St. Mary: Service Without Stipulation - Part II
Awake, O my harp, your chords,
in praise of the Virgin Mary!
Lift up your voice and sing
the wonderful history of this Virgin,
The daughter of David,
who gave birth to the Life of the world!
--St. Ephraim the Syrian
During my youth in an ever growing and expanding church in Shoubra, it was counted an honor to have service requested of any individual. So much so, that a reply of consent to such an honorable request was often deemed redundant. To have been asked to serve God in any capacity was considered the ultimate, golden standard of honors, not a deed to be performed as "should I or shouldn't I do it?", "an extra work" that could possibly be scheduled in, a task to hurriedly be completed without giving priority to God through one's best efforts; nor did it fall behind in importance to work, social activities, collegiate aspirations, computers and TV programming, and fun times with friends and family gatherings. Rather, Service came as a guaranteed, readily understood, accepted–as–first-place in the life of those who were asked to serve. Service was viewed with anticipation and quiet humbleness, and fore mostly considered and counted among one's greatest blessings in life.
Having felt the need to regain this fervor for service and to rededicate oneself to it I felt obligated to write about serving the Lord, the church, and one another. The Biblical representation that immediately emerges is the Blessed Virgin Mary and her life of complete devotion and service to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Blessed St. Mary did not once say let me think about this manner of conception planned by God, foreign to her usual way of thinking, in which many will doubt my good name. The humble St. Mary did not question the role selected for her but replied that she would willingly serve as the handmaiden of the Lord, she did not offer up excuses such as if I don't have to give up my regularly scheduled activities, my one day off, if it doesn't take too much time of my personal time, or if it somehow fits into my hectic over extended schedule.
Rather, St. Mary replied...
"Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
As with all those counted by historians as "Greats among Greats" St. Mary achieved her greatness through her manner of obedient service to the Lord. Her true greatness was derived through her willingness to serve not through the use of affluence having born the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather St. Mary used her influence to serve God and others.
"But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant'" (Matthew 20:25-26).
St. Mary became great through her service, through her quietness, her willingness and readiness to serve, and putting God first in her life's situation. It is very doubtful St. Mary desired greatness which made her even more endearing as the subject of this article related to serving.
This article and three others will tackle St. Mary's life of service:
- Part I: Who is St Mary,
- Part II: St. Mary's Young Adult Life of Service
- Part III: St. Mary's Adulthood
- Part IV: St. Mary's Late and Heavenly Life
Part II: St. Mary's Young Adult Life of Service
The Most Immediate Family Member in St. Mary's Adulthood
In his Holy Gospel (1:16), St. Matthew writes that the Lord Jesus Christ was born only of St. Mary.
"...And Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Matthew 1:16).
"Of whom" in Greek, the language in which the text was originally written, refers to the female gender. Therefore St. Matthew is telling us that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the succession of his list of kings, was born only to St. Mary; and that St. Joseph acted as the Lord Jesus Christ's earthly father although the latter was not the former's seed.
"After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with Child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
But while he thought about these things, behold an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins'" (Matthew 1:18-21).
It is here, in Biblical history, that St. Joseph becomes popularly known as "St. Joseph the Righteous". In his abundant righteousness and exceeding mercy, St. Joseph is unwilling to expose the already implied breach in their betrothal commitment. His righteousness transcends the law of the land, the societal norms of his day, and further propels to action the idea that he would put St. Mary away secretly.
"Then Joseph being aroused from sleep, did as the Angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife and did not know her till she had brought forth her first born Son. And he called His name Jesus" (Matthew 1:24-25).
St. Joseph was an honorable man before God; and did as the angel had commanded him serving the Lord accordingly. In his nobility of heart, he consented to take as his wife a pregnant girl not by him; (but of his genealogy to be sure) and remained faithful to the Holy Family from its inception throughout his life. St. Mary remained chaste her entire life with him. A man of less faithfulness and goodness would have found this the most trialing hardship. St. Joseph would have needed not only his strength of faith; but more than an angel's word in one dream to convince him of such a miraculous conception. But for St. Joseph, a dream and the words of a single angel were indeed convincing. St. Mary's reputation, while invaluable for her life of engagement, must have preceded her in order for St. Joseph to faithfully, willingly and graciously without questioning her integrity accepts the word of an angel.
St. Joseph, of the royal house of David, would earn their daily bread through hand labor as a carpenter; fulfilling all the services as an earthly father to the Lord Jesus Christ thus becoming by Divine appointment, the head of the Holy Family's household. St. Mary and the Lord Jesus Christ would grew to love and cherish St. Joseph's unique relationship to them both.
St. Joseph's readiness to accept his wife's immaculate conception gives us insight into the fact that not only was St. Mary consecrated in the temple; but she must have been of good repute, sound moral character, high integrity, and above all a vessel worthy to carry the Lord Jesus Christ. All these traits were born and practiced not only during her years of consecration in the temple but continued and were perpetuated all along after her life in the temple.
