Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

St. Mary: Service Without Stipulation - Part III

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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 III: St Mary's Adulthood

St. Mary and Need
While quietly and uprightly serving the Lord during this period in her life, St. Mary flowered into adulthood when she became a mother. The law of God given to Moses ordained that a woman would be in a state of "uncleanness" for forty days after the birth of a son and eighty days after the birth of a daughter. In compliance with the same tradition, the Coptic Church baptizes a new-born boy forty days and a new-born girl eighty days after birth to allow the mother to attend the sacrament.

Following her pre-set time of uncleanness, a mother was to bring to the door of the tabernacle a lamb and a young pigeon or turtle dove, the former for the burnt offering in acknowledgement of God's sovereignty and in thanksgiving for her healthy delivery; and the latter for a sin offering. It was only after offering those sacrifices, at the end of the time of uncleanness, that a woman was considered cleansed of the legal impurity.

The poor were to offer two pigeons or two turtle doves; a lamb was not required of those who could not afford one. St. Mary's offering was that of the poor because she could not financially afford otherwise. Poor in spirit as well, St. Mary was ready to submit; humbling herself to every condition the law of her day had prescribed and all circumstances resulting thereafter.

Following the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Virgin remained Virgin.

St. Mary and Her Ransom
According to the Jewish Law given to Moses, the first born was to be offered to God and ransomed with a sum of money. However, the Lord Jesus Christ, the first born to St. Mary and St. Joseph, was not to be ransomed like the entire first born; but to become the ransom to humanity. The meeting in the temple of Simeon and Anna with the Child Jesus and His parents was a foretelling of St. Mary's sorrows and an announcement of the salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ Whose blood was to ransom all those who believed in Him as Savior. That was the other great futuristic mystery that surrounded the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.

The foretelling of this prophesy coincides with the Coptic Orthodox contention that St. Mary is the censor, made of pure gold, carrying the blessed live Coal, taken from the Altar as a ransom for us all in order to purge our sins and remove our iniquities; God Who was incarnate of You, and offered Himself to the Father as incense; you too, O Mary, have conceived in your womb the invisible Logos of the Father, who offered Himself a sacrifice upon the Holy Cross for the salvation of our race.

St. Mary in Egypt
Sometime following the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, in a dream St. Joseph was warned of Herod's plan to murder the Child Jesus.

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, '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.'

When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, 'Out of Egypt I called My Son'
" (Matthew 2:13-14).

On the twenty-fourth day of the blessed Coptic month of Pashons we commemorate the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the land of Egypt.

According to the Coptic Church doctrine, the two important reasons for the Holy Family's flight to Egypt were: First, to prove that the Lord was too real and not a spirit or phantom to fall into Herod's cruel hands and be terminated by him. Second, to bless the people of Egypt fulfilling the prophesy,

"And out of Egypt I called My son" (Hosea 11:1).

As well as

"Behold the Lord rides a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt, the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst" (Isaiah 19:1).

It has been written that the Egyptian idols tumbled down as soon as the Incarnated Word of God set foot into Egypt; just as Dagon had fallen down before the Ark of the Lord (I Samuel 5:3).

The Lord Jesus Christ was approximately two years old when He entered the land of Egypt with St. Joseph, St. Mary, and Salome.

The Holy Family first passed by a small village called Basta in which they drank from a well, the water of which has since then become blessed healing water. From Basta, they proceeded to Meniet Samannoud, and crossed the Nile River to the western side of the vast country side. The western side of the land of Egypt boasts of the Lord Jesus foot print on a stone called Picha Isos (the heel of Jesus); where He trod. After that they traveled continuing westward to Wadi El-Natroun, and it was there St. Mary blessed the region knowing that many monasteries would be built here. This could perhaps be the reason for finding an icon of St. Mary in every Coptic monastery in that location.

From Wadi EL-Natroun the Holy Family traveled to El-Ashmoneen where they resided a few days, then continued onward to Mount Qosqam where the monastery of St. Mary would in the future be erected (El-Moharrak Monastery).

