Father Dimitri’s Message
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Month of August presents us with a beautiful and wonderful opportunity to participate in one of the most beautiful services of the Church, the Paraklisis to the Mother of God.
Her importance outside of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic is often omitted entirely. Those who do not reverence her see her only as a vehicle and nothing more. A good woman, sure, but not to the extent that we hold her. I have often argued this with non-Orthodox. They just don’t see why she is so important.
I think the problem begins with our Western depictions of the Nativity as well as in the Scriptures that states “Your mother and brothers are outside, asking for You. . .” (Matthew 12:47, Mark 3:32, Luke 8:20). Both of these scenes are very misleading.
In the first, we see a very young Joseph with brown hair, next to Mary his wife. This presents an image of a young family with their first child. According to Holy Tradition, however, Joseph was an elderly man and a widower. He had had children by this former wife Salome, James (Iakovos), Jude (Judas), Justus, and Simon, and several daughters. Some records paint him as young as 60 when he betrothed Mary, others as old as 80. Therefore, it is small wonder that there is no mention of him after Jesus Christ is 12 years old. After all, if Joseph and Mary are just like every other married couple, Mary’s significance is diminished, but if the Righteous Joseph is seen as more guardian than husband, his significance as the protector of the Christ child comes to the fore. Certainly he had long since perished before the Crucifixion or it would have fallen to Joseph to ask for the body of Jesus Christ from Pontius Pilate and not Joseph of Armithea.
Next, the passages that mention Jesus Christ having siblings is misleading. The word used in these passages for sibling is the exact same word used for “Friend,” “Cousin,” “Half-Brother/Sister,” as well as a blood relative. To an extent, this is by design, because our Lord states that those who do the “Will of the Father” are His brothers and sisters and Mother. By relaxing the exactness of blood relation, Jesus Christ opens the door for us to become his family.
Nevertheless, you might point out to me, “Fr. Dimitri, these examples you give are not Scriptural. The bible doesn’t say Joseph was older, or that he was a widower, or that Jesus Christ was an only Child. Rather, it points to the opposite.”
Allow me to prove this to you. If you look at the icon of the Theotokos, her outer cloak always bears three stars that rest on her shoulders and forehead. These denote, “Virgin Before,” “Virgin During,” “Virgin After,” the Evervirgin Mary. Why does this matter? It matters because it shows the importance of raising, caring for, and protecting the Christ Child. He was not a mere baby, but the very Son of God.
Before I continue to why this matters, let me finalize my point that proves Jesus Christ possessed no other siblings.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Jesus Christ was Mary’s Firstborn Son. However, once again, terminology can be misleading. One can be a firstborn son and not have any siblings. The term does not change.
As Firstborn Son, Jesus Christ held a responsibility under Jewish Law to take care of His Mother after His legal father Joseph passed away. According to Jewish Law, if the firstborn son perished and the mother still lived, it would fall to the secondborn and down the line to take care of the mother. Instead, we see Jesus Christ turn to the beloved Disciple John the Theologian and say, “Behold your mother,” and to the Theotokos, “Behold your son.” And from that hour that disciple took her to his ow
n home. (John 19-25-29). He made John the Theologian Mary’s son. Why? Because there were no siblings of the Virgin Mary’s blood to take care of her. If Jesus Christ had brothers and sisters, why would His last action before His death on the Cross be to break the Law? When by His own mouth he said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17).
Now, the Virgin Mary’s dedication to her Son is evident and now we see how complete that dedication extends, but let us look to the Gospel of the Great Paraklisis and the Gospel of most of the Feasts of the Theotokos from St. Luke 11:27-28 “As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’
This might seem as though the Lord is denigrating His mother, stating that she is not blessed, but rather those who hear God’s word and keep it. The truth could not be further from this rendering.
Jesus Christ is actually showing us WHY we hold her in high esteem, Why she is blessed. Her whole life has been hearing the word and keeping it.
Indeed, if we look to the Orthros Gospel, Mary says “My Soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! (Luke 1:46). Why two? Why Souls and spirit? She says this because she recognizes that human beings are comprised of three elements: Soul, Spirit, and Body. Spirit is the vivifying life force that all living creatures and plants possess. So long as we possess this Spirit within us, we are alive. That her spirit rejoices show us that she lives her life to God. Her actions are towards God and shows us she keep the Law. Soul is the “Breath” of God, that element that makes humanity unique amongst all of Creation. Only we have this. No animal, no plant, nothing else has a Soul which places them in direct contact with God in this unique relationship with their Creator. Her Soul magnifies the Lord showcasing how her inner being relates to God. Her Soul which at its crux is the very heart of who she is.
That she uses both her Spirit and Soul, she shows us how she dedicates her entire self to Christ. This is why, she is right to say “for he has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”
How did she acquire this blessedness? The low estate of His handmaiden. This means her humility allowed her to be full of this Grace. We can only achieve this type of humility through Prayer, Fasting, Sacramental & Liturgical Life. This “Kenosis” self-emptying and Aesthetical Life produces the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The Entire Life of the Panagia exemplified this Humility. This is why she is called “Most Holy,” and why of all of the humans after Christ she is greatest example of what we can be.
Let us learn from her humility so that we might acquire the Holy Spirit. Let us extol, not only as the Mother of God, the Theotokos (God Bearer), the Panagia (All Holy), the Queen of the Angels, but as the most humble servant of God. If we do this, then we too can be servants of God and be called blessed.
I remain your servant in Christ,
Fr. Dimitri Tobias, Proistamenos