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Icon of th Theotokos

The Mother of our Lord

13th Sunday after Pentecost / Apostle Thaddeus of the Seventy; Martyr Bassa and Company/ 1 Cor. 16.13-24; Matthew 21.33-42

F/S/HS.  I cannot have the tomb of our Theotokos and Panagia out here in our nave and not dedicate my homily this morning to her life, to her love and dedication to her Son, and her loving and prayerful intercessions before God, on our behalf.  She is a most remarkable woman, full of strength and courage and humility, a role model to all of us, someone we have so much to learn from. 

We can say that everything about her stands in sharp juxtaposition to the tenant vinedressers portrayed in this morning’s Gospel parable.  The parable is about God the Father, portrayed as a landowner who plants a vineyard.  The tenant vinedressers appointed by God the landowner are the religious leaders entrusted with the care of God’s people.  The landowner’s servants are the prophets, sent by God to proclaim the Word of God.

But instead of faithfully tending the vineyard, the vinedresser religious leaders have devoured it.  And although they were obstinate and murderous towards the landowner’s servants, God then sent His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the hopes that these vinedressers would honor Him.  But in their hubris and impiety and greed, they murder the Son as well; and in doing so they rejected the chief cornerstone used by the builders to build God’s kingdom. 

Thus gives rise to a new people, a new church who will hopefully bear the fruits of the Kingdom of God, this new church built upon the chief cornerstone that has been rejected by one peoples and now given to another peoples.

Mary our Thetotokos never once throughout her entire life succumbed to any temptation to reject her Son, to reject the chief cornerstone of her own life and the life of the Christian church that she was so much a part of founding before own repose.

Following the death of her Son, His immaculate mother began to give herself to helping guide the faithful through her teaching and her prayers, that her Son’s new church might flourish and increase.  She strengthened all through her comfort, and during times of persecution emboldened the faithful when they had to lay down their lives in martyrdom for the Christ that they so believed in.

For much of the time following the death of her Son, and until her own death a few decades later, the Theotokos lived with the beloved St. John the Evangelist on Mt. Sion, in Jerusalem.  The monk Epiphanios reports that she healed many sick people and freed those who were overcome by impure spirits.  She embodied a wealth of almsgiving for the poor and the many widows who surrounded her and loved her.

When the first martyr, the Proto-Deacon Stephen, was being led to his death, she followed closely behind the throng of people who had gathered to witness his death.  When they reached the Valley of Jehosaphat, by the brook of Kedron, she stood at a safe distance, along with St. John.  Witnessing Stephen’s martyric end by way of stoning, she fervently prayed to her Son and our Lord that He strengthen Stephen and receive His soul into God’s Kingdom, into the comforting bosom of Abraham. 

So too did she shed warm tears on behalf of one of God’s enemies present that day at Stephen’s stoning, Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul, that he might change from a ravening wolf into a meek lamb, from a persecutor into a disciple.  Her prayers were answered a short time later, during Saul’s miraculous experience on the road to Damascus.

From early Christian figures like St. Ignatius, who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, we learn how much the Apostles loved to spend time with the mother of God, and to learn from her wisdom and meekness, her humility and her courage.  They honored her as the protrectress of the many fledgling churches they were helping found.  And they gazed upon her most glorious countenance as that of Christ Himself. 

St. Ignatius reports that the Disciples said to him that being in her presence and listening to her teachings filled them with holy joy and devout love.  The sweetness of her presence made them forget the bitterness of the many misfortunes that often accompanied them.  In the words of St. Ignatius, from two of his epistles written to St. John: Now there are some people, worthy of all credibility, who declare that in Mary, the Mother of Jesus, there is an angelic purity of nature allied with human nature….  He who is devout to the Virgin Mother will certainly never be lost.

St. Ignatius had written the Theotokos, asking her to come and visit him.  He wanted to hear a firsthand account beyond what he had heard from St. John, about whether all that was being said about Jesus was indeed true.  Her reply, sisters and brothers, is a glorious pearl: The lowly handmaid of Christ Jesus to Ignatios, my beloved fellow-disciple.  The things which thou has heard and learned from John concerning Jesus are true.  Believe them, cling to them, and hold fast the profession of that Christianity which thou has embraced, and conform thy habits and life to thy profession….  Stand fast in the faith, and show thyself a man; nor let the fierceness of persecution move thee

The Disciple Luke, it is also reported, was especially moved by the Theotokos.  So much so that, through the Holy Spirit, he received creative wisdom to depict her in iconographic form, carrying the pre-eternal Infant, her Son, in her arms.  When Mary first saw the icon written by Luke, she stated: May the grace of Him Who was born of me, through me, be imparted to such icons.  And then she repeated the hymn that she had once said in the house of her cousin Elizabeth: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Lazarus longed also to see the mother of the One who had raised him from four days dead in his tomb.  Lazarus was living on the island of Cyprus, having been consecrated a bishop there by the Apostle Barnabas.  The Theotokos asked Lazarus to send a ship, to bring her and St. John and several others to Cyprus to visit him.  Which Lazarus did without a moments delay. 

But during their voyage to Cyprus they encountered a great storm which blew them off course and, providentially, ever closer to the peninsula known as Mount Athos, which, at that time, was entirely pagan and secular.  Agapios the Cretan reports that as the ship neared the peninsula, a statue on the top of Mount Athos dedicated to the god Jupiter—known as the sky god, or the god of the sky, the chief deity of the Roman state religion—this statue of Jupiter fell and shattered to pieces in a thunderous noise.

The ship anchored in a picturesque inlet below what is presently the Monastery of Iveron.  The Theotokos and all aboard came ashore.  The mother of God was so overwhelmed by the surrounding beauty that she asked her Son to give her the peninsula, despite it being inhabited by pagans and idols.  A heavenly voice was then heard by all: Let this place be thine inheritance and garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved

Upon hearing this voice, the ground began shaking and all the pagan idols and statues throughout the peninsula fell prostrate and began breaking into pieces.  At one of the largest shrines, dedicated to the god Apollo, other heavenly cries could be heard, saying: Men of Apollo, get ye all to Clemes harbor and welcome Mary, the Mother of the Great God Jesus.

Arriving at the harbor, they welcomed the Theotokos and escorted her and St. John and the others to their hall.  They asked her: What God didst thou bear and what is His name?  Mary catechized them and they believed and accepted the Christian faith, and showed great respect to her as the bearer of the one true God.  After their baptism, she appointed a leader and teacher for the newly-illumined from among them that were traveling with her.  Forever thereafter to this very day, Mount Athos came to be known as the Garden of the Mother of God.  

Can we not see then dear brothers and sisters why at different times throughout the year we honor this remarkable woman, in the case of these last two weeks honor her Dormition, her falling asleep.  Thanks be to God for her witness down through the centuries, to all of us.  May the very virtues that adorned her soul—humility and courage, prayer and steadfast love for her Son, and her love for God’s church—forever abide in us as virtues that adorn our own souls.  F/S/HS