St. Gregory Palamas – Sermon on the saving Nativity of our Most Blameless Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

21 September 2011

1. Actually, any time is convenient in order to make a beginning of the saving way of life; showing that, the great Paul said: “Behold, this is appropriate time, behold, this is the day of salvation. let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day” (Romans 13:11-13); not calling a certain single hour or day appropriate for salvation, but (he says that) after the appearance of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, any time is appropriate for it. For since, as with the rising of the material sun, there comes the time for bodily activity for people, as David said: “The sun shall rise, and man shall go unto his work and unto his labor until the evening” (Psalm 103:22,23); thus, when the Sun of Righteousness shone unto us in the flesh, after His appearance, any time is appropriate for the spiritual activity, the same Prophet manifesting it in another place, after he said about the coming of the master: “The Stone, which the builders rejected, the Same has become the head of the corner”, brought: “This is the day that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 117:22,24). Yet, under the material sun, which is as though interrupted by night, “man”, it is said, “shall go forth unto his labor until the evening”; the Sun of Righteousness, being unsetting, and according to the word of the Apostle, “possessing no variableness neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17), makes the appropriateness of the time for the spiritual activity uninterruptible.

2. However, if it is necessary to set apart one time more appropriate than other, as if, for example, there is a time for sowing and for gathering, time for planting and time for collecting of fruits, and time for any other thing, similarly, regarding the doing of good works you shall find that in relation to this also an hour is set up differently. Now is the fall season, and in it this month (September) holds a preferable place, it serves for us as the first month and beginning of the year, when the work of our salvation had its beginning, and we celebrate that today. Because, today we celebrate the first sacred feast and solemnity of our calling and recreation according to grace, a feast, with which all things new began to happen and things unchanging to replace those under the law, and spirit to replace letter, and truth to replace shadows.

3. Because, today a new World and wondrous Paradise opened today, Paradise, in Which the New Adam was incarnate and of Which He was born for the sake of reunification of the old and for the renewing of the entire world; the New Adam, Whom one cannot beguile, but Who Himself outwits the beguiler (devil) and gives freedom to them, who on account of being beguiled (by devil) committed themselves into the slavery of sin. Today on earth a striking Book is prepared, not with written words, but capable of bearing the Very Living Word; and the word not traveling through the air, but the Heavenly One; not one destined to perish, but saving from perdition those attending to It; not from the movement of human tongue, but pre eternally born of God the Father. Today the Animate and Not-made-with-hands Tabernacle of God and Noetic and Spiritual Arc, truly, of the “Bread of Life sent from the heavens” (John 6:32,33) to us, is seen. Today, as it is said in the Psalm: “Truth hath shown forth from the earth” (Psalm 84:11) – true Beauty of the human nobility, which was from the beginning, – “and righteousness hath looked down from heaven”, That Righteousness, Which drove out the very author of unrighteousness and the beginning of unrighteousness, as One unrighteously judged and righteously judging, One that bound the one strong in evil and had captured his vessels, and had melted them and shown them capable of containing in themselves the Divine righteousness; and thus, by faith in Him having made righteous the captives of sin, had received them for the eternal being with Itself; while the prince of evil, having bound him with unbreakable bonds, with deliver to eternal and dark fire. Today, “the Rod from the Root of Jesse” foretold in the prophecy (Isaiah 11:2), budded forth, from Which “a Flower shall come forth”; Flower, not subject to withering, but once again calling our nature – withered and thus deprived of unwithering place of pleasure – and raising it to blooming, and giving it eternal flowering, and raising it to heaven, and leading into paradise; Rod, with the help of Which the Great Shepherd directed the reasonable sheep to eternal pastures; Rod, having leaned upon Which, our nature, having set aside its most ancient decrepitude and weakness, easily climbs to heaven, leaving earth behind for those, who are bent down as ones with nothing to lean on.

