On the Mother of God - Part 1:  On Her Life

Fr. Demetrios Carellas


ST. EMMELIA WEST CONFERENCE: “HAVE FAITH”
ST. NICHOLAS RANCH, DUNLAP, CALIFORNIA
APRIL 19-22, 2018

Transcript:

I always like to begin talks with what I call a “spiritual icebreaker.” And this is a true story. There was a young man in the 1940s living in a village in Greece, having a terrible problem with anger— especially if someone would insult him, he would insult back doubly. But he always confessed his sins to his spiritual father. Finally, the spiritual father said, “John we need to take drastic action, you haven’t improved.” He said, “father I’ll do whatever you say.” So he says, “okay— from now on, when someone insults you, you are to say ‘thank you’ and give them money.” So, as obedient as he was—he was about 17 at the time—he did this for two years. And then he went to his spiritual father to get permission to go to Athens to find some employment. The young men when they reached around 19 did that in the villages. His spiritual father said, “John, you’ve got my permission, my blessing, and oh, by the way, you’re cured—you don’t have to give any money anymore, you don’t have to say thank you anymore.” He said “I’m cured?” His spiritual father said, “you’ll see.” Well, he knew there was an old sage who would sit on a rock that time of year and as the young men came from the villages he knew their hearts so he would just criticize them to no end. And some of these guys would get so upset they would go right back to the village. Well when this young man came up and he started criticizing him, he started laughing. And the old man said, “why are you laughing, son?” He said, “sir, for two years I had to pay for this—now it’s free!” And he pointed to the city of Athens and he said, “Son, that city belongs to you.” And we should think about that too. A lot of times when we get angry we should give money and say “thank you” and we’ll be cured.

Have you ever stopped to think about the vastness of this universe? Let me give you a little picture here. The milky way—that’s our galaxy—well, there’s a hole in the milky way. Not a black hole, just a hole, an opening. It takes light traveling at 186,000 miles per second 30,000 years to get from one end to the other—just to give you a little perspective of the size of this universe. And the second person of the Holy Trinity created all of this out of nothing! So what holiness would a woman have to have to give flesh to the Word of God? Words are hard to describe. There’s a Greek word, “Panagia”—we call her "the all-holy one". But in essence, the Mother of God had to be in a state of theosis, total sanctification. How could God take flesh in anything less? And that’s why, when you don’t have that groundness of the Holy Fathers of the church, you err when you start looking at the Mother of God. On the Roman Catholic side, they decided in the year 1852 that she was immaculately conceived—well, then she is no longer a human, and what she did is no longer great. She’s a Goddess. And then on the other extreme, you have some 22,000 protestant formations, most of which acknowledge the virgin birth, but then claim that she had other children. Even logically that doesn’t make sense. There’s not going to be copulation in Heaven, in spite of what the Muslims and the Mormons think. And it’s a carnal thing. How could anyone conceive that she who gave flesh to the Son of God would have a physical relation? So then what I’m trying to illustrate to you, without the proper understanding of the Mother of God, you can’t really know the true Christ. And that’s why it’s so important for us to know her. In the last three years, she’s given me her blessing, I hope, to develop twelve talks. Actually thirteen—you’re going to hear number eleven and number thirteen today (number eleven right now).

I was thinking she is a model for homeschooling because she was homeschooled, but in a very special place—in the Holy of Holies—from the age three until about the age fourteen or fifteen, through an angel from God Himself.

And three days after her Dormition, her body ascended into the heavens and was united to her soul. No other fully human being exists in heaven that way.

