Become the Theotokos

Passages: Is. 7:10-16; Gal. 3:29-4:7; Lk 2:1-7
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. Է 10-16; Գաղ. Գ 29 – Դ 7; Ղուկ. Բ 1-7

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

If there is one woman, apart from my wife, that I love more than anyone in this world it’s my mother. She knows everything about me and no matter how much someone cares for me, no one cares for me more than her. This is true about most mothers. As loving as father’s are, there is something different about the love of a mother. It is no wonder that the Church has a deep love and devotion towards her mother, the Virgin Mary – the mother of Jesus Christ. To say, we love St. Mary is merely an understatement. For the Church she is known as the “Theotokos” – “Mother of God” or in Armenian “Astvadzadzin”. This is because she willingly provided the physical means for God to become man – God was born from her. As we read in John 1, “The Word became flesh” or in the words of St. Athanasius, “God became a man.” Our love for the Virgin Mary is also evident in our sharagans, hymns: Antaram Dzakhik – Everlasting flower or Khnki Dzarin – Flower of incense. Yet, as important as the Holy Virgin Mary is, she doesn’t appear too many times in the Holy Scriptures. In fact, what we know and believe about who St. Mary was is found outside of the Holy Scriptures, within Holy Traditions and other teachings of the early Church. Such is today’s celebration, the Feast of Holy Assumption.

It is believed that after Christ’s Holy Ascension, the Virgin Mary lived another 10-15 years with the disciples, before she passed. She was the mother of all the Apostles and so when she was buried in her family tomb in the garden of Gethsemane, all mourned her passing. St. Bartholomew was not present, as he was away preaching the Gospel and so, when he returned a few days late and desired to pay respect to his Lord’s mother, the disciples opened her tomb but did not find her body. Angels’ voices were heard for three days and nights after St. Mary fell asleep and the apostles interpreted the angels’ singing as a sign that our Lord Christ Jesus had assumed, or taken up, his mother into heaven as he had promised her. And when they found the empty tomb this was a confirmation of that promise. So we love St. Mary, understandably. However, on this feast day according to the Armenian tradition, we bless grapes. Why? What does this feast day, the tradition of grapes and our own Christian faith have to do with each other?

Traditionally, at this time of the year our ancestors had a blessing whenever grapes were ripe and harvested in Armenia and so it is not originally or directly associated with the veneration of the Mother of God. In fact, in places where there may not be grapes, other fruits can be blessed as a reminder of the harvest. But in the highlands of Armenia, Grapes are considered a sacred fruit as they symbolize the entire harvest. They provide nutrition but also a means to get wine and spirits. They are plentiful as a symbol of fertility and fruitfulness. Grapes don’t grow individually but as a group and so therefore, the blessing of grapes is a reminder to us of God’s presence in our lives. Grapes remind us of how God gives plentifully and that our Christian faith grows when we grow together. Yes, grapes are the fruit that is used to make wine, the blood of Christ Jesus in Holy Communion, but communion is not done individually but as a family as the body, which is the Church. So, if the grapes are the wine which is the blood, what about the body, the bread, the flesh of Christ?

Here is why St. Mary is so important my dears. The Holy Theotokos humbly accepted to be the vessel through which God took on flesh. She became the example of the Church. What about us? Our humility, love, devotion and trust in God? Everything we have in life, from the harvest to the countless blessings we enjoy daily from God. The flesh of Holy Communion is not merely limited to the bread we use in Badarak but it is also present with us. Meaning faith and Holy Communion is when we become “Astvadzadzin’s” – givers of birth to God. When we receive Holy Communion and we too become Holy Communion to others. Remember the words of Christ Jesus, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56) To be that Communion my dears, to give birth to God is through our actions, our thoughts, our words, our comments, and through our treatment of others. Therefore, when we celebrate and speak about our love for the Virgin Mary, when we are offering up the blessings of grapes as a reminder of the blessings from God, remember she matters because she brought God into this world through the life she lived. The grapes matter, because they are a reminder of everything God gives us. We matter my dears, because we have God in us and when we live faithfully God is born and revealed through us. The Theotokos is the first example of being a bearer of Christ, first to be sanctified by Christ. The grapes are an example of the first fruits of the harvest, a reminder that God is always with us. Are we likewise, an example of the presence of God’s love to those around us, whether in the Church or outside the Church?

“Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce.” (Proverbs 3:9) Honor the Lord with who you are; with everything you have and do because we are part of the flesh and blood of Holy Communion. The world will find God through us but they will also deny God because of us. Live faithfully, humbly, and trusting the Lord God. The Lord will see our love, our hope, our compassion, our mercy and He will lift us up, He will assume us and be merciful towards us when we need Him. Let us also be Astvadzadin’s and remember the love that God has for each one of us, no matter who we are. And know that God will be revealed through us, always, Amen!

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