by St. Nicholas Cabasilas (+1391)
If there is ever a time when a man should rejoice, exult, and cry out with gladness, when he should go off and search for what great and brilliant statements he might utter, when he should wish to be vouchsafed sublimity of ideas, beauty of diction, and powerful oratory, I see no other occasion than this day, on which an Angel came to earth from Heaven bearing every good tiding. Today Heaven is exalted; today the earth is resplendent; today all of creation rejoices, and He Who holds Heaven in His hands is not absent from the Feast, either. Rather, the present celebration is in very truth a festival: all things are gathered together in a single act of rejoicing—the Creator, all of His creatures, and the Mother of the Creator herself, who made Him a partaker of our nature and of our liturgical synaxes and feasts. For He, being our Benefactor from the beginning of creation, and making this His own proper activity (never being in need of anything from anyone), to bestow gifts and to do good, and knowing only such things as these, on this day both does those same things and assumes a secondary place and stands in solidarity with the recipients of His benefactions. Bestowing some things on the creation from Himself, and receiving other things from it, He rejoices not so much in giving great gifts, since He is munificent, as in receiving small gifts from those to whom He has done good, since He loves mankind. He obtains honor not only from what He has laid down for His poor servants, but also from what He has received from us paupers.
For, although He chose to empty Himself and took our poverty upon Himself, yet in accordance with His judgments, as recipient, He used the gift that He received from us for His own adornment and majesty. What greater occasion for delight could there be for the creation—by which I mean both the visible creation and that which transcends our eyes—when it beholds its own Maker in its midst and the Master of all among the ranks of His servants, not divesting Himself of His Lordship, but assuming the form of a servant; not throwing away His wealth, but imparting it to the poor; and not falling away from the summit of His eminence, but elevating the lowly? She who is the cause of all these things for us all rejoices, on the one hand, at sharing, for her part, in the common goods, in that she belongs to the order of creation; and she rejoices, on the other hand, that she shares in these goods before all and most of all, and that through her all of these goods were bestowed on everyone; and fifthly, and most importantly of all, she rejoices because not only did God bring about resurrection for mankind through her, but she also brought it about herself, through the things that she knew and foreknew.
For the Virgin was not like the earth, which contributed to the creation of man but did not bring it about, but merely offered itself as matter to the Creator and was only acted upon and did not do anything. But those things which drew the Artificer Himself to earth and which moved His creative hand did she provide from within herself, being the author thereof. What were these things? A blameless life, an utterly pure way of life, the rejection of all evil, the practice of every virtue, a soul purer than light, a body that was entirely spiritual, brighter than the sun, purer than Heaven, and more sacred than the Cherubic thrones; a mind furnished with wings that was not daunted by any height; a longing for God, which had absorbed the entire appetitive faculty of the soul into itself; possession by God, a union with God inconceivable to any created intellect. Having trained both body and soul to receive such beauty, she turned the gaze of God towards herself, and by her own beauty rendered our common nature beautiful and won over the Impassible One; and He Who was despised by men on account of their sin became man because of the Virgin.
The “middle wall and barrier of enmity” were of no account to her; indeed, everything that divided the human race from God was abolished as far as she was concerned. Even before the common reconciliation, she alone had made peace with God; or rather, she was never in any need of reconciliation, since from the very beginning she stood foremost in the choir of the friends of God. However, such a reconciliation was made for the rest of mankind. And she was, before the Comforter, “an advocate for us before God,” as Paul puts it, not lifting up her hands to Him on behalf of mankind, but holding out her life as an olive branch. The virtue of a single soul was sufficient to put a stop to all of the evil committed by men from the beginning of time. And, just as the Ark, which saved man during the general shipwreck of the inhabited earth, was not itself subject to the calamities that befell the entire world, and just as it preserved for the human race the resources for its continuation, so also did it happen in the case of the Virgin. And, as if no man had dared to commit even one single sin, but all had abided by the Divine commandments and were still occupying their ancient habitation, thus did she ever keep her mind inviolate; and she had no awareness of the wickedness that had, so to speak, been diffused in every direction. The cataclysm of evil, which held all things in its grip, closed Heaven and opened up Hades, started a war between God and men, drove the Good One from the earth and introduced the Evil One in His stead, was yet completely powerless against the blessed Virgin; although evil had dominion over the entire inhabited earth and had everywhere wrought confusion, commotion, and havoc, it was defeated by a single thought and a single soul, and it yielded not only to her, but also, on account of her, to the entire human race.
