"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch


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Thursday, 17 August 2017

MARY, THE LIVING TEMPLE OF GOD by Archpriest Michael Gillis (Orthodox) and MARY'S HOLY PROTECTION

The Living Temple of God
Source: Praying in the Rain
my source: Pravmir.com

The Church often refers the Mary as the Living Temple of God because, like the temple of the Old Testament, her womb was the place where the Glory of the Lord dwelt. However, unlike the temple—made of inanimate stones and wood and covered in gold—Mary is the Living Temple of God. Although she has experienced death, she is still the Living Temple because, as Christ said, “all who live and believe in me shall never die.” Mary lives as Queen of heaven standing at the right hand of Her Son and Lord (c.f. Psalm 44: 10-18) together with all of her “virgin companions,” those who in imitation of Her have believed in Him and by the Holy Spirit have Christ dwelling in their hearts.

Some of what it means for Mary to be the Living Temple of God is lost on us today because we do not understand how believers under the Old Covenant related to the temple. Those who know anything at all about the temple know about its liturgical and ultimately symbolic function foreshadowing heavenly realities finally manifested in Christ. However, most do not realize that the temple was an icon of the presence of God and played an important part in the prayer life of the faithful. King Solomon’s prayer of dedication found in II Chronicles 6:14-42 gives us some insight into the prayer life of believers under the Old Covenant and the iconic role the temple played in it.

At the beginning of the prayer Solomon makes it clear that God is not literally in the temple any more or less than God is or isn’t anywhere else, for “heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You.” “Yet,” Solomon asks, “regard the prayer of your servant…so [that] day and night Your eyes may be open toward this house…that you may hear the prayer Your servant prays toward this place.” That is, Solomon asks God to regard the temple as an icon toward (or to) which one would pray. In praying toward the temple, one is praying to God.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Study Bible translation of the Septuagint translates as “in” all of the prepositions in this passage which the King James translates as “toward.” This is a mistake. Pray “toward” or “in the direction of” is the correct translation in vv. 20,26,29,32,34, 38 (See grammatical explanation below).

The faithful under the Old Covenant should pray toward the temple as an icon of God’s presence, even if they were exiles in a foreign land (v.38). Although God is not limited by the temple—and Solomon acknowledges this at the beginning of his prayer—the temple functions as a special place toward which or in the direction of which prayer should be offered because God put His Name there (v.20). The temple had an intercessory function because its existence manifested the fulfillment of God’s promise to His people and God’s presence with His people. It was only in the temple (or the tabernacle before it) that acceptable worship could be offered to God. Only in the temple could atoning sacrifice be offered or sacrifices of thanksgiving made. Only toward the temple could the faithful Israelites pray with confidence knowing that their prayer would be heard, especially if they had sinned and were suffering judgment because of their sin.

In a similar manner, the faithful followers of Christ have come to regard Mary as the Living Temple of God. You might say that Christians often pray to God toward Her. Mary is the Intercessor, the Mother of God, the Proto-Christian, the One who bore God in her womb and has thereby gained the intimacy and privilege of a mother with Her Son and our God. When we pray to the Mother of God, we are not praying to her instead of God (as we are sometimes accused). We are praying to God through Her, or to use the Old Testament temple image, we are praying to God toward Her. As the Living Temple of God, Mary not only intercedes (because she is living, unlike the temple made of stone), but she also is intercession. That is, she is the human being from whom and in whom God took on humanity for the salvation of the human race. Mary’s womb is the Gate of the Temple through which “the Lord God of Israel” enters (see Ezekiel 44:1-3); and as such, just as the temple in Jerusalem was itself intercession for the faithful of Israel, so Mary is intercession for the faithful in Christ.

This is why it is right—perhaps even incumbent on us—to pray to Mary; or, as it is commonly put to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding: to ask Mary to pray for us. This is a convenient phrase to avoid conflict with Muslims and Protestants, but anyone who knows English fairly well realizes that it is just a word game: “pray” and “ask” are often synonyms. But for those of us in the family of God and in the Tradition of the Church of both the Old and New Covenants, such phrases are not necessary: prayer toward the Temple is prayer to God.

