September 16, 2023

Homily on the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos (St. John Maximovitch)

By St. John Maximovitch

(Delivered in Qingdao in 1948)

“O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all” (Ps. 103:24), the Psalmist proclaimed even in ancient times.

What is that wisdom (or "sophia" in Greek) by which all things were created?

Another Psalm says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth” (Ps. 32:6).

And the holy Evangelist John the Theologian proclaims: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3).

The Wisdom of God or the Word of God, by which all things were created by God, is not only an abstract concept of the attribute of God.

The same Evangelist further says: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).

So, the Word, through whom everything was created, is the Only Begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He is also called the “Wisdom of God,” as the Apostle Paul says in his epistle - “The Jews ask for a sign and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified... Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:22-24).

The Son of God is called the Word and Wisdom of God because God the Father creates everything through His Son. Thus, through the Son of God the Father speaks through His deeds, and through Him “the manifold wisdom of God” was manifested (Eph. 3:10).

God's wisdom first manifested itself in the creation of the visible and invisible world. We now see the world already in its sinful state, having already lost its original goodness, but also damaged by sin - how wonderful the world is and reflects the wisdom of the Creator.

Let us look at the sky, there are harmonious movements of the heavenly bodies, everything moves according to the eternal laws given by the Creator to nature at its creation. Nothing disturbs their flow, everything happens in harmony, without interfering with one another.

Let us look around us, in every plant, in every animal, in every pebble, we see the wisdom of the Creator!

Every animal, down to the smallest insect, has the necessary adaptations for the preservation, protection and development of its life and the reproduction of its breed.

Every animate and inanimate body in nature consists of the smallest bodies harmoniously arranged and represents a marvelous structure, an elegant fabric, a great builder and artist.

Let's take a closer look at ourselves, what a wonderful and wise combination of the invisible and visible world we ourselves represent! With our body belonging to the material world, we represent a most skilful creation in which each cell has its own purpose.

The deeper science penetrates into the secrets of nature, the clearer it becomes that it is a creation of the greatest Wisdom, and the higher our mental gaze is directed, recognizing its Creator. Our very ability to cognize, reflect, use discoveries, create, and act wisely shows that we did not arise by chance, but carry within ourselves the stamp of the Wise Creator.

Our god-like spirit especially testifies to the All-Wise God, elevating man high above the earth and the sea of life and allowing us, even in this present life, to communicate with the forces above.

We have all this even now, in our sinful state of fallen man and nature subject to corruption. What was the beauty and goodness of the world when it was created!

Having gazed at his beauty, the first of the angels, Lucifer, became proud and, desiring to become equal to the Almighty, fell away from God. Cast down from heaven, he envied created man and tempted him to violate the commandments of God.

Having sinned, the primordial Adam, and with him all of humanity, lost their original glory and honor. The human mind has become darkened, the will has weakened, and feelings have become polluted. Man lost graceful communication with God, the Source of life, and became mortal.

With the fall of the crown of creation, man, a change took place throughout the world, for sin brought all its consequences. The whole world has become corruptible and sinful. Nature, starting with animals, began to harm man, and he himself internally languished from separation from God.

However, the All-Wise God, even before the creation of the world, not only foresaw the fall of man who was created by him, but also predetermined how to correct it. Before the world began, it was already predetermined in the Council of the Most Holy Trinity that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, would become a man and take upon Himself the sins of the world, making amends for the crime of Adam.

The prepared cure for the human malady was not revealed to anyone; the decision of the Council of the Most Holy Trinity remained a secret for the entire created world. It was necessary to prepare on earth a worthy companion for the incarnate Son of God. Among the human race corrupted by sin, it was necessary to find an undefiled vessel into which the entire created Word of God would descend and, with the received flesh, dwell among people, Himself becoming man. It took many centuries for the fulfillment of God's wise economy to be prepared and for the pure Virgin to appear, worthy to become the Mother according to the flesh of Him through Whom heaven and earth were created and through Whom the destiny of the All-Wise Trinity for the salvation of the world was to be fulfilled.

“When the fullness of the time had come” (Gal. 4:4), and the time had come for the Son of God to be incarnated on earth, the secret of the wondrous Council of the Most Holy Trinity was revealed by God to the Archangel Gabriel, and he was sent to Nazareth to announce to the Virgin Mary about the Savior of the world to be born from her.

