Mosaic of Our Lady from the Hagia Sophia, taken from The Religion Network
[The following is taken from St. John Damascene's St. John Damascene's Second Sermon on the Dormition of the Theotokos
, 8th century A.D.]
O people of Christ, let us acclaim her to-day in sacred song, acknowledge our own good fortune and proclaim it. Let us honour her in nocturnal vigil; let us delight in her purity of soul and body, for she next to God surpasses all in purity. It is natural for similar things to glory in each other. Let us show our love for her by compassion and kindness towards the poor. For if mercy is the best worship of God, who will refuse to show His Mother devotion in the same way? She opened to us the unspeakable abyss of God's love for us. Through her the old enmity against the Creator is destroyed. Through her our reconciliation with Him is strengthened, peace and grace are given to us, men are the companions of angels, and we, who were in dishonour, are made the children of God. From her we have plucked the fruit of 1ife. From her we have received the seed of immortality. She is the channel of all our goods. In her God was man and man was God. What more marvellous or more blessed? I approach the subject in fear and trembling.
With Mary, the prophetess, O youthful souls, let us sound our musical instruments, mortifying our members on earth, for this is spiritual music. Let our souls rejoice in the Ark of God, and the walls of Jericho will yield, I mean the fortresses of the enemy. Let us dance in spirit with David; to-day the Ark of God is at rest. With Gabriel, the great archangel, let us exclaim, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, inexhaustible ocean of grace. Hail, sole refuge in grief. Hail, cure of hearts. Hail, through whom death is expelled and life is installed."
And you I will speak to as if living, most sacred of tombs, after the life-giving tomb of our Lord which is the source of the resurrection. Where is the pure gold which apostolic hands confided to you? Where is the inexhaustible treasure ? Where the precious receptacle of God? Where is the living table? Where the new book in which the incomprehensible Word of God is written without hands? Where is the abyss of grace and the ocean of healing? Where is the life-giving fountain? Where is the sweet and loved body of God's Mother?
Why do you seek in the tomb one who has been assumed to the heavenly courts? Why do you make me responsible for not keeping her? I was powerless to go against the divine commands. That sacred and holy body, leaving the winding-sheet behind, filled me full of sweet fragrance, sanctified me by its contact, and fulfilled the divine scheme, and was then assumed, angels and archangels and all the heavenly powers escorting it. Now angels surround me, and divine grace abounds in me. I am the physician of the sick. I am a perpetual source of health, and the terror of demons.
I am a city of refuge for fugitives. Approach with faith and you will receive a sea of graces. Come, you of weak faith. All you that thirst, come to the waters in obedience to Isaias' commands, and you who have no money, come and buy for nothing. I call upon all with the Gospel invitation. Let him who longs for bodily or spiritual cure, forgiveness of sins, deliverance from misfortune, the possession of heaven, approach me with faith, and draw hence a strong and rich stream of grace. Just as the action of one and the same water acts differently on the earth, air, and sun, according to the nature of each, producing wine in the vine and oil in the olive-tree, so does one and the same grace profit each person according to his needs. I do not possess grace on my own account. A tomb given up to corruption, an object of sorrow and dejection, I receive a precious ointment, and am impregnated with it, and this sweet fragrance alters my condition whilst it lasts. Truly, divine graces flow where they will. I have sheltered the source of joy, and I have become rich in its perennial fountain.
What shall we answer the tomb? You have indeed rich and abiding grace, but divine power is not restricted by place, neither is the Mother of God's working. If it were confined to the tomb alone, few would be the richer. Now it is freely distributed in all parts of the world. Let us then make our memory serve as a storehouse of God's Mother. How shall this be? She is a virgin and a lover of virginity. She is pure and a lover of purity. If we purify our mind with the body, we shall possess her grace. She shuns all impurity and impure passions. She has a horror of intemperance, and a special hatred for fornication. She turns from its allurements as from the progeny of serpents . . . She looks upon all sin as death-inflicting rejoicing in all good. Contraries are cured by contraries. She delights in fasting and continence and spiritual canticles, in purity, virginity, and wisdom. With these she is ever at peace, and takes them to her heart. She embraces peace and a meek spirit, and love, mercy, and humility as her children. In a word, she grieves over every sin, and is glad at all goodness as if it were her own. If we turn away from our former sins in all earnestness and love goodness with all our hearts, and make it our constant companion, she will frequently visit her servants, bringing all blessings with her, Christ her Son, the King and Lord who reigns in our hearts. To Him be glory, praise, honour, power, and magnificence, with the eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.