Tradition has it that in Egypt, the Holy Family passed along a watermelon field where the seeds had already been sown. To delude the soldiers searching for them, St. Joseph asked the farmer to inform them that the Holy Family had passed by the field at the time of seed sowing. However, this piece of untrue information was never delivered as God spared St. Joseph that lie; for by the time the soldiers of Herod arrived, the watermelons had miraculously blossomed and begun to show forth its fruits. This resulted in the soldiers believing that the Holy Family passed by the watermelon field months before; and so they stopped the search for the Holy Family.

After the death of Herod, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth having been directed by the Angel of God to...

"Arise, take the young child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life are dead" (Matthew 2:20).

The Holy Family, along with Salome, returned to Cairo and lodged in a cave, (church of Abu-Serga in Old Cairo). They then passed by El-Mataryia; and there they blessed and sanctified a well solely by washing in its water. Beside the well there exists a distinguished balsam tree the oil of which is used to make the Holy Chrism used in consecrating new churches and their service utensils. From El-Mataryia the Holy Family walked to El-Mahama and from this point returned to the land of Israel.

St. Mary and Her Son's First Miracle
On the thirteenth day of the blessed Coptic month of Tobe, the commemoration of the Miracle at Cana of Galilee is celebrated. It was the first of our Lord's miracles after His baptism in which St Mary was not only present; but played an integral part in it's occurrence. At the wedding of Cana, to which the Lord Jesus Christ was invited along with His mother, and some of His disciples; when the wedding party ran out of wine, the Virgin Mary said to the Lord, "'They have no wine.' Jesus replied, 'Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come'" (John 2:2-4).

"His mother, our beloved St. Mary said to the servants, 'Whatever He tells you to do, do it'" (John 2:5). There were six water pots of stone and the Lord Jesus Christ directed the servants to fill the water pots with water. After they were completely filled, the Lord Jesus Christ said to the servants, "Draw some out now and take it to the master of the feast" (John 2:8). The master of the feast, on tasting the water converted into wine, said to the bridegroom, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine and when the guests have well drunk, then that which is inferior; but you have kept the good wine until now" (John 2:10).

The Cana of Galilee miracle, prompted by the Blessed Virgin Mary, is marked as the onset of the Lord Jesus Christ's miracles ministry.

St. Mary and Her Spouse's Departure
Though we do not know the exact date of St. Joseph's departure, yet it can be speculated to have happened some time prior to the Holy Crucifixion; as St. Mary was commended to the care of St. John at the Holy Cross (John 19:16-27). Many Biblical scholars believe St. Joseph to have been alive after the preaching and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ had well begun. It has been rightfully believed through the ages that St. Joseph kept his Holy family united while on earth, and that they now in Heaven are partaking of its glory.

St. Mary and Her Son's Departure
The twenty-ninth day of the blessed month of Paremhotep is the Commemoration of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. St. Mary was alive and well during this crucial historical event of salvation; a ministry our Lord had started at the age of thirty, completed in three years and crowned with His glorious death and resurrection. On the eve of the twenty-seventh day of this same month, the Lord Jesus Christ suffered of His own free will upon a rugged, cruel cross at the foot of which the dear mother St. Mary stood, grief–stricken and heart-broken.

With His Resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ restored St. Mary's heart to a state of increased belief, faithfulness, and joy that only a mother or the most faithful among us can understand and appreciate.

It can be said that both the living and the dead celebrated this day of glorious Resurrection. On the Good Friday, the living and the dead rejoiced in their salvation and on Sunday the living became certain and assured that "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (I Corinthians 15:20).

Because of St. Mary's willing obedience to serve God she was made an integral part of it all.

St. Mary is the candle stick made of pure gold, carrying the Lamp of Ever-Giving Light. The unapproachable Light of the world, out of the Light unapproachable. By His manifestation, He gave light to us, who were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death (Sunday Theotokia, Holy Psalmody).

Glory be to God, forever. Amen.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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