of Sourozh Foundation
of Sourozh Foundation
8th International Conference on the Legacy of Metropolitan AnthonyCRISIS: JUDGMENT OR OPPORTUNITY?
In Memoriam Father Peter Scorer, 15 October 1942 – 11 September 2020
On 11th September we will mark the anniversary of the death of our beloved Father Peter, who for many years was the Chairman of the Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Foundation, for which he worked tirelessly.
August 28, 1986
The Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God — which combines two events: Her death and Her resurrection in the body on the third day — has been for centuries, indeed, from the very beginning of the existence of the Russian Orthodox Church its Feast, its joy, its glory.
The Mother of God has not been a passive instrument of the Incarnation; without Her ‘Amen’ the Incarnation would have been as impossible as without the will of God. She is the response of the whole creation to God’s love and to God’s gift of self not only to mankind but to the whole Cosmos He has created. And in that we rejoice, because Her word is our word. Her word was perfect, as Her trust was, Her faith was, Her gift of self was. Ours is imperfect, and yet our voices resound within Hers, weakly, hesitantly at times, but with faith and also with love.
She is the glory of all Creation; the Mother of God: one might have expected that death could not touch Her; but if death and a death so cruel could touch Her Divine Son, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, the Son of God and the son of man — of course She had to pay the tribute of all the earth to the sin of man and also die. But according to Orthodox Tradition, death could not keep Her prisoner; She had given Herself unreservedly and perfectly to God, and it was to God, no longer to the earth that She belonged. And on the third day, when the Apostles came and reopened Her grave for one of them to be able to venerate Her, who had not been present at Her burial, it was found empty: She had risen because the bonds of death could not hold Her, and corruption could not touch a body which had been the body of the Incarnation. What a wonderful joy to think that now, side by side with the risen and ascended Christ, one of us, of mankind, a woman of flesh and blood is enthroned and in Her we can see the glory which will, we believe, be ours if we are faithful to God as She was.
So, let us rejoice, and not only here where our church has been dedicated since the early eighteenth century to the Assumption of the Mother of God, to Her Dormition, but with the whole Russian Church, and with all those to belong to it and are scattered over the face of the world, one with the Mother Church, one with the Mother of God, worshipping the Lord with all there is in us and seeing in Her the image of the whole Creation in adoration before the Living God. Amen.
17 October 1972
In this series of talks on holiness and its expression in the feasts of the Church I would like to leave for a while the feasts of the Lord and turn to the feasts of the Mother of God. I would like to draw your attention at once to the fact that it is impossible to think of the Mother of God apart from her son. This is why in iconography the Mother of God is always represented either with the Lord Jesus Christ or in some connection with Him. We find icons in which the Mother of God holds her divine Child. We find other icons where she stands alone, but then she intercedes for us before Him, or else she conveys to us blessing, grace, mercy or indeed at times warning in the name of her Son and her God and ours. So that it is not easy to speak of the feasts of the Mother of God as though they were completely independent from events of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And yet there are a certain number of features which are worth underlining. First of all, the expression which I use and I intend to use in speaking of Mary, the Mother of God, must be qualified. I have no better expression to define her in English. The Greek word Theotokos means nothing to English ears and it is simpler to use an English phrase and agree on its meaning than to use continuously a phrase that requires a re-translation not to an idiom but to a system of thought. We call her the Mother of God, obviously not in the sense that she is the Mother of the Godhead, but of the Son of God become the Son of Man. We call her the Mother of God because it is she who bore and brought into the world Him Who is God and Man also. She is the Mother of the child Jesus according to the flesh, but she also has brought into the world the divine Presence Incarnate. This being understood, we can continue to use this phrase which is more understandable than Theotokos, and certainly truer than the «Birthgiver», which is used in certain translations.
Now the connection between the Mother and the Son is not simply a connection, a link according to nature. And this, I believe, is extremely important to understand. We do not call her the Mother of God because she bore the Son of God according to the flesh. We call her the Mother of God in the greatest sense in which one can use this word. Her connection with her Son is unique, not only because she bore Him, but because in the economy of salvation, in the history of the world that brought about the Incarnation, she proved the one, and the only one who was capable of being the mother of Him who was to be born — capable through her faith, capable through her purity, capable through her personal holiness, through her surrender and the perfection of her obedience to the will of God.
