The Humility That Precedes the Knowledge of God

The Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God – Moldovița Monastery

Today is the Synaxis of the Mother of God. Today we honor the Mother of God, through whom we have the Savior. All the odes from today praise and hymn her. There is even a matins hymn that says: “Verily it is easier for us to endure silence since there is no dread danger therefrom for us” (Ninth Ode of the Second Canon, Nativity of the Lord). We certainly cannot reach her height, we certainly cannot grasp this mystery, but we will still try to say a couple of words about the Mother of God, on the day of the Feast. 

In the Gospel read on the Nativity of the Lord, the Holy Apostle Luke tells us that “So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (2.6–7). We already see the image of humility: Because there was no room for them to lodge, He was born in a cave and slept in a manger. And after that, it was revealed to the shepherds in the field that a Savior was born to them, Christ the Lord in the city of David, and that “this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (2.12). The glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds, and they beheld that angelic revelation: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (2.14). The Nativity of the Lord shows us both the deepest humility and the highest glory at once. It is always like this with the Savior: glory and humility. 

Then came the wise men, led by the star to the place where the Child was. And entering the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshiped Him; then they opened their treasures, they presented gifts unto Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The wise men worshiped him like a king, the King of the Jews (cf. Matthew 2.2). The angel appeared to the magi and warned them not to go to Herod but depart for their country another way. Joseph was also divinely warned in a dream by the angel who said to him, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him” (Matthew 2.3). Ascension and descent… Now they must flee and take refuge in Egypt.

We cannot fathom the mystery of the Incarnation and this condescension, this self-emptying of the Savior. He left the bosom of the Father and became incarnate. Not being able to see this humility, which is hidden from us, we can see only His earthly humility. God’s humility, His Self-emptying we understand only from these small details: He was born in a cave; He slept in mangers, with cattle; He fled into exile, He was always on the road hither and thither. Only by knowing that he is God do we understand how humble our Savior and God was. The Holy Fathers say that the Savior in all things humbles Himself and empties Himself from His glory that He may set us free to receive Him, to know Him, to love Him as He is. 

The Mother of God perfectly emulated the Savior in this incomprehensible humility. While with child, she went to Bethlehem to be registered during those times during which it was not easy to travel. She never murmured, but obeyed in everything. She was also delivered in humble conditions, after receiving the news from the angel that she would birth the Son of the Most High: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, also, the Holy One who is to be born of you will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1.35). This humility seems incomprehensible to man, unless one has the humility of the Mother of God, who, by saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1.38), fullfills all things according to God’s will and gives herself over to God’s will, a will that was fulfilled through Joseph as well. She obeyed in everything: let us go to sign our names, let us go to Egypt, let us return from Egypt. No opposition. No murmuring, no defiance from the Mother of God. Humanly speaking, all this is perplexing, and we might say that it would have been somewhat natural at least to ask or question something. But no! She did nothing of the sort! 

So the Mother of God is perfect in humility and obedience, and by following the will of the Lord, she is fully the servant of God, just like the Savior. We could say a lot here, for this humility of the Mother of God is without end. For example, God tells Joseph what to do with the family, that is, with the Mother of God and the Child: “Take the young Child and His mother.” He tells Joseph, not the Mother of God, although He could have told her. This is a little different from our modern mentality. The Mother of God was to care for the Infant and contemplate Him. We see how new parents spend all day simply watching a newborn open his eyes, move his hands, nod his head, and they don’t need a TV or anything else. Parents simply enjoy the baby. 

Can we imagine what the Mother of God must have been like with the Divine Infant?! 

God reveals Himself in the scriptures, in the prophets; we read, we know about Him from the testimonies of the Holy Fathers, but this is incomparable to seeing Him. The real discovery of God is when He personally shows us something about Himself, as the Savior says, “This is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17.3). 

The kingdom of God, which is the knowledge of God, is something personal and comes after a personal contact with God; then we will know much more than what we read, than what we learned, than what we heard. The righteous and much tried Job, although perfected through the unspeakable affliction he underwent, at one point murmured a bit, somehow holding God accountable for all that happened. So God reproved Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” (Job 38.4), etc. At the end, Job said, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I depreciate myself and I waste away. I regard myself as dust and ashes” (Job 42.5–6).

The knowledge that God grants directly, personally, is incomparable to the one that we take from reading, from hearing. But to reach this personal revelation of God, we must humble ourselves. God humbled Himself to come to us, to make Himself known to us, to reveal Himself to us in a personal way. And in order to get closer to Him, in order to know Him, we also ought to humble ourselves. It is for this reason that all the trials of life come, all the hardships, everything, all things that happen are contained in this great mystery of humility. And if we know how to receive them as the Mother of God did—it is not easy! If we stop to contemplate at least the moment of Nativity, not to mention the Passions, we see how much humility the Mother of God had. It took this humility in order for Christ to be born. The moment Christ is born, nothing else is needed. She contemplated Him, seeing and putting in her heart all that was happening around her and what she saw directly. There is no person who has known the Savior better than the Mother of God. That is not possible, because for hours, for minutes, for seconds, she contemplated Him as a baby, as a child, then as a teenager, a young man, and a perfect man. She knows God as no one knows Him; neither angels nor men can know Him as the Mother of God knows and loves Him. The Savior personally gives knowledge of God, of Himself, but not necessarily by hearing, not even by sight,but by all that He is. He communicates Himself to us beyond words, beyond all. We need a lot of humility to enter the presence of the Lord. But when we come to be in the presence of the Lord—grant it, O Lord!—we learn greatly, without words. The Mother of God is par excellence the one who fulfilled all this; she had both the humility and then the direct, personal discovery of God. These are but a few words, insufficient, poor … We wanted to honor the Mother of God a little and understand these mysteries of God, His incomprehensible humility. Most of His humility is hidden, we only get a glimpse of it, but it is enough to understand more. So let these words help us to have the inner flexibility given by humility, so that we may humble ourselves, and then know how to live with Him, at His feet, enjoying the comfort, the grace that He affords us.

May God and the Mother of God help us, may we live our faith properly and be alive in our God. Amen.

Many happy years!

Protosyngellos Ieremia