A sermon by Saint Proclus of Constantinople
Our father among the saints, Proclus, was the Archbishop of Constantinople from 434 to 446. He was a friend and disciple of Saint John Chrysostom. He is remembered for his “Tome of Proclus” that peacefully mediated doctrinal disputes among the Eastern bishops. His feast day is celebrated on November 20.
Our present gathering in honor of the Most Holy Virgin inspires me, brethren, to say a word in praise of her, of benefit also for those who have come to this magnificent feast of the Church.
Herein is a praise of women, a glorification of womanhood, a glory brought by her who is at once both Mother, and Virgin. O desired and wondrous gathering! O nature, celebrate this reality, in which honor is rendered to woman; O human race, rejoice, honoring this in which the Virgin is glorified.
“For when sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20)
The holy Mother of God and Virgin Mary has gathered us here. She is the pure treasure of virginity, the paradise of the Second Adam, the point where the co-uniting of natures was accomplished, where the plan of saving reconciliation was affirmed.
Whoever saw, whoever heard, that within a womb the limitless God would make his habitation, though the heavens cannot circumscribe him, though the womb of a Virgin cannot limit him?
This person who is born of woman is not only God and he is not only Man: The one who is born has made woman, through whom sin entered, into the gateway of salvation. Where sin poured forth its poison, bringing on disobedience, just there the Word made for himself a living temple, bringing obedience there; from the place where the arch-sinner Cain sprang forth, there without seed was born Christ the Redeemer of the human race.
He who loves mankind did not disdain to be born of woman, since this bestowed his life. He was not subject to impurity, being settled within the womb, which he himself preserved free from all harm. If it had happened that this Mother did not remain a Virgin, then the one born of her might be a mere man, and the birth would be in no wise miraculous; but since after giving birth she remained a Virgin, then how can he who is born not be God?
It is an inexplicable mystery, since in an inexplicable manner he was born who without hindrance went through doors when they were locked. When confessing in him the co-uniting of two natures, Thomas cried out: “My Lord, and my God!” (John 20:28).
The Apostle Paul says that Christ is “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). They did not perceive the power of the mystery, since it was incomprehensible to the mind: “for had they understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).
If the Word had not settled within the womb, then the flesh would not have ascended with him onto the divine throne; if for God it were disdainful to enter into the womb, which he created, then the angels too would have disdained service to mankind.
He who by his nature was not subject to sufferings, through his love for us, subjected himself to many sufferings. We believe that Christ was not made God through some gradual ascent towards the Divine nature – but rather, being God, through his mercy he was made man. We do not say a man became God, but rather we confess that God was incarnate and became man.
His maidservant was chosen for himself as Mother by him who in his divine essence did not have a mother, and who, through divine foresight having appeared upon the earth in the form of man, does not have father in the flesh. How is one person both without father and without mother, in accord with the words of the Apostle (Hebrews 7:3)?
If he were only a man, then he cannot be without mother – but in fact he had a Mother.
If he were only God, then he cannot be without Father – but in fact he has the Father. And yet as God the Creator he has no mother, and as man he has not father.
We can be persuaded in this by the very name of the Archangel, making annunciation to Mary: his name is Gabriel. What does this name mean? — it means: “God and man.” Since he whom Gabriel announced is God and Man, then his very name points beforehand to this miracle, so that with faith the deed of the divine dispensation may be accepted.
To save people would be impossible for a mere man, since every man has need of the Savior; “for all,” says Saint Paul, “have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Sin subjects the sinner to the power of the devil, and the devil subjects him to death; in this our condition did become extremely wretched, for there was no way to be delivered from death.
There were sent physicians, i.e. the prophets, but they could only the more clearly point out the malady. What did they do? When they saw that the illness was beyond human skill, they summoned from heaven the Physician. One of them said “Lord, bend the heavens, and come down” (Psalm 143:5); others cried out: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shalt be healed” (Jeremiah 17:14). “Stir up thy might and come to save us” (Psalm 79:3). And yet others: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?” (1 Kings 8:27) “Let Thy compassions quickly go before us, O Lord, for we are become exceedingly poor.” (Psalm 78:8) Others said: “The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men” (Micah 7:2). “O God, be attentive unto helping me; O Lord, make haste to help me” (Psalm 69:1). “Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:3). “I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; Seek Thy servant” (Psalm 118:176).
“God shall come visibly, yea, our God, and shall not keep silence.” (Psalm 49:3).
He who is Lord by nature did not disdain human nature, which was enslaved by the sinister power of the devil. The merciful God would not permit it to be forever under the power of the accuser. The Ever-Existing One came and gave his own blood as ransom; for the redemption of the race of man from death he gave up his body, which he had accepted from the Virgin. He delivered the world from the curse of the law, destroying death by his own death.
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law,” exclaims Saint Paul (Galatians 3:13).
Know therefore that our Redeemer is not simply a mere man, since all the human race was enslaved to sin. But likewise he is not only God, not partaking of human nature. He put on a body, since if he had not clothed himself in me, then likewise he did not save me. But when he settled within the womb of the Virgin, then he clothed himself in my condition, and within this womb he perfected a miraculous change: He bestowed the Spirit and received a body, dwelling with the Virgin and born of the Virgin. And so: who is he that is made manifest to us? The prophet David points it out for you in these words: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 117:26). But tell us even more clearly, O prophet, who is he? The Lord is the God of Hosts, says the prophet: “God is the Lord, and has revealed Himself to us” (Psalm 117:27).
“The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14), the two natures were united in one person, and the union remains eternally without mingling.
He came to save, but had also to suffer. What has the one in common with the other? A mere man cannot save; and God in his nature cannot suffer. By what means was done, both the one and the other? By this: That Emmanuel, being God, was made also man. And he saved, by what he was. And he suffered as what he had become.
This is why, when the Church beheld that the Jewish throng had crowned him with thorns, lamenting the violence of the crowd, it said: “Go forth, O ye daughters of Sion, and behold the crown wherewith his mother crowned him” (Song 3:11).
He wore the crown of thorns and destroyed the judgment of suffering from the thorns. He alone is both in the bosom of the Father and in the womb of the Virgin; He alone is in the arms of His Mother and in the wings of the winds (Psalm 103:3); He to whom the angels bowed down in worship, at that same time reclined at table with publicans.
Upon him the seraphim dared not to gaze, and at the same time Pilate pronounced sentence on him. He is the one who was struck by a servant, and before whom all creation trembles.
He was nailed to the cross and he ascended to the throne of glory. He was placed in the tomb and he stretched out the heavens like a curtain (Psalm 103:2). He was numbered among the dead and he emptied hades. Here upon the earth they cursed at Him as a transgressor, while there in heaven, they ascribed glory to him as the All Holy One.
What an incomprehensible mystery! I see the miracles, and I confess that he is God; I see the sufferings, and I cannot deny that he is man. Emmanuel opened up the doors of nature as man, and as God he preserved unharmed the seal of virginity. So he came forth from the womb just as he entered through the annunciation; equally miraculously was he both born and conceived: without passion he entered, and without doing harm he emerged, as concerning this writes the Prophet Ezekiel: “Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looks toward the east; and it was shut. Then said the Lord unto me; ‘This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.’” (Ezekiel 44:1-2) Here it clearly points to the holy Virgin and Mother of God, Mary.
Let all contention cease, and let the holy Scripture enlighten our reason, so that we too may receive the heavenly Kingdom unto all eternity. Amen