I have already been taken to task once, at a more theological meeting than ours, for quoting non-theological sources, but I will repeat my sin again and quote to you the passage which I feel expresses very adequately — more adequately than my own words — what I want to say. Charles Williams in «All Hallows’ Eve» tries to mark the difference between the Incarnation of the Son of God from Mary and a sort of incarnation worked by a magician which is part of the plot. And speaking of Mary, he says: “When the time was fulfilled, a maiden of Israel proved capable of pronouncing the divine name ( and you know that in Hebrew tradition the name and the person, the essence, coincided) , proved capable of pronouncing the divine Name with all her mind, with all her heart, with all her will and with all her body, then the Word became flesh.” I think in this phrase he indicates something very important, not only a general attitude of surrender, not only a faith addressed to someone or to something which remains afar off, not only an obedience of passivity, but an active, whole-hearted commitment that involved her whole being, body and soul: one who, being offered, given to God with all her integrity, was made the vessel of the Incarnation, but more than this: not only simply the instrument of this Incarnation, the ‘Birthgiver’ of Christ, but the Mother, one who in spirit, in soul and body was at one with her divine Son as no one ever was. This is why she is singled out in this peculiar way by the catholic tradition (using the word ‘catholic’ with a small ‘c’ in a general sense), by the ancient tradition of the Church, and why she is venerated as the greatest of all creatures, not because she happened to be an instrument of the Incarnation, but because in her holiness she made herself capable of taking part in the mystery of the divine Incarnation on a par with God.
St Gregory Palamas in one of his sermons on the Assumption of the Mother of God says that the Incarnation would have been as impossible without the active, free, sovereign acceptance of the Mother as it would have been impossible without the will, the positive, sovereign, free and effectual will of God Himself. And here we touch on a point that I am not going to elaborate but which I feel we should think about a great deal: the fact that in our relationship with God, in the mystery of Salvation, in the fulfilment of our vocation, God and we are equals: our freedom, given us by God, makes us equals of God in the mystery of our own salvation and in the destiny of the world.
But if that is true, then there must be a very deep connection between the events of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ and the events of the life of the Mother of God. And here I do not mean simply the obvious parallelism there is between their lives as mother and child, but in terms of the economy, the mystery, the working out of the salvation of the world. From the very beginning to the very end, although the Mother remains almost all the time in the background, although her presence is almost imperceptible most of the time, although very few words of hers are kept in the Gospel, at decisive turning-points of the work of salvation she acts, she speaks, she is present — and supremely and actively present and active. The words which she spoke in the beginning, “Here I am the handmaid of God», are not words which were born of a situation and ended at that very moment: these are words which define and direct the totality of her life in unity with that of the Son of God become through her, in her, the Son of Man. The mystery of the Cross is present in her life not only as the tragic shadow of Christ’s cross falling upon her, but as an integral part of her own life.
And this we can easily see from a certain number of examples which I would like to underline now. First of all, on the day of the Annunciation, the perfect surrender of the Mother of God to the will divine, her perfect obedience to the will of God declared to her by the archangel, is an act by which she dies to herself, unites herself perfectly to the divine will and from then onwards will exist, live and act only within this will. Self-will has died; self-determination is freely surrendered; a perfect state of synergy, of co-operation in obedience has taken place. Obedience means listening, listening with all the intentness of which our mind and heart and body are capable — but not only listening: it means listening with the will, indeed the determination, to hear and to do whatever we hear.
When the Mother of God says «Here am I the handmaid of God, be it to me according to thy will”, she makes an act of perfect surrender active, free and sovereign, but an act which is the end of a life of an individual which can be opposed, contrasted with God, with the will of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is met when He comes into the world by two persons who have taken the same stand with regard to God and to themselves, have accepted to decrease that He may increase, to serve to the point of no longer existing otherwise than in the service and for the service of God. Both are there, perfectly surrendered, perfectly abandoned to God. St John the Baptist is called a «voice that shouts in the wilderness”. He is no longer perceived otherwise than a message that resounds through a man, he and the message are so identified that it is only the message that comes through. The Mother of God in her perfect transparency, in her
perfect and supple surrender to God, is no longer perceptible at times in the history of Salvation, although without her, things would never have happened. She is at one with the divine will in such a way that we perceive only the will of God and the action of God and we forget at times what it meant to be the perfect handmaid of the Almighty.
