December 26, 2023

The Theotokos as a Model for our Life (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

(Delivered on Sunday 23 November 2003 in the 
Church of Saint Nicholas of Pefkakion.)

I will begin by thanking the Spiritual Center of Roumeliotes and its President, Mr. Vasilios Kokkinos, a distinguished jurist, as well as the entire Board of Directors for inviting me to come today to this annual celebration that refers to our Panagia. And it is an honor that the Center of Roumeliotes, on the occasion of the feast of the Entry of the Panagia into the Temple, feasts and celebrates our Panagia every year with devotional events. After the Divine Liturgy we are now in this center to continue the spiritual festival.

Also, I am happy because I meet today, like other times I have come on this day, such a select audience and well-known Roumeliotes, who, among other things, have a distinguishing characteristic of loving the Church, its Bishops and, of course, the Panagia who is the cause of the joy of all creation and the cause of the re-creation of man and the renewal of creation.

In my homily today, as briefly and simply as I can, I will try to develop the theme: "The Theotokos as a Model for our Life", because the Panagia, as all the holy Fathers emphasize, is not only the cause of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, but also the model for mankind who wants to find the purpose of his existence and the meaning of life, as well as she is also the model of eschatological man, how mankind will be in the life to come. Each one is closely connected to the other, because whoever acquires a meaning of life, i.e. knows why he lives, he can also experience the eschatological states of the regenerated man.

Speaking, of course, of a model of life, I know that life is difficult to define. Professor Marios Begzos says that, while the question of what life is is difficult, nevertheless the answer to what life is is related to the result, since "the phenomenon of life is presumed, documented, proven with scientific evidence, that is, with irrefutable evidence, when there are two facts: the relationship and the energy." Every living organism acts and relates, i.e. emits energy and comes into a relationship and communication with other beings. We see the other, we hear him and we say he lives. The dead person does not emit energy and cannot relate to others, that is why we say that the heart has stopped moving, there is no pressure, no blood circulation, no heat, since the body has frozen and of course it cannot answer our questions us, and we cannot communicate our needs. This proves that man has no life, he is dead. So, the living person emits energy and relates to other people. This means that "life is a set of acting relationships."

What happens in the biological, so happens in the spiritual. He who acts and relates, first of all to God and then to people, has spiritual life. He has the meaning of life. As we will see later, the Panagia had true life because she was the Mother of Life and then she became and continues to be a model of life for all of us.

1. The Theologial Question

The deepest question that preoccupies man is theological. Studying the questions that develop in man from the day he is born to the day he dies, we see that the first question that develops is the theological and his life ends with it as well.

In his early age man, from his childhood, deals with God. The small child loves icons, makes his cross, mainly begins with the question of what God is, who made Him, where does He live. This question is usually asked by young children. Later, at the age of 7-10, children are concerned with the question of death, as the great Swiss educator Piaget proved, since at this age children acquire the concept of the irreversibility of death. Then, during adolescence, human beings are concerned with existential and psychological questions. Later he is interested in the social, because he wants a restoration and confirmation within the society. In middle age, existential questions develop again, and towards old age, man again begins to be concerned with the question of God.

This shows that man's problems trace a circle, that is, they begin with the theological problem, proceed to the existential, then reach the social and finally return again to the existential/psychological and theological.

Our Panagia completely solved the theological question, since with the coming of the Holy Spirit and the conception of Christ within her, she understood that God is not an abstract idea, nor a non-existent being, but a person, who acts and relates to man. The concept of personhood in God is very decisive, because this person loves and cares about man. An idea does not love and does not relate to man.

And we, with the Birth of Christ from the Panagia, learned and confirmed that God is Triune, since the Second Person incarnated, the First Person, the Father, was pleased with the incarnation of His Son and the Holy Spirit assisted in the incarnation.

We also learned from experience, as Saint Maximus the Confessor and other Fathers affirm, that we too can become mothers of Christ spiritually. The Panagia gave birth to Christ physically once, but this is done spiritually with those who love God and want to be united with Him. So, God is not something abstract, an invisible and abstract force that rules the world, but a person who is closely connected with man. Also, man can give birth to God spiritually and all of us can become mothers of Christ - God.

2. The Ecclesiastical Issue

This relationship and communion with Christ takes place within the Church, which is the Body of Christ and a community of deification.

That the Church is the Body of Christ is mentioned in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, which was the fruit of the Apostle's personal experience. In the Epistle to the Corinthians it is written: "You are the body of Christ, and members individually." And then he describes the gifts that exist in the Church: "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Cor 15:27-28).

The phrase that the Church is a community of deification is used by Saint Gregory Palamas to declare that members of the Church are not only those who are baptized, but those who, through the infusion of God's Grace and their personal struggle, are daily sanctified, transformed from glory to glory. In the language of patristic theology, these saints are called "theoumeni" (deified).

