The Trusted Advocate
“You are called righteous, O blessed one, among women, the Second Tabernacle.”
St. Mary is the highest saint in heaven, and she is the perfect model in Christianity:
The role of St. Mary has always been a focal point in the Orthodox Church. We realize the status of St. Mary, regarding her as the greatest saint in heaven. We have seen her miracles and have beheld the glory of the Theotokos. She has become the dear mother of the Church, interceding to her Son at all times to help her children battle through the various trials and tribulations we may face. In the fifth century, at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus*17, the title of Theotokos was defended by St. Cyril against the heretic Nestorius, who denied and refused to call St. Mary the Theotokos. St. Cyril wrote, “If anyone will not confess that Immanuel is very God, and therefore the Holy Virgin is Theotokos, inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh: let him be anathema.”
Because of this powerful statement and the great role our father St. Cyril had in proving that St. Mary was indeed the Theotokos, this led many to believe that it was his great knowledge in the matter and his great love in keeping the honor of St. Mary that he wrote sections of, if not, the entire Sunday Theotokia.
Not only was the title Theotokos honored by the Holy Church Fathers, but our Lord Jesus Christ also honored His mother a great deal. We see His great love for her in the miracle of the wedding of Cana of Galilee in which St. Mary presented our Lord with the concern for the shortage of wine. Although the time of Christ had not yet come, He still heeded the intercession of His mother and performed the miracle at her request, showing that she had great favor in His heart. Another beautiful way our Lord honored St. Mary was on the Cross. As He hung on the Cross, He spoke to His mother.
“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, he said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home” (John 20:26-27).
Though our Lord was enduring the great pain of death, suffering all torture for our sake, approaching the point of His final moment, He looked at His mother. He loved her so much that He focused His eyes on her and cared for her wellbeing. He addressed her first and instructed her that St. John was to be her son. He then spoke to St. John and gave the Holy Virgin to be his mother. Even though His mission was to save the world from sin, He still honored her. If Christ honored her, even at the moment of death, should we not also? There are many things one may learn concerning the Theotokos such as the meaning of humility, service, and prayer. Of course we should never limit our Lady to these three characteristics because she is a model to us in many other ways.
The first lesson we may learn from St. Mary is her great humility. Throughout the Bible, we hear of and see very little of St. Mary though we know that she had a great role in the mission of Christ, so great that she bore the title of the Mother of the Apostles.
“It is fitting that Mary should be assisted by the holy Apostles. For she was the mother of them all, since the only-begotten Son and Word of God called his own apostles brothers” (Theoteknos of Livias).
Not only was she called the Mother of the Apostles, but a far greater title was given to her, the Theotokos, or the Mother of God. Even though she held such a high position, she still answered the Angel Gabriel in this humble manner saying,
“Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38).
Although she had just been given the title of Theotokos by the Angel Gabriel, who revealed the Lord’s desire to dwell in her, she still spoke of this great honor and answered the Angel confessing that she was just the maidservant of the Lord.
This evidence of perfect humility then draws us to her loving service. It was her humility that drove our Holy Mother to visit St. Elizabeth, in order to help St. Elizabeth prepare for the coming of the great forerunner, St. John the Baptist.
“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40).
What a beautiful passage! We see here two wonderful things concerning the pure Virgin. It says that St. Mary “”. She did not arise after a month, or after a couple of months, but she arose in the very days of receiving the good news. Many times we gloat when presented with wonderful news, bringing glory upon ourselves in situations we have no control over, but St. Mary, receiving the greatest of Gifts, the Incarnate Word of God, the hope of salvation, went within days of receiving the news to serve her cousin St. Elizabeth. Not only did she leave within the same days of receiving the news, but she “ ”, as if running to serve the Lord. Let us learn from this example. Not only should we arise to serve our great and glorious God, but we should go in haste and be committed to serving Him, traveling “ ”, meaning that we should be expected to take the long journey, filled with the highs and lows, for the sake of the love that we have for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Not only do we learn the meaning of humility and service from St. Mary, but we are also taught the meaning of prayer by her as well. We said earlier that the hymn of the three youths was a beautiful prayer in that they prayed the creation in the order according to the book of Genesis. We also notice this beautiful theme in the song of St. Mary (Luke 1:46-56). Her beautiful prayer was similar to the words of Hannah, the mother of the great prophet Samuel.
