St. Germanus I of Constantinople
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Germanus I of Constantinople (634-740) was the Patriarch of Constantinople from 715 to 730. According to the monk Theophanes the Confessor (760-818), Germanus was a son of Justinian, who was reportedly involved in the murder of Byzantine Emperor Constans II in order to enthrone Mezezius. Constantine IV, son of Constans II, defeated Mezezius and punished his supporters, executing Justinian in 668 and making Germanus a eunuch, who was then sent to a monastery.
Germanus took part in the 712 Council of Constantinople where decisions favored Monothelitism, abolishing the canons of the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681). In 715, Germanus was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. He organized a new council propagating Dyothelitism and anathematizing the various leaders of Monothelitism. The major issue of his term would, however, be the emerging heresy of Iconoclasm, propagated by Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Syrian. Germanus played an important role in defending the use of sacred images during the iconoclastic crisis of his day, suffering exile for his opposition to the emperor, who considered reverence for these images a form of idolatry. Pope Gregory II (term 715–731), praised Germanus’ “zeal and steadfastness”. Germanus was replaced as Patriarch by Anastasios, who was more willing to obey the emperor. Germanus retired to the residence of his family and died a few years later at an advanced age in 740.
Quotes & Excerpts:
“Hail, God’s holy throne, divine offering, house of glory,
all-beautiful ornament, and chosen jewel, and universal
propitiatory, the heaven that tells the glory of God,
dawn shining with light inaccessible.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, holier than the saints, higher than
the heavens, more glorious than the cherubim, more honorable
than the seraphim, more venerable and lofty than all creation;
in your glorious and splendid Presentation, you bring us the liberating olive branch of the spiritual Flood; Hail, dove:
you bring us the glad tidings of the birth of salvation . .
all-golden urn, you contain the sweètness of our souls,
Christ our manna.”
-Homily I on the Presentation 17-18 -Homily 3 on the Dormition
(Written 715 A.D.)
“May the Ever-Virgin
– radiant with divine light and full of grace –
Mediatrix first through her supernatural birth
and now because of the
intercession of her maternal assistance
-be crowned with never-ending blessings. . .
we should make our way honestly,
seeking balance and fittingness in all things,
as sons of light.”
-Homily for the Liberation of Constantinople 23
(Written in 717 A.D.)
“For, just as in your Son’s presence
you have a mother’s boldness and strength,
do you with your prayers and intercessions
save and rescue us from eternal punishment,
for we have been condemned by our sins
and do not dare even
to lift our eyes to heaven above.”
-Homily on the Cincture (Written ca. 700 A.D.)
“Her body, being human, was adapted and
conformed to the supreme life of immortality;
however, it remained whole and glorious,
gifted with perfect vitality and
not subject to the sleep of death, precisely
because it was not possible that the vessel that
had contained God, the living Temple of the
most holy Divinity of the Only-begotten,
should be held by a tomb made for the dead.”
-Homily I On the Dormition (Written 715 A.D.)
“Indeed, as a son looks for and desires
his own mother, and the mother delights
to live with her son, thus it was right that
you also, whose heart was full of
motherly love for your Son and God,
should return to him;
likewise it was altogether fitting that God,
who for his part had the kind of feelings of love
toward you that a son has for a mother,
should make you a sharer in his community of life.”
-Homily I On the Dormition (Written 715 A.D.)
Homily I -On the Most Venerable Dormition of the Holy Mother of God
ON THE MOST VENERABLE DORMITION OF THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD
By Our Holy Father Germanus, Archbishop of Constantinople
[1.] A debtor always sings the praises of his benefactor. One who has been saved is not ignorant of his savior’s protection.
And if one is not rich enough to offer a recompense in real terms, he knows he must at least present his patron with a verbal salutation. Therefore I, too, shall dare to speak out in your praise, O Mother of God, as one who has received marvelous gifts beyond explanation, beyond words or understanding. In my boldness and joy, I speak out to you what your own voice has proclaimed: look on the lowliness of your servant; exalt the mouth of this lowly one; fill me, as I eagerly hunger for words to praise you, with the riches of your good things, that as you guide the steps of my mind with your ready hand, I may not go astray in my praise of you, my mistress. For you rightly said that all generations of men and women would call you blessed–you, whom no one has ever worthily magnified; you, who are always full of compassion for the impulsive poverty, the limitations of spirit, of those who would praise you!?
What shall I say first, and how shall I continue? Shall I strike up the praises of your life among us in human flesh, or shall I celebrate the glory of your transferral in the Spirit, your falling asleep into life? Both are formidable tasks, each terrify-ing! But our sermon must eventually reach its conclusion by telling of your triumphs; setting forth, then, from today’s theme, let it now begin to praise you, O Mother of God, for your noble and glorious departure from our midst.
- ] When you moved on from the earthly realm, it is clear that you entered heaven; yet even before that, you had a share of heavenly things, nor did you leave our earth completely when you departed from us even when you took your place high above both the ranks of heaven and the creatures on earth.
