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In Praise of the Virgin

In Praise of the Virgin - St Shenouda Monastery Pimonakhos Articles

Tremendous, verily, is the mystery connected with thee, O virgin mother, thou spiritual throne, glorified and made worthy of God. Thou hast brought forth, before the eyes of those in heaven and earth, a pre-eminent wonder. And it is a proof of this, and an irrefragable argument, that at the novelty of thy supernatural child-bearing, the angels sang on earth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men,” by their threefold song bringing in a threefold holiness. Blessed art thou among the generations of women, O thou of God most blessed, for by thee the earth has been filled with that divine glory of God; as in the Psalms it is sung: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, and the whole earth shall be filled with His glory. Amen. Amen.” And the posts of the door, says the prophet, moved at the voice of him that cried, by which is signified the veil of the temple drawn before the ark of the covenant, which typified thee, that the truth might be laid open to me, and also that I might be taught, by the types and figures which went before, to approach with reverence and trembling to do honour to the sacred mystery which is connected with thee; and that by means of this prior shadow-painting of the law I might be restrained from boldly and irreverently contemplating with fixed gaze Him who, in His incomprehensibility, is seated far above all. For if to the ark, which was the image and type of thy sanctity, such honour was paid of God that to no one but to the priestly order only was the access to it open, or ingress allowed to behold it, the veil separating it off, and keeping the vestibule as that of a queen, what, and what sort of veneration is due to thee from us who are of creation the least, to thee who art indeed a queen; to thee, the living ark of God, the Lawgiver; to thee, the heaven that contains Him who can be contained of none? For since thou, O holy virgin, hast dawned as a bright day upon the world and hast brought forth the Sun of Righteousness, that hateful horror of darkness has been chased away; the power of the tyrant has been broken, death hath been destroyed, hell swallowed up, and all enmity dissolved before the face of peace; noxious diseases depart now that salvation looks forth; and the whole universe has been filled with the pure and clear light of truth. To which things Solomon alludes in the Book of Canticles, and begins thus: “My beloved is mine, and I am his; he feedeth among the lilies until the day break, and the shadows flee away.” Since then, the God of gods hath appeared in Sion, and the splendour of His beauty hath appeared in Jerusalem; and “a light has sprung up for the righteous, and joy for those who are true of heart.” According to the blessed David, the Perfecter and Lord of the perfected hath, by the Holy Spirit, called the teacher and minister of the law to minister and testify of those things which were done.

But what shall I say to thee, O mother-virgin and virgin-mother? For the praise even of her who is not man’s work exceeds the power of man. Wherefore the dimness of my poverty I will make bright with the splendour of the gifts of the spirits that around thee shine, and offering to thee of thine own, from the immortal meadows I will pluck a garland for thy sacred and divinely crowned head. With thine ancestral hymns will I greet thee, O daughter of David, and mother of the Lord and God of David. For it were both base and inauspicious to adorn thee, who in thine own glory excellest with that which belongeth unto another. Receive, therefore, O lady most benignant, gifts precious, and such as are fitted to thee alone, O thou who art exalted above all generations, and who, amongst all created things, both visible and invisible, shinest forth as the most honourable. Blessed is the root of Jesse, and thrice blessed is the house of David, in which thou hast sprung up. God is in the midst of thee, and thou shalt not be moved, for the Most High hath made holy the place of His tabernacle. For in thee the covenants and oaths made of God unto the fathers have received a most glorious fulfilment, since by thee the Lord hath appeared, the God of hosts with us.

That bush which could not be touched, which beforehand shadowed forth thy figure endowed with divine majesty, bare God without being consumed, who manifested Himself to the prophet just so far as He willed to be seen.

Then, again, that hard and rugged rock, which imaged forth the grace and refreshment which has sprung out from thee for all the world, brought forth abundantly in the desert out of its thirsty sides a healing draught for the fainting people.

Yea, moreover, the rod of the priest which, without culture, blossomed forth in fruit, the pledge and earnest of a perpetual priesthood, furnished no contemptible symbol of thy supernatural child-bearing.

What, moreover? Hath not the mighty Moses expressly declared, that on account of these types of thee, hard to be understood, he delayed longer on the mountain, in order that he might learn, O holy one, the mysteries that with thee are connected? For being commanded to build the ark as a sign and similitude of this thing, he was not negligent in obeying the command, although a tragic occurrence happened on his descent from the mount; but having made it in size five cubits and a half, he appointed it to be the receptacle of the law, and covered it with the wings of the cherubim, most evidently presignifying thee, the mother of God, who hast conceived Him without corruption, and in an ineffable manner brought forth Him who is Himself, as it were, the very consistence of incorruption, and that within the limits of the five and a half circles of the world. On thy account, and the undefiled Incarnation of God, the Word, which by thee had place for the sake of that flesh which immutably and indivisibly remains with Him for ever.