4. Yet – what is this New World, wondrous Paradise, striking Book, Animate Tabernacle and Arc of God, Truth (that shown forth) from the earth, the praised Rod of Jesse? This before birth and after birth is the Ever-Virgin Maiden, Whose Nativity from barren parents we celebrate today. Joachim and Anna, living together and being blameless before God, however, on account of barrenness appeared to Israelites worthy of reproach. Since the hope of immortality was not yet, the continuation of the race seemed the most necessary affair. Yet now, when This Virgin born today, through the One Born of Her in virginity, gave us eternity, we have no necessity in offspring through the bearing of children. However, for the Israelites of that time many children appeared to be the highest virtue, and having no children seemed so great an evil, that even these Righteous ones, instead of being praised for virtue, were reviled for barrenness. Thus, these Righteous ones, being very much saddened on account of being reviled, and having recalled Abraham and Sarah and others, who experienced profound sadness on account of having no children, and then having brought to mind the mending, which served as healing in so great a sorrow, themselves decided to turn to God with prayer. Behold, the chaste Joachim goes into the desert and dwells there and undertakes a fast, sending up prayer to God, in order to become father; and he did not grow weak in prayer and didn’t leave the place, until he received the fulfillment of his request. Fellow-chaste Anna closes herself in a nearby large garden and here with a pain filled heart cries to the Lord: “Hear me, O God of my fathers, and bless me, as Thou didst bless the womb of Sarah.” And the Lord heard and blessed them and promised to fulfill their request, and He now brought His promise to fulfilment and gave them a Child, most wondrous of all that ever were, the Very Birth-giver of the Creator of all, Who deified the human race and made earth heaven, Who made the Son of God the Son of Man, made men the children of God, as the One, Who needlessly conceived in Herself and as the One, Who unspeakably gave birth to Him, Who out of not being created being and brought it into good being and does not allow it to fall into not being.

5. But what was the reason why She came forth from the barren womb? – In order to do away with the sorrow and the reviling of parents, and also to foreshadow the doing away of the sorrow and curse fallen upon the Forefathers of the human race, which would happen on her account. How could nature be so bold as to make common (for other children as well) the womb, in which was and from which came forth the Only One, Who had the Holy of Holies as Her home and Who became the Dwelling Place of the Creator of nature? Because, (in that case) why would there not appear before Her, or after Her the Virgin Mother and the Mother of God? – Yet, just as before Her and after Her no one dwelt in the Holy of Holies, so also in that mother’s womb there was no other fruit before, nor after Her. Since it was necessary that the Mother of God would also be Virgin, and from the line of David and in accordance with the time appointed for our salvation, and that time was drawing near and it was fit to prepare the Virgin, and at that time there was no one, who would be greater in virtue, other than this childless couple, there was no one more noble in genealogy and in manner among those descending from David, these childless ones were preferred to ones with many children; it were necessary for the all-virtuous Child to be born from the parents of many virtues, and for the All-Immaculate One to proceed from the very chaste ones, and chastity, which was accompanied by prayer and undertaking, received a fruit – to become the birth-giver of Virginity, and that Virginity, Which without corruption in the flesh gave birth the the One, Who before all ages as God was born of the virgin Father. Oh, the wings of that prayer! Oh, the boldness, which she obtained before God! Oh, these hearts, so blameless, to be able to raise such prayer, which preceded such things and reached such things!

6. And you, o, sacred gathering, hearers of my words, my reason endowed sheep and harvest in Christ, men and women, old together with the young, rich and poor, princes and subjects, and altogether all people and every age and every calling and skill and art, bring a gift to the Mother of God, a gift fit for the day of Her Nativity, namely: the doing of virtue and success in it! Let no one among you be barren and fruitless! No one be dry and incapable of receiving the spiritual seed, but on the contrary, let every one zealously receive the heavenly seed – the saving word – and cooperate in deed, in order to bring forth heavenly fruit pleasing to God! Let no one allow the beginning of virtuous deed to die down! Let no one show his faith in Christ only on his tongue, because “not everyone saying unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the heavenly kingdom”, says the Lord (Matthew 7:21), – “but the one doing the will of My Father, Who is in the heavens”; and – “no one, having put one’s hand on the plough, and looking back, is worthy of the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