“And Hannah prayed and said: ‘My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. No one is holy like the Lord, For there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the Lord is the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, And those who stumbled are girded with strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, And the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, And she who has many children has become feeble. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed’” (1 Samuel 2:1-10).
There are so many similarities found between the prayer of St. Mary and the prayer of Hannah. Not only was St. Mary so educated in the Word of God that she hymned the words of the Bible, but the context in which she hymned them was likened to that of Hannah. Samuel was a great prophet of Israel because he restored the royal priesthood to where it should be, since the high priest at the time, Eli, failed to exercise proper parental authority and showed partiality when his own sons sinned. Just as Samuel restored the priesthood of Israel, so did the coming of our Lord. It was the children of Israel who had begun to live the law according to its word, and forgot the true meanings and spirit of the Law of Moses. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to bring “”, as confessed by Simeon the elder in the temple (Luke 2:32). He restored the corrupt priesthood of Israel through His death and the appointing of His Apostles as the new priests of the Church. St. Mary, knowing the Glory of God and His great power, knew this well in advance because she understood the prophecies that indicated what the Messiah would do.
Your name, O Mary, is precious ointment, which breathes forth the odor of Divine Grace. Let this ointment of salvation enter the innermost recesses of our souls. (St. Ambrose). Indeed, the Virgin Mary is our trusted advocate.
The Virgin Mary throughout the Holy Psalmody:
The Holy Psalmody (orin Arabic) is a Holy time where the believers gather in order to pray together to the Lord, praising Him for His glory and at the same time, soaring into the heavens to join with His saints and angels. It elevates the spirit, and through the grace of God, purifies us from all our sins and blemishes. Because of the beauty that lies in this great service, there are many aspects of the Psalmody which an individual may meditate on and learn from. The Psalmody is comprised of selected sections of the Holy Bible. The Sunday Psalmody (sung Saturday night, or early Sunday morning before the Liturgy) begins with the Midnight Prayers of the Agpeya. It is then followed by , which is comprised of selected passages from the midnight prayers of the Agpeya. Afterwards, the , or Hos in Arabic (Exodus 15) is sung, followed by the (Psalm 136), (Daniel 3, taken from the Orthodox Bible*1), the (written by Moalem Sarkis), the , the , followed by selected . We then sing the (Psalms 148, 149, 150), followed by the and then the . It is then ended by the hymn (Your Mercies, O my God). The congregation then recites the (We exalt you, O Mother of the True Light) followed by the (We believe in One God). (O God Have Mercy) is then sung. The chanters then recite followed by . As the Psalmody ends, the prayers of the are read from the Agpeya followed by the leading to the . We will try to cover as much as possible so that we may meditate at all times on the One Who died for us and loved us. May the Lord bless those who have preserved this great prayer throughout the generations, and continue to bless those who are trying to master it so that we may praise the Name of our Creator. (This was derived from a book by His Grace Bishop Youssef)
The Symbols of the Virgin Mary in the Sunday Theotokia:
The Sunday Theotokia is a beautiful interpretation written by the Church fathers, which concentrates and focuses on the symbols of St. Mary in the Old Testament. It follows the Psalies and extends until the end of the Psalmody. Although the exact author of the Sunday Theotokia is not exactly known, many references have accredited St Cyril, the Pillar of the Orthodox faith, to have authored this wonderful part of the Psalmody. The Sunday Theotokia is broken up into eighteen parts, with the sixteenth to the eighteenth sections sung only during Sunday Midnight Praise from the beginning of the Holy fifty days of Easter until the end of the Coptic month of Hathor. The first 6 sections present and explain the major symbols of St. Mary in the Old Testament; the Second Tabernacle, the Ark, the Mercy Seat, the Golden Pot, the Lampstand, and the Golden Censer. The seventh section, a long hymn of praise for St. Mary, likens St. Mary to the flower of Incense, and the rod of Aaron. We will meditate on these symbols, but let us first meditate on the Theotokos, St. Mary.
