This is the last post for the 15 Days for Panagia series! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series; did you enjoy it? was it too long? not long enough? Are there other topics you’d like to cover? This was the first time I’ve done this on Adventures of an Orthodox Mom and am curious to hear your opinions. Please leave comments and let me know! [Read more...]
That which took place when the Theotokos surrendered her soul to the Lord is absolutely amazing. I wish that I could relate all of it to you but it is quite long so you will have to order the book that I have taken most of the information used in the 15 Days for Panagia posts to read it.
We’ll continue at the point when the Lord took her soul into his hands…
St. Kosmas describes the scene in this manner. The angelic powers were amazed as they looked in Sion upon their own Master, bearing in his hands the soul of a woman: for as befitted a Son, He said to her who without spot had borne Him, “Come, honored among women, and be glorified together with they Son and God.”
The apostles surrounded her bed weeping and the face of the Theotokos shone like the sun and a splendid and sweet perfume emitted from her most pure body. They venerated her and were sanctified from contact with it.
In the midst of these events, they began the solemn procession to inter her most honorable body. The Apostles bore her bier aloft on their shoulders; towards the head were St. John the Theologian who carried the branch from Paradise which shone brightly, and St. Peter next to him and St. James and St. Paul on the opposite them. The other Apostles and hierarchs were chanting while the rest of the faithful, with lights and censers, walked close by surrounding the bed.
All sang funeral prayers. Then at the command of the Saviour, the pre-eminent Apostle Peter began chanting one of the Psalms of David (Psalm 113), together with the rest of the Apostles. The procession conveyed the sacred body of the Theotokos from Sion through Jerusalem to Gethsemane. Hovering over the bier and accompanying the procession there appeared a circular cloud reminiscent of a crown which shone with a bright radiance. In the hearing of all, there resounded ceaseless angelic singing from out of the could that filled the air.
Many of the Jews who did not believe in Christ, on hearing the unusual chanting and witnessing the triumphant procession, left their homes and joined the multitude. They too, went along, and followed the procession out of the city, astonished at the glory and honor that was given to the most honorable body of the Theotokos. When the chief priests and scribes learned of this, they burned with the heaviest hatred and began to reason frivolously. Indeed, they would become inflamed at anything that reminded them of Christ. They stirred up many of the people and sent temple servants and soldiers to overtake the procession and disperse it. They also ordered them to slay the disciples of Christ and to burn the body of Mary, for they claimed that the nation of Jews was ruined by this woman.
Then satan entered and incited the mob. They began to arm themselves as for battle and furiously hastened to overtake the procession. Then the cloud that was hovering above descended and surrounded the procession so that only the voices and chanting could be heard but no one could see behind the wall of the cloud. Then the holy angels, invisibly hovering over the sacred relics and the Christians, struck the malicious persecutors with blindness. Being struck with blindness they began striking their heads on the walls and then struck one another.
At that time, a Jewish priest named Athonios (some texts give his name as Jephonias) was out on the road. When the cloud had lifted he beheld the multitude of Christians who, with lights, were chanting around the bier of the Mother of Jesus. No tongue of clay could adequately describe the joyful procession. But Athonios was filled with envy and had a storm of evil thoughts. Then with great malice in his heart, he blurted out, “Look what honor surrounds the body of her who bore the imposter Who destroyed the law of our fathers!”
Being a strong man by nature, he rushed with mad fury through the crowd of Christians and, running up towards the bier, he attempted to cast the Virgin’s body to the ground. When the audacious hands of the priest barely touched the bier, an invisible angel at once struck them off at the elbows with the immaterial sword of divine vengeance. Thus Athonosios‘ hands clung fast to the bed, while he collapsed to the ground wailing, “Woe is me!” The Jews that beheld this sight of their priest, then cried out, “Verily, He that was brought forth by thee is the true God, O Mother of God, Ever-Virgin Mary.”
Acknowledging his sin, Athonios repented and turned to the holy Apostles and said, “Have mercy on me, servants of Christ!” The Apostle Peter then ordered the procession to stop. He then said to Athonios, “Now thou hast received thy just fruits. Know that ‘the Lord is the God of vengeance; the God of vengeance hath spoken openly’ [Psalm 93:1], and, thus, we cannot heal thee of thy wounds. Only our Lord Himself can do this, Whom you had unjustly rose against, seized and killed. Even He will not bestow healing upon thee till thou wilt believe in Him with all thy heart and confess with thy mouth that Jesus is the true Messiah, the Son of God.”
Then Athonios cried aloud, “I believe that He is the Saviour of the world foretold by the prophets–He is the Christ. From the very first we saw that He was the Son of God but, being darkened by malicious envy, we did not acknowledge the greatness of God openly, but delivered Him to death, though he was guiltless. But by the power of His divinity He rose on the third day, putting us all to shame. We attempted to conceal His resurrection by bribing the soldiers, but we could do nothing, as the glory of the Resurrection was manifest and spread abroad.”