For in truth you have become an ornament to heaven, O Mother of God, and a light for all the earth! You are an ornament to heaven, since as soon as the human race came to be, angels were appointed to watch over their life, to lead them on their way, to rule them and protect them in a heart full of unshakable faith in God. As scripture says, “You have established the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the angels of God” (Deut 32:8), and “the angel of the Lord is encamped around those who fear him, and will protect them” (Ps 33:8 [LXXI). But as wretched humanity began, in past times, to live in error and idolatry, and to contaminate the air with the aroma of sacrifices, the angels broke off their companionship with them for good, and God, in turn, took away from them his Holy Spirit. But when you gave birth, at the end of time, to the one who was “in the beginning,” the Word of God the Father (In 1:1), from that very moment of your labor the angels looked down from heaven and sang the praises of God, now born of you. Crying out that glory had been added to the heights of heaven, they also exclaimed that peace had at last come on earth (cf. Lk 2: 14), so that enmity could no longer be called a barrier between angels and human beings, heaven and earth; there was now a reign of harmony, one mutually complementary song of praise sung by both angels and human beings to the God who is one and three.
- ] The Father of the only-begotten Son, bearing witness to his bodily birth from you without a human father, cries to him, “Today I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7 [LXXI), and again,
“From the womb, before the morning star, I have begotten
you'” (Ps 109:3 [L XX).” O words so revealing of the mystery of God! If before he was begotten of you, his Virgin Mother, this was the only begotten Son of God, how does the Father
say to him,’
“Today I have begotten you”? Clearly the word
“today” does not mean that the existence of the Only-begotten’s divinity is something new, but it confirms his bodily presence among the human race. And the words, “I have begotten you,” reveal that the Holy Spirit, who shares the Father’s substance, is also in the Father- -the source of divine life and the sharer in his activity. For since the Spirit is not alien to the Father, but dwelt in you, Virgin and Mother, by the Father’s good pleasure and commission, the Father makes the activity of the all-holy Spirit his own. That is why, when the Father, along with the Spirit, inaugurates the coming-forth of his Son from you in bodily form, he says to the Son, “Today I have begotten you.” And the verse, “From the womb, before the morning star, I have begotten you,” has the same meaning for our faith: namely, it gives evidence both for the divine substance in the Son, eternally shared with that of the Father before all ages, and also for his taking on natural human flesh, not simply in appearance, from you, the ever-virgin, at the end of history. By
“the womb before the morning-star,” the Scrip-
ture refers to the birth of light which exists before the heavens, but which has now appeared on earth, in order to show that before all creation, visible and invisible, the Only-begotten was brought forth from the Father without beginning, as light is born of light; and “the womb” here signifies your own body, in order to show that the Only-begotten One also came forth from you in flesh. “Before the morning star” also refers to the night before that dawning; for day is fittingly referred to as “the morning star,” and since you brought forth light in the night “for those who sit in shadow” (cf. Lk 1:79), Scripture calls the hour of your childbearing “before the morning star.” “For
shepherds,” it says, “were dwelling in the same country, guarding their flocks by night.” (Lk 2:8)
[4.] This is the new glory that was bestowed on the citizens of heaven, O Mother of God, because of you. For if it had not been given to them anew, the angels would not have sung out, in praise of what was already glorious, “Glory in highest heavens,” at the moment when your ineffable childbirth came to its term. And what light is this that radiates on the inhabitants of the earth? It is that the human person is now made a full citizen of heaven, through your immaculate flesh, and shepherds now mingle with the angels. For the angels <now bend down towards the lowliness of this newborn child, while human beings> are lifted up towards the glorious dignity of God- -that is, they are made wise enough to recognize the common substance of Father and Son as something without beginning, a generation before all ages, but not a creation.
If, then, O holy Mother of God, heaven and–all the more earth find their beauty in you, how is it possible that you have deprived the human race of all sight of you by depart-ing? Far be it from us to think this! For just as when you led your life in this world, you were no stranger to heavenly ways, so now, after your passing there, you have not been removed in spirit from your associations with men and women. We see you now revealed as a heaven wide enough to hold God most high, in that your bosom was ready to bear him as your child, and we also call you his spiritual earth. As a result, we naturally suppose that when you lived in this world, you were God’s neighbor in every way, so now, though you have passed on from human contact, you have never abandoned those who live in the world. Nonetheless, we who are used to offering you faithful veneration continue to prattle on: why have we not been found worthy to encounter you in your body? That is why we call them three-times blessed, who had the privilege of see
ing you during the time of your presence on earth, since they could count the Mother of Life as their own contemporary. Yet just as you still walk with us, too, in a certain bodily way, so too the eyes of our souls are being led each day to see you more clearly.
[5.] For as you associated with our forebears in the flesh, so you dwell among us still in the spirit; your great role as our protector is the chief mark of your presence among us. All of us hear your voice, and all of our voices come to your attentive ears. You know us because you care for us, and we know your constant patronage and protection. For there is no barrier, not even that due to the division of soul and body, to the mutual recognition between yourself and your servants. You have never dismissed those whom you saved, nor abandoned those whom you gathered together; your spirit lives always, and your flesh did not undergo the corruption of the tomb. You watch over <us> all, O Mother of God, and your care is for all people; so that even if our eyes may be prevented from seeing you, all-holy one, you love to dwell in the midst of us all, and you show yourself in a variety of ways to those who are worthy of you. For the flesh does not stand in the way of the power and activity of your spirit; your spirit “blows where it will” (cf. Jn
3:8), since it is pure and immaterial, an incorrupt and spotless spirit, a companion of the Holy Spirit, the chosen one of God’s only-begotten. “You live in beauty,” as Scripture says (Cant
2:13 [LXXJ), and your virginal body is all holy, all pure, all the dwelling-place of God. As a result, it is also a stranger to all dissolution into dust. It has been changed, in its humanity, to the highest incorruptible life; it is preserved and supremely glorified. Its life ended, it remains unsleeping, since it was impossible for what was God’s vessel, the living temple of the all-holy godhead of the Only-begotten, to be conquered by the lethal confinement of a tomb.