The first feast of the Mother of God which follows the Annunciation is one of the most tragic feasts of our calendar. It is the Presentation of the Lord to the temple. On that day the mother of a Hebrew child, the first-born male child of the family, was to bring her baby to the Temple to be presented to the Lord. Together with him a lamb was offered or, if the family was too poor, two doves. To us, reading St. Luke’s account of the event without any background, or so little background of the Old Testament roots, its historical roots, it was a moment of tragedy. If you try to find out the origin of this presentation, you will discover it in the Book of Exodus. When Moses had brought the Jews out of Egypt at the cost finally of the last plague, of the death of all the first-born of Egypt, children and animals, the Lord spoke to Moses and said to him that He had to inflict this appalling plague on His people of Egypt (because Egypt also was God’s creation and was also part of the love of God), that He had brought the Jews out of Egypt at that cost and that was done for the salvation of the world. But the Hebrews had not only to remember the event, but in memory of this event to bring the first-born male child of every family to Him, their God, as an offering and a sacrifice. It was a blood-offering. God claimed a right to the very life and blood of each of these children, and it was only by an act of mercy that He accepted instead of the child a pure lamb or two doves. But every child that was born could be claimed by God, every child that was brought to the Temple could become a blood-offering to God if God claimed him as such.
And it is against this background that the child Jesus was brought to the Temple. In all the centuries of Hebrew history God had accepted the vicarious offering, the animal blood of the lamb and of the doves, but when His Only-begotten Son, become the Son of Man, incarnate through Mary for the salvation of the world, was brought to the Temple, God gave her a prophetic warning that this time the sacrifice was accepted. The words were spoken by Simeon, who warned the Mother that a sword would pierce her heart. Once in history was the blood-offering accepted, but the blood was shed and the body was broken and the life was spent later, not at the moment when the child would have passively endured the ritual murder, but when the Child of Man, the Son of God, freely gave Himself for the salvation of men. The Crucifixion, the anguish of the Garden, the cry of dereliction are already there on the day of the Presentation of Jesus by his Mother to the Temple of Jerusalem. Here the mother is active: brings the child, she surrenders the child of her womb into the hands of God. She receives him back from God, to bring up, to prepare to be a perfect sacrifice to God, to make Him holy unto the Lord, capable of this final and perfect surrender. She receives Him to prepare Him for that very destiny. She is not taught more about it than the warning of Simeon holds. It is her free, continued obedience to God that will help her in the darkness of faith and in the light of faith, to bring up this child so that nothing but the divine will should count and that He should be ready for His own destiny.
We meet her again at the end of the Gospel story, or rather of the earthly ministry of Christ. She stands by the cross. We do not find in the Gospel any image of a fainting and despairing and clamouring mother. We find her silent and immobile at the foot of the Cross. Her pain is now the fulfilment of the prophetic promise of Simeon. Her anguish is its fulfilment, but she does not ask God that His will should not be done. She does not turn to those who are murdering her Son in protest and revolt, in rebellion. That would have separated her from the will of God and from the will of her own Son. What had been one throughout his life would now break into twain. She would no longer be the Mother who has no other will, no other life than that of her Son. She world have become an alien woman, separated, opposed to Him. This she does not do. She brings forth in a silent surrender the life, the torment, the death of her Only-begotten Son at one with Him and with the Father.
