Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Panagia


     It is said to be the foundation of all the feasts of the Lord that we celebrate. For in this feast the Lord takes for himself human flesh and changes human nature forever. As you might know by now I am speaking of the feast of the Annunciation of Lord, which the Byzantine tradition celebrates on March 25. In celebrating this feast I am reminded of a special title that my tradition gives to the Theotokos, which is the Panagia (All-Holy).We give this title to her because in addition to being  pure she was also the most worthy of the human race to give our God flesh. In thinking of this we should be filled with wonder because no other person was chosen to conceive our salvation. Her son might have been the one to ultimately grant salvation to all but our Lord chose first to manifest our hope through the Panagia.
     As we know from our traditions when God took on flesh through the Annunciation a complete deification of human nature took place. However, what we may not know from our traditions is that before the Annunciation deification was still possible for human nature but not in a complete way. We first see this in the various holy people of the Old Testament like Moses who's face radiated the divine light or even the Prophet Elijah who was mysteriously taken by God while still alive. However, whatever experience of deification the saints of the Old Testament had it was not enough to overcome death. It would not be until the Panagia that we would find a person with some capacity to silence the grip of death.
     In a way the Panagia was the completion of the work of those that came before her. The fathers before her were also exposed to God’s grace and in such a way that humanity became more and more purified for that moment when God would become man. However, where death held the fathers back the Panagia became the vessel where the Divine Nature would have no barriers. In addition, by being the completion of the flow of grace through those that came before her we find that the Panagia was given a special role in the salvation of the human race. I believe Blessed John Paul the Great emphasizes this when he once said, “Redemption was the work of her Son; Mary was associated with it on a subordinate level. Nevertheless, her participation was real and demanding. (Inseg VI/1 (1983) 1136 [ORE 783:1)”.
     In one way the Byzantine tradition shares the Blessed Father's understanding of Mary's role, which is seen in our feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the temple. This feast specifies that Mary did something that was not normal and has even been dismissed by scholars as myth. For this feast proclaims that the Panagia did something only proper for the high priest by entering into the Holy of Hollies in the temple. Normally it was the high priest alone that would go to such a place to mediate atonement of sin but the Panagia by her own virtue presented herself to God there. By doing this she demonstrated through her actions that she was "Panagia" and the true temple in which sin could ultimately be abolished. Its unfortunate that some have dismissed this feast because it demonstrates the work of God at its climax in saving us from the power of sin. Before this there was no one worthy to fulfill the qualifications that could bring salvation to the human race. It was only through Mary's constant obedience and response to grace that we find for the first time in history someone who was worthy to experience the fullness of God.
     By the time the Annunciation happened we find Mary by her own virtue being the Panagia. She participated in the divinity in such a way that she surpassed what might have been humanly possible for Eve before the fall. Consequently, she was filled with the Grace of God in such a capacity that she only awaited greater perfection, which she received through the Annunciation. It was at this time when she received by her consent to the angle the divinity of the Word of God. In one way it is the same gift of perfection that we also receive through the sacraments. However, for her she received the grace unmediated through God becoming man in her. In fact, her experience of the divine nature from that point became so profound that one of the Byzantine Fathers St. Gregory Palamas called her the boundary between the created and the uncreated. For in her alone there was and ever will be a total and unrestricted access to the divine nature.

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