There are so many ways to describe her. I found a list, brothers and sisters, of over 1,000 names for the Mother of God in Greek. One thousand! The Russians probably have an equal number. She is called the directress; she is called the joy of all who sorrow; the consoler; the one who is quick to hear; the one who assuages our sorrows; she who helps in childbirth; the tender-hearted mother; the soul-saver; the seeker of the lost; the life-giving spring; the sweet-kissing; the softener of evil hearts; the one who helps the mothers upbring her children; and so many, many others. But there is one common thread present in all of these descriptions of our Panagia—and that’s her protection. She’s always there to protect us. And that’s what we’re going to concentrate on now. And we’re going to begin by looking at a passage from God’s Word, when the Lord saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved near to him.

“Then Jesus, having seen His mother and the disciple whom he loved sayeth to the mother, ‘Woman, behold thy son.’ And then he sayeth to the disciple, ‘Behold thy mother.’ And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.”

How many times in my 43+ years as a priest have I had the honor to utter those sacred words? And yet, it was only about three weeks ago that I was blessed to begin to see a tiny portion of the depth of this Gospel passage. Especially the seven words from the mouth of our most sweet Lord Jesus. St. John Chrysostom and many of our church fathers tell us that that action by Christ establishes our most holy and most blessed beloved Panagia as the mother of our Church. I shared a taste of what that meant last bright week, last year in 2017, when we looked at our holy Dormition and the relationship that she had with the holy apostles. They depended so much on her. And think about her for a minute—notice how the other three Gospels other than St. John—you know, they have a lot more commoninity. And then you’ve got the gospel of St. John that has a lot of theology. Well, who was with her all the time? So, she shared with him many things that the other disciples didn’t get to hear, and that’s why his gospel is so very deep and awe-inspiring. And of course they all are, but there’s just something very unique about his particular gospel. She also had deep concern way back then, as we learned in that particular set of talks, about a certain rabbi named Saul who was persecuting the Christians. She actually witnessed the stoning of St. Stephen. And during that stoning, it is recorded in tradition that she prayed to her Son that he would be converted from a ravening wolf to a gentle lamb, from an enemy of Christ to the one who would be one of his apostles, from an unyielding persecutor into a tenacious follower of the universal proclamation of his gospel. And of course our Lord indeed answered that prayer.

“Behold thy mother.” May it please our savior to engrave those three words in the hearts of every Orthodox Christian in the United States. I now believe that these three words are both a divine command and an invitation: a command especially to every orthodox jurisdiction and an invitation to every parish, mission, monastery, within their jurisdictions, and each individual Christian, to seek the divine embrace of our most holy Theotokos who is the mother of our Life (with a capital “L”), the mother of our Church, and the mother of us all.

There are a few stories that Orthodox faithful have connected to our holy lady being universally acclaimed as the protection of Christians. The most famous has to do with a vision seen by St. Andrew the fool for Christ, along with his disciple. Now, before we look at that particular one, I want us to look at another time in which the holy Theotokos, through her veil and one of her icons, saved Constantinople about 300 years before that particular miracle occurred. I’m of course referring to the one that has to do the Akathist hymn, or the chanting of it. In 626, when the emperor Heracleios was campaigning in the east against the attacks of the Persians, the Arabs unexpectedly besieged him from the west and the city of Constantinople was in turmoil. They tried to make appeal with the Arabs and they refused every ceasefire. And then they collaborated with the Persians to prepare a final attack. Now the whole area around Constantinople was surrounded with enemy ships. The condition was very hopeless. The annihilation of its defenders and the city itself, and enslavement of its citizens, seemed unavoidable. But here’s where faith comes in.

We’ve got two things to deal with here: faith and reason. If you concentrate on reason, you’ll never know Christ. According to St. Paul, "faith is the substance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen" — reason says that makes no sense. It doesn’t. Orthodoxy—please remember this—Orthodoxy is not the faith of Christ in your brain, it’s the faith of Christ experienced in your heart. Not to understand it, but to experience it. And what I’m worried about today more than I can possibly tell you in words—and maybe in the discussion tonight we can talk about it—I’m worried we’re allowing the western understanding, which is very intellectual and brain-centered, to overtake the heart. Because, especially in my jurisdiction, prayers are being said out loud; things are being said that we’re not supposed to say; icon screens are coming down; curtains don’t exist; we’re taking the mystery away. And when you remove the mystery, you remove God. You’ll never understand Him; but you can, in your heart, know Him. And that’s how we’re going to bring everyone to the Faith. Not by the brain, but by the heart. Please keep that in mind, because Orthodoxy does not depend on your IQ—thank God.

