Below are words taken from homilies on the Dormition of Mary by Germanus of Constantinople. He was the subject of a Wednesday General Audience by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI back in April of 2009 at Saint Peter’s Square. In that catechesis, the Holy Father said of Germanus that “he played an important role in the overall history of the controversy over images during the ‘Iconoclastic Crisis’: he was able to resist effectively the pressures of an Iconoclast Emperor, in other words opposed to icons, such as Leo III.” In the excerpt below, Germanus speaks about the material colors of the icons of the Mother of God and how they dazzle us with the representation of her gifts. Also interesting is the patriarch’s remembrance that the temple of Solomon was once looked upon as an earthly representation of heaven; and now our church buildings, our places of worship should be thought of with that same dignity. This thought, perhaps, may bring to many of us a new excitement in our worship, especially during Eucharistic Adoration. Germanus of Constantinople delivers his words in these homilies, not so much as addressing crowds, but more as a personal prayer to our Blessed Mother. And these words are also what the Carthusian monks reflected on at Matins for this day, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Happy New Year everyone!
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O Mary, you have given birth to the Word of God the Father, at the end of time, to the One Who is “in the beginning.” Immediately after Him coming into the world, the angels looked down from heaven singing the praises of God born from your womb. Crying out that glory had been added to the heights of heaven, they greeted the earth with the peace which at last had come. Enmity could no longer be called a barrier between angels and men, heaven and earth; there was now a reign of harmony, one mutually complimentary song of praise sung by both angels and men to the Triune God. The Father, Who turns to His only Son bearing witness to your Motherhood without need of a husband, says to Him: “Today I have begotten You.” And again: “From the womb before the morning-star, I have begotten You.”
These are revealing words of the mystery of God. If before He was begotten of you, O Virgin and Mother, how does the Father say to Him: “Today I have begotten You?” It is clear that “today” does not indicate that the existence of the Only-begotten’s divinity is something new, but reveals His bodily presence among men. The words “I have begotten you” show that the Holy Spirit, Who shares the Father’s substance, is also in the Father, the source of divine life and the sharer in His activity. The Spirit is inseparable from the Father, and when He places His home in you, Virgin and Mother, by the Father’s good pleasure, makes His own the activity of His Holy Spirit. That is why, when the Father along with the Spirit, inaugurates the coming-forth of His Son, from you in bodily form, He says to the Son: “Today I have begotten You.” The same is true of these other words: “From the womb, before the morning-star, I have begotten you.” For in our faith we grasp the essence of the eternal deity of the Son, co-Eternal with the Father before all ages, and His taking on natural human flesh, from you, the ever-Virgin.
By “the womb before the morning-star,” the Scripture refers to the birth of light which exists before the heavens, but which has now appeared on earth, in order to show that before all creation, visible and invisible, the Only-begotten was brought forth from the Father without beginning, as light is born of light; and “the womb” here signifies your own body, in order to show that the Only-begotten One also came forth from you in flesh. “Before the morning-star” also refers to the night before that dawning, for day is fittingly referred to as “the morning-star”; and since you brought forth light in the night, “for those who sit in darkness,” Scripture calls the hour of your Child bearing, “before the morning-star.”
O Mother of God, your care is for all people. Even if our eyes are prevented from seeing you, you love to dwell in the midst of us all, and you show yourself in a variety of ways to those who are worthy of you. For the flesh does not stand in the way of the power and activity of your spirit; your spirit “blows where it will” since it is pure and immaterial, an incorrupt and spotless spirit, a companion of the Holy Spirit, the chosen one of God’s Only-begotten. Your virginal body is all-holy, all pure, the dwelling-place of God. It is preserved and supremely glorified.
Who would not admire you for your unwavering care, your unchanging readiness to offer protection, your unsleeping intercession, your uninterrupted concern to save, your steady help, your unshakable patronage? Who does not recognize you as the treasury of delight, the garden free from reproaches, the citadel of safety, the harbor of storm-tossed ships, calm for the distraught, welcome for the exiled, dew for the soul’s dry season, a drop of rain for the parched grass? You are Mother of the Lamb Who is the Shepherd, the recognized patron of all the good.
But it is enough praise, O most admirable one, if we simply admit that we do not have the resources to praise all your gifts. You have received from God your exalted position, as a cause for triumph; therefore you have formed for Him a Christian people from your own flesh, and you have shaped them to be conformed to His divine image and likeness. Your light outshines the sun, your honor is above that of all creation, your excellence before that of the angels. For there is no place that you are not called blessed, no tribe from which fruit has not been borne for God from you. Even the peoples of this world who have not known you will themselves, at an acceptable time, call you blessed, O Virgin.
The angels luxuriate in their heavenly dwellings, but we rejoice to take our leisure in your holy temples. For if the temple of Solomon once represented heaven in an earthly image, will not the temples built in honor of you, who became the living temple of Christ, all the more be rightly celebrated as heaven on earth? The stars speak out with tongues of flame in the heavenly firmament; and the material colors of your icons, O Mother of God, dazzle us with the representation of your gifts.
You have your own proper praise within yourself, in that you were designated Mother of God. You did not inherit the title, “Mother of God,” simply because we heard this with our own ears; nor was it simply that our fathers proclaimed this to us in a tradition of utter truthfulness. Rather, the work you have accomplished in us confirms that you are Mother of God in very fact, literally and without deceit, not by some verbal self-indulgence, but in the way of true faith.