The two phrases "the Church is the Body of Christ" and "community of deification" show that the Church is a blessed institution in which the charismatic element prevails. Therefore, those who feel communion with the Triune God in the person of Jesus Christ through the holy mysteries and asceticism are members of the Church.

Our Panagia was the first to taste the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ and a community of deification. From her Christ took on a body and throughout her pregnancy the Panagia had a close connection and close contact and communion with Him and experienced deification by Grace.

According to the teaching of Saint John Chrysostom, Christ with His incarnation "took on the flesh of the Church." The Panagia was the culmination of all the purifications of the righteous of the Old Testament, she was the best flower of all humanity. Also, the Panagia holding Christ in her arms clearly symbolizes the Church. Saint Cyril of Alexandria writes: "In praising the ever-virgin Mary, we clearly mean the holy Church."

This is clearly visible in the apse of the sacred Bema. As is well known, the apse of the sacred Bema connects the dome where Pantokrator is depicted, with the earth where the people are. The Platytera depicted in the apse of the sacred Bema unites heaven and earth. And in the apse is painted the Panagia holding Christ in her arms and surrounded by angels. This iconography shows what the Church is. The Church is the link between the Bridegroom Christ and the Bride of Christ and friends of the Bridegroom Christ.

This also shows some other truths. Just as Christ is in the arms of the Panagia, so Christ is the center of the Church. Just as we cannot understand the Panagia apart from Christ, because what glorified her was not just her virtues, but the fact that she became the Mother of Christ, so we cannot understand the Church as a human-social organization, but as having in its center the God-man Christ. As Christ was incarnated by the Panagia, so we can meet Him inside the Church, and not outside it.

3. The Anthropological Problem

One of the basic problems that has always occupied ancient and modern philosophical discourse was, what is man, what is his spiritual worth, where did he come from, where does he belong, what is the purpose and meaning of his life. Various philosophical, religious and humanistic systems tried to answer this question. The greatest answer to the question of what is man, what is his ontology and what is the purpose of his life, is the person of the Panagia.

The Panagia sought God, because she knew that He created her and was created in His image and likeness. In addition to her desire to find God, at the same time she also followed a special method, called hesychasm. Saint Gregory Palamas interprets that the Entry of the Panagia into the Holy of Holies signifies the sacred silence, i.e. the elimination of all human thoughts, the liberation of the nous from fantasies and its offering to God. With this purity, which is ensured by noetic prayer and sacred silence, she found God, entered the holy of holies of theology and theosis, conceived Christ, gave birth to Him, she became the center of the world and the Church and then with the power of Christ and as the Mother of Christ she also defeated death.

The Panagia clearly shows what is the purpose of man and in this way she becomes a model of life for all of us, especially today in an era of spiritual confusion and internal imbalance. By seeing the person of the Panagia we can see what our ontology is and what is the purpose of our life.

Man was created in the image and likeness of God. His model in creation is the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, man can never rest if he does not live up to the high standards with which he was created.

God who created him formed his body and breathed into him a soul. Thus man is a psychosomatic being, since he consists of a soul and a body. But in order to be a complete person, he would also have to receive the Holy Spirit. As the soul is the life of the body, so the Holy Spirit is the life of the soul.

The union of man with God in Spirit takes place in the Church, when man uses a special method called hesychasm. It is about the way in which man is freed from the tyranny of reason and thoughts, develops noetic energy, receives the Holy Spirit and becomes divine by Grace.

When man reaches this state indicated by the life of our Panagia, he transcends all social and psychological issues. He is not concerned with the issues of everyday life, despite the fact that he faces them, because he lives this resurrection of his life. In this way he transcends death, as we see it in the lives of the saints of our Church, who treat death as a passage from biological life to true life, from the temporary to the true, from exile to the real homeland. The saints see death coming and rejoice, as the sojourner rejoices in returning to his homeland, where he will meet his beloved people. Homeland is the lost Paradise, where all our ancestors are.

Living in an age in which there is great confusion in social and existential problems, that man cannot solve them alone and uses various philosophical questions, the Panagia shows what is our purpose, what is the meaning of our life, how will get the inner peace of mind that we need so much, how we will meet God, how we will overcome the great problem of death.

4. The Life of Romiosini

Our Panagia is also the expression of Romiosini. When we speak of Romiosini we mean the life of the Christian Roman Empire, in which Greek culture was closely connected with the revealed word and in which the deified saints were the model.

The capital of the Roman State was New Rome, called Constantinople, after the name of its founder. When one sees this City, one remembers the Platytera, the icon of the Panagia holding Christ in her arms.

The entire City was dedicated to the Panagia. The Kontakion of the Akathist hymn is well known: "To you the Champion General we ascribe victory...". This troparion was the national anthem of the Romans/Byzantines. The anthem of the Greek State is the poem by Dionysios Solomos in which freedom is spoken about. But the Romans/Byzantines had as their national anthem the hymn of the Panagia who gave birth to Christ and thus the human race was freed from death, sin and the devil.

