Fr. Gabriel uses the example of the Theotokos to explain the proper mindset of all Christians in growing their relationship with God.
Today, we celebrate one of the feasts of Mary…the feast of the Prokrov…or of the Protection. This feast always come just shortly after we begin the Liturgical year with the feast of Mary’s Birth. Next August, we will finish that same Liturgical cycle with Her Dormition. The fact that the Church puts such a large emphasis on the Virgin Mary, brings up an interesting question to those who did not grow up in the Ancient Faith.
Why is she is so important?
This past week, I had a beautiful opportunity to contemplate this topic, as I was blessed to attend a Clergy Retreat at Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction with His Eminence Archbishop Alexander and the rest of our diocesan priests and deacons. Thank God that we had it scheduled for the end of the week, because the weather was absolutely perfect!
After the first set of meetings, I took advantage of a cool fall day and went out into an empty gazeebo which overlooks the monastery cemetery. Sitting in peace, away from the main road, with nothing but the crickets chirping and the birds singing, with my mind finally being able to settle down after a few short moments, my gaze came upon some of the newer graves in the cemetery.
It was in those moments of contemplating death, that I realized what made the Virgin Mary the greatest of all the saints. She was the first person to truly realize the reality of our human existence: “We are Nothing.”
We learn from Genesis, that at our very core, we are made of dirt from the ground. Eventually, no matter what our race is, no matter what our social standing is, and no matter how much people loved or hated us in this life…we will all end up as dirt once again…in the not so distant future.
“We are nothing”
These were the only words that mattered to Mary in her life. She didn’t care or think about herself…about her personal wants, her dreams, or her desires. When the time of the annunciation came, her response to the angel Gabriel selfless…as if spoken from a person who knew exactly what she was. She said to this incredibly mind-blowing miracle: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord…let it be according to your will.”
“I don’t care what happens to me Lord…do with your handmaiden as you will.
“I am nothing”
This sounds like such a depressing statement to the human ear doesn’t it? It sounds even more depressing, living in a country whose motto is something exactly the opposite of depressing: ”we all have the RIGHT to happiness!” If we were to walk into a therapists office this afternoon, and the first words out of our mouths was “I am nothing”…they would book a special appointment for us right there on the spot!
We have become so obsessed with trying to live our lives on our own strength, by our own rules, and with our own sets of standards, that to admit failure...to admit that we are not capable of doing something, is considered a weakness. It is a disease that we need to be treated for.
So how is it, that this simple statement means everything to us as Orthodox Christians? Why is it, that we will never be able to enjoy eternal blessings and communion with God until we are able to stand before His throne and say: “Let me be nothing…let me disappear before you…let it be done to me as you will.”
Because it is in that moment, that we will be able to remove the scales of pride that sit over our eyes, rid ourselves of our own self-centered wants and desires, and acquire the number one virtue that God is drawn to…humility.
We hear that word a lot in Orthodoxy don’t we? Humility. Every single Gospel lesson we read during the Liturgical year has SOMETHING to be pulled from it that has to do with selflessness…with humility. The gospel lesson today for example, is about learning to put everyone, EVEN OUR ENEMIES, above ourselves. Our task is to Love everyone else in this world…and doing so will take our minds off of ourselves….helping us get to that state of humility where we can once again recognize that without God…we are lost.
The Gospel, the writings of the Church fathers, all of the Saints that have written books on how to live a holy life…all of them harken back to one theme: the humility that is gained by realizing that without God, “We are nothing”.
I know many of you are probably thinking that this must have been one depressing moment sitting in the gazeebo over-looking the cemetery…with all of these graves reminding me of the frail reality of our existence. This is why I saved the best part for last, because it didn’t take me long to turn my gaze from what was in the ground…to what stood above it. Rows and rows of the most beautiful marble crosses littered the cemetery above the gravesites, and were put there to remind us of a wonderful truth:
Standing next to God….we are nothing…yet we mean EVERYTHING to Him.
This is the great and universal truth about our lives dearest brothers and sisters. Yes, there are difficulties. Yes, there are struggles. Yes, there are times when we feel lost, broken, and “like nothing”. But the one thing that can never be taken away from us, is that no matter how bad life can get, no matter how much the devil plays his games with us, the cross is always there to remind us of God’s love for us. The world can take EVERYTHING away from us…but the one thing it will never touch…the one shred of hope we always have to hold on to…is how precious we are to our creator.
May we continue to be enlightened, day after day, as to what that statement truly means…Amen, Amen, Amen