- “You are called righteous, O blessed one, among women, the Second Tabernacle.”Looking at the first symbol, St. Mary is likened is the Second Tabernacle. The tabernacle was a place of worship the Lord commanded the children of Israel to build as they journeyed through the wilderness. The Lord commanded Moses saying,“I will consecrate the tabernacle of meeting…I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:44, 45).This first symbol of St. Mary is befitting to her role as the Theotokos. The Lord promised Moses that in building this tabernacle, He would come and dwell in it. This is an important verse concerning the incarnation of God. In his rebuke of the Arian heresy, St. Athanasius, in the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, proclaimed that God dwelt in the womb of St. Mary, while Arius believed that Jesus was born man and later become “godly”. This then would suggest that Jesus was born with the sin of Adam, which we know is a heresy! In this wonderful symbol, shown to us by the Fathers, we see that the Lord dwelt in the tabernacle, not stood afar and watched or dwelt around it, but in it, the same way as He dwelt in the womb of the Holy Theotokos, St. Mary. Also as the presence of the Lord sanctified the tabernacle, so did the presence of our Lord sanctify our Mother, St. Mary.Another beautiful meditation concerning the symbol of St. Mary as being the tabernacle, is written by Fr. Matthias F. Wahba.“The book of Exodus adds, ‘And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle’ (Exodus 40:35). Similarly, no one can enter to understand the mystery of the incarnation of the Lord from St. Mary. ‘Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifested in the flesh’ (1 Timothy 3:16).”
- “The Ark overlaid, roundabout with gold that was made, with wood that would not decay.”In the second part of the Theotokia, St. Mary is likened to the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark was designed according to the Word of God.“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around” (Exodus 25:10-11).There are many wonderful meanings concerning this beautiful symbol. It first refers to the presence of God who dwelt in the womb of St. Mary. The ark was overlaid with gold within and without. This is likened to the birth of Incarnate Logos.“And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).In the greeting of the Angel Gabriel to St. Mary, we read that the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. The Holy Spirit sanctified our lady, St. Mary, laying gold within her preparing her womb for the birth of the King of Israel. Not only that, but the wood, did not rot as a result of the presence of the gold. This means that the Theotokos’ virginity did not decay or “rot” as a result of the birth of our Lord, since it was without the seed of man. The Ark is also likened to St. Mary. One of the objects placed in the Ark of Covenant were the tablet which contained the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. (The ark also contained the manna and Aaron’s rod, which also symbolize our Lord. These two items will be explained later on.) If we compare the tablets of the Law to Christ, who is the Author the Law, then the symbolism of the Ark being St. Mary is very simple. As the Ark of the Covenant carried the Law of God, so did St. Mary carry the true fulfillment of the Law, Christ the Logos.The gold and wood also explain the Nature of our Lord. Our Lord Jesus Christ was completely human and entirely divine, two distinct natures, but these two natures dwelt in the One, Jesus Christ. We sing in the Sunday Theotokia,“One nature out of two, a Holy Divinity, co-essential with the Father and incorruptible. A holy humanity begotten without seed, coessential with us, according to the economy. This which was taken from you, O undefiled, He made with Him as a hypostasis.” The two natures of the Ark are the gold and the wood; the wood symbolizing the humanity, and the gold symbolizing the divinity. These two materials are considered one when referring to the ark. When we speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, we say the same thing. His humanity was not masked by His divinity and vice versa, and these two Natures were in the One, Jesus Christ as explained by St. Cyril. One final symbol is made concerning the Ark. Fr. Matthias Wahba once again explains it.There is a great similarity between the history of the Ark and the biography of St. Mary. The Ark which represents the presence of God, remained three months at the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite, before David the Prophet brought it to his house (2 Samuel 6). This event points to St. Mary who, while having the Lord in her womb, remained three months at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In addition, the arrival of the Ark made the people rejoice and David leaped and whirled before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:16). Likewise the arrival of St. Mary made Elizabeth rejoice, and the babe, John the Baptist, leaped for joy in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). The word which is translated “leap” used in Luke 1:41, 44 is the same word used in 2 Samuel 6:16. It is used in the Bible to mean heavenly joy (Luke 6:23) and the leaps of which accompany the coming of the Lord (Ps. 114:4; Mal. 4:2).