When Athonios uttered this confession and repented of his sin, the holy Apostles rejoiced with the joy of the angels over a penitent sinner. The holy Apostle Peter then ordered Athonios to put the wounds of his severed arms to the limbs still hanging on the bier. He then told him to call upon the most holy Mother of God with faith. He did as he was instructed and, at once, the severed arms were joined at the mark where they had been severed; only a red line remained about his elbows for the remainder of his life.
He then fell before the bier and worshipped Christ God who was born of the Virgin Mary. He began to recite prophesies from scripture that testified both to the Virgin Mary and to Christ. All were amazed and he joined the procession. Many of the other Jews who had been struck with blindness also acknowledged their sin and penitently approached the honorable bier. When the Apostles touched their faces with the heavenly palm branch they regained their bodily sight together with the eyes of their soul.
When they finally reached the garden of Gethsemane, they laid the Theotokos‘ pure body in the tomb. They were laid with the greatest honor, while chanting and weeping took place. When the Apostles stepped before her bier to bid her farewell, each according to the Holy Spirit, they uttered psalms of triumph and thanksgiving and chanted prayers.
As the were journeying, they had to pass through an area that was infested with robbers. Therefore, the Virgin and Joseph purposed to pass by that territory under the cover of night. As they were journeying, they beheld two robbers that appeared to be asleep in the road, but there was a great number of their confederates also asleep in a place close by. The names of these two thieves were Dismas and Gestas. Dismas, roused from his sleep, arose and went across the road to the Mother of God to see what she held covered at her breast. Seeing the Christ child, he marvelled at His beauty and remarked, “If God were to take human flesh, He would be no more beautiful than this child!” Then Dismas turned to Gestas and said, “I beseech thee to let these persons go by queitly. Let not our comrades be roused and perceive the coming of these people.” However, Gestas would not consent. Again, Dismas turned to him and said, “I will give thee forty drachmas and, as a pledge, take my belt.” Dismas gave it to his companion before he finished speaking that he might not open his mouth or make a noise.
The Lady Theotokos, full of gratitude for the kindness rendered unto them by this robber, turned and said to Dismas, “My child will reward thee richly for having spared Him this day. The Lord God will receive thee to His right hand and grant thee pardon of thy sins.”
Indeed, more than thirty years later, at the Crucifixion of her Son and God, it was those very two thieves that were also crucified on either side of Jesus. Dismas would be to Christ’s right hand and Gestas to His left. Dismas, while on the cross, repented his whole life, and said, “This Man hath done nothing amiss” [Luke 23:41]; he even rebuked Gestas who had reviled the Lord. And, as we all know, Dismas was that same day with Christ in Paradise. [Luke 23:43]
This is one of my favorite stories from the entire book. What really amazed me when I first read it was my perception of the two thieves. I always envisioned them as being the same age as Christ, it was probably because that is they way they depict them in the movies. Jesus of Nazareth, The Passion, etc. However, holy tradition tells us that this is not accurate.
*Click here for previous posts from 15 Days for Panagia
I am going to skip ahead a bit because there is such an abundance of information concerning the Theotokos that it could not possibly all fit into 15 short days. I am just retelling some of my personal favorite stories from her life, along with some answers to questions some of you have asked.
Just to be clear again, none of the information posted is of my opinion. I am not worthy to give such opinions, but it is all taken from the book I mentioned, as well as several homilies by various priests of the Orthodox Church.
The midwife then went forth out of the cave and met Salome, another midwife, to whom Zelomi exlaimed, “Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to thee: a virgin hath brought forth, a thing which nature does not admit!”
The aged Salome was a kinswoman of Mary. Salome was Mary’s mother’s sister’s daughter; hence she was Mary’s first cousin. When she beheld the most holy Virgin in the shepherd’s cave, she did not believe that a virgin brought forth, to which she remarked, “As the Lord my God liveth, unless I receive proof of this matter, I will not believe that a virgin hath brought forth.” When Salome stretched forth her hand to the most holy Virgin’s body to examine it, after the manner of a midwife, Salome then believed. However, her hand was withered and she groaned bitterly, for she was punished for her impudence and unbelief.
Greatly lamenting, Salome made a supplication unto the Lord, until an angel stood by her and instructerd her to reach forth her hand to the child and to carry Him. Straightway, her hand was restored and Salome was filled with joy.
I had read this story years ago and did not fully understand it until a priest explained it to me. I thought that Salome simply didn’t believe the Panagia was a virgin when she conceived. I also always assumed that she gave birth the natural way. However, this is not what happened. She did not give birth the traditional way. Christ was supernaturally born without “breaking her seal of virginity.” So, this is why Salome wanted to examine her herself. Any mother knows there are natural signs that are quite obvious when a woman has just given birth. When Salome examined her, the Theotokos showed no such sign.