Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

St. Mary: Service Without Stipulation - Part IV

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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 IV: St Mary's Late and Heavenly Life

St Mary and Her Last Few Years on Earth
After the death of her only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and according to His command, St. Mary lived under the care of St. John the Beloved. During that time she served the disciples and apostles with her love and prayers.

Around the age of sixty, while keeping vigil, praying in the Holy Sepulcher, an angel announced to her her departure from this earthly vain world three days later. The disciples and many of the faithful such as the virgins of the Mount of Olives-Zeitoun gathered around her. Lying on her bed, St. Mary stretched forth her hand and blessed each of the believers; and the room where she had reposed shone with heavenly glory. It is said that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself surrounded by a vast array of angels came to receive and ascend His mother's blessed and pure soul to Heaven.

The disciples prayed upon her pure, unblemished body, shrouded it and prepared it for burial according to custom. On their way with her body to the grave yard in Gethsemane, a Jewish man named Rueben, tried to deter them and disturb the blessed Virgin's coffin. Immediately, on touching the coffin, the Jewish man's arms were severed from his body. Screaming in pain, the man had the apostles pray for him; and was instantly healed, his arms reattached to his body and his sin forgiven. Henceforth this man was counted among the faithful, received baptism at once and began to preach. Thus in her departure, St. Mary's service rose to the occasion.

St. Mary and Thomas the Apostle
Following the burial, the disciples turned their travels back to Jerusalem. On the way, they met St. Thomas who was absent at the time of St. Mary's burial. Upon informing him of St. Mary's departure, St. Thomas insisted that they take him back to see her blessed body; as he, typical of him, would not believe without seeing. When the disciples did as St. Thomas desired; they were perplexed, amazed, as they once again witnessed an empty tomb. St. Mary's body was missing. However, St Thomas had the explanation and the answer. On his journey to Jerusalem, he saw St. Mary's body being transported by heavenly angels into Heaven. One of the angels had allowed St. Thomas to "hurry and kiss St. Mary's pure