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Mary’s Tomb, Place of Grace

from Homily 1 On the Dormition of the Theotokos, 12-13,

by Saint John of Damascus 

Your  holy and all-virginal body was consigned to a holy tomb, while the angels went before it, accompanied it, and followed it; for what would they not do to serve the Mother of their Lord?

Meanwhile, the apostles and the whole assembly of the Church sang divine hymns and struck the lyre of the Spirit: “We shall be filled with the blessings of your house; your temple is holy; wonderous in justice” [Psalm 65.4].  And again:   “The Most High has sanctified his dwelling” [Psalm 46.5].; “God’s mountain, rich mountain, the mountain in which God has been pleased to dwell” [Psalm 68.16-17].

The assembly of apostles carried you, the Lord God’s true Ark, as once the priests carried the symbolic ark, on their shoulders.  They laid you in a tomb, through which, as if through the Jordan, they will conduct you to the promised land, that is to say, the Jerusalem above, mother of all the faithful ,whose architect and builder is God.   

Your soul did not descend to Hades, neither did your flesh see corruption,  Your virginal and uncontaminated body was not abandoned in the earth, but you are transferred into the royal dwelling of heaven, you, the Queen, the Sovereign, the Lady , God’s Mother, the true God-bearer.

O, how did heaven receive her, who surpasses the wideness of the heavens?   How is it possible that the tomb should contain the dwelling place of God?   And yet it received and held it.   For she was not wider than heaven in her bodily dimensions, indeed, how could a body three cubits long, which is always growing  thinner, be compared with the breath  and length of the sky?   Rather, it is through grace that she surpassed the limits of every height and depth.  The Divinity  does not admit of comparison.

O holy tomb, awesome, venerable, and adorable!    Even now the angels continue to venerate you, standing by with great respect and fear, while the devils shrink in horror.   With faith, men make haste to render you honor, to adore you, to salute you with their eyes, with their lips, and with the affection of their souls, in order to obtain an abundance of blessings.

A precious ointment, when it is poured out upon the garments or in any place and then taken away, leaves traces of its fragrance even after evaporating.   In the same way, your body, holy and perfect, impregnated with divine perfume and abundant spring of grace, this body which had been laid in a tomb, when it was taken out and transferred to a better and more elevated place, did not leave the tomb bereft of honor, but left behind a divine fragrance and grace, making it a wellspring of healing and a source of every blessing for those who approach it with faith……

from Homily 2 On the Dormition of the Theotokos, 19

by Saint John of Damascus

And what shall we answer to the tomb ourselves?   Your grace is unceasing, every-flowing; yet God ‘s power is not limited to places, nor are the gracious actions of the Mother of God.  If they were restricted to her sepulcher, after all, God’s gift would inspire very few people!   But in fact, it is given without measure in all corners of the world.  Let us, then make our own remembrance of her into a rich monument for the Mother of God. 

How shall we do this?   She herself is a virgin, and a  lover of virgins; she is herself pure, and a lover of the pure.  If we consecrate her memory along with our own bodies, we will receive her grace to dwell within us.  She avoids all impurity and turns away from the morass of our passions.  She loathes gluttony and is the foe of our base drive of sexual indulgence; she flees from our impure thoughts like a “brood of vipers” [Matthew 3.7].  She shuns wicked and frivolous talk and singing, and will have no contact with seductive perfumes.  She hates the swelling of pride, and will not accept inhumane behavior and quarreling.  She rejects vainglory, that exerts itself to no purpose.   She opposes puffed up arrogance as a bitter enemy.  She loathes an unforgiving mind, as the enemy of salvation.  She considers all vice as a deadly poison, but rejoices in their opposites: for opposites are the cure for what they oppose!

She delights in fasting, in self-control, in the singing of psalms; she rejoices in the presence of purity, of virginity, of temperance.  She bestows on these things unfailing peace, welcomes them with affection.  She embraces the peaceful and gentle heart, she takes love and mercy and humility into her arms as her own children.  To put it briefly, she is horrified and angered by any  kind of wickedness, but rejoices in all goodness as if it were a gift bestowed on herself…..