The center of the city was the Temple of Hagia Sophia, which was dedicated not to the martyr Sophia, but to Christ who is the true Wisdom of God. And it is important that all the kilometer distances of the cities and villages of the Christian Roman/Byzantine Empire were measured with the starting point of the Holy Temple of Hagia Sophia, that is, in reality, Christ.

Therefore, New Rome - Constantinople, which was dedicated to the Panagia and its center was Hagia Sophia - Christ, depicts in relief and figuratively the image of the Panagia holding the Infant in her arms.

This is the standard of the Orthodox Christian, the Roman. Through this spiritual nexus of Christ and the Theotokos we can see all the theology of the Ecumenical Synods and all the life of Romiosini. The center of the Roman/Byzantine Empire was not the philosophical and sociological theories, but the Person of Christ connected with the person of the Panagia. Every man must dwell there.

This is exactly why the Roman/Byzantine culture has a timeless value and importance. This can be seen in iconography, music, church architecture, hymnography, all the liturgical arts, the Hesychast tradition, and even the administration of the State. All were influenced by the divine-human ethos as expressed in the composition of the Platytera of the apse of the sacred Bema.

5. Our Monasteries

The ethos we described earlier is authentic and this alone gives rest to the human soul. This is precisely why the pious Romans built monasteries in honor of our Panagia, who was the cause of our regeneration and salvation. In her motherly embrace they feel rested.

How we miss our mother and how we would not like to be in her arms and feel her maternal affection and warmth! This is compensated by our love for our great spiritual Mother, the Panagia, since we live in her embrace. Only her motherly tenderness gives us rest. We see the Panagia represented in the holy icons, but we feel the communion with her and her loving embrace without a representation. It is precisely for this reason that we Christians build holy Monasteries and visit them, because we want to be together with her Son in her motherly embrace. Therefore, the pilgrimage trips to the Monasteries and indeed to those dedicated to our Panagia, reveal our theological search.

And we in Roumeli have two such Monasteries, namely Panagia Prousiotissa and Panagia Ampelakiotissa. Both of these Monasteries are centers of spiritual and national life. The Panagia gave rest to all the pained and sorrowful people throughout the ages and solved all their personal, ontological, psychological and social problems.

I am very moved when I read descriptions of old pilgrims about the long night treks in order to reach the Sacred Monastery of Panagia Prousiotissa. This tiring journey was a movement of love, an expression of holy eros towards Christ and the Panagia. Even today, the pious people of Roumeli weep when they hear or talk about Panagia Prousiotissa and Panagia Ampelakiotissa. This cry is an investment of life, a family memory, an expectation of a meeting with loved ones, a prayer for the Mother of God's affection, a search for a warm selfless embrace, such as the embrace of our Panagia.

And since there are elite Roumeliotes in this room, I would also like to tell you one of my goals that I hope you will help make come true. It can be done. In other words, I would like to connect the Sacred Monastery of Ampelakiotissa with the Sacred Monastery of Prousiotissa with an asphalted road network and at the same time make a connection between Nafpaktia and Evrytania. There is an asphalt road up to the Sacred Monastery of Ampelakiotissa with the help of the Minister of Transport and Communications Mr. Verelis. Also from the village of Perdikovrysi there is an asphalted road to the Sacred Monastery of Prousiotissa. All that remains is to pave the road from the Sacred Monastery of Ampelakiotissa to Perdikovrysi, about 15 kilometers. I already sent a letter to Mrs. Vaso Papandreou, but for now I have not received a reply.

Please help as much as you can, because this way two major pilgrimages with many benefits for the place and mountainous Nafpaktia are joined by road. People who go up winter and summer to the beautiful Ano Chora, where a nice Hotel unit operates, but also nice guest houses, will be able to make a pilgrimage to both of these Monasteries in one day and receive the blessing of our Panagia.

Dear Mr. President and my beloveds,

Thank you for the invitation to come to your celebration today. I congratulate you for the love you have for the Panagia and indeed the Panagia Prousiotissa. And I pray to the Panagia who is "the new joy of the whole human race", who is "adorned with every gift of the divine Spirit", the "brightest light, the most fair of paradise, the most beautiful of all visible and invisible worlds", according to Saint Gregory Palamas, may she cover you, protect you and strengthen you in your life. Also, let us pray that as she entered the Holy of Holies, so we too may enter the holy of holies of the spiritual life which is deification and sanctification. And as she overcame death in Christ, so may we also overcame the death that torments us from the day we are conceived until the end of our lives. And I ask you to pray for me so that I may receive in my life the motherly love of our Panagia.

I would like to close this short homily of mine by repeating the words of the sacred hymnographer: "Where else shall I find another to be my help? To what refuge shall I hasten to be saved? Whose fervent aid shall I have in need? Alas, life's affliction and turbulence shake me. In you alone, O Maiden, do I hope, trust, and glory; and I run to thy shelter." Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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