16.] Truly–truly, I say again, and with thanks–you were not separated from the Christian people when you passed from us; you were not taken far off from this corruptible world, O life of our common incorruption, but you come close to those who call upon you, you are found by those who faithfully seek you. And these things are proof positive of living activity, of a constant spiritual presence, of a body free from decay.’ For how could fleshly decay turn you back into the dust of the earth, you who have redeemed humanity from death’s corruptive power through the Incarnation of your Son? You have moved on from our earthly life, in order that the awful mystery of God’s becoming human might be confirmed in more than mere appearance: in order that, as you are separated in this way from temporal things, we might come to believe that the God who was born of you came forth as a complete human be-ing, the son of a real mother who was subject to the laws of natural necessity, [and that this happened] at the command of God’s decree and subject to the temporal limitations of our life. You had a body just like one of us, and therefore you could not escape the event of death that is the common destiny of all human beings. In the same way, your Son, even though he is the God of all things, himself “tasted death” (Heb 2:9), as we do, in his flesh, because of the dying human being, if I may put it this way, formed by the whole of our race. Surely he has performed miracles both in his own life-giving tomb and in the life-giving sepulcher where you were laid to rest: both tombs really received bodies, yet neither of them was a workshop of decay. For it was impossible that you, the vessel which bore God, should be dissolved and decomposed into the dust of death. Since he who emptied himself into you was God from the beginning, and life eternal, the Mother of Life had to become a companion of life, had to experience death simply as a falling-aslcep; you had to undergo your passage from this
world as an awakening to your own reality as Mother of Life.
For as a child seeks and yearns for its own mother, and a mother loves to live with her child, it was fitting that you, in your motherly tenderness for your Son and God, should go to him; and it was certainly right that God, holding on to his filial love for you, his mother, should confirm his intimacy with you by making you a sharer in his life.
In this way, when you had suffered the death of your passing nature, your home was changed to the imperishable dwellings of eternity, where God dwells; and becoming yourself his permanent guest, Mother of God, you will not be separated from his company. For you became, in your body, the home where he came to rest, O Mother of God; and by your migra-tion, O woman worthy of all praise, he is himself now the place of your repose. “For this,” he says, “is my place of rest for the ages of ages” (Ps 131:14 [LXX]): referring to the flesh which Christ took from you and put on himself, O Mother of God–the very flesh with which he not only appeared in this world and received faith in return, but with which he will also come again in the age to come, and will appear among us to judge the living and the dead. Because you, then, are his eternal place of rest, he has taken you to himself in his incorrup-tion, wanting, one might say, to have you near to his words and near to his heart. So whatever you desire of him, he gives you with a son’s affection; and whatever you ask from him, he brings to fulfillment with a God’s power- -he who is blessed for all ages!
[7.] Let the ignorant, raving words of the heretics come to an end! Let their wicked lips be stopped! “Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad,” O Mother of God, and let those who rightly love to magnify your name “say always, “The Lord be magnified!'” (Ps 39:17 iLXXJ) For “the mouth” of Christians “will meditate on your righteousness” and your virginity, “and
all day long will praise” your holy childbirth (Ps 34:28 [LXXI). “The poor have seen,” through you, “the riches of God’s goodness”
” (Ps 68:33 [LXX]; Rom 2:4); they have seen it
and said, “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord” (Ps 32:5 [LXX). “Sinners have looked for God” through you, “and were saved” (Ps 33:3 [LXX]). And they said, “If the Lord had not come to our aid” by taking flesh from a virgin, “soon our lives would have ended” in Hades, which consumes all things in death (Ps 94:17 [LXX]). For your help is powerful to save us, O Mother of God, and needs no one else to bring our prayers to God. You are the mother of the life that is real and true. You are the yeast of Adam’s remaking; you are the one who liberates Eve from all shame. She was the mother of dust, and you of light; her womb harbored corruption, but yours incorruption.
She became death’s dwelling-place, but you release us from death. She made our eyes downcast, weighted towards the earth, but you are the unsleeping glory of eyes awake. Her children are grief, but your Son is joy for all ages. She, who was earth, came back to earth in the end; but you have given birth to life for us, and you have ascended to life, you are powerful enough to offer life, even after death, to your fellow men and women. We can never have too much of your protection, nor is there any hidden danger for humanity lurking, so to speak, in our sense of your passage into glory through that life-giving sleep. Your patronage, rather, is something living, your intercession gives life, and your protection is without end.
