“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” These words offer a summary of the life of the Virgin Mary, because they show how she lived a life totally dedicated to serving God and proclaiming the Good News of the Savior of the world.
We have completed the period of a 14 day fast and today celebrate one the biggest feast of the year in honoring the Mother of God, the Falling Asleep of the Virgin Mary on August 28 (August 15). Since we place so much emphasis on the Virgin Mary within our Church, it is important to take a moment and meditate on her life; to discover exactly who she is and what she has to teach us.
First and foremost, the Virgin Mary is the Mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She is actually the Mother of God, the one chosen to give birth to God here on earth! She is unique because of this relationship with Jesus Christ. She is the one woman in all of history to be chosen as the woman to give birth to God-become-man, the one who would bring God into the world in a very special way. The Bible says she is “full of grace,” a woman so pure and blessed by God that all future generations would honor her and called her blessed.
She is not, however, a god. She is a human being like you and me. She is one of us! This is why we sometimes call her not only the Mother of God, but the Mother of All Humanity. The only difference between her and us is that she dedicated her life to Christ in an absolute way, she gave up her own will and accepted completely the will of God in her life.
Of course all the saints of our Church are examples for us to imitate, but the Virgin Mary is the first among the saints. When the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she was the chosen one, she had the free choice to either accept or reject his words. God never imposes his will on anyone. The greatest gift He has given man is freedom, freedom to choose to follow and obey Christ, or freedom to follow the ways of the world. The Virgin Mary used her freedom to say “Yes” to God in the most complete way.
Think a moment about the Virgin Mary. She was a young girl – a simple, unassuming, pious, faithful young virgin, who despite her youth, willingly dedicated her whole life to God. She could have thought about the trouble that she would have – the ridicule for being pregnant outside of marriage, the difficulty of not having people believe in her explanation of a miraculous visitation from an angel, the threat of even being stoned to death (because Jewish law stated that women who became pregnant out of wedlock should thus be punished). The Virgin Mary could have said that she was not ready yet to make such a serious and life-changing decision. She was only 14 or 15 years old. “I am too young to decide,” she could have said. “Please, choose someone else, because I want to live a normal life like everyone else.”
Instead of these excuses, we see her COURAGE to accept the word of the Lord. She humbly responded, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And from this humble yet faithful response, God used Mary to carry the message of hope and salvation to the whole world. In one way, we could call Mary one of the first missionaries. She was the first person to proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and to share His Good News of hope to all creation. Before all else, her life teaches us about COURAGE, OBEDIENCE, and the JOY to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.
How many of us today can imitate her example and say to God, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; do to me whatever you want according to your word.” How many of us even understand that God is also calling us to serve him in a unique way. The desire of Christ is for everyone to live a holy life which will radiate light onto others. It doesn’t matter what we do, or what position we hold, or how old we are. Most of us are older that 14 or 15 years old, therefore we’re older than the Virgin Mary when she made her life-changing decision. God seeks from all of us, just as he sought from the Virgin Mary, to totally commit our lives to Christ and obediently follow the path of the kingdom of God.
Another virtue we learn from Mary is HUMILITY. She didn’t seek to glorify herself. When people would come to her, she would direct them towards Jesus. We even see this in many of the icons that depict her. Mary opens her hands and points to Jesus, inviting the whole world to come to him and embrace him. In like manner, we also must live our lives in a way which will draw attention and bring glory to God. Like Mary, we must remain HUMBLE and realize that any good which we possess is a gift from God, and should be used to bring more glory to His holy name.
One other aspect, among many others, of Mary’s life we can learn from is her example of PRAYER. Our Church realizes that not only was she a person who prayed in the temple from a young age, but even now she continues to pray to God on our behalf.
This is why we prayed the Paraclesis/Supplication Service to the Virgin Mary every night throughout this Fast. In this beautiful service we ask the Theotokos to continually intercede on our behalf, and to ask her Son to help us in our times of need and distress. But we should not only ask her for prayers; we ourselves should imitate her example and pray ourselves constantly to God. We should lift up our voices to God in praise, thanksgiving, supplication, and worship as she did. Just as the life of the Theotokos became a prayer in itself, our life also should become a living prayer to God.
In conclusion, let us remember in the Virgin Mary’s life not only a person who is to be highly honored, but a person from whom all Christians can learn. I hope we journeyed through this Fasting Period and will continue each and every day thinking about the example which the All Holy One gives us, and seeking to live a new life according to the model of the Theotokos.