Anyway, back to the St. Sergius the patriarch. His faith was so strong that he took crosses and he proceeded around the whole wall of the city chanting hymns. He himself was holding the veil of the mother of God that was on her body when she was laid to rest, and also an icon of her, the directress icon. And after going around a few times, he took the veil and he put it into the water. The water was calm until that veil hit it. Then the ocean became like chaos, and the city was saved. That night, the people gathered at the Blachernae church, and chanted the Akathist hymn which Saint Romanos the Melodos had developed a century earlier. I can’t imagine what joy must have taken place in the hearts of all those people as they chanted the Akathist hymn to the Theotokos.

Now, we’re going to take a brief look at what is traditionally regarded as the Holy Protection of the Mother of God. There are different traditions about this miraculous occurrence which happened. But on October the 1st, during an all-night vigil, sometime between 867 and 911, this is what we’re going to discuss. (I’m going with the Russian version and not the Greek, and you’ll find out why in a minute.) On Sunday Oct. 1st during an all-night vigil, when the church was overflowing with people in prayer, St. Andrew, the fool for Christ, lifted up his eyes to the heavens and to his amazament he saw the most holy Theotokos descending and surrounded by angels and saints from heaven. And when he saw this, he was so amazed. And he looked at his disciple Epiphanios and he said, “brother, do you see? The queen and lady of all praying for the whole world?” and he said, “yes, father, I see, and am struck with fear.” And while St. Andrew watched in awe, the Panagia knelt down in deep prayer for a long time, and she did like all mothers do when their children are hurt. She was weeping tears for them and for all of us. And then, she came to the bishop’s throne and she continued her prayers. And then, she took her veil, like the icon shows, and covered all the people there, both the sinners and the righteous, protecting them from all the enemies. And then our Panagia said—and St. Andrew and his disciple were the only ones who saw this vision and the only ones who heard these words—“Oh Christ, the Heavenly King, accept all those who pray to thee and call on my name for help. Do not let them go away from my icon unheard.”

St. Andrew and Epiphanios then gave this description, which is recorded in the synaxarion: "for a long time, they observed the protecting veil spread over the people. And finally, the holy mother left, but she left her grace of that visitation." And here’s an interesting thought, because according to the Russian tradition, the ones who attacked Constantinople at that time were actually descendants of Russia. And St. Andrew the fool for Christ, according to tradition, was a Slav that a byzantine grabbed as a slave. So it’s really interesting when you bring this in. And then their great, great, great grandchildren, through St. Vladimir, became Orthodox.

In the Prologue, a Russian book of the 12th century, a description is made to establish this feast: “For when we heard, we realized how wondrous and merciful was the vision, and it occurred to us that the holy protection should not remain without a festal celebration, oh ever-blessed one.” This was in 1164. Today there are over 1,000 churches in Russia named for the holy protection, and they began about two years after 1164, starting to name churches that way. Now there are two traditions regarding Oct. 1st. I don’t know if it’s still going on today, but before Russia was ravaged with communism, the young women would go to church on that day and pray to the mother of God to help her to find a good husband to marry. And another tradition was, if it snowed a lot on that day, there would be more weddings that year. And it happened that way all the time.

