PROPER OF THE SEASON
THE ANNUNCIATION TO OUR MOST HOLY LADY THE MOTHER OF GOD
AND EVER VIRGIN MARY
Homily of Esychius, Presbyter of Jerusalem.
St Hesychius was a priest in Jerusalem in the 5th century, at the time of the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) which solemnly declared Mary the mother of Jesus to be Theotokos, that is Mother of God. This sermon may have been preached in connection with this event.
Every devout tongue fittingly greets the Virgin and Mother of God and imitates as far as possible Gabriel, prince of angels. One person greets her with, 'Hail!', while another declares, 'The Lord is from You', because of the Lord who was born from her and who appeared in flesh to the human race. One person names her 'Mother of light', another, 'Star of life', another addresses her as, 'Throne of God', another as, 'Greater Temple than heaven', another as, 'Throne not inferior to the Throne of the Cherubim', yet another as,
'Garden without seed, fertile, yet untilled; Vine rich in grapes, flourishing, untouched; pure Turtle-dove; unsullied Dove; Cloud that without corruption conceived the Rain; Purse, whose Pearl is brighter than the sun; Quarry, from which comes the Stone that covers the earth and that no one had mined; Merchant-ship loaded with cargo and with no need of a helmsman; Treasure that enriches'.
Others likewise call her Lampstand with no outlet that lights of itself; Ark broader, wider and more glorious than that of NoŽ. The latter was for corruptible living beings: the former for incorruptible life. The one carried NoŽ: the other NoŽ's Maker. The one had a second and third deck: the other embraced the whole fullness of the Trinity, since the Spirit was present, the Father overshadowed and the Son made his dwelling in her womb. For Scripture says,
'The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the holy one that is born of thee will be called Son of God'.
You see how great is the dignity of the Virgin Mother of God. For the Only Son of God, the Maker of the world, was carried by her as a babe, and he refashioned Adam, sanctified Eve, made the dragon powerless, opened Paradise and kept intact the seal of her womb. Each of these is entirely fitting and reasonable. For he opened Paradise when he was about to bring in the Thief and guide into it all those who were heirs of the Kingdom. He kept the seal of her womb intact, for, being God and Word the Incarnate had no need of doors for entering or leaving.
For you, then, 0 Virgin, the prophets distribute their praises, and each of the God-bearers recounts those mysteries of the marvels that have been entrusted to him. One calls you 'Rod of Jesse', to indicate that your virginity is undamaged and intact.
Another compares you to the Bush that was burning and yet not burnt up, to indicate the flesh of the Only-begotten and the Virgin and Mother of God. For she was burning and was not burnt up, since she gave birth but did not open her womb; she conceived yet did not damage it. She brought forth a babe and left her womb still sealed. She gave milk, yet kept her breasts untouched. She carried a child, yet did not know the child's father. She became a mother, yet had not been a bride. A son was nourished, yet a father was not found; the field brought forth fruit, yet the fruit had no farmer; it produced a harvest, yet had received no seed. A river flowed, yet the source was completely shut, to show that you became a mother yet suffered none of a mother's pains. As a woman you gave birth, yet as a woman you were not corrupted. You carried a child in accordance with nature's law, since you waited for the appointed time of labour, but you conceived outside nature's law.
Another prophet called you the 'Shut Gate', towards the East through which the King enters, though the doors are shut. Thus he called you a Gate that brings forth, since you became a door to this present life for the Only-begotten; a Gate lying towards the East, since 'the true Light that enlightens everyone coming into the world' comes forth from your womb as from a royal bridal chamber. For you took in the King when the doors were shut, and again you brought him out; for the King of glory did not open your womb when you were conceived, nor when you were born, nor did he loose the bonds of your virginity.
The Bridegroom who came from you named you 'closed Garden' and 'sealed Source'. In the Song of Songs he prefigured you as a 'closed Garden', since no sickle for pruning or harvesting touched you, but he described you clearly as a flower from Jesse's rod for the human race, cultivated by the pure and unsullied Spirit alone; as a 'sealed Source', because a river of life came from you and filled the whole world, but no wedding branch drew water from your source.
David, in singing of the One born from you, did not cease singing of you:
'Arise, Lord, to your rest, you and the ark of your sanctification'.