[Grammatical explanation] Two Hebrew words are used in this passage to mean “toward.” In some cases it is the Hebrew word ̕êl “denoting motion or direction towards (whether physical or mental)” (translated eis in Greek). While “in” is one of many possible translations of eis, “to” and “toward” are also possible. Here I think the Hebrew should influence the translator of the Septuagint. The NETS translation of the Septuagint follows this tack in translating eis as “toward” in this passage. In the other cases, the Hebrew word derek is used. Derek means most literally “way” or “road,” but is also used to mean “in the direction of” or “toward.” Here two Greek words are used to translate the Hebrew: the preposition kata and the noun òdós (road or way). For these words the OSB translation uses “in” (v.34—clearly wrong) and “toward” (v.38—acceptable), but I think the NETS has it better translating both “in the direction of.”

“I Had a Hard Time Praying to the Theotokos”

In response to my blog entry called The Tongs, someone has asked me if, as a convert to Orthodoxy, I had a hard time at the beginning praying to the Theotokos. The answer is yes.

In my whole-life confession the week before I was received into the Holy Orthodox faith, I confessed to the priest that I had a hard time praying to the Theotokos. I told him that I had no problem with the theology related to the intercession of the Saints, nor with the special place of the Mother of God in the dispensation of salvation and as an intercessor. My problem was that I just couldn’t do it. I could say the words of the prayer–O Lady, Bride of God, spotless, immaculate Virgin…–but the words had no meaning for me. I felt no connection. The wise priest told me not to worry about it, She’d make the connection.

Because I converted with a community (there were 85 of us), I was ordained a deacon on the day of my chrismation. And so I served as a deacon for about three years before she “made the connection.” For the first three years, standing in front of the icon of the Mother of God during the first part of the Divine Liturgy, I basically felt a blank inside my heart. I even had a hard time venerating the icon, finding myself always kissing the foot of Christ in Her arms, and not Her. (I’d be too ashamed to confess it now, except that it magnifies the greatness of the Love and patience of the Mother of God for those who are being saved.) I said the prayers to the Mother of God faithfully, but with no feeling. I often found myself trying to figure out what the words “meant,” as though that would help me find a connection.

Then one day a miracle happened. I was going through a particularly stressful season of financial worry. The stress was crushing me. During the Divine Liturgy one Sunday, while standing before the icon of the Mother of God, I asked Her for help. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I remember what happened. I heard a voice in my head. The exact words are lost, but the gist was this: you won’t have to worry about money again. The words were accompanied by a very peaceful feeling, almost like an untying of knots inside me. The feeling stayed with me for several days.

Within a few days, there was a change in my circumstances that delivered me from the immediate cause of my financial worries. Since that time, whenever I am tempted to worry about money, I stand before the icon of the Mother of God and remind Her (remind myself really) of the words I believe She spoke to me. And the miracle is that I don’t worry. Financial ups and downs come and go, but the miracle is that She has freed me from worry.

Praying to the Mother of God, I have come to know in some small ways the Mother of God. She is our heavenly Mother. I know Protestants will freak out about that kind of language–I certainly would have–because they have no categories for divine-human synergy. But just as God distributes his gifts through the free will of his people on earth, so He also distributes His gifts through the intercessions of the Saints who are in heaven, especially the Mother of God.

When my daughter Hannah was 16, she wanted to work at Barbara Cheatley’s, an exclusive gift shop in a little high-end shopping area in Claremont, California. My daughter prayed fervently that she would get a chance to work there. Then she spoke to Barbara, but Barbara told her that there were no openings and she expected no openings: all of her “girls” had worked for her for fifteen years or more. Hannah was crushed when she told us the news. My wife, however, was not ready yet to give up so easily. Bonnie and the Barbara had been business associates for several years and had developed a friendship. Bonnie went to her and “interceded” on Hannah’s behalf. Eventually, after much intercession that may have sounded somewhat like nagging, Barbara agreed that if Hannah could learn to wrap packages well (and the gorgeous wrapping is one of the big reasons why people keep coming back to Barbara Cheatley’s), she could work in the back room for the two months leading up to Christmas. Hannah learned to wrap packages “Barbara’s way,” and she worked two exhausting months for minimum wage at Barbara Cheatley’s.

God answered Hannah’s prayers through the intercessions of her mother (and my wife ☺). God often pours out his Grace to us through others, by the intercessions of others. It should be no surprise then if, when we are in trouble, we find help in the intercessions of God’s Mother. The Grace is God’s, the intercession is His Mother’s, the help is from both. God works synergistically with and through His people.