The golden pot also, as a most certain type, preserved the manna contained in it, which in other cases was changed day by day, unchanged, and keeping fresh for ages. The prophet Elijah likewise, as prescient of thy chastity, and being emulous of it through the Spirit, bound around him the crown of that fiery life, being by the divine decree adjudged superior to death. Thee also, prefiguring his successor Elisha, having been instructed by a wise master, and anticipating thy presence who wast not yet born, by certain sure indications of the things that would have place hereafter, ministered help and healing to those who were in need of it, which was of a virtue beyond nature; now with a new cruse, which contained healing salt, curing the deadly waters, to show that the world was to be recreated by the mystery manifested in thee; now with unleavened meal, in type responding to thy child-bearing, without being defiled by the seed of man, banishing from the food the bitterness of death; and then again, by efforts which transcended nature, rising superior to the natural elements in the Jordan, and thus exhibiting, in signs beforehand, the descent of our Lord into Hades, and His wonderful deliverance of those who were held fast in corruption. For all things yielded and succumbed to that divine image which prefigured thee.

Blessed art thou, all-blessed, and to be desired of all. Blessed of the Lord is thy name, full of divine grace, and grateful exceedingly to God, mother of God, thou that givest light to the faithful. Thou art the circumscription, so to speak, of Him who cannot be circumscribed; the root of the most beautiful flower; the mother of the Creator; the nurse of the Nourisher; the circumference of Him who embraces all things; the upholder of Him who upholds all things by His word; the gate through which God appears in the flesh; the tongs of that cleansing coal; the bosom in small of that bosom which is all-containing; the fleece of wool, the mystery of which cannot be solved; the well of Bethlehem, that reservoir of life which David longed for, out of which the draught of immortality gushed forth; the mercy-seat from which God in human form was made known unto men; the spotless robe of Him who clothes Himself with light as with a garment.

Thou hast lent to God, who stands in need of nothing, that flesh which He had not, in order that the Omnipotent might become that which it was his good pleasure to be. What is more splendid than this? What than this is more sublime? He who fills earth and heaven, whose are all things, has become in need of thee, for thou hast lent to God that flesh which He had not. Thou hast clad the Mighty One with that beauteous panoply of the body by which it has become possible for Him to be seen by mine eyes. And I, in order that I might freely approach to behold Him, have received that by which all the fiery darts of the wicked shall be quenched.

Hail! hail! mother and handmaid of God. Hail! hail! thou to whom the great Creditor of all is a debtor. We are all debtors to God, but to thee He is Himself indebted.

Hail to thee for ever, thou virgin mother of God, our unceasing joy, for unto thee do I again return. Thou art the beginning of our feast; thou art its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongest unto the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the bread of life. Hail, thou treasure of the love of God. Hail, thou fount of the Son’s love for man. Hail, thou overshadowing mount of the Holy Ghost. Thou gleamedst, sweet gift-bestowing mother, of the light of the sun; thou gleamedst with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of thee before the beginning, making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father–the Prince of Peace, who in a marvellous manner showed Himself as less than all littleness. Wherefore, we pray thee, the most excellent among women, who boastest in the confidence of thy maternal honours, that thou wouldest unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in thee, and who in hymns august celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away. And do thou also, O honoured and venerable Simeon, thou earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful, be our patron and advocate with that Saviour God, whom thou wast deemed worthy to receive into thine arms. We, together with thee, sing our praises to Christ, who has the power of life and death, saying, Thou art the true Light, proceeding from the true Light; the true God, begotten of the true God; the one Lord, before Thine assumption of the humanity; that One nevertheless, after Thine assumption of it, which is ever to be adored; God of Thine own self and not by grace, but for our sakes also perfect man; in Thine own nature the King absolute and sovereign, but for us and for our salvation existing also in the form of a servant. yet immaculately and without defilement. For Thou who art incorruption hast come to set corruption free, that Thou mightest render all things uncorrupt. For Thine is the glory, and the power, and the greatness, and the majesty, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever. Amen.

Condensed from Methodius: Oration Concerning Simeon and Anna, ANF volume VI Read online
Saint Methodius was bishop of Olympus, he died as a martyr (ca. 311)

Please note his repeated use of the term Mother of God long before the council of Ephesus