'Arise': where from? From the Father's bosom, not that you might be separated from the Father (for it is not lawful either to think or say this), but that you might accomplish the dispensation which had been preordained for you from on high before the ages and before all generations. 'Arise', to raise the fallen, to set upright those who had stumbled, to lift up what was yours, until now tyrannised by the enemy. 'Arise, Lord, to your rest', which you have fixed on earth and ordained for Bethlehem: the cave, the manger and the swaddling clothes. For in heaven you have no need of rest, but you are the rest of all creation. While on earth for our sake you suffer what belongs to flesh. For did you not endure hunger, thirst and toil? But even when hungry, you are the bread of life; even when thirsty, you are the comfort of the thirsty- for you are a river of incorruption-, and even when toiling on the paths on dry land, you walk without toil on the waves of the sea. 'Arise, Lord, to your rest, you and the ark of your sanctification', clearly the Virgin, the Mother of God. For if you are the Pearl, she is fittingly the ark; since you are the sun, the virgin must necessarily be called the sky; since you are a flower that does not fade, then the Virgin is a plant of incorruption, a paradise of immortality.
To her Isaias suitably addressed these inspired words,
'Behold the virgin will conceive in the womb and give birth to a son and they will call his name Emmanuel'.
'Behold the virgin'. Which? The chosen among women, the outstanding among virgins, the honoured ornament of our nature, the pride of our clay, she who abolished Eve's shame and Adam's curse, who put an end to the dragon's boldness. The smoke of desire did not touch her, nor did the worm of self-indulgence harm her. 'Behold the virgin will conceive in the womb' Tell us, Prophet, from where? 'I cannot say', he says, 'for this has been kept for Gabriel. Many have detailed the wonders of the Mother of God, while many of them they have passed over. I have been entrusted with the birth- giving of the ever Virgin; Micheas with the place in which the wonder took place; David with the time. For he put into the prophecy of the Psalms, "From the womb before the morning star I begot you". Gabriel then will speak of where from. For he comes down from heaven, he is sent to the Virgin for this purpose, he comes at the time of the birth-giving and he is entrusted to explain the substance of the birth-giving. But if you wish to learn from me, read the rest of the prophecy, "And she will give birth to a son and they will call his name Emmanuel' But what is 'Emmanuel'? 'God is with us'. Is God then conceived through marriage and corruption? No way, but by God's action, by the Most High's intervention, by the coming of the Spirit.
For that very reason when the Virgin said to Gabriel,
'How shall this happen to me, because I do not know man?'
that is, 'The wonder amazes me and your words astound me'-the Angel's declaration astonished the Virgin. 'Y ou speak wonders, but because of their strangeness I. am suspicious. I am afraid of the novelty of your good tidings, I am troubled by the great strangeness of what you say. How shall this happen to me, because I do not know man? How shall I be a mother, having never been a bride? I have not destroyed the flower of my youth, untied girdle of my virginity, loosed the bond of my womb, or broken its seal' But the angel replied at once, 'The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you', that is, 'If you had known a man, you would not have given birth to God, who has been well pleased to take the form of a slave from you because you are without corruption, nor would you have become the instrument of the incarnation of the one who brings all things into being. But since you are pure of any marriage bed, since you have kept the temple uncorrupted and the tabernacle free of every stain, the Father comes to you, the Spirit overshadows you and the Only- begotten is born from you in flesh. Therefore do not in any way question the mysteries to come; do not question when you give birth in a cave to the creator of the whole creation, do question when you lay in a manger the one who is seated on the shoulders of the Cherubim, when you have no place in the inn and become the mother of the King of things above and things below'.
For willingly he becomes poor from you, that he may bridle the rich, and become for the poor an example of patient endurance and a teacher of gratitude. Willingly he is laid in the manger, that all who are like beasts may hasten and find the Word seated in the manger, that they may receive from him the dignity of reason, that they find wheat when they expected chaff, that they may hasten like beasts thinking to .find sheaves of barley in the manger, and may eat the true bread, the nourishment of life, the supper of light, the food of joy, the sweetness of incorruption, from which comes knowledge of the kingdom, the, foretaste of filial adoption, the inheritance of heaven, the communion of the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit. To him be glory to the ages of ages. Amen.
Translation copyright © by the Very Reverend Archimandrite of the Ecumenical Throne Ephrem Lash.
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