Is there anybody here with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese besides me? Okay, we’ve got one. (laughs) Well, you all here know Greek Orthodox people so I’m going to share with you a deviation from that tradition. The Greeks now in Greece and those who are under the patriarchate of Constantinople like the Greek church in America, and in Australia, and places like that—they have the provision to celebrate this feast on October 28th. In 1952, the church of Greece moved this feast of the Protection to that day because that was the day when Italy asked Greece to surrender and the Greek Commander Metaxas yelled out “ohi”—No! And they didn’t surrender. And of course, history shows that that was the right thing to do. But there were many stories about how the mother of God helped the army. And I want to share with you verbatim one soldier’s eye-witness account. Here, we’re not talking about saving your city—here, we’re not even talking about battle—we’re talking about helping people who were starving. Alright—here’s what he said:

“Our company received an order to overtake and gain ground for a bridge. We set up a bulwark within the cliffs. As soon as we were ready to start, a huge thick snow began to fall continuously for two days. Up to two meters of snow.”—that’s a lot of snow. So they were blocked from their food supply. Well, they decided they were trapped. They had enough food for one day, and they decided to just eat it. Well, of course they had all the water they needed because of the snow, but after several days, they started getting hungry with no food. After a couple of weeks they became more emaciated. And then what happened? The captain of the company pulled out a paper icon of the Mother of God and said, “My young men, this is a crucial circumstance, and only a miracle can save us. Let’s kneel down now and pray to the Panagia, the Mother of the God-man, to help us.” And they knelt down and prayed fervently. And he said, “before we could stand up, bells started to ring. And we grabbed our weapons, not knowing what to do." And all of a sudden, what pulls up? He said, "a huge mule loaded with food.” And they said, "how is it possible? There’s no driver; there’s six feet of snow." The mother of God brought that mule there. They asked for her help, they received it. And at the end, he said, “this remains unforgettable to me, because there was no way out. A way out was given by our Panagia.” And that’s just it. She’s always there to give you and me a way out when we’re in a corner and we know not what to do.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, one can’t explain—using man’s fallen reason—the divine shield of our most holy Theotokos. It is something that defies reason, but can be experienced, as I said, within our hearts. Recently, I read an article by a priest in Russia in which he relates the ineffable security that our Panagia offers to all of us. He relates it to that of a compassionate mother, an affectionate mother with her own children. What does a mother like that do? She sits up all night, even several times when her child is sick, and she caresses that child to comfort the child. She puts aside all of her own personal needs, as you mothers know, to take care of the needs of her child. In the Russian priest’s words, “and as the children open to their mothers their childish sorrows, feelings, and desires, so we can reveal to the most pure virgin all of our troubles, and to her alone we can turn. We can turn, then, when we have no one else to whom to turn, and she will cover us. Her veil is prayerful care for us. It is the grace of God given to the Holy Virgin as to the very closest to God, and by his grace she is always ready to protect us."

Truly, brothers and sisters, the mother of God is wondrously near to those who call upon her for aid. This gentle mother hurrying to her children hurries to respond to the call of the sorrowing human heart. To help, to intercede, and to rescue the perishing.

Now, for the remainder of this talk, I’m going to rely primarily on an article—thank God someone translated it from the Greek very recently. This was written about four years ago by His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki (that’s a region near Athens, Greece). But, before I share with you what he says about the Protection of the Mother of God, I wanted you to just listen to a little about himself.

He was born on April 13th, so last Friday he turned 64. He got a degree in physics from the University of Thessaloniki, and then he moved to the United States, where he got a master’s degree in astrophysics from Harvard and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Then he was right there, so he went to the Greek Orthodox seminary and got a theological degree. While he was studying theology at the seminary, he was teaching at Harvard and MIT, researching at the cardiovascular laboratory for a major medical center, and had connections with NASA. In 1987 he returned to Greece, and where did he go? To Mount Athos immediately. There, he was tonsured a monk, he joined the monastery of Simonopetra on Mount Athos, and was ordained a deacon in ’89. And from 1990-2004, he was a parish priest at a parish that was under the dependency of that monastery in Athens. And then in 2004, he was made a bishop. Well, why am I saying all this? Well, there’s a rumor, and I’m hoping that this rumor is going to come out to be true: he is being mentioned as the replacement of the archbishop of north and south America for the Greeks when archbishop Dimitri retires in a few months. Think of what this would do for us, for all of us as Orthodox, for a man with this kind of a background, who lived in this country, who knows things in this country. And he’s written some books that have been translated—he’s got a very spiritual depth. When he became bishop, there’s this big mansion that the bishop lives in, and the old bishop said, “your grace, please give me a corner and you can have the rest,” and he said “no sir,” he said, “you take the rest, I’ll take the corner.” Very humble man.