No Orthodox Christian is Without Theotokos’ Protection

Source: St. Lawrence Orthodox Church
my source: Pravmir.com
14 OCTOBER 2015

Worldwide, the Protection of the Mother of God is one of the most beloved feast days on the Orthodox calendar, commemorated on October 1 (14). It is also known as the Feast of the Virgin Mary’s Cerement. The word translated “cerement”—the Slavonic pokrov or the Greek skepi—has a complex meaning. First of all, it refers to a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession. For this reason, the name of the feast is variously translated as the Veil of Our Lady, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, the Protection of the Theotokos, or the Intercession of the Theotokos.

The feast day celebrates the appearance of the Mother of God at Blachernae in the tenth century. St. Andrew of Constantinople with his disciple St. Epiphanius and a group of people saw the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, and several other saints and angels during a vigil in the Church of Blachernae, near the city gates. The Blachernae Palace church was where several of the Virgin’s relics were kept—her robe, her veil, and part of her belt, which had been transferred from Palestine during the fifth century.

The Theotokos approached the center of the church, knelt down and remained in prayer for a long time. Her face was drowned in tears. Then she took off her veil (cerement) and spread it over the people as a sign of protection. During that time, the people in the city were threatened by a barbarian invasion. After the appearance of the Mother of God, the danger was averted and the city was spared from bloodshed and suffering.

The first celebration of the Theotokos’ veil/protection dates back to the twelfth century. Today the feast is celebrated throughout the Orthodox Church. The feast day commemorating her miraculous appearance is celebrated with a vigil and many of the same hymns as occur on great feasts of the Theotokos.

One time, St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, having finished serving liturgy in a cave chapel about 100 feet up the face of a sheer cliff, leaned restfully against a railing while his deacon cleaned the altar area. The railing suddenly broke and St. Arsenios plummeted to the earth far below. A farmer in a nearby field saw him fall and rushed to the place where his body had landed. When he arrived, St. Arsenios was lying on his back weeping, but cried out, “Don’t touch me! Please, don’t touch me. I’m fine.” When the farmer inquired how he had survived the fall, St. Arsenios told him, “Just before I struck the ground, I was caught in the hands of the Theotokos, and she set me gently on the ground.”

No Orthodox Christian is without this same protecting Mother. None are left without the warm and secure enclosure of a mother’s emblanketing arms. For the veil of the Theotokos encompasses, comforts, and protects us all. As the epitome of motherhood, she anticipates our every need and catches us up in her arms when we call upon her for aid.

P.S. When St. Arsenios climbed back up the high ladder to the cave chapel, his deacon was still cleaning the altar area and had not even noticed his fall!

Coffee with Sr. Vassa: The Protection of the Mother of God, or Impropriety is no Obstacle to Prayer

The history of this feast is different in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, but the meaning is essentially the same: it celebrates the prayers of the Virgin Mary, of the Mother of God for the all of us.

Hi, I am Sr. Vassa and I am having my coffee before going to work today in Vienna in Austria. I am drinking my coffee black as usual because, they say, – black never goes out of style.

Before I go to work today, I am looking in my Church calendar. In case you didn’t know, this week October begins, and September ends. So, today I will be reflecting on a feast that occurs in the Russian Orthodox Church on October 1, called the Protection of the Mother of God; in Greek  Scepitis Theotocou.  The history of this feast is different in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, but the meaning is essentially the same: it celebrates the prayers of the Virgin Mary, of the Mother of God for the all of us.

In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a very important and beloved feast. Many Russian churches are dedicated to the Protection of the Holy Virgin and also many well –known churches, including the cathedral in Red Square (Church of “Basil the Blessed”).

The history of this feast in the Russian Church is complicated and with contested meanings that some historians disagree about its exact origins. In any event, the feast celebrates the vision of the Holy Virgin that occurred in a Church of Blachernae in Constantinople in early 10th century during the Liturgy when the church was packed with people. The Mother of God appeared to St. Andrew, the Fool-for-Christ, and to his disciple, St. Epiphanius. She appeared above the crowd that was praying in the church, surrounded by many angels and saints. First, the Mother of God prayed at the Altar for all the people, then, as St. Dimitri of Rostov describes it, “She took off the great and awe-inspiring cover, which She wore on Her most-pure head, and, holding it with great solemnity, with Her most-pure hands, extended it over all the people. Now, although this vision occurred in Greek-speaking Constantinople, it ironically came to be celebrated as a great feast in the Church of Rus’.