[8.] For if you had not gone before us, no one would ever become perfectly spiritual (TVEUMaTUKÓS), no one would worship God in the Spirit (Jn 4:24).
No one is filled with the
knowledge of God except through you, all-holy One; no one is saved but through you, Mother of God; no one is free of danger but through you, Virgin Mother; no one is redeemed but through you, Mother of God; no one ever receives mercy gra
tuitously except through you, who have received God. Who fights on behalf of sinners as much as you do? Who pleads on behalf of those who need correction, and takes their part, as much as you do? For every power that might come to our aid, fearing that the fig-tree of the parable (Lk 13:6ff) might in our case be cut down, hesitated to intercede for us with God, lest when sentence is passed on us for not bearing the promised fruit, his plea might appear to have been spurned. But you, whose power before God is that of a mother, win superabun-dant forgiveness for those whose sins exceed all bounds. For it is impossible you should be ignored, since God obeys you as his true and immaculate Mother in every way, always, and in all respects. So anyone who is in trouble rightly runs to you for refuge; anyone who is weak clings to you; anyone under attack takes you as his shield against the enemy. You put an end to
“anger and wrath and tribulation, and to assaults by the evil an-gels” (Ps 77:49 [LXX]). You turn away from us [God’s] just threat, and his verdict of a painful condemnation, because you love so greatly the people called by the name of your Son. That is why your Christian people, rightly recognizing its own situation, confidently puts into your hands the office of imploring God on its behalf. It unhesitatingly and boldly implores you, all-holy one, because of its past experience of the abundant blessings you have bestowed on us, and it constantly belabors you with petitions.
[9.] Who would not call you blessed (cf. Lk 1:48) because of all these things: your knowledge of God, beyond the understanding of the angels; your human fulfillment, unique among all your peers; your reputation with the Christian people; your much-sought-after role as refuge of sinners; your [memory],’° constantly in the mouths of Christians? For even if a Christian should be terrified, or if he should “strike his foot against a stone” (Ps 90:12 [LXX]), he calls out your name for help. If
some one, after all, should praise you without ceasing, he will not consider «that he is praising yous;”
he praises you, rather,
only if he sets out with the insatiable desire to do so, for it is impossible to sing your praise worthily. He longs to magnify you in every way by continually praising you, finding lin the endless praise] some consolation for his need. For when one who owes you much can repay you nothing, he multiplies his gratitude as you increase your gracious patronage. A supremely valuable gift, after all, which never comes to an end, continues to bring thanks to the benefactor, as it has from the beginning.
Who would not admire you for your unwavering care, your unchanging readiness to offer protection, your unsleeping inter-cession, your uninterrupted concern to save, your steady help, your unshakable patronage? [Who does not recognize you as] the unconquerable battlement, 12 the treasury of delight, the garden free from reproaches, the citadel of safety, the strong fortifi-cation, the mighty tower of help, the harbor of storm-tossed ships, calm for the distraught, a corrective for sinners, a new beginning for those despaired of, welcome for the exiled, return for the outcast, homecoming for the alienated, a good word for the condemned, a blessing for the purified, dew for the soul’s dry season, a drop of rain for the parched grass? “For our bones,” as Scripture says,
“will blossom like the grass, because
of you.” (Is 66:14 [LXXJ) You are mother of the lamb who is the shepherd, the recognized patron of all the good. All your qualities are remarkable,’
“true, and righteous altogether, all are
desirable things, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. For we, your servants desire them, and in desiring them we find a great reward.” (Ps 18:10-12 [LXX]) “Who shall understand your mercies?” (Ps 106:43 [LXX])
[10.] But it is enough praise, O most admirable one, if we simply admit that we have not the resources to praise all your
gifis. You have received from God your exalted position, as a cause for triumph; therefore you have formed for him a Christian people from your own flesh, and you have shaped those of a race like your own to be conformed to his divine image and likeness. “For this reason, may your name be blessed for all the ages!” (Ps 71:17 [LXX) Your light outshines the sun, your honor is above that of all creation, your excellence before that of the angels. “You are higher than heaven” (Job 11:8), and wider than the heaven of heavens even than that seventh heaven, which a certain holy man, on the basis of Scripture, distinguishes from it.
13 You are greater than the eighth heaven,
and than any other heaven beyond it. You are blessed for generations of generations, and “in you all the tribes of the earth will be blessed” (see Gen 12:3; 18:18; etc.). For there is no place where you are not called blessed, no tribe from which fruit has not been borne for God from you. Even the peoples of this world who have not known you will themselves call you blessed, O Virgin, at “an acceptable time” (Is 49:8; cf. 2 Cor
6:2). For when he who was born of you shall come “to judge the world in justice” (Ps 97:9 [LXX]), “they will see and will beat their breasts” (Zach 12:10 (LXX]) who have not already wished to confess you, in good faith, as Mother of God. Then at last they will know of what a treasure they have deprived themselves, through their own evil will.
