“…The fact that there is no Biblical verification of the facts of Mary’s birth is incidental to the
meaning of the feast. Even if the actual background of the event as celebrated in the Church is
questionable from an historical point of view, the divine meaning of it “for us men and for our salvation”
is obvious. There had to be one born of human flesh and blood who would be spiritually capable of being
the Mother of Christ, and she herself had to be born into the world of persons who were spiritually
capable of being her parents.
The Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, therefore, is a glorification of Mary’s birth, of Mary
herself and of her righteous parents. It is a celebration as well of the very first preparation of the salvation
of the world. For the “Vessel of Light,” the “Book of the Word of Life,” the “Door to the Orient,” the
“Throne of Wisdom” is being prepared on earth by God himself in the birth of the holy girl-child Mary.
The verses of the feast are filled with titles for Mary such as those in the quotations above. They
are inspired by the message of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. The specific Biblical readings
of the feast give indications of this.
At the Vespers the three Old Testament Readings are “mariological” in their New Testament
interpretation. Thus, Jacob’s Ladder which unites heaven and earth and the place which is named “the
house of God” and the “gate of Heaven” (Genesis 28:10-17) are taken, to indicate the union of God with
men which is realised most fully and perfectly – both spiritually and physically – in Mary the Theotokos,
Bearer of God. So also the vision of the temple with the “door ‘to the East” perpetually closed and filled
with the “glory of the Lord” symbolises Mary, called in the hymns of the feast “the living temple of God
filled with the divine Glory.” (Ezekiel 43:27-44:4) Mary is also identified with the “house” which the
Divine Wisdom has built for himself according to the reading from Proverbs 9:1-11.
The Gospel reading of Matins is the one read at all feasts of the Theotokos, the famous Magnificat
from St. Luke in which Mary says: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me
blessed” (Lk. 1:47).
The Epistle reading of the Divine Liturgy is the famous passage about the coming of the Son of
God in “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man” (Phil. 2:5-11) and the Gospel reading
is that which is always read for feasts of the Theotokos – the woman in the crowd glorifies the Mother
of Jesus, and the Lord himself responds that the same blessedness which his mother receives is for all
“who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:27-28).
Thus, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as on all liturgical celebrations of Christ’s
Mother, we proclaim and celebrate that through God’s graciousness to mankind every Christian receives
what the Theotokos receives, the “great mercy” which is given to human persons because of Christ’s
birth from the Virgin.”
Archpriest Robert Stephen Kennaugh
Monday, September 8, 2008
Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God