Most historians attribute the introduction of the feast to Prince Andrei Bogolubsky of the late 12th c. Now, you might be asking, if you haven’t switched to a different YouTube channel because of all this history. Why would Prince Andrei introduce a feast that the Church of Constantinople did not have? After all, the Church of Rus’ was baptised by Greek-speaking missionaries, and in fact, in the 12th century had Greek bishops. That’s why even today we sing to our Russian bishops Eis polla eti, despota! in Greek, because originally our bishops understood that language.  The thing is, that Prince Andrei is said to have tried to obtain more cultural independence for his people. He wanted his people to have their own customs, and their own, independent tradition. In fact, he even tried to elevate his own bishop, or metropolitan, named Theodore, independent of the Kievan church. But of course, the Patriarch of Constantinople, did not agree to this. So, Andrei did not succeed in establishing culture independence in his land, because in fact, culture independence does not exist. Especially not in a last 1000 years. Every tradition, you see, has been and is, influenced by other traditions. Interestingly, even this beautiful church (“Pokrova-na-Nerli” Church), which Prince Andrei had built in honour of the new feast of the Protection, was built  by foreign builders from the Latin West. They were sent to Prince Andrei by Friedrich Barbarossa- the famous crusader and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. But that’s just a fun fact.

Concerning this feast in the Greek-speaking churches today, it is commemorated on October 28th, not October 1st. In the Greek-speaking churches it is commemorated on the Greek national holiday called Ochi-Day. And the feast, the church feast, is associated with thanksgiving for the deliverance of the Greek nation from the Italian invasion of 1940, because of the miracles reported by many Greek soldiers, – miracles of the Holy Virgin during the Greco-Italian War of 1940-1941.  But that’s enough about the historical side of this feast.

Now let’s talk about the main aspect of it, and that is: the prayers of the Mother of God. We hear about the prayers or intercessions of the Mother of God at the beginning of Byzantine Divine Liturgy in the 1st Antiphon: “Through the prayers of the Mother of God, Saviour, save us”. We might tend to mystify, or imagine, these prayers of the Virgin Mary, as if they occur in a galaxy far-far away… But the Gospel actually gives us a very human example of her intercessions for other human beings, in the well-known passage about the wedding in Cana in Galilee:

“On the third day there was a wedding, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him: They have no wine. Jesus said to her: Woman, what (is that) to me and to you? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servants: Do whatever He tells you to do”.

And after that, as most of you probably will know, He tells the servants to fill six jugs with water, and turns this water to wine, performing his first public miracle.

What is of interest to us in this passage right now is how Mary approaches Her Divine Son, – and how He reacts. First of all, She obviously knows more about Him than others do. She knows He can do something about the wine-situation, and She has complete faith that He will do this, despite His somewhat off-putting answer. Because He lets Her know that Her request is made at an inappropriate time. He says, “My hour is not yet come, and, Woman what is that to you and to Me?”

Now, let me note that Christ is not being disrespectful to His mother by calling Her “Woman”. In the language which Jesus spoke this was the equivalent of the English “ma’am”. Similarly, He said to His mother, as you may remember, from the cross: “Woman, behold, your son”. He uses this term, actually, several times to address women, like Syrophoenician woman, and the Samaritan woman. He also incidentally uses the term “man”, “anthrope”, to address man as in: “Man, your sins are forgiven you!” in Luke 5:20.  Nonetheless, Jesus does indicate the impropriety of His mother’s request at the wedding in Cana. And yet, he fulfills this request. He also fulfills another inappropriate request, for another woman – already mentioned Syrophoenician or Canaanite woman, who calls after the Lord as He’s walking with His disciples, begging Him to heal her daughter. Jesus first ignores her, and indicates to His disciples the impropriety of her request. But finally, when she persists, He praises her faith: ”O woman,” He says, “great is your faith”, and heals her daughter.