- “The Mercy Seat was overshadowed by the forged Cherubim from all sides.”The third symbol of St. Mary is the Mercy Seat. This was the covering of the Ark of the Covenant, which was previously explained. Once again, God commanded Moses to construct the Mercy Seat according to His plan.“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel” (Exodus 25:17-22).The mercy seat, as we read in the book of Exodus, was covered by two Cherubim. It was there that God met with Moses to instruct Him in guiding the children of Israel. This is a type of St. Mary. She was the dwelling place of the Incarnate Word of God. The Cherubim that cover the Mercy Seat are also important. As the Lord dwelt in the womb of the Theotokos, the chorus of heaven praised the coming of the Lord, even while He was in her womb.
- “The gold pot, made of pure gold, wherein was the true manna.”We mentioned earlier in the meditations of the First Canticle concerning the love and care of God, who rained manna from heaven for the children of Israel to survive in the wilderness. This manna was temporary, but Christ, when explaining to the Pharisees who He was, likened Himself to the Bread of Heaven.“Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’” (John 6:30-35).The making and the use of the pot was an instruction given by God to the children of Israel as they dwelt in the wilderness.“Take a pot and put an omer of manna in it, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations” (Exodus 16:33).The simplicity behind these symbols is very clear to the believer. If we likened the manna to our Savior, the Bread of Life, then St. Mary is clearly the pot where the manna was hidden. Fr. Matthias Wahba further explains the beauty of this symbol.“Furthermore, St. Mary was not merely a pot, but she gave to the Lord, the living Manna, a body from her own flesh. The Theotokia adds: ‘You bore Him without blemish, He gave unto us, His honored Body and Blood, and we lived forever.’”St. Gregory of Nyssa also speaks of this wonderful mediation of the Incarnation and the pot.“You no doubt perceive the true food in the figure of the history: The bread which came from heaven is not some incorporeal thing. For how could something incorporeal be nourished by the body? Neither ploughing nor sowing produced the body of this bread, but the earth which remained unchanged was found full of this divine food, of which the hungry partake. This miracle teaches in anticipation the mystery of the Virgin” (The Life of Moses).
- “The golden lampstand, made of pure gold, was placed in the tabernacle.”The fifth symbol of St. Mary is the lampstand. The golden lampstand, or the menorah, was another type of St. Mary. God, once again, commanded Moses to build this lampstand and place it in the tabernacle.“You shall also make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work. Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and flowers shall be of one piece. And six branches shall come out of its sides: three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side. Three bowls shall be made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower—and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand. On the lampstand itself four bowls shall be made like almond blossoms, each with its ornamental knob and flower. And there shall be a knob under the first two branches of the same, a knob under the second two branches of the same, and a knob under the third two branches of the same, according to the six branches that extend from the lampstand. Their knobs and their branches shall be of one piece; all of it shall be one hammered piece of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it, and they shall arrange its lamps so that they give light in front of it. And its wick-trimmers and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made of a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils. And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:31-40).Once again, our Lord Jesus Christ makes reference to this symbol when He said,“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).The light that proceeded from the lampstand was the True Light, our Lord Jesus Christ. The lampstand carries the light, therefore St. Mary is the golden lampstand. Another meditation that can be deduced from this beautiful symbol is found when we focus on the humility of St. Mary. We discussed earlier how she humbled herself and went to serve her cousin Elizabeth, even though she was bearing the Savior of the world in her womb. This also can be seen with the symbol of the lampstand. The light is what catches the attention of the eye. The lampstand humbly takes its role as a bearer of the light. Without the lampstand, there would be no place for the light to illuminate. If we use this analogy, we see the humility of St. Mary as a holy lady who accepted her role, fulfilling the law of God. The light needs a lampstand. We know God is infinite, and has no need of any human, which is to say that He was not limited to St. Mary in order to come, but He chose her and she humbly accepted the will of God. As the light uses the lamp to shine forth its power, so did Christ use St. Mary, taking flesh from her, and coming into this world, which “” (Liturgy of St. Basil).
