April 3, 2020
Saint George Tropeoforos Greek Orthodox Church
New York, New York
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Tonight we have gathered in the only Orthodox Church in Mid-Town Manhattan, the jewel-box we know as Saint George Tropeoforos, to chant on this Fifth Friday of Great Lent the Akathist Hymn – this magnificent canticle in praise of our Παναγία, our merciful Mother and the Mother of our God.
Joining our voices with all the Church across our Nation and around the world, we affirm that She is our Champion and Defender, as we intone:
Τῇ ὑπερμάχῷ στρατηγῷ τὰ νικητήρια,
ὡς λυτρωθεῖσα τῶν δεινῶν εὐχαριστήρια,
ἀναγράφω σοι ἡ πόλις σου, Θεοτόκε·
ἀλλ' ὡς ἔχουσα τὸ κράτος ἀπροσμάχητον,
ἐκ παντοίων με κινδύνων ἐλευθέρωσον,
ἵνα κράζω σοί· Χαῖρε Νύμφη ἀνύμφευτε.
To You the Champion, we your City dedicate
a feast of victory and thanksgiving,
as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos.
But as you are one with might that is invincible,
from all dangers that can be deliver us,
that we may cry to you:
Rejoice, Bride unwedded!
We cry out to the Mother of God, because we are Her City. Just as Constantinople was and still is in many ways the physical image of the Christian Γένος, all of us together constitute the City of God, which is not encompassed by any particular city of man, for as the Apostle Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Hebrews:
Οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν ὧδε μένουσαν πόλιν, ἀλλὰ τὴν μέλλουσαν ἐπιζητοῦμεν.
For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.[*]
This perspective on our life, that we have an eternal City which is to come, is not meant so that we ignore our present reality. Rather, it is to give us hope that whatever happens in this life, in this world, is not the final word in our existence. God has prepared for us both Σάββατον and Κυριακή, a Sabbath of rest from our labors here, and a Day of Resurrection unto Eternal Life. Such an affirmation makes our present life more vital and more precious.
Therefore, we can take heart, even in these most difficult days that no one ever expected to see in the modern era, the coming of a worldwide plague. But if all of us have been caught off guard, God has not. The Mother of God has not. And the Saints have not.
Our confidence is in God, and in the Church that abides in heavenly glory. It is our faith that binds us to the reality of Heaven, even when we cannot avail ourselves of the earthly temples within which we paint and sculpt and imitate the celestial Liturgy.
Just as these broadcasts via the internet strive to bring some of that experience into your homes, we know that God has already opened the doors of heaven into your hearts. And from above He rains down upon us blessings, and levels our anxieties and worries with His peace that passes all understanding.[†]
As the Prophet Isaiah foretold:
“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”[‡]
Therefore, my beloved people, allow God to fill and exalt the valleys of your doubt, to lower the mountains and hills of anxiety and worry that you face in this time of crisis, to straighten the crooked thoughts that distract you, and to smooth the rough places in your soul that stress and hurt you.
He will do all this and more if we will but allow it, through the prayers of our Champion, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and all the Saints.