From all this we can observe the very awkward fact, that impropriety is no obstacle to prayer.  The rules of liturgical propriety that we observe in our prayer; the outer forms like liturgical texts, the proper prostrations, the proper clothing…all these things doubtlessly have their place and their reasons. But we should not forget that these are no more, and no less, than outer forms. The Mother of God, the model of Christian prayer, makes a request of Her Son at an inappropriate time in Cana of Galilee. Then, at the church in Blachernae in Constantinople in Her vision, She removes Her head covering  – Her vail – in church to demonstrate Her protection of us, despite of the impropriety some of us might perceive in this. Because, as it turns out, our sense of impropriety is no obstacle to prayer. And that’s our Thought of the Day.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017


Two Popes
Photo: L’Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis’ trip to Egypt (April 28-29, 2017) has been one of the most important and difficult for this pontificate, given the international political situation and the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt and of all Christians between Africa and the Middle East. It is not easy to look at this trip through one single interpretive lens, and therefore it requires the attempt to read it in the context of the pontificate.

A first level was the trip of Francis as expression of the modern magisterium of the pope of the Catholic Church on the relationship between religion as defensor of human rights and political rights in an age of evident crisis of faith not only in God, but also in our fellow human beings – the crisis of democracy. Interestingly, in his speech to the strongman of Egypt, general Al Sisi, and to the political authorities, Francis quoted from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 but also from the Egyptian Constitution of 2014, delivering a blunt reminder to Egyptian political authorities: “It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.” Francis walked a very fine line between the need to avoid the impression of a papal blessing of the post-Islamist regime of Al Sisi in Egypt, more friendly to Christians than the brief period of Morsi on one side, and on the other side the need not to be silent before the disturbing record of the present regime in terms of the respect of democratic rights and of freedom.

The second level was the inter-religious relations. Pope Francis had to deal with the difficult legacy of the Regensburg address of Benedict XVI in 2006, which was a typical example of the divided and mutually opposed and deeply misguided, ideological receptions of Ratzinger’s most important public pronouncements (similarly to what happened to the famous speech on the “two hermeneutics of Vatican II” of December 2005). For hardliner, “occidentalist” Catholics the Regensburg speech was the gold standard of the Catholic response to Islam, while for some Muslims it was the manifestation of the crusading mentality of the Vatican. Despite the attempts to frame Bergoglio’s response to the invitation to the peace conference organized by Al Azhar as “Francis’ Regensburg speech”, the tone and the content were significantly different. In his speech to the international peace conference at Al Azhar, Francis quoted from the Second Vatican Council (the declaration Nostra Aetate on non-Christian religions and the constitution Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the modern world) and from John Paul II’s visits to Egypt in 2000 and from the first interreligious meeting of prayer in Assisi in 1986).

There is then the third level of the ecumenical and ecclesial relations, where the intra-Catholic and the inter-Christian relations are more interconnected than before. There are technical aspects of his visit and agreement with Pope Tawadros II that will have to be evaluated in time, especially about re-baptism: “Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other.” In this respect, also pope Tawadros has to deal with the “dubia” raised through the media by his opponents.

What is most important is that Francis’ visit to Egypt has confirmed the complex nature of the ecumenical dimension of this pontificate, where we can see three kinds of ecumenism. The first ecumenism is that of bilateral relations between Churches: commissions of theologians and prelates who discuss documents that the Churches will have to approve or reject, or approve and put in a drawer. Francis sees a role for this ecumenism of bilateral commissions and official joint declarations, but without being driven or bound by this kind of relationship that is typical of the ecumenism of the post-Vatican II period and which has brought significant fruits, especially on the basis of relations of the Catholic Church with Lutherans, Anglicans, and Orthodox, but also with non-Chalcedonian Churches (the 1973 Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Pope of Alexandria Shenouda III). Francis is aware of the different roles of the official ecumenical dialogues and of the ecumenical dialogue that is related to his “ecclesiology of the people”: an ecclesiology of the people endowed with an infallibilitas in credendo (exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of November 24, 2013, par. 119) – the people’s infallibility in the foundations of its faith. The ecumenical relations between different Churches need solemn acts and official texts, but without the reception of them by the people they would be meaningless. Francis knows that post-Vatican II ecumenism has been made and received by the lay Christian faithful and that there is no hermeneutical re-discussion of Vatican II that can stop this progress.

Then there is a second type of ecumenism, of which Francis has often spoken: “the ecumenism of blood” (from the beginning of his pontificate: see his interview with Andrea Tornielli of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, 14 December 2013), the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christians of every church and theological tradition in the face of persecutions, especially in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. On this score, it is significant that the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, joined Francis in Egypt in a show of solidarity with Coptic Christians.  Martyrdom as a theological source is redefining ecumenism more than the theological and ecclesiastical systems in the West can comprehend. The issue of refugees escaping persecution is a humanitarian and political issue, but also an interfaith and ecumenical one. From discussions about “Eucharistic hospitality” (giving communion to Christians who are members of another Church, not Catholic-Roman) we have moved on to the problem of hospitality tout court of those who (including many Christians, Catholics and not) flee from death and destruction: it is not a theologically less relevant question than that of Eucharistic communion. Christianity is now put to the test more by its response to the humanitarian crisis of today than by the dogmatic obstacles in the full communion between Churches.

