The Holy Theotokos’ virtues and the grace of God that purified Her to become the Mother of God, have placed Her higher than all the righteous and holy people and even the heavenly host. Her zeal towards prayer and pious activities, Her ever-virginal purity and chastity, Her faith in God’s promises, Her constant attentiveness to the paths of God’s Providence, Her devotion to God’s will, Her equable tolerance of difficult circumstances of life, Her unshakeable courage amid the greatest sorrows and tribulations, Her maternal concern and heartfelt warmth towards those around Her, and most of all – Her absolute humility: such are the moral perfections that were constantly manifested in Her, from childhood to dormition.
Saint Ambrose described the characteristics of the Holy Virgin during Her life on earth in the following words: She was a Virgin not only in body, but in spirit. Her heart was full of humility; She was divinely wise in words, never hasty in speech; always engaged in reading; energetic in work; chaste in discussion, as though She were always talking with God and not with people. She never offended anyone, but on the contrary – always wished everyone well; never scorned anyone, even the poorest beggar; never laughed at anyone; saw good in everything and everyone. From Her mouth issued only words of grace, while Her actions were full of modesty and chastity. Her external appearance showed inner perfection, expressing goodness and charity.”
Ancient tradition describes to us some of the traits of the Holy Virgin’s external appearance and character.
She was mostly silent: spoke little and only what was necessary, but listened very attentively to what others said to Her. She was courteous and polite in the way She treated people. She had light hair and a direct glance of olive-colored eyes under dark eyebrows. Her face was neither round, nor pointed, but oval. The fingers of Her hands were long and slender. Her clothes were simple and untreated, which is proven by Her veil, which remains with us to this day. Her every word breathed of grace. She worked constantly, but Her favorite pastime was reading. She never disdained anyone, but always tried to honor everyone and show Her respect. In other words, abundant grace shone forth divinely in all Her actions.
Both ancient and modern holy fathers of the Orthodox Church do not find sufficient words to glorify the Mother of God. Her service to the work of our salvation is so supreme, Her moral perfections are so great, Her nearness to the throne of the Lord God and Her maternal intercession before Her Son are so obvious, that the minds of theologians, trying to gather images for lauding the Heavenly Queen, are often dumbstruck with pious awe.
Saint Proclus, archbishop of Constantinople (5th century), enumerating the assembly of saints, honors the Holy Virgin with supreme laudations. “All the commemorations of saints, - he says, - are glorious. But nothing can be compared to the glory of the Mother of God. All the saints saw Christ only in images and visions, while She carried the Incarnate One in Her womb. There is nothing in the world that can compare with the Virgin Mary. O man! Pass your mind over all of creation and observe – can anything compare with or surpass the Holy Mother of God?
Pass over the earth, look at the sea, examine the air, penetrate the heavens with your mind, test all the invisible powers, and then tell me: is there a comparable miracle among all of creation? The heavens declare the glory of God; the angels serve God with awe; the archangels bow down before Him; the cherubim cannot stand to see the glory of God and are awestruck; the seraphim, flying around Him, dare not approach but cry out: holy, holy, holy is the Lord Sabaoth, the heavens and earth are filled with His glory; the waters were unable to withstand His voice (when He quieted the tempest on the sea of Galilee); the sun, unable to bear the humiliation of the Creator, eclipsed; hell spewed out its dead; the gates of hell crumbled at His sole gaze, - count, o man, all that is miraculous and be amazed at the supremacy of the Virgin. The One Whom all of creation glorifies with fear and awe, She has indescribably borne in Her womb.”
It is impossible to describe in words the ardent love for the Evervirgin that flames in the hearts of sincere believers. The enormous tribulations which the Holy Virgin suffered on earth for the incarnation of God and as the Mother of the persecuted Jesus; Her boundless faith and courage in the most indescribable and horrible trials that fell to Her lot, and most of all Her great mercy, concern for others and quick help for the suffering – all of this has forever bound Christian hearts in love and respect for Her.
