HOMILIES OF SAINT FATHERS ON THE GREATEST FEASTS OF SEPTEMBER
Hail, Cross, the glory of the ends of the earth and the joy of the whole world; because the ends of the earth delight over you and, together with them, the faithful rejoice.
Hail, Cross, the power and undefeated weapon of kings, because, having absolute trust in you, they scatter the hosts of the barbarians and defeat them triumphantly.
Hail, Cross, the all-mighty power of rulers, through which they are victorious and boast to those who do not know you and do not submit to your power.
Hail, Cross, the readiness of the armed forces and abundance of morale, which victoriously confronts the power of the enemies and confounds the swarms of the lawless.
Hail, Cross, guide of wayfarers, you who direct and order their steps and, through your power, repel and scatter from the mind the dark attacks of the demons.
Hail, Cross, the nourishment and repose of those travellers who are at rest somewhere; because, in making your sign, their food becomes pleasant, their sleep light and refreshing, and their awakening is to their salvation. In this way they have the strength to continue their journey.
Hail, Cross, the success of those who hope, having confidence in your Grace, and thus no do fail in their hopes. Because you prepare and smoothe the path, and with the power you have, you satisfy the requests of those who truly honour you.
Hail, Cross, the tranquillity and protection of those who voyage on the seas, because the roaring and billowing waves, as high as mountains, are calmed at once by your sign
Ηail, Cross, the knowledge of the helmsmen of vessels; because with your help and guidance, they can, with a small, wooden rudder steer large ships and bring them safely into the narrowest of harbours.
Hail, Cross, the joy and repose of those who sail. With your help they cast off all fearfulness, and travel to foreign countries; crossing the great seas, they arrive at their destination with high hopes.
Hail, Cross, the “beneficial guide” and consolation of the monastics; because, with their hope in you, they joyfully prefer separation from parents and friends. They go into the deserts to live and to talk to God alone.
Hail, Cross, the repose and niptic stimulus of the ascetics, who, through your power patiently undergo the hardships of the body in order to acquire the Spirit and to shine in their lives like bright stars.
(Speech of St Joseph of Thessalonica, the Confessor on the feast of the elevation of the Holy Cross)
So what did our Creator and Guardian do? Did He leave His creation to be tormented for ever, to be a slave of the passions? Of course not. How could He bear to see what He had made from an abundance of love made a prisoner and living in delusion. This is why, when the unity of the Holy Trinity had convened with Itself (if I may be permitted to express myself thus), It arranged, through Its uniform will, that the creature which had been devastated should be remade (we ought to talk of “remaking” because “Let us make people in our image and likeness” had been said of the original creation). But because people had become so barbaric and had sunk to such depths that they would not return, irrespective of threats, punishments or [the words of the] prophets, God required a person who would have our own nature, one in whom He could see the law being observed to the letter, so that people could compare this with the actions of others and so that the plotter against us might be cast down from his domination over us by a legitimate struggle and victory.
So one of the persons of the Trinity had to descend, to be among people so that the new creation could show forth the true character of our original nature. And He would have to become a Son here and not dishonour His office above, which He had held for ever and was glorified for. But He could not come into the midst of the sons of Man without an incarnation. Because incarnation is the way to birth and birth is the culmination of pregnancy. And this naturally required prior preparation. A mother had to be prepared here on earth for the Creator and for the recreation of those who had been devastated. She would have to be a virgin, so that, just as the first person was made from virgin soil, the recreation would occur through a virgin womb, without the involvement of any sensual pleasure. Because the people whom the Lord wished to liberate, by consenting to be born, were enslaved to sensual pleasures.
But who was worthy to become the servant of the mystery. Who was worthy to become the Mother of God and lend flesh to Him Who enriches the universe. Who was worthy? Clearly, she who today has budded in a strange manner from the barren root of Ioakeim and Anna; she whose luminous birth we celebrate and whose advent marks the beginning of the miracle of the greatest mystery, I mean the incarnate birth of the Saviour; she for whom this divine and all-embracing assembly has been called. Because it was right and proper that she who had preserved her body in purity from her early infancy and maintained her soul and thoughts in purity should have been destined to be the mother of the Creator. It was right and proper that she who as a young child was offered to the temple and entered rooms untrodden should be the animate temple of Him Who gave her her soul.
It was right and proper that she who was born of a barren mother in a strange manner and who expunged the reproach of her parents should also undo the error of our first ancestors. Because the descendant was destined to reverse the ancestral defeat by giving birth, without a man, to the Saviour of the human race and giving Him a body. It was right and proper that she who with the beauty of her soul adorned the beauty of her form, should appear as a distinctive bride who would be fitting for the heavenly Bridegroom. It was right and proper that she, whose virtues shone like the stars, should make herself like the heavens, causing the dawn of the Sun of Righteousness to become known to one and all. It was right and proper that she, who once tinged herself with the purple of her virgin blood, should become the royal robes of the King of All.
What a miracle! He Whom the whole of nature cannot contain fits comfortably into a virgin womb. He, on Whom Cherubim and Seraphim do not dare to gaze, is cuddled in the lap of the Virgin, held by her arms of clay. From the arid and barren womb comes the holy mount [the Virgin], from which, once the precious corner-stone, Christ our God, had been miraculously hewn, He destroyed the temples of the demons and the kingdom of Hell along with the tyrannical dominion itself. The animate and heavenly oven was prepared on earth and in it any weeds were burnt before the pure dough was inserted by God to make bread for Himself. But what can anyone say about the multitude of gifts and achievements of the Virgin? We are diffident and joyful, calm and excited. And then again, we lose our voice and find it, shrink and expand, motivated, on the one hand by fear and on the other by desire…
But you, Virgin and Mother of the Word, our atonement and refuge, who in wondrous wise were nurtured by a barren woman and who bore for us, even more strangely, the ear of wheat Who gives life, pray and intercede with your Son and our God for us, who hymn you, that we may be cleansed from the stain of all pollution. Make us worthy of the heavenly bridal chamber where we shall enjoy eternal rest, brightly illumined by the triple light of the supra-essential Trinity and lose ourselves in the mystical and ineffable sights, through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom belong glory and power unto the ages of ages. Amen.
[Saint Fotios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople, Homily 9, On the Birth of the Our All-Holy Lady, the Mother of God (excerpts)].