To us Christians, then, who reverence you in our Christian faith, show the mercy of your unchanging patronage. We rightly consider your falling asleep as [entry into] life, O Mother of God, and we believe you dwell with us still in the spirit. For in times of tribulation you are near, and we find safety in seeking your help; and when it is time to rejoice, you are joy’s sponsor. Whenever we find ourselves completely under your maternal care, we cannot help believing that you live among us. Just as the thirsty person hastens to the spring, every
faith-filled heart runs towards you, burning to fill himself with your gracious help. And again, just as a breath of air fills a person’s nostrils with life, so the breath of every right-believing Christian bears you on his lips. For we do not draw life from breathing the air to the same degree that we draw safety from the protection of your name; so the text of Scripture is fulfilled in Christ and in you, which says, “You are the breath of our nostrils; we shall live in your protection, and in breathing you.” (Lam 4:20 [Lyx114*
[11.] For what race of human beings, except Christians, has been blessed with such glory or is privileged with such a reputation? The angels luxuriate in their heavenly dwellings, but we rejoice to take our leisure in your holy temples.’
15 For if
the temple of Solomon once represented heaven in an earthly image, will not the temples built in honor of you, who became the living temple of Christ, all the more justly be celebrated as heavens on earth? The stars speak out with tongues of flame in the heavenly firmament; and the material colors of your icons, O Mother of God, dazzle us with the representation of your gifts. The sun and the moon illumine one pole of the sky above and around us; but every house, every city and region, shines with your light, which comes from the light of the Son you bore. For this reason, blessed is the human creature: though a sinner, he has been found to be bound to you by natural ties and to share through you in the nature of God. He is truly
“blessed,” and it is well with him-or rather, “it shall be well” (Ps 127:2 [LXX1). For you will not abandon those who have been found worthy to enjoy your help until the end.
Far be death from you, Mother of God, for you have brought life to the human race. Far be the grave from you, since you have been made the divine foundation of ineffable exaltation. Far be dust from you, for you are a new creation, since you are now the mistress of those who have decayed into
their elementary clay. So we confess, in our faith, that we have you with us as a companion on our journey. For if we did not find consolation in this thought, our spirit would faint in longing for you. “We know by faith that the heavens were formed,” as Scripture tells us (Heb 11:3; cf. Gen 1:1); so, too, we believe that we can gaze on you in our midst as our companion, even after your departure from the body. For it is not such torture to the soul to be separated from the flesh as it would be to be deprived of you, O wholly immaculate one. Thus, as it is written,
“Even if your body is asleep, your heart is waking.” (Cant 5:2 [LXXJ; and even if you accepted, as due to your human na-ture, the inevitable fate of death, your eye that watches over us
“neither sleeps nor slumbers” (Ps 120:4 [LXX]).
[12.] Your passing from this world was not without wit-nesses, nor was your falling asleep a deception. “Heaven tells the glory” (Ps 19:1 [LXX]) of those who then were suddenly brought together on your account; earth guarantees the truth about them, the clouds cry out the honor paid you by them, and the angels proclaim the rich gifts that were then bestowed on you. I am referring to the way that the apostles gathered in Jerusalem at your side, just as the prophet Habakkuk was taken up from the mountainous country and brought, in one hour, by an angel’s hand through the clouds, to stand in the pit with Daniel in Persian Babylon (Bel and the Dragon [Dan 12,
‘But just as a drop of water adds nothing when
it is cast into the sea, and as a purse given to a poor man does not empty a rich man’s treasury, so no one is able to proclaim in human words the exalted beauty and greatness that should make up your praises. You have your own proper praise within yourself, in that you were designated Mother of God. You did not inherit the title, “Mother of God,” simply because we
“heard this with our own ears” in the explanation of Scripture, and nothing more; nor was it simply that “our fathers pro
claimed this to us” in a tradition of utter truthfulness (Ps 43:2 [LXXI. Rather, the work you have accomplished in us confirms that your are Mother of God in very fact, literally and without deceit, not by some verbal self-indulgence but in the way of true faith. For this reason, it was truly fitting that your body, which had been the dwelling of God, should not be bound within the limits of death’s mortal decay. Your tomb had [first] to receive the material proper to it, since that material was human; then, while you passed, at life’s conclusion, from your own life here to that of heaven, your tomb was revealed now as empty of your flesh, while your spirit was found to be inseparable from human company, thanks to the unseen activity of Christ our God, whom you, as a virgin, brought forth into the world. To him be glory for all ages!
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Homily II -On the Most Venerable Dormition of the Holy Mother of God
AN ENCOMIUM ON THE HOLY AND VENERABLE DORMITION OF OUR MOST GLORIOUS LADY, THE MOTHER OF GOD AND EVER-VIRGIN MARY
By Our Father St. Germanus, Archbishop of Constantinople
. “A good, upright reputation puts flesh on the bones,” we read in Scripture (Prov 15:30). And the story of the bodily sleep of the Mother of Life, Mary ever virgin- of her who is the divine breath, the fragrance of the supremely holy flesh of Christ–brings a blessing to those who call that flesh blessed.
For when her human bones were once transformed, by the mercy of God, in the depths of the earth, the immaculate body of the Mother of God again put flesh on them, though they had become hard and shrivelled in decay,? indeed, they grew “softer than oil” (Ps 54:22 [LXX]) in their incorruptibility, because of the resurrection of him who was born of her. Let us, then, recall a little of her passage into glory, which is always worthy of memory; for hearing a story such as this is truly a source of joy.