Finally, there is the third type of ecumenism, the one it is most difficult to speak in the Catholic Church, for it is the most difficult and delicate: intra-Catholic ecumenism, among Catholics of devotions and different “obediences” and idiosyncratic identities. Francis insistently called to dialogue and rejection of sectarianism between Churches, but also within the Catholic Church. Francis has repeatedly appealed to the various Catholic movements to coexist in local churches without temptation to occupy spaces or claim primogeniture rights. His trip to Egypt was a powerful reminder against the Catholic temptation to see Christianity through a West vs. East lens: it has been a subtle message against the Catholic “Orientalization” of the Eastern Churches – the temptation to see in them something like a museum of exotic, pre-modern and anti-modern Christianity – as well as against the Catholic “Occidentalization” of itself – Catholicism as an essentially Western religion. In this sense, Francis’ ecumenism is challenging different kinds of Catholics certainly not less than non-Catholic Christians.

Massimo Faggioli is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University.

Monday, 14 August 2017


by Abbot Paul of Belmont (UK)

Assumption 2017

            “Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.” With these words the Book of the Apocalypse celebrates God’s final victory over sin and death through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When we look at history and contemplate the state in the world today and when we come face to face with the power of evil, these words seem pure make-believe. Yet our faith in God’s plan of salvation and the celebration of today’s solemnity allow a glimmer of light to shine through the darkness. Indeed, faith in the Resurrection has given Christians hope and consolation in the most horrific situations the world has ever known. Think of St Maximilian Kolbe, whose martyrdom we celebrated yesterday.

            Not only does the Resurrection answer our doubts and fears, it also gives meaning to the mystery of Man. Only when Jesus rose from the dead did the disciples finally understand the meaning of his life. Suddenly it all fell into place. At last they began to see the big picture, God’s scheme of things, the History of Salvation and our part in it.

            Just as every feast is centred on Easter and is a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, so too the Assumption, for we believe that Mary, the Mother of God, was taken up body and soul into heaven. It is the greatest feast of Our Lady from which all the others spring, the matrix of Marian devotion. The Assumption came to be known as Little Easter or Easter in Summer and, in many parts of Europe, Catholics make their Easter duty today.

            Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God took flesh and blood from Mary and that flesh and blood were raised to the glory of heaven at his Resurrection and Ascension. Through the Incarnation, he shared his divine life with us as in Mary’s womb we shared our humanity with him. That humanity entered the glory of heaven when the risen Christ ascended to the Father’s right hand. As a special privilege, as a foretaste of our common destiny, that flesh and blood entered into the glory of heaven a second time when Our Lady fell asleep and was assumed body and soul, such was the depth of her divine Son’s love for his Blessed Mother. An ancient antiphon declares, “Through Mary, the gate of heaven, you came to crown our hope and fulfilment: today she goes before us into your kingdom.”

            We have just heard these words of St Paul, “All men will be brought to life in Christ; Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him. After that will come the end.” We belong to Christ through faith and baptism. We also belong to him through Mary, the glory of our race, the Mother of all who live and Queen of heaven. Today we celebrate the Easter Mystery, eternal life made manifest in Mary, the “lowly handmaid” of the Lord. “Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.” The Magnificat is not only Mary’s song of praise and thanksgiving for what God has done in her. It is also a prophecy of what he will do in each one of us. “His mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.”

            So, it is true. “Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.” Christ is risen and Mary is assumed into heaven.  Thanks be to God.

In the normal icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Mary bears Jesus in her arms.   In the normal icon of the Dormition of Our Lady, as this detail shows, Jesus bears Our Lady's soul in his arms, prior to taking her, body and soul, up to heaven with Him.