The Most Prominent Events in St. Mary's Adulthood
- The Birth of our Lord
It goes without saying that the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ was the most conspicuous event in St. Mary's life per se. On the twenty-ninth day of the blessed month of Koiahk, of the year 5501 of the world, we celebrate our Lord's birth from St. Mary the Virgin Mother of God. During that time, Caesar Augustus had issued a decree requiring a general census throughout all the Roman Empire. In compliance, St. Joseph of the city of Nazareth, along with St. Mary, traveled to Bethlehem the birth place of King David his ancestor. There, the Virgin Mary gave birth to her first born Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, wrapping Him in swaddling clothes and placing him in a manager, for there was no lodging in the Inn.
Tertullian (c.210) asserts, "Now as a wife, she was under the very law of ‘opening the womb.' Under this law, it was quite immaterial whether the birth of the male was by virtue of a husband's cooperation or not...Who could properly be said to ‘open' the womb, other than he opened a closed one. But it is marriage that opens the womb in all cases. The virgin's womb, therefore, was specially opened, because it was specially closed...And what must be said more on this point? Since it was this sense that the apostle declared that the Son of God was born not of a virgin but of a woman. In that statement, he recognized the condition of the ‘opened womb' that ensues in marriage."
It was certainly Divine Purpose for St. Mary to bear a Son giving Him a human nature, capable of experiencing pain and suffering. The Holy Spirit through His intervention, rendered her young pure body capable of giving human life to the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Isaiah the Prophet foretold,
"Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).
St. Mary would not give birth to another child. It is as Ezekiel the prophet foretold,
"And the Lord said to me, 'This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it, therefore it shall be shut'" (Ezekiel 44:2).
St. Clement of Alexandria (c.195) writes, "As it appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her Child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined to still be a virgin."
This supports the Coptic Church belief that St. Mary remained the Ever-Virgin.
- The Circumcision of our Lord
The Commemoration of our Lord's Circumcision, occurs on January 14, the sixth day of the blessed month of Tobe. God had ordained the law of circumcision as a sign distinguishing His people from among all the others. In accordance, every male of the seed of Abraham was to be circumcised on the eighth day of his birth. God put every soul that did not obey this law under judgment.
As our Lord was born from the posterity of Abraham, according to the flesh, He was to be circumcised on the eighth day firstly in fulfillment of the Law of Moses; and secondly to relieve us from the heavy burden of this commandment; as St. Paul states,
"Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made to the fathers" (Romans 15:8).
- Presenting our Lord in the Temple
Forty days after His birth, in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law, the Lord Jesus Christ was presented by both St. Mary and St. Joseph in the Temple. St. Luke, in his Holy Gospel, wrote that when His parents presented Him to the temple, Simeon the elder took Him in his arms and blessed God saying...
"Lord now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all people, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the Glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).
Simeon was one of the seventy elders who translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek. This translation was to become the Septuagint, the oldest Old Testament translation present in the museum. St. Mary did not know the amount of blessings she had bestowed on Simon regarding this task. For, tradition has it that in the year 296 BC, Ptolemy Soter, sent by the will of God to Jerusalem, brought seventy men from among the learned Jewish scholars(Simeon the elder being one of them); and commanded them to translate the Old Testament. For the sake of ensuring accurate translation, he separated them in pairs so they would not be influenced by each other's translation. When he was about to translate the verse from Isaiah 7:14 "Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel"; Simeon was afraid to write that a virgin would conceive, lest the king might mock him. He instead wanted to translate "virgin" as "a young lady". Since then he had no internal peace because of this inaccurate translation. So, in a vision God revealed to him that he would not die before he would see Christ the Lord born of a virgin. He lived for three hundred years to see the fulfillment of that vision when the Lord Jesus Christ was born. By then, Simeon was well advanced in years and of poor sight. When he carried the child Jesus in his hands, his sight returned and the Holy Spirit told him, "This is the Child that you have waited for." He blessed God saying,
"Lord now You are letting your servant depart in peace according to Your Word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the Glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:28-32).
The Presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ into the Temple and the purification of St. Mary are celebrated on the eighth day of the blessed Coptic month of Meshir, the fifteenth of February, forty days after the shepherds had been summoned to the manager of the Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.
Tertullian asserts that definitely our Savior died upon the cross April 7th. Hippolytus confirms this in his chronicle as he assigns "the begetting of Christ" as well as His Holy Crucifixion. St. Augustine also agrees with these dates in his De Trinitate (On the Trinity) that the Lord Jesus Christ was put to death April 7th, the same day he was conceived of. One must believe in God's plan for each of us, St. Mary is the most prominent example of God's plans and provision. With her having been consecrated at the very young age of three, to eventually becoming the True Tabernacle, God's dwelling place, at the innocent young age of twelve is mind boggling but uplifting. The Coptic Church, describes St. Mary as "the Holy of Holies" which contains the Tables of the Covenant, and the Ten Commandments written by the very finger of God" (Sunday Theotokia, Holy Psalmody). St. Mary's simple obedience molded her into a namesake of service and a precious name our lips could utter after the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...
We exalt you, the Mother of the True Light. We glorify you, O Saint, the Mother of God, for you brought unto us the Savior of the whole world. Glory be to God forever. Amen.
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States