“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” With these words, the Most-Pure Virgin Mary ended her conversation with Archangel Gabriel, in which he told her that she would become the Mother of God. Some of our contemporaries now express pious surprise: how could she give her consent, for it implies that she recognizes her ability to become the Mother of God. How could she agree? How could she not decline? Yet these questions are incorrect, for one must discern between consent to recognize her ability and consent to obedience. Yes, she gave her consent, not because she deemed herself capable, but because she admitted being the servant of the Lord.
Today, brethren, we celebrate the beloved feast day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Every year, cathedral churches are over-filled with pious throngs of worshipers, and the most fervent of them, especially in the God-beloved city of Moscow, gather long before Liturgy begins in order to occupy a choice spot, in order to see and hear everything; those who come later can barely enter the church.
This year the Triumph of Orthodoxy is being celebrated in our capital city under two exceptional circumstances. The first one is that this year the Sunday of Orthodoxy is celebrated not where it has been over the course of four and a half centuries, not in the ancient Uspensky Cathedral, but in our new Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ. Of course, this church is four times larger than Uspensky, where the multitude of clergymen are provided with a much grander venue then in the old smaller cathedral. But this is not the reason why the celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy was moved to the new cathedral. It was not external accommodation that forced the Church of Moscow to change its ancient tradition, to celebrate Orthodox Christianity before the miraculous relics of great Saints and the miracle-working image of the Mother of God.
God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are,
extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
To understand the meaning of this parable, we must first eliminate the erroneous interpretation of it. This erroneous interpretation dominates in our secular society, which is not averse to mentioning it in idle talk about the Pharisee in question; but in a totally wrong view of his personality. For our contemporaries, the very word “Pharisee”, before they are conscious or it, conjures an understanding of Pharisees in general as conscious hypocrites…. evil, envious, and dissolute.
“For the Life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us” (1 John 1, 2).
This new life is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is now born in Bethlehem, as He Himself said during the last days of His earthly life: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14, 6).
What is this new life, brothers, and why do people long for it? Because before Christ, people were dissatisfied with their former life, and even now all those who separate themselves from Christ are dissatisfied; they are dissatisfied because earthly life does not correspond to their desires. They want to be healthy and full, but life burdens them with sicknesses and hunger; they want riches and high ranks, but poverty and dishonour goad them, and if they do not fall into these disasters, they still remain dissatisfied with what they have, and desire more good things.
"And when the centurion, who stood near Him,
saw that He so cried out and gave up the spirit,
he said, 'Truly, this man was the Son of God'".
Thus began the faith of the centurion. It is clear that this cry of Christ expressed a treasure of moral content in a spirit which the centurion understood. Such a connection between a tormenting cry of the soul and the beginning of a new grace-filled life in one who has heard it, is found repeatedly in the Holy Scripture. We will begin a survey of these places in the Scripture with the most dramatic one, found in the Book of Esdras:
I lifted my eyes, and on my right hand I saw a woman, and behold, she mourned and wept with a loud voice, and was deeply grieved in heart, and her clothes were torn, and she had ashes upon her head.