He begins this sermon on Panagia by reminding us all that, “she is our covering, our protection from afflictions, sickness, and needs. She is the protection we seek in response to our difficulties—to escape the suffocating atmosphere of the daily lives of each of us.” And brothers and sisters, that suffocating atmosphere in the United States has many faces within the boundaries of our nation. Every day, over 1,000 babies are murdered in the wombs of their mothers, while only God hears their silent screams. Every day, hospices are now euthanizing people. Every day, more people are legally smoking pot, including many underage children. Every day, far too many people are wasting several hours each day on social media. Face to face conversations, as well as hand-written letters—when is the last time you wrote a letter to someone by hand? How many have written one in the last week? That’s the way we used to do things, we used to write letters to people, they were personal. They didn’t have auto-check or spell-correct. But the whole concept of personal interaction—these things, these hand-written letters, these face to face things are being replaced by facebook, twitter, Instagram, how many other things there are today. Text messages…indeed, especially for every orthodox Christian in America, we need to escape this suffering, ungodly, secular humanistic atmosphere. And that is why we need to run to our most holy mother and struggle to just embrace the hem of her garment, begging her to let us cling to it until Christ accepts our souls in paradise. Metropolitan Nicholas tells us that it is through the experience of the church that we are inclined within our hearts to run to Panagia because we chant hymns like this: “No one is turned away from thee ashamed and empty, who flee unto thee, o most pure virgin.” Then he reminds us of this indisputable fact; “there is no request made with humility to the Theotokos that remains un-answered.” He didn’t condition that at all. “There is no request.” In the remainder of his sermon, the pious hierarch gives us four great blessings that connect the protection of the Theotokos with the life of the Church and our lives, too. The first is the boldness of her prayers; then the coziness and warmth of her presence; number three is the covering of our nakedness brought on by the fall in sin, which is covered by her holiness; and finally, the grace which somehow covers and protects us from a caustic relationship with God. Let’s look briefly at these four gifts.

First of all, the boldness of her prayers. Where do we see that first? Right in the Word of God. They run out of wine at the wedding at Cana, and she simply says these words: “They have no wine.” I don’t know what those guys who translated King James were thinking about, but they mis-translated the Greek horribly. Christ did not say, “Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour hasn’t come” The Greek specifically said, “Woman, what is that to you or to me? My hour has not yet come.” There is a huge difference. And then, what did she do? After the Lord said that, she went to the disciples and said these words: “Whatever he says for you to do, do it.” Here is our first example of her boldness in prayer. Even though she was told by her Son that it was not time for him to begin His miracles, she already knew here [in the heart], as all you mothers know.

I still believe my mother had eyes behind her head, because she could see things that I was doing that I didn’t think anyone could see. And she would say “what were you doing the other day?” Mothers: God has given you a very special gift that we men can only fathom and try to comprehend. Every woman is born with an innate desire to nurture and protect her young. Even if she never has a child, she has that gift. And that’s why it’s so sad with abortion, because a woman goes against her nature. And that’s why we have to find these women, especially the Orthodox—both the ones who have repented and are still hurting from their wound, and the ones who still haven’t repented—to bring God’s repentance to them so they can get healing. But what a beautiful gift that you have to nurture and protect your young.

