling He had mercy on her and gave her this admirable eye. And man saw what "many prophets and kings desired to see from afar, but could not". For as in a body there are many parts and members, yet none but the eye is made to see the sun, so of all men that ever were to the Virgin only was the true Light absolutely given, and through her was given to everyone.

An unceasing hymn is therefore offered to her by both creations. With one voice all tongues chant of her greatness and all people and all the choirs of the Angels are unceasing chanters of hymns of the Mother of God. So we too, chanting, contribute to the common contribution what we could: unfortunately less than what we owed and should have been willing to offer, but also what we were willing to offer. What we owe is so much. But it belongs to you and to your own philanthropy, Much-Hymned One, not to weigh the grace you will give us based on anything of ours, but in your own majesty. And just as you, after you were separated from the common race and became a gift to God, you then adorned all the rest of people, so also to us, instead of these words that we offer you, sanctify the treasury of words, our heart, and make the land of the soul barren of all evil by the grace and philanthropy of your only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom is due all glory, honor and worship together with His beginningless Father and the all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos. 

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