Saint Dimitri of Rostov speaks of the Theotokos in the following immortal words: “If anyone were to ask me - what under the sun is mightier and stronger than all? - I would say: after our Lord Jesus Christ, there is nothing mightier and stronger on earth and in heaven than the Mother of God, the Evervirgin Mary. She in strong on earth – for She had crushed the head of the invisible serpent and has overcome the powers of hell. She is also strong in heaven – for the mighty and strong God She binds with Her prayers.
I am telling you, She binds with Her prayers the God Whom She formerly bound on earth with swaddling clothes, for when He, being wroth at us for our sins, wishes to suddenly punish us, - She stretches out Her pleading hands to Him and stays His vengeance, so that sinners would not perish.”
Looking at the holy icons for the Mother of God, our hearts are filled with gratitude and tenderness: in them we can see the boundless love of God for man and the ineffable mercy of our Saviour’s Mother to us, sinners. And is it not the duty of us, who have been brought up in the Orthodox Church, to honor the Ever-blessed Virgin, our All-merciful Intercessor, Helper in sorrows, Surety of sinners, Deliverer from misfortunes, Healer of spiritual and physical illnesses, the mollification of evil hearts? And is it not for us to appeal to Her in all sorrows and woes, when we see that all of mankind and all of earth are covered with the wondrous signs of Her charity? How can we keep quiet about the wondrous works of Her mercy to the mankind that is Her inheritance? How many times she Has delivered from danger and saved from enemies and calamities each one of us! In accordance with Her promise, the Mother of God has not left the world even in Her dormition: She appears everywhere as the Joy of all who sorrow, the Intercessor of all who are persecuted, the Defender of all the defenseless. Almost two thousand years have passed since Her grace-filled dormition, but the signs of Her powerful and merciful intercession for us, poor sinners, do not cease. She hears all of us, shows mercy towards all of us, does not leave anyone of us without help.
There are very many examples of the Mother of God’s great intercession on behalf of sinners. In a certain country there was a mighty and desperate brigand. Engaging all the roads and byways, he and his reckless band robbed, beat and killed all the wayfarers; however, even while being in such a damned state, he still had the good custom of saying daily prayers, especially the prayer to the Mother of God: “Rejoice, o Virgin Theotokos!”
Once a certain holy and clairvoyant man passed by that way. The brigands fell upon the holy man like wild beasts, seized him and took him to their chief. The holy man stood before the chief and said to him: “Listen, child, I wish to reveal a great secret to you and your fellows; for this purpose command all your subordinates to gather here.” The chief made a sign, and straightaway the entire band of brigands gathered together.
“Is everyone here, - asked the clairvoyant, looking over the band,- or is someone still absent?”
“One hasn’t come yet,” - replied the chief. “Well, call him too,” – said the elder. The last brigand was called in, but he scowled and shrugged his shoulders, and came to the chief unwillingly. As soon as he stepped over the threshold of their hut, he trembled all over, turned his face away from the clairvoyant, and showed with the movement of his hands that he dared not approach him. “I adjure you by the name of Jesus Christ, - cried the elder without taking his eyes away from this brigand (who served as the chief’s cook), - tell me, who are you and why are you here?”
“I am not a man, - cried out the latter, - but a demon, and have been appointed by my master Satan to watch over this chief, in order to, as soon as he leaves off his prayer to the Virgin Mary, strangle him and cart him off to hell… And it is now 14 years that I am serving him for that reason, and yet I cannot destroy him for the sole reason that every day, while committing robbery and murder, he still does not cease his earnest prayers before this icon (it was an icon of the Mother of God). The secret power of Mary does not give me the opportunity not only to destroy him, but to cause him the least harm.”
“Vanish, - commanded the holy man, - and never dare to approach those who appeal in prayer to our Mistress Theotokos!”
The demon vanished like smoke. The brigands, together with their chief, fell to the ground before the clairvoyant, and from that time, eschewing their marauding, they rectified their life, and sincerely and tearfully repented of their evil deeds before God.
Such is the power of prayer to the Mother of God.
And so should you, o Christian, appeal to the protection of the Queen of Heaven, and pray to Her ceaselessly: “Rejoice, o Virgin Theotokos!”… “O Holy Mother of God, save us!”… and She – the ever-merciful Mistress and Queen – will protect and defend you from all evil.
From “The Earthly Life of the Holy Mother of God”