When Christ, our God, wished to bring his Mother, the bearer of life, to himself, he indicated to her again, through an angel with whom she was familiar, that the time of her falling asleep was at hand, so that death should not come upon her suddenly, as it does for the rest of humanity, or cause disturbance in her as she parted from this life. Normally, the separation of body from soul depresses the spirit, even in the greatest men and women. In order, then, that she should not also be disturbed by the natural characteristics of her flesh in depart
ing this life unexpectedly, without foreseeing her own end-she who had borne as her child the God who knows all things–an angel was sent to her to comfort and strengthen her, with these words from Christ himself:
[2.] “It is time, my Mother,” says the Lord, “to take you to myself. Just as you have filled the earth and all who dwell in it with joy, O you who enjoy such grace, come, make the heavens joyful once again.
.? Make my Father’s dwelling-place ra-
diant; be a spiritual guide for the souls of the saints. For when they see your glorious passage here to my side, escorted by an-gels, they will be convinced in their faith that their own place, too, through you, will be to dwell here in my light.”
then, in exultation; rejoice now, as you rejoiced at the angel’s greeting. In every way you now have the dignity of your title,
“full of grace.’ As when you were about to conceive me you were invited to rejoice, so rejoice again in my desire to take you to myself. Do not be disturbed at leaving behind the corruptible world, with all its desires. Forget about its power of corruption. For you will not leave those who live in the world bereft of your protection; but just as I, who am not of the world, watch over those who live in it and take care of them, so your patronage will not be taken away from those who live in the world, until its consummation.
“The extravagant demands of the flesh will no longer disturb you. You are ascending to a fuller life, to joyful rest, to unconquerable peace, to an existence untroubled by cares, to delights free of passion, to permanent freedom from distrac-tion, to unending enjoyment, to a light that never fades, to a day without evening -to me, the creator of all that is, including you. Where I am, there is eternal life, incomparable joy, a dwelling-place without parallel, an indestructible city. Where I am, then, you will be also: a mother inseparably one with her undivided Son.
Where God is, there is all goodness of heart,
all delight, all brilliance. No one who knows my glory wants to abandon it. No one who comes to my rest seeks again the things of the corruptible world. Ask Peter if there was any comparison or likeness between the world and Mount Tabor, when he gazed for a short time there on my glory.
“When you lived in the world of corruptible things, I revealed my power to you in visions; now that you are passing from that life, I will show myself to you face to face. Give the earth what belongs to it, without anxiety. Your body belongs to me, and since the ends of the earth are in my hand, no one can take anything from me. Entrust your body to me, just as I placed my divinity trustingly in your womb. Your soul, full of divine power, will see the glory of my Father. Your immaculate body will see the glory of his only Son. Your pure spirit will see the glory of the all-holy Spirit.
[3.1 “Death shall make no boast at your expense, for you have given birth to life. You are my vessel; the mortal cracks caused by the fall shall not break you apart. The overshadowing gloom shall not rob you of sight. Come eagerly to the one whom you brought into the world. I want to make you happy, as a son should do to pay you the pension due a mother’s womb, to recompense you for feeding me milk, to reward you for your nurture, to give your maternal love its full return. You begot me, Mother, as your only Son; now make the choice to come and live with me, for I know your heart is not divided by love for another child. I revealed you as my virgin mother; now I will make you a mother who rejoices in her Son. I will show the world now to be your debtor, and when you come to me I will glorify your name still more. I shall build you into the wall of the universe, into a bridge for those who are awash in the waves, an ark of salvation, a staff for the disabled, an advocate for sinners, a ladder to heaven strong enough to bear the weight of all humanity as it climbs.
“Come, then, with joy! Open up Paradise, which your ancestor Eve, your natural sister, had locked. Enter into the joy of your Son. Let go of the Jerusalem that is below, and hasten up to the heavenly city; for the Jerusalem below, ‘lamentation will soon be multiplied,’ as Scripture has it, ‘like the lamentation for the pomegranate grove cut down in the plain’ (Zach
12:11 [LXXJ. Lie down to rest, if only in appearance, in Gethsemane, the place of your tomb. I will not leave you alone there for long. I will come to you very quickly, when you have been buried in the sepulchre-not to dwell in you again by being conceived, as once I was, but rather to take you now to dwell with me. Rest your body confidently in Gethsemane, as once I rested my knees there in human prayer, before my pas-sion. I gave you an image of your own death, bending on that very ground the knees I took from your body. As I came forth willingly, then, after that prostration, to a death on the cross that was the source of life, you, too, will pass immediately into life when your remains have been laid in the earth.
“Behold, my disciples are coming to receive you; they, my spiritual sons who are filled with my light, will bury you in all reverence and piety. I have bestowed on them the grace of adoption as sons, as you yourself can testify (see Jn 19:26f).
So when you are laid by them in the tomb, consider that it is my hands which are caring for you; for it is not fitting that you should be laid to rest by anyone else but my apostles, in whom the Holy Spirit makes his home and who represent my own person. Only they can do honor to your passing, O all-immaculate one!”
