St Gregory Palamas: Have You Shown Yourself to Be a Living Heaven?

Feast of the Apostle Jude, Brother of the Lord

Gregory_Palamas_Square_4.jpgIF A TREE is known by its fruit, and a good tree brings forth good fruit (cf. Mt. 7.17, Lk. 6.43-44), how could she who is the Mother of Goodness itself, who gave birth to that Beauty which has no beginning, not be incomparably more excellent and beautiful than anything good on earth and in heaven? The power who made all things fair, the co-sempiternal, express Image of the Father most high, wished in His ineffable love and compassion for mankind to put on our image, in order to recall our human nature, which had been dragged down into the inmost recesses of Hades, to renew it after it had grown old, and to raise it up beyond the heavenly humanity, and since it was necessary for Him to assume flesh that was ours, He also had to be carried in the womb and brought forth as we are, then nurtured after birth and brought up as was appropriate. Becoming like us in all respects for our sake, He found the Ever-Virgin, whom we extol and whose mysterious Entry into the Holy of Holies we celebrate today, to be a most suitable handmaid in every way, able to bestow on Him an undefiled nature from her own. God determined before all ages that she should be for the salvation and restoration of our race, and chose her from all mankind down through the ages, not simply from among ordinary folk, but from all the elect of every age, who were admired and renowned for their piety and understanding and who were both beneficial to all and well-pleasing to God in their ways, words and deeds. [. . .]

Note the starting-point of God’s election. The excellent Seth was chosen by God from among Adam’s children (cf. Gen. 4.25-5.8). By his orderly conduct, his control over his senses and his magnificent virtue, he showed himself to be a living heaven, and so he became one of God’s chosen (Lk. 3.38), from whom the Virgin would appear as a chariot of fire to bear God who transcends the heavens, to call men back to adoption as sons of the heavenly Father. [. . .]

Having begun with Adam’s sons, God’s selection according to His foreknowledge for the sake of the future Mother of God was accomplished down through the generations until it reached the king and prophet David, the successors to his throne and his descendants. When the time came for God’s choice to reach its culmination, Joachim and Anna, of the house and lineage of David, were picked out by Him. They were childless, but lived chastely together, and were more virtuous than all those who traced back their noble descent and character to David. With asceticism and prayer they begged God to deliver them from childlessness, and promised to dedicate to Him from infancy the child to be born to them. She who is now the Mother of God was promised and given to them by God as their daughter, that the girl with every virtue might be born of virtuous parents, the all-pure Maid of those who were exceptionally chaste, and that chastity, coming together with prayer and asceticism, might become as a result the mother of virginity, that virginity without corruption brought forth, according to the flesh, the one who, in respect of His divinity, was begotten before all ages of a virgin Father. O, the wings of that prayer! With what boldness it came before God! [. . .]

In this way, and for these reasons, she who was chosen from the elect of all ages, who was declared the Holy of Holies, whose body was purer and more divine than spirits cleansed by virtue, to such an extent that she was able to receive not just the form of divine words but the person of the only-begotten Word of the Father without beginning, was today justly consigned to the innermost hallowed sanctuary like God’s treasure. When the time came, this treasure was to be used to enrich and adorn both heaven and earth, as indeed came to pass. Thus and on this account the Lord glorified His Mother before she gave birth, as well as afterwards. As for us, understanding the salvation which was begun for us through her, may we render as much thanksgiving and praise as we can. In the Gospel it is written that a woman, having listened for a while to the Lord’s saving words, gratefully pronounced a blessing on His Mother and gave thanks, lifting up her voice and crying out to the Lord from the crowd, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked” (Lk. 11.27). As for us, we constantly have the words of eternal life in writing, and not just Christ’s sayings, but also His miracles and His sufferings, and the raising up of our human nature from the dead accomplished by these sufferings, the ascension of our human nature from earth to heaven and the everlasting life and irrevocable salvation promised to us as a result. So how can we do other than extol and bless without ceasing the Mother of the Bestower of salvation, the giver of life, celebrating her conception, her birth, and now her coming to dwell in the Holy of Holies?

—St Gregory Palamas, Homily Delivered on the Feast of the Entry of our Exceedingly Pure Lady, the Mother of God, into the Holy of Holies

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