In the East we celebrate the Theotokos on the day after Christmas (Roman Catholics celebrate St. Stephen). We celebrate the Theotokos on the second day of the Feast of the Nativity primarily because it is through Mary that the incarnation is possible. The Nativity of Christ is the greatest moment of Mary’s life. It is the moment she brings forth God into the world and beholds His face – which is also a reflection of her face – for the first time.
As a Church, we recognize and honour Mary for her role as the Theotokos. She is the God-bearing one! Wider than the heavens! But we also recognize the great suffering she endured for being the Theotokos. She was nearly cast aside by Joseph, then traveled to Egypt to escape persecution for her baby, spent three days not knowing where her child was (when Jesus was left behind in the Temple in Jerusalem). And then the unimaginable. Seeing her son, the Son of God, taunted, beaten, and crucified.
Mary in the Church
Of the twelve great feasts, four directly celebrate Mary. These feasts are: the Nativity of Mary, the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, The Annunciation, and The Dormition of the Theotokos. There are also several “minor” feasts in her honour. These include the celebration of her as the Mother of God (the Synaxis we’re talking about in this article), the Feast of the protection of the Theotokos (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), the conception of Mary, and her purification.
Mary is also honoured in the daily prayers of the church. At Matins, we pray the Magnificat, say the Irmos, and pray the theotokian of the day. There are several moments during the Divine Liturgy where we ask for Mary’s intersession. (Such as: “Through the prayers of the Holy Mother of God, O Saviour, save us”).
How to Celebrate
First of all, have an icon of Mary in your home. We have more than twenty. (We are in the process of moving again so I can’t do a proper count right now). If you don’t have an icon of the Theotokos, make a plan to get one. There are several options on Amazon and EBay. Also check your local religious store. If the budget is tight, start with printing out a good colour image at a local print shop. It shouldn’t cost more than a dollar for a single image.
Pray an Akathist to the Mother of God (pdf available here, from the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh: https://mci.archpitt.org/sheetmusic/general/Akathist.pdf)
Check out the feast day Bible readings: Hebrews 2:11-18, and Matthew 2: 13-23
Read the prayers for the feast at your icon corner time.
The troparion for the Mother of God is actually the same as the troparion for the Nativity of Christ. So in tone 4:
Your Nativity, O Christ our God, made the light of knowledge dawn on the world. Through it, those who worshiped the stars were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness. And to know You, the Dawn from on high. Glory be to You O Lord.
Kontakion: (tone 6)
He who existed before the morning start, and was born of the Father without a mother, today, O Full of Grace, becomes flesh from you without a father. Wherefore, a star brings the news to the Magi. And Angels with shepherds sing of how you gave birth ineffably.
Prokeimenon: (tone 3)
My soul magnified the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God, my Saviour.
Irmos: (tone 1)
Oh my soul, magnify the all pure Virgin Mother of God, more honourable and glorious than the heavenly hosts. To keep silence in fear would be easier for us to do. For this is free from danger, O Virgin Mother. And though it is hard indeed to properly weave hymns, O Mother give us strength so that our God intention may be fulfilled.
The Byzantine Life
If you enjoyed this week’s article, check out our article on Christmas Eve. Or our article on the Annunciation. Please note that there will be no article next week because we will be busy celebrating the Nativity Feast!
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