One of the most terrible manifestations of our times is the complete distortion of the image of an ideal woman. The ideal image depicted for us by the mass media shows a sort of attractive witch, unashamedly half-naked, with loose and disheveled hair, impudent glance, business-like, energetic, fearless, unfettered by moral laws or conscience. In consequence, unfortunate young girls and women – mothers, wives, daughters, – striving to imitate this devilish image, corrupt their souls, ruin their families, hopelessly destroy their own and others’ lives.
Yet at the same time we – Orthodox Christians – always have before our eyes the image of the One Who was more beautiful and wondrous than all the people on earth and even all the celestial denizens, the cherubim and the seraphim, the One Whom the Pre-eternal Council chose to become the Mother of God. As St. Dimitry of Rostov says: “After Adam’s transgression the Word of God did not forthwith come down to earth to be incarnated and save fallen mankind,” because “there was not yet a single maiden on earth who was pure not only in body, but also in spirit.” Thus the Theotokos’s major characteristic is Her virginal purity.
Another characteristic of this greatest Handmaiden of God is Her humility. Of all the personages in the Gospel, there is no one about whom we know so little as the Holy Virgin; Her entire life is shrouded in mystery, and yet She was undoubtedly the spiritual center of the first Christian Church after Her Divine Son’s Ascension; however, under the cover of modesty, She preferred to remain in the shadows.
The third characteristic of the Holy Virgin, according to St. Dimitry of Rostov, was Her all-encompassing and boundless love for God, which is mentioned in the following spiritual song: “O Mother-Virgin, miracle of chastity! Thou art daughter of the heavenly Father, the bride of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of Christ – the Son of God.”
There was not a single one among the Holy Fathers who did not laud the Theotokos! Foretold and presaged by the Old Testament prophets, She is glorified by all the ancient and contemporary Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.
As St. Gregory of Neocaesaria says, what amazes us in the Holy Virgin is not only Her chaste and pure physical beauty, but above all the beauty of Her soul. She was holy both in body and soul. Her garments were modest, Her gait was dignified, Her speech was brief, pouring out of a humble heart; all Her thoughts and all Her desires were turned only towards God.
The Church historian Nikiforos Kallistos adds: in conversing with others She retained Her modesty, did not laugh immoderately, did not express indignation, did not argue, never thought of Herself, and was characterized by total humbleness.
More than anything else in the world She loved Her Son, loved Him so much that She was ready to die with Him, yet with what courage and firmness She accompanied Him when He went on His path of suffering, was present at Golgotha when He was being crucified, stood at His Cross and attended His burial. “She wears the crown of martyrs, – says Leo the Philosopher, – because as She stood at the Cross, with Her soul pierced by the greatest anguish, She suffered more than all the martyrs.”
She loved and respected Her family members, but also loved and welcomed all strangers. St. Ambrose of Milan says: “She never offended anyone, never denigrated anyone, even the poorest person. Her modest belongings, consisting of two robes, She gave away before Her death to the two widows who served Her.”
Each person’s death sums up his life and brings recompense from the Lord – either reward or punishment. The most-glorious Dormition of the Mother of God revealed Her in all Her majesty and glory. Three days before Her death the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, announced Her repose and gave Her a shining branch from paradise – symbol of victory over death and corruption. On the third day after Her Dormition, the Mother of God appeared to the apostles in indescribable glory, surrounded by a multitude of angels, and said: “Rejoice, I am with you forever.” The apostles, filled with joy, instead of saying their usual “O Lord Jesus Christ, help us!”, exclaimed: “O Holy Mother of God, help us!”
And thus all Christians pray to the Holy Mother of God to help them. Help us then, O Most Holy Theotokos, grant our children the enlightenment to see in Thee the purest and most beautiful example of behavior, save and protect them from the vices and temptations of these evil times!
Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 16, 2003..