[4.] When she heard this message, the Mother of God rejoiced greatly, taking but little account of this passing human life; lighting great lamps throughout her house, she invited her relatives and neighbors, swept her room and decked her bed with flowers, as if it were all a virgin’s bridal-chamber-that
bed which until then she had flooded every night with prayerful tears, in her longing for Christ her Son. “On my bed,” as Scripture says, “I have sought him whom my soul loves.” (Cant 3:1 [LXX1) Eagerly, she prepared all that was needed for her departure. She announced she was about to pass on, made public what had been revealed to her by the angel. And she showed everyone the baton that had been given to her: a palm branch,’ the symbol of victory over death and the token of un-fading life. This was to assure her, at her moment of departure, that she would utterly overcome decay, just as Christ, whom she brought forth into the world, had triumphed over the realm of death. It was the same kind of palm branch that the devout young Hebrews waved in acclamation for Christ, when he approached his passion as one who would be victorious over death, crying “Hosanna in the highest!”-that is,
you who dwell on high!” for “Hosanna,” in Hebrew means
“Save us.” Just as palm branches then indicated, by a symbolic figure, that Christ’s death would be a victory, so this baton of palm, given to the Mother of God, was meant as an assurance of victory over mortal decay.
[5.1 The women who had been invited began to weep; those gathered around her wailed in lament, flooding the house, so to speak, with rivers of tears. They begged her not to leave them alone. But she said, “Let the will of my Son, my God, be accomplished in me. “For he is my God, and I will praise him; my Father’s God, and I will exalt him.’ (Ex 15:2) He became my Son in the flesh, but he is himself Father and Creator and God to his own Mother. If you, then, who are parents of mortal children, through a sordid kind of union, cannot bear to be separated from them for an instant, how shall I, who have borne God the Son, not be overcome even more than you by maternal affection? For I offered him a womb that was whole, conceived him as a pure virgin, without help of a hus
band. You are consoled by each other for the loss of your chil-dren; but since I have been privileged to have this Christ as both my God and my only son, how can I fail to rejoice at going to him, who lives forever and gives life to all?”
16.] When she had said this, there was suddenly a mighty clap of thunder, and a rush of wind from a cloud that hung low over the earth; like drops of rain, the disciples of Christ appeared from its midst, gathered together to stand as one before the Virgin’s house. When they saw her, they bowed before her reverently, and after learning the reason for their arrival from her, they spoke as follows: “For the very reason that we have you as our neighbor in the the city of this world, O Mother of God, and that we are encouraged by the sight of you as if we were gazing on Christ himself, we must reflect deeply on your departure. But since you have been summoned to go on to God_-partly by divine power, partly through a Son’s human affection for his mother–we rejoice at what is fittingly being done for you, and at what will surely turn out for all our good.
For in you we, too, receive a promise of eternal life, and we will have in you a mediator with God. It is not appropriate, after all, that the Mother of God should go on living in the midst of ‘a crooked and perverse generation’ (Phil 2:15); you should move on to the tents of heaven, to incorruptible dwellings.” All the while they said this, they wept inconsolably. But she said to them, “Greetings, spiritual sons of my son! Remember his words, how he ordered us at the time of his passion not to turn the world’s joy into mourning (In 16:20); today, as I take my departure to him, do not turn my delight into sadness. All of you must lay my body to rest, just as I arrange it on my bed. For I will seem to be buried by the very hands of my Son, if I am reverently laid to rest by you who are his disciples.”
[7.] As she was saying this, the apostle Paul arrived, summoned from afar by the news. He knocked at the door of the
house, and the master of the house, John the Aposile, opened for him with joy; a virgin himself, he had “received” the Vir gin “into his houschold” (In 19:27) from the houschold of Christ, as if she were his mother. The apostles saw Paul and took heart, and made him sit in a raised seat of honor. The Virgin received him with joy, and Paul threw himself at her feet, feet that once supported God; when he learned why he, too, had been brought there, he opened his mouth- ever ready to teach–with a great and tearful cry, and praised the Virgin lav-ishly. These are a few of the things he said:
“Hail, Mother of life, the content of my preaching! Hail, fulness of my consolation! For even if I have not seen Christ in the flesh, by seeing you in bodily form I am persuaded that I see Christ, since you gave the bodiless one that body in which he clothed himself. I have fulfilled my longing to see Christ by looking at your face. Until yesterday, I have preached to the Gentiles that you have given birth to God in the flesh; from now on, I shall also teach that you have been allowed to pass over into his presence, so that the Gentiles may realize that their own salvation is confirmed by your intercession, so that they, too, might have a permanent patron before God.”
[8.] After Paul had said many other things- so far as we can ascertain–by way of offering praise to the Mother of God, the Virgin took her leave of them all. She lay back on the pallet which she had herself arranged, composed her immaculate body as she wished, and gave up her spirit as if she were falling asleep. Or I should say, she left her flesh behind while fully awake, departing from it in a way free of all corruption.
And when she had entrusted her blameless spirit, in the hearing of all, to Christ, her God and her own bodily Son, Peter urged his fellow chief apostle Paul to formulate the customary prayer over the Virgin’s remains. But Paul declined, saying it was fitting for Peter, as chief shepherd, to do this. Peter en
couraged him, yielding modestly to Paul with the excuse that he was weary from the heavy burden of his preaching; but Paul was not at all to be persuaded, insisting that Christ had conferred a leadership on Peter that could not be set aside for new arrangements. So Peter spoke the prayer; the rest of the apostles lifted the bier onto their shoulders, and with hymns and lighted lamps they reverently and solemnly carried the Virgin’s body out to its tomb.