And throughout the Gospel story we see her as the Mother in that sense which I tried to define or to delineate, not simply as the Genetrix, but as the Mother. Not only as the Birthgiver but as one who is truly not only one flesh but one life with her Son. There are a certain number of passages of the Gospel which can be interpreted either in this particular way or in the opposite way. You remember that there is a passage in the Gospel according to St Mark when, having heard of what was happening around Christ, the Mother and the brothers of Christ, the sons of Joseph, came to call Him back home. And when Christ was told: “Thy Mother, thy Brothers are there, calling Thee”, He answered, “Who are my Mother and my brothers?” And looking round He said, «Whoever hears the Word of God and does it.” In another passage, in the Gospel according to St Luke, we find the same kind of phrase. “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee.” says a woman. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”
In these two passages one may take it that a contrast is drawn between the Mother of Jesus according to the flesh and the believers. I think it is a misinterpretation, because if we turn again to the Gospel, which finally is the safest ground for our investigations and for our thought, we find in the beginning of the Gospel according to St Luke two occurrences, one passage in which we are told that Mary was keeping all these words and events in her heart, and another passage in which are the inspired words of Elizabeth spoken by her when the Mother of God came to visit her, and Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, exclaimed: «Blessed is she that has believed, because it will be to her according to God’s word.» In both cases what is underlined is that the Mother of God is one who received every word, who let go of no significant event, kept them in her heart, pondering, wondering, believing perfectly, ready for whatever understanding God gave her, for whatever act of obedience God might claim from her.
And I have more than once drawn your attention to that passage in the Gospel according to St John, the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee, in which we can see the conversation of Christ with his Mother either as a complete non sequitur, as a sequence of unrelated phrases, or as a testing of the Mother until the perfection of her faith is both revealed and communicated to others. You remember that when the Mother of God saw that the feast was coming to an end for lack of wine, she turned to Christ and said, «They have no wine.” Was her concern really with a trivial miracle that would have multiplied the wine until the guests had drunk enough and too much, and until the feast of love would have degenerated into an ugly feast of drunkenness? When she spoke of the wine, she was pointing out that the feast was coming to an end while hearts were still athirst for joy. Fulfilment had not yet come, and yet it seemed that the feast was over.
In all the Biblical tradition, including the New Testament, the wine is an image of elation, of joy. You may remember what the people who heard the preaching of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost said about them, seeing their elation, hearing their words. They wondered how it was, and they exclaimed, «They cannot be drunk at this hour of the day. What has happened to them?” And Jesus turning to his Mother says words which often have been minimized, which people try to translate in a less offensive hurtful way. The Gospel is clear and sharp: “What have we in common Thou and I — who are we to one another? Why are you coming forth with this intercession? Mine hour has not come.” Does it not mean, can we not see it to mean legitimately that He is questioning the reason why this woman, Mary, His Mother according to the flesh, is interceding rather than anyone else. Does it mean by any chance: “I gave you birth, you are my son, throughout your younger days I cared for you and you were obedient to Joseph and to me. We are the closest according to the flesh in this feast. Is it not for me to draw your attention to a need and to ask you to act with the power that is yours?” If that is what the Mother means, then the hour of God has not come. They are still in the realm of relationships of the flesh, of nature. And the events of salvation, the miracles of God belong to the realm of grace, to the Kingdom of God already come with power, a Kingdom in which God is recognized as King, received as such, obeyed as such, enthroned and worshipped and loved. And the Mother of God does not answer a word to Jesus. She turns to the servants and she makes an act of perfect faith: “Whatever He tells you, do it.” And the moment she has made this act of perfect faith, not of self-assertion as the earthly mother of Jesus, but as she who has recognized in Him and knows Him to be her Lord and her God, then the time of God has come, the hour of God has come and the Kingdom has come. Within this Kingdom God acts freely, sovereignly, and the water becomes wine.
In these passages I believe we find once more what I tried to point out in the beginning: the unity of will based on faith and knowledge, on surrender and obedience that unite God and the Mother of God. When we pray to the Mother of God we do not ask her to use a would-be influence on her divine Son, to obtain from Him something He would not have done Himself. We do not oppose her will to His will. We turn to her because, as she is the mediator and intercessor par excellence in the sense in which she appears in Cana of Galilee so does she remain for ever. But when we pray to the Mother of God, asking her for mercy, for salvation, for help we must remember that we are asking her for something for which she has paid a heavy cost. Whenever we ask her to intercede for us, that our sins be forgiven, that health should be given to our souls and bodies, that life eternal should supercede and overcome death in us, are we not saying, “Mother, I am one of those because of whom your Son has died on the Cross. If you forgive, then we shall be forgiven.” And it is because of this mystery of the Cross in which the Mother and the Son are at one, that this prayer can be heard and fulfilled.