7. Virgins and ones who gave the vows of the monastic life, and you, who do good to the virgin’s community, enter, and altogether, by the languor of repentance achieve a way for you to live the same life with it. Seek everything in God through the Virgin born now for our sake, Who in virginity in time gave birth in the flesh to Him, Who before all ages was born of the virginal Father; living solely for the one God born for Her and of Her, looking upon Him Alone, delighting in Him Alone, rejoicing in hope, showing control in sorrow, being obedient to mothers superiors, serving one another, taking care to keep mutual peace, being always in attention and prayer and contrition of soul, in psalms and chants and spiritual songs, being blameless and virgins in soul and in body and in all senses and thoughts, and always showing spiritual and virginal way of thinking and living in all things. Because in this way, as is said in a psalm, following after the Mother of God, you will be near Her and will enter the not-made-with-hands temple of the Heavenly King, into the bridal chamber of immortality, above the world and eternal.

8. And you, who are in marriage, do not give yourselves wholly to this world; because for your sake also This newly created truly otherworldly World, I mean the Mother of God, the Fruit of marriage, was revealed today. Abiding in old age, manifest a manner of thought respondent to old age, and do not be (immature) youths in your thoughts and words and deeds, thinking according to the flesh and living according to the flesh. Youths, imitate the wise and spiritual elders, honour such and obey such, and be not ignorant regarding what old age is “honourable” and in what way “youth is not deprived the dignity of honourable old age.” If you are in ignorance, ask the Most Wise Solomon, and you will hear: “Wisdom is grey hair unto men, and unpolluted life is old age” (Wisdom 4:9). Those, who obtained some excess in these worldly fleeting and temporal and easily transferring from ones to others goods, try to attain for yourselves eternal life by sharing them; “for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things, which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Those, who suffer need in the very necessary things, be rich in patience and thanking God, in order to be numbered by Him with the blessed poor, and you will inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Princes, “judge the righteous judgment” (Zacharias 7:9) and do not use power against your subjects; show to them not so much fair, as much fatherly attitude, remembering, that you are of one race with them and are fellow-slaves. And do not go against submission to the Church and her teaching: for they are the confirmation of the well-intended people. Subjects, consider it your duty before authorities to fulfill only things that are not impediments to the promised hope of the heavenly kingdom.

9. Altogether, at this time bring to the Virgin celebrated now the most beautiful and most natural to Her gift: your sanctification and blamelessness of body, obtained by temperance and prayer. Behold, all of you, how chastity and fast and contrite prayer, having come together, revealed Joachim and Anna parents of the Vessel of God, the Vessel so chosen, that (it was able) to bear not only the Divine name, as it later relates to Paul (Acts 9:15), but even Himself, Whose “name is wonderful” (Psalm 8:1). And if we also shall firmly hold on to other virtues and prayers, fervently and continually being in the church of God, we also shall obtain treasured for us purity of heart, containing and revealing God unto us (Matthew 5:8). Thus also Isaiah call it (purity of heart) and the inclination of soul toward God on its account, “the spirit of salvation obtained within the womb”, addressing God (with the following words): “For the sake of Thy fear, O Lord, we have received in the womb, and we have laboured with pain, and we have brought forth the spirit of Thy salvation, which we wrought upon the earth” (Isaiah 26:18). Do you see how the barren and childless souls come to have good children?

10. But to the words spoken the Prophet adds, saying: “We shall not fall, but they shall fall that live upon the earth”, i.e. those whirling around with earthly thoughts and passions. Thus, if we shall wish, brethren, to make heaven – not earth – our home, and not to fall upon the earth and the sin that crawls upon it, but shall desire ceaselessly to reach toward divine hight, let us fear God, turn away from evil, turn to Him through good works, let us try by temperance and prayer to remove from ourselves bad habits and change inner thoughts for good (more worthy things), and let us, in the words of the Prophet, labor with pain with the spirit of our salvation and give birth, having as a Helper the One, Who for the sake of her parents’ prayer and their manner of life pleasing to God, was given to them today; Who both changed the sorrow of Her parents into joy and removed the forefathers’ curse and stopped the pain of the First Mother, without pain having given birth to Christ, unto Whom is due all glory, honour and worship together with His Unoriginate Father and His Most Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Translated by Priest Viatcheslav Davidenko