This was the contribution that the Virgin made to the common salvation of mankind, even before that day arrived on which God was to bow the Heavens and descend. As soon as she was born, she constructed a dwelling-place for Him Who is able to save and fashioned a beautiful house for God—and one that would be worthy of Him. The King could not find any fault with His palace; and indeed, not only did she provide a dwelling fit for His royal majesty, but she also prepared from herself His purple robe and cincture, and the majesty, strength, and the Kingdom itself; just as an illustrious city that surpasses all other cities in size, beauty, wisdom, population, wealth, and all its resources, is able not only to offer a welcome and hospitality to the King, but also to establish, adorn, strengthen, and arm his royal authority, and in this way to inflict inevitable woe upon his enemies, but to confer salvation and an abundance of all good things upon his friends.
Thus did the Virgin benefit the human race before the time came for our common salvation. But since that time had now come and the Angelic messenger was at hand, she believed, gave her consent, and undertook her ministry. These things were indispensable and in every way necessary for our salvation; without them, there would have been no hope for humanity. For, neither would it have been possible, had the Blessed Virgin not prepared herself, as I said, for God to look kindly on mankind and to desire to descend to earth, that is, had there not been someone to receive Him, someone capable of serving Him in the economy of salvation; nor would it have been possible, had she not believed and given her consent, for God’s will for us to have been realized. This is evident from the fact that Gabriel, in addressing the Virgin and calling her “Full of Grace,” expressed everything pertaining to the mystery. God did not descend until the Virgin sought to learn the manner of her conceiving. But when He saw that she was persuaded and that she accepted the invitation, the deed was accomplished straightway; and God clothed Himself in humanity and the Virgin became the Mother of her Creator. In the case of Adam, God neither foretold nor persuaded him concerning the rib from which Eve was to be fashioned, but put him to sleep, and in this way deprived him of the member in question; in the case of the Virgin, however, He first instructed her and awaited her assurance before proceeding to the deed. Regarding the creation of Adam, He conversed with His Only-Begotten Son, saying: “Let Us make man.” But when, as Paul says, He was going to bring this wonderful Counselor, the First-Begotten, into the world, and to form the second Adam, He made the Virgin a participant in his decision. And this great counsel, about which Isaiah speaks, God proclaimed and the Virgin ratified. The Incarnation of the Word was the work not only of the Father, Whose good pleasure it was, and of His Power, Who overshadowed, and of His Spirit, Who descended, but also of the will and faith of the Virgin. For, just as, without those Three, it would have been impossible for this decision to be implemented, so also, if the All-Pure One had not offered her will and faith, this design could not possibly have been brought to fruition.
Having in this way taught and persuaded her, God made her His Mother and borrowed flesh from her with her knowledge and consent, in order that, just as He was conceived voluntarily, it might equally come about for His Mother that she should conceive voluntarily and become His Mother willingly and by her own free decision; and so that, even more importantly, she might not simply contribute to the economy of the Incarnation as one who had been conscripted like some puppet, but might herself offer her own self and become a fellow-worker with God in His Providence for the human race and, thereby, be made a partaker and sharer with Him of the glory deriving therefrom; and so that, furthermore, just as the Savior Himself became man and the Son of man not only for the sake of the flesh, but also had a soul, a mind, and a will, and everything else that is human, He might in the same way obtain a perfect Mother who would minister to His Nativity not only through the nature of her body, but also through her mind, her will, and all that she possessed, and that the Virgin might thus be His Mother in both flesh and soul and might endow the ineffable birthgiving with human nature in its totality.