“Revealing the Eternal Council to the maiden, Gabriel appeared” to the Most Pure Virgin, telling her: “Rejoice, O Blessed One! The Lord is with You: blessed are You among women... You will give birth to a Son and call His name Jesus. This one will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:28-32). The humble young maiden was embarrassed when she heard this greeting. From the age of three she was at the temple, having been sent there by her parents and constantly being there in prayer, she was brought up in the Holy of Holies, where she heard celestial phrases, but she could not imagine being the Mother of the Redeemer, having also made a vow to remain a virgin.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon You and the Power of the Most High will overshadow You; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God,” the Angel said, answering her question, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word,” Mary answered with humility and submission to the will of God (Luke 1:34-38). Then the Word of God, the Only Begotten Son of God, dwelt in Mary. He to whom “heaven and heaven are not sufficient” (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 6:18), to whom “heaven is his throne, and earth is his footstool” (Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:49), He chose the Virgin as His dwelling, making her throne a bed, and making her womb more spacious than the heavens. The Virgin Mary appeared "wider than the heavens."

Nine months later she gave birth to a Son, God manifested in the flesh. “The mystery hidden from all ages and unknown to the angels was made manifest to those on earth through you, O Theotokos. God took flesh in a union without confusion and for our sake willingly accepted the cross.”

The virginity of Mary and the incarnation through her of the Son of God remained, however, a mystery to the devil until the Lord accomplished the work of our salvation. “Let us accept the cross willingly,” for having endured death and risen from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ gave life to the human race and opened paradise reserved for them.

Incarnate from the Virgin Mary, “Adam was exalted, Eve was freed, the oath was taken, death was slain, and we are revived.”

Together with man, the whole world is getting rid of corruption, now preparing for the day when the universe will be cleansed by fire, all creation will be freed from slavery to corruption, and the new heaven and earth will reveal God’s creation in all its beauty and goodness.

Thus the plan of the devil’s malice is destroyed, and the Creator of the world wisely directs everything according to His will for the benefit of all creation. Just as God originally created the world with His Word, that is, through His Son, so through the Son of God the world is reborn after the Fall. Through Whom the Wisdom of God was manifested in creation, through Him the Wisdom of God was revealed in the restoration of the world destroyed by sins and the return of God's favor to it.

Therefore, the Son of God is called the Wisdom of God, or in Greek "Sophia", for through Him we have known and know the All-Wise God. Jesus Christ “gave us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and deliverance” (1 Cor. 1:30).

The Most Pure Virgin, through whom Christ, the Son of God, our Creator and Savior, was incarnated in order to give us eternal life, was the ladder along which God descended to earth and became for us the bridge along which we ascend to heaven.

Long before the incarnation of Christ, prophets predicted the coming of the Messiah through her. The Prophet Ezekiel sees her as a closed gate in the east, through which the Lord passes, and which remains closed, which means that Mary remains a Virgin before the Nativity, at the Nativity, and after the Nativity. The Prophet Daniel, explaining the mysterious dream of Nebuchadnezzar, foresees her as a virgin mountain, from which a stone fell away by itself, without the participation of a human hand, filling the earth, which also means the seedless and immaculate birth of Christ from the Virgin. “Behold, the Virgin will be with child and give birth to a Son, and they will call His name Emmanuel: which is to say, God is with us!” exclaims the prophet Isaiah (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23).

In ancient times, the forefather Jacob saw in a dream a ladder established on the earth, the top of which reached to heaven, prefiguring the one through whom the Son of God descended to earth. The Psalmist King David sings of her as the Queen who appeared at the right hand of the King, clothed in gold and adorned, all whose glory is within her. And the wise Solomon speaks of her in the book of Proverbs as the House of Wisdom: “Wisdom built for herself a house and established seven pillars” (Proverbs 9:1). The house in which the Eternal Wisdom lived during the incarnation was where the Most Pure Virgin Mary appeared. The pillars of this House are her virtues. The number seven among the ancient eastern peoples signified perfection, and the seven pillars of the House signify perfection in the goodness of the Mother of God. Therefore, the icons depict the Wisdom of God, the Son of God, on the throne, as if in a building on seven pillars, denoting His Most Pure Mother. At the top are seven archangels, on both sides are seven prophets with scrolls inscribed with predictions about the Virgin Mary, and below are the names of the seven virtues. The septenary number, repeated many times, signifies the spiritual perfection of the Blessed Virgin.

Now, when “Your birth, O Theotokos, brought joy to the whole world,” is sung, an earthly house is being built for eternal Wisdom, a dwelling is being prepared for the Son of God, coming from heaven to save the human race.

“Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him.” To meet Him, a living Chamber, a consecrated Temple, is being created, into which the Eternal Word of God, descended from heaven, will dwell, in order from there to begin the reconstruction of the world, to unite heaven and earth again.

Let us rejoice and be glad in the birth of the God-chosen maiden Mary, let us praise the Most Honorable Virgin of the Highest, the Most Pure Mother of God, the House of the Wisdom of God, let us give worthy honor to her righteous Parents. “To the King of the ages, the Imperishable, the Invisible, the Only Wise God, Jesus Christ, honor and glory forever and unto the ages, Amen" (1 Tim. 1:17; Rom. 14:26).

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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