You will notice in the next two items, one Catholic and the other Orthodox, that, while the first says that the death of Mary is not defined, the Orthodox puts great emphasis on that death: Mary's Assumption is nothing less than a sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ which are two inseperable dimensions of the same Mystery.  The Catholic comment is an example of the Latin tradition existing as though it bears no relation with the Eastern.  Many Orthodox make the same mistake of separating the Eastern and Western traditions when they too are two inseperable dimensions of the same Catholic Tradition.  Popes St John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made it quite clear that fidelity to the one Catholic Tradition involves accepting the truth of Mary's death, defined or not.

May 24, 2014 by Fr. Juan Velez 
The title Holy Mother of God denotes the reason for all the other titles and privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In these reflections for the month of May John Henry Newman looks to one of the privileges, Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul. The Church has not defined that Mary died before her Assumption; instead She holds that at the end of her life on earth the Virgin Mary was taken to Heaven.
Newman held the belief that she did die and was raised to life by God. After asserting this he considers that after the Resurrection of Christ many prophets and holy men and women rose from their tombs. He asks: “it is not to be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.” Thus we can confidently believe that “our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.”

Mary, Sancta Dei Genetrix, we venerate you as the Mother of God, and rejoice at your Assumption into Heaven. Next to your Son intercede for the Church.

May 24
Mary is the “Sancta Dei Genetrix,” the Holy Mother of God

AS soon as we apprehend by faith the great fundamental truth that Mary is the Mother of God, other wonderful truths follow in its train; and one of these is that she was exempt from the ordinary lot of mortals, which is not only to die, but to become earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Die she must, and die she did, as her Divine Son died, for He was man; but various reasons have approved themselves to holy writers, why, although her body was for a while separated from her soul and consigned to the tomb, yet it did not remain there, but was speedily united to her soul again, and raised by our Lord to a new and eternal life of heavenly glory.

And the most obvious reason for so concluding is this—that other servants of God have been raised from the grave by the power of God, and it is not to be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.

We are told by St. Matthew, that after our Lord’s death upon the Cross “the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept”—that is, slept the sleep of death, “arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection, came into the Holy City, and appeared to many.” St. Matthew says, “many bodies of the Saints”—that is, the holy Prophets, Priests, and Kings of former times—rose again in anticipation of the last day.

Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaias, or Ezechias, should have been thus favoured, and not God’s own Mother? Had she not a claim on the love of her Son to have what any others had? Was she not nearer to Him than the greatest of the Saints before her? And is it conceivable that the law of the grave should admit of relaxation in their case, and not in hers? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.

Meditations and Devotions,  see www.newmanreader.org

(Fr Thomas Hopko)

In the sermon of Cardinal Newman and the talk by Father T. Hopko, we see how East and West complement each other; while, in the remarks introducing the sermon of Cardinal Newman, we see what happens when the West  forgets the Eastern tradition - all that about Mary not dying and this being o.k. because it hasn't been defined.

"And therefore she died in private. It became Him who died for the world, to die in the world's sight; it became the Great Sacrifice to be lifted up on high, as a light that could not be hid. But she, the lily of Eden, who had always dwelt out of the sight of man, fittingly did she die in the garden's shade, and amid the sweet flowers in which she had lived. Her departure made no noise in the world. The Church went about her common duties, preaching, converting, suffering; there were persecutions, there was fleeing from place to place, there were martyrs, there were triumphs: at length the rumour spread abroad that the Mother of God was no longer upon earth. Pilgrims went to and fro; they sought for her relics, but they found them not; did she die at Ephesus? or did she die at Jerusalem? reports varied; but her tomb could not be pointed out, or if it was found, it was open; and instead of her pure and fragrant body, there was a growth of lilies from the earth which she had touched. So, inquirers went home marvelling, and waiting for further light. And then it was said how that when her dissolution was at hand, and her soul was to pass in triumph before the judgment seat of her Son, the Apostles were suddenly gathered together in one place, even in the Holy City, to bear part in the joyful ceremonial; how that they buried her with fitting rites; how that the third day, when they came to the tomb, they found it empty, and angelic choirs with their glad voices were heard singing day and night the glories of their risen Queen. But, however we feel towards the details of this history (nor is there anything in it which will be unwelcome or difficult to piety), so much cannot be doubted, from the consent of the whole Catholic world and the revelations made to holy souls, that as is befitting, she is, soul and body, with her Son and God in heaven, and that we are enabled to celebrate not only her death, but her Assumption."(John Henry Cardinal Newman, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, pp. 375-8; cited in J. Regina, ed., The Mystical Rose, St. Pauls Editions, 1960, pp. 91-94.)









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