- “The golden censor, made of pure gold, carrying the ever burning light.”The sixth symbol of St. Mary in the Sunday Theotokia, is that she is the golden censor. This symbol was from the writings of St. Cyril the Great, who defended the title of the Theotokos given to our lady, St. Mary. The golden censor was used by Aaron the high-priest (Hebrews 9:4). The golden censor (Shoria in Coptic and Arabic) is deep in its symbolism of the Holy Virgin. If we study the censor, we can notice that there is a base in which the coal is carried. This coal is likened to the nature of our Lord. Just as the fire and the coal are two natures, so is the divinity and humanity of our Lord. In the confession of the Priest at the end of the Liturgy, the priest recites that,“This is the life-giving Body that Your only-begotten Son, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, took from our Lady, the Lady of us all, the Holy Theotokos, St. Mary. And He made It one with His divinity without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration” (The Liturgy of St. Basil).Just as the fire and the coal are two natures, they do not mingle with each other, for the fire does not become coal, and the coal does not become fire, just as Christ’s humanity did not mask His divinity or vice versa. But at the same time, one cannot separate the fire from the coal once it has been ignited, proving that “.” St. Mary carried this great mystery in her womb.Another wonderful meditation of the golden censor, is found when we look at the wonderful aroma that came forth from it. This aroma, (which will be described later on in the hymn ), is the aroma that the Father smelled during the sacrifice of the Son on the Holy wood of the Cross. This fire brought forth the wonderful smell of the incense. This can explain St. Mary’s emotions as she beheld the Crucifixion of our Lord. In the prayer of the Ninth Hour we read,“When the mother saw the Lamb and Shepherd, the Savior of the world hanging on the Cross, she said while weeping, ‘The world indeed rejoices in receiving salvation, but as for me, my bowels are on fire as I behold Thy Crucifixion, O my Son and my God.’”Even though she had smelled the incense of Redemption, her bowels were on fire as she beheld the death of her Son. This, once again, reveals the beauty of St. Mary, who did not prevent the death of her Son, understanding the Divine Will which required Him to die.
- “The rod of Aaron, which blossomed, without planting or watering, resembles you.”The rod of Aaron is another symbol of St. Mary. The rod of Aaron was used as a means to determine the priesthood for the children of Israel, because Korah and his followers tried to offer incense to God when they were not the chosen priests. In order to solve this problem the Lord commanded Moses saying,“‘speak to the children of Israel, and get from them a rod from each father’s house, all the leaders according to their fathers’ houses – twelve rods. Write each man’s name on his rod. And you shall write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi. For there shall be one rod for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall place them in the tabernacle of meeting before the Testimony, where I meet with you. And it shall be that the rod of the man whom I choose will blossom; thus I will rid Myself of the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you…’ And Moses placed the rod before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds” (Numbers 17:2-5, 7-8).The rod of Aaron, as read in the book of Numbers, sprouted forth buds and blossomed, even though no one had watered the rod in order for it to have flourished. This is exactly what happened in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of St. Luke, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to St. Mary, the Theotokos asked the angel a question when he proclaimed the good news.“Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).Just as the Holy Virgin, St. Mary did not know a man, but it was the Holy Spirit which overshadowed her and allowed for the Incarnation of the Son, in the same way the rod brought forth fruit without watering and nurturing.
As we sing the symbols of St. Mary in the Sunday Theotokia, we learn about the Incarnation of our Lord. We are led through the Old Testament, being taught by the Holy Spirit, who worked through the Church Fathers, about all the signs our Lord had given us concerning His coming and by what means He would come.