My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, St. John the Baptist is the one who announced to the world the presence of the Son of God in the world. He explained to all the ineffable and indescribable holiness of the Word of God who had taken our flesh upon Himself. Now, the Mother of God, in one sentence, gives us everything we need for our salvation: “Whatsoever He tells you, do it.” In other words, we must struggle with all of our heart every day to incarnate the teachings of the gospel of Jesus in all of our thoughts, our words, and our actions. And our most beloved Panagia is the consummate example of this.

Now, let’s make a little use of human reasoning and logic for just a second. If Jesus, before He had chosen to begin doing miracles, would fulfill the request of Panagia to turn water into wine, then how can we imagine He would deny any request from our Holy Lady to heal a sick child, to restore a marital bond that is breaking, to help a married woman unable to conceive for many years to find the joy of carrying a new life within her womb? As I mentioned in one of the other talks I did, Jesus will never say 'no' to His mother.

Metropolitan Nicholas explains that the second blessing, this contentment and warmth of her presence, is kind of prefigured in the Old Testament by the cloud which covered the Jews as they roamed for forty years in the desert. He said, “in like manner”—I’m kind of paraphrasing him here—“our most holy Theotokos with her divine motherly affection, offers to our hearts a calmness, a warmth, that is indescribable in any language of this temporal world.” Then he gives us, probably, based on his background, a scientific explanation to help us more clearly understand this aspect of our Panagia’s protection on us being that mystical cloud like the Jews had—she’s our mystical cloud in this world. He says, “scientists tell us that during the cloudless nights of winter the cold is more bitter.” Well you can’t experience it too much here in California, but I can tell you—when it’s a clear night and it’s cold, boy is it bitter in Pittsburgh. "But when there is a cloud, it creates a greenhouse effect and somehow maintains a warmth. In actuality, the whole world operates like a greenhouse, which allows flowers to bloom, trees to bear fruit, etc. So also, the presence of the Theotokos in this world, who even now circulates among us, offers this sweetness, this warmth, that each of us needs in the winter of our personal histories."

The third blessing that the Hierarch relates to the Protection is the covering of our spiritual nakedness. In His Eminence’s words, “Panagia is the garment that hides our nakedness after the sin and fall of the human race.” He proclaims that, “like the fig leaf in paradise, she covers our sinful bodies with a most beautiful garment.” In other words, her body, her pure body. And so, she presents us with a person, because of her we can stand before God, because she stands before God, and she’s of our nature. And there’s a beautiful hymn that I always like to use in my talks when I can. In the great vespers of our Lord’s Nativity—listen to these words here: “What shall we offer thee, oh Christ? For thou has appeared on earth as man for our sake. Of all the creatures made by thee, each offereth thee thanksgiving.” And then the hymn illustrates all the different gifts that creation gives to God: “The angels offer thee a hymn, the heavens a star, the magi their gifts, the shepherds their wonder, the earth a cave, the wilderness the manger”—and here’s the punchline of this hymn—“and we offer thee a Virgin Mother.” So our human nature becomes the gift of thanksgiving, and then the purification which God gave to that human nature. We can’t even put into words. So our offering to the Lord’s Nativity—now I’m going to try to apply these words of metropolitan Nicholas—is the person of Panagia, "the supreme model of holiness in terms of morals and in terms of spiritual virtues." That’s what we’re going to talk about in our second talk, some of the virtues of Panagia and how we can try to imitate them. She is the garment that allows human nature to stand before God. Our most holy Theotokos is the source of our joy, the warmth and the hope, she gives us a boost in difficult struggles and courage in our frustrations.

The fourth blessing that connects the Holy Protection of the Holy Theotokos with both the life of the Church in general and the life of each one of us in particular, I think, is prefigured in what the holy and god-seer Moses experienced in the darkness as he approached the face of God on Mount Sinai. Remember how he covered his face in that darkness, and yet it was bright? Does that make sense? It doesn’t make sense—that’s right. I caught that one! I can tell you about one baptism I had the honor to do, and the woman was afraid of water. And she was afraid of going down in because, you know, we have this big tank, three times—and the third time, she didn’t come right up. And I got a little bit nervous! So I grabbed her and I pulled her up, and I said “Katherine, what happened?” She said, “Papa, my eyes were closed, but I was surrounded in light.”

