THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
The gracious child Mary, is destined to become the most honorable Mother of God, the most greatly blessed of all humanity, for she will in the fulness of time, give birth to the Savior of the whole world. The Virgin Mary, chosen of God, was gracefully filled with His grace from her earliest childhood, for she was chosen by God out of the entire human race. Her God-fearing and loving parents also contributed much to her spiritual beauty, and filled her with parental love. And here is a symbol of her greatness and supreme rank in heaven, with none higher than her except God. The grace of God with which she was filled will be transformed into her permanent name. This was fulfilled when the Angel Gabriel, greets her at the Annunciation. For he addressed her with her new name in this manner: "Rejoice! Full of Grace!"
Mary was striving ascetically to draw closer to the Lord, wherein she found delight, thus the world held no interest for her. From earliest childhood she lived in prayer and fasting, which she had been taught by her parents and her accompanying angels. With humblemindedness she meditated on the majesty and glory of God. For as the sunshine warms and lightens the body, so did the divine Sun warm and enlighten her soul. Her desire was to serve the Lord, and be His servant during her entire lifetime. It is important to note here, that this is the reason why Orthodoxy refers to her as the fountain of monasticism, for monastics, choose to leave the world and live together in brotherhood, or as a solitary desiring only to serve and glorify God all their life. This can only be accomplished in a spirit of dedication and continuous repentance, which banishes pride and establishes humility.
The preparation of the Virgin Mary for her supernatural birth-giving, was unique and perfectly planned. First the Prophets speak about a New Covenant that would completely replace the Old Covenant of Israel in the flesh. "Behold, the days come says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah" (Jeremiah 38:31-21). In the hymn of the vesperal feast, we hear: "You O Virgin Mother God, are she whom the Prophets proclaimed. You are the glory of the apostles and the exultation of martyrs, the restoration of all who dwell on earth; for through you we are reconciled with God."
WHAT IS THE HOLY OF HOLIES?
When her parents, Joachim and Anna, brought Mary to the temple, they were greeted by Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, who placed their daughter in the Holy of Holies, which was the most sacred place in the temple and in all Israel.
One hymn writer identifies Mary: "the Holy of Holies is placed as an infant in the holy sanctuary, to be reared by the hands of an angel." He adds: Gabriel was then sent to you, O Virgin undefiled, to bring you food. All the powers of heaven stood amazed, seeing the Holy Spirit dwelling in you."
In the Hebrew temple, the Holy of Holies is the inner forbidden mystical place where the glory of God shone brighter than the sun, so that even the priests, could not bear the glory! It is here where God himself directly communicates with man, through the priest, but we also know that God also communicates with humble and faithful men and women, as He did with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elias, Gideon, and others. For humility is the greatest virtue that attracts God's grace to man.
Before the fall of man in Paradise, God communicated daily directly with Adam, but not so after the fall, for disobedience and sin became a barrier between God and man.
The virgin understood the majesty of this due to her innocence and great humility, forshe desired to serve the Lord all her life. In those days, the Holy of Holies was the place in the temple, where God descended to communicate with man through the high priest. Here is something new and wonderful! For now we will celebrate on Christmas, our God who will condescend to become man and He establishes the new and living Holy of Holies through whom He would come into communion with man. His Mother, the Virgin Mary will be transformed into a Live Holy of Holies. What unspeakable beauty! What glory! This blessed child Mary, will mature and blossom into the Theotokos as she conceives without a man, the divine Logos – God himself in her womb. Thus, she becomes the new Living Holy of Holies, bearing a new and name given her by the Angel, when he greeted her: Rejoice "Full of Grace!" She is the new woman that will be blessed by all the faithful for ever and ever, just as the Virgin prophecies: "From this time on, all generations shall call me blessed."
But more concerning of the Holy of Holies where the Virgin will stay for more than nine years. The temple itself was a huge edifice built to divine specifications and exceedingly impressive. There was a thick curtain which separated the holy place from the inner Holy of Holies. No one would dare to approach the Holy of Holies, except the high priest, and only at the appointed time, once in a year. It was the dwelling place of God wherein He communicated with man through the priest, andit was so brilliantly filled with the glory of God, that the priests could not bear it. We can think of Mt. Tabor, where the disciples could not bear the presence of the glory of God, bowing their heads to the ground, due to the extraordinary brilliance. Imagine trying to gaze at the physical sun, which is so bright that your eyes cannot bear it. Then, think of the soul of man attempting to see the glory of God and know that his soul cannot bear it. In this world, very few can see God, and those who do see Him as divine light, thirsting to see more of him again and again. Symeon the New Theologian speaks extensively about this hunger and thirst from his own experience in his Hymns of Divine Love.
Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year. But in the future that material Holy of Holies will be discontinued and the temple will be permanently destroyed with the ending of the old covenant, just as Christ told His disciples: "One stone will not remain upon another". Behold this three-year old little girl, will grow up and become the Living Holy of Holies and the Temple of God, who will be enthroned in her womb! It is no wonder that she is glorified as being more honorable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, for without corruption she will give birth to the God Logos, and is truly the Theotokos, whom we magnify!
But the best is to come, for we will witness little Mary grown up and becoming the new and permanent Holy of Holies. She will fulfill the great calling of God, cooperating with Him to save the world. What does this mean to us sinners? It means that we can leap for joy and dance merrily, for the Son born of her and robed in her flesh, will communicate, not through the high priest, once a year, but directly individually with all the faithful at all times and in every place on earth.! O the mercy of God! O the joy! O the wisdom of God!
Wondrous is this holy Virgin and glorious is the Child she will bear, for she is now renamed as the Holy of Holies and Full of Grace! Christ does indeed communicate with men, with the cry: "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is here!" He preaches the good news, that He has come into the world He created, to save the race of man. He will accomplish this by suffering and being crucified, thus putting death to death, and granting eternal life to all who so desire. The Virgin, Queen of heaven, rejoices as she sees her beloved Son, cast out demons, heal the blind, raise the paralytic, cause the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, and even raise the dead." She rejoices even more greatly with God, when one sinner comes to Him through repentance.