Fr. Thomas Hopko: Are You an Abode of Heaven Like Mary?

Feast of the Entrance of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple

IN THE Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is the image of those who are being saved. If Jesus Christ is the Savior, Mary is, par excellence, the image of the saved. She is, in every aspect of her life, as Father Alexander Schmemann so often said, not the great exception, but rather the great example. From her conception to her dormition, that is, her true and real death, she shows how all people must be when they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit as servants of God and imitators of Christ.

In the festival of the entrance of Mary into the temple we have seen how Christ’s mother is continuously hymned as the “living temple of the holy glory of Christ our God.” She is praised as the “living ark which contained the Word which cannot be contained.” She is glorified as “the temple that is to hold God,” consecrated by the Spirit to be the “dwelling place of the Almighty.” She enters the Holy of Holies to become herself the “animated Holy of Holies,” the one in whom Christ is formed, thereby making her, and everyone who is one with her in faith, the “abode of heaven.”

O Most-holy One, honored far above the heavens,
You are both temple and palace,
You are dedicated in the temple of God
To be prepared as the divine dwelling place of His coming.

Let us praise the glorious entrance of the Theotokos in songs,
For today she is prophetically offered in the temple as a precious gift,
Being herself the temple of God (Festal Matins).

We are all made to be living temples of God. We are all created to be dwelling places of His glory. We are all fashioned in His image and likeness to be abodes of His presence. The first Christian martyr, the protodeacon Stephen whose memory is celebrated on the third day of Christmas, was killed for proclaiming this marvel when he bore witness that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands.” For this, like Jesus Himself, he was accused of planning the destruction of the earthly temple at Jerusalem (Acts 7.48; 6.14). The apostle Paul proclaims this same doctrine clearly and without equivocation when he writes to the Corinthians and to us that “we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3.9).

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy Him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are (1 Cor. 3.16-17).

This same teaching is found in the apostle’s letter to the Ephesians as the confirmation of the words of Jesus recorded in St. John’s gospel, that “if a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn. 14.23).

…for through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2.18-22).

~Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha

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