The light of Christ surrounded her while she had her eyes closed. So that darkness that he went into, he couldn’t see or hear anything. And this is another thing, too. The senses are part of the world, here. They’re very superficial. Emotions, superficial, as my friend here the psychiatrist can testify, they change like the wind sometimes, don’t they? But you know the presence in your heart, and that’s where Moses received his teachings. The anthropomorphic expressions in the Bible, it has to be done so you and I can read it, but it didn’t come to his ears, it came to his heart.

Metropolitan Nicholas tells us that this is what the Theotokos does; she hides a little the face of God, certainly not to prevent us from knowing Him, but so as not to ruin His image within us by our boldness. As our consolation is in the fact that God became man, so also our consolation is that the Theotokos; a human being who reached such a height, and so close to the attributes of God, that she is empowered to take us to her level by her example—but especially because of her intercessions. The most holy Theotokos is the one who gathers our prayers, gives us a sense of God, but not the boldness of her acquaintance of Him. And here’s where we need to help our brothers and sisters, especially in the Protestant formations. Boldness towards God gets stronger the more we humble ourselves, and the more we know that we can’t be bold before God. I know what I’m saying now sounds very contradictory. Reason can’t really understand what I’m trying to get across here. But as we come to know Him more, we come to know how wide the gap is between us. But at the same time, in spite of that, we know how much He loves us. But the fathers of the Church and the Saints—they may be bold before the Saints, but they’re not going to be bold before God and say, “you have to do this.” And how many of my Protestant brothers say, “you just have to tell the Holy Spirit, you’ve got to do this…” And my reply is, “when is the last time you moved a mountain? Why didn’t he do it? He didn’t move the mountain for you.” And that kind of boldness is very dangerous, because it led to all the heresies. Where man thinks that by his reasoning he’s going to explain dogma. He’s not. So we have the Protection of the Holy Theotokos helping us to humble ourselves, not to be bold before Him. Let her be bold before Him. Do you see what I mean?

In summarizing these four expressions of Panagia’s divine and holy protection upon us, the pious hierarch from Greece tells us that they can actually burn and destroy us when we’re not dominated by humility, divine fear, and self-sacrifice, but rather by selfishness and pride. Unfortunately, today, so many people seem to be living in a state of no fear of God and seem more inclined towards fulfilling their personal desires rather than seeking to fulfill the commandments of God. Towards being selfish, rather than selfless. Towards words and actions that personify a prideful spirit, rather than a humble spirit. We are so obsessed with our temporal lives that we rarely, if ever, think about eternity—a place where every one of us is going to be someday. But let us not lose hope for one second, because our Protectress stands at the right hand of the Word of God, to Whom she gave flesh. She will always be there for us, as she promised the apostles and all of humanity, before her body ascended to the throne of God. As a contemporary Russian priest reminds us, “we must all indisputably believe that there is no sinner, no person who has come to God, for whom the mother of God has not implored by her prayers, whom she has not led by the hand to the Church of God. Why? Because she extends her divine veil over all of us without exception. Because she prays for all of us without exception, standing before the Heavenly King. And no one is deprived of her mercy and love—not a single person.” And I hope that this little icon of the protection of God that you’re going to receive at the end will be a reminder to you of that protection.

And we conclude the talk with the spiritual words of Metropolitan Nicholas: “let us fervently pray that her protection accompanies us in the desert of our lives, so that we may be able, through her holy person, to approach the face of the Lord in this life, as in a mirror, dimly—and in eternity, to meet Him in His kingdom, face to face.”

Amen.