[9.] An uncountable throng joined in the funeral of the Mother of Life. They were at her sudden passing, and they also marvelled at the Apostles’ arrival, through the air, from distant parts of the world. For the report went out about them in all Je-rusalem, that a thunderstorm had overshadowed the city a moment before, and that a whirlwind had brought them there like drops of rain, falling before the Virgin’s house. A certain foolish member of the unbelieving Jewish people-for they are a
“vanity of vanities” (Eccl 1:2), always giving offense and always ready for a quarrelsome argument- -reached out his lawless hand (for Scripture says,’
“In these hands there is always
iniquity” [Ps 25:2 (LXX)]), and shook the pallet that served as her bier, daring to molest the body of the immaculate one and not fearing even to throw to the ground the fleshly throne of the Most High. Immediately his hands were cut off, and he became a dreadful example to the Jews, who are always so aggressive against Christ. Her body was now near the sarcopha-gus. The Apostles shrank back, in godly reverence and fear, from touching the Virgin’s body. And this hesitation the disciples showed about touching her body was praiseworthy: they knew how much honor it deserved, since the pure one’s body was God’s vessel. But the faithful people tried to take from her some part of her burial wrappings, to bring them a blessing. No one, however, laid hands directly on her, since they had before their very eyes the example of the Jew who had acted so rashly.
But at the common decision and urging of the Apostles, Peter and Paul picked up the ends of the shroud that hung down loosely on either side of the bier, and by handling only the shroud, and not attempting to touch her body with their hands, the worthy and reverent Apostles placed her body in the tomb.
So through their longing for God these two men revealed their reverence for him, exalted like the heavenly hills by their very humility. In their self-effacing service, they won honor for themselves, and in their love for Christ they earned distinction.
For they showed reverence then to the Son through his Mother, and to the Mother–in an outstanding degree because of the Son; because God had become flesh, they showed genuine honor to his Mother, the one who endowed him with that flesh. And it was from their hands, as all looked on, that the Virgin’s pure body was taken away.
Who took it, no one
could see_-for God is invisible! But the shroud was then gently taken up into the air from the Apostles’ hands in a light cloud–in what the words of the prophet had spoken of, in a fleshly sense, as a “light cloud” (Is 19:1) and disappeared.
[10.] The disciples realized that Christ had come, with his angels, to meet his Mother, and trusting that she had been taken to heaven by him, they glorified God with joyful voices, speaking to the people in these words: “People of Israel, you should now know what has been revealed to all of you concerning Mary, the fleshly Mother of Christ: that having been carried dead, by us and by you, to her tomb here, she has been lifted up out of our hands. Let no one show himself slow to believe what has happened in our midst. Let no one falsely accuse us of stealing her body, too, as they did for the body of Christ! But if anyone should hear such an accusation from the governor or from your priests, pay attention to the truth, not to lies. Be witnesses of what you have seen! Go forth from this tomb today yourselves, as new, fleshly messengers of heaven.
Give your tongues wings to proclaim the truth. Say for your-selves, ‘Behold, here is the place where the Virgin was buried.
Mary, the Mother of Life, has been taken up to heaven.
Look-here is the shroud without the one who was wrapped in it, lacking its burden; it once was wrapped around her as a lifeless corpse, and now it yearns to be a carpet for her in her new life. You, too, must become the ‘myrth-bearing women’ for the one who has gone to heaven.! Run, tell of her passage from the tomb that enclosed life!
“Blessed are you, too, region of Gethsemane! You are renowned because of the Garden of Joseph (of Arimathea), which is near; there Peter and John ran to find the burial cloth and napkin, and believed that Christ is risen.”
In you, Gethes-
mane, all of us have seen the ever-virgin Mary buried in her tomb and taken up to heaven–we disciples, and also this crowd, which gathered in such numbers for her funeral. She was taken from our view here, beyond any dispute, before her tomb was sealed with a stone, so that no one might find an easy opportunity, in the absence of seals and guards, to convince unbelievers of a theft. But see: with hymns of praise she was brought to this tomb, and then left the tomb empty; now she fills paradise with her glory, and she shares the refreshment of the life of heaven. Now she lives on, as a participant in the delights of God.” These were the words of the Apostles about the Mother of God.
[11.] But I, too, have gone far enough, my immaculate Lady, in this rash torrent of words; an age, after all, would not be enough time for those who dare to speak your praises! Here, then, I bring my hymn to a close. Remember your Christian servants; present the prayers and the hopes of us all [to the Lord]. Confirm our faith, unite the Churches, give victory to the Empire and fight with our army: 12 give peace to the world, save us all from danger and trials, and beg that for each of us
the day of judgment may not be a day of condemnation. To whom else shall we go? You have the words of life In
6:68)the petitions you make to God on our behalf. For you are the one who has always done great things among us, and who never ceases to do them; holy is your name (see Lk 1:49), 13 which is blessed by angels and human beings from generation to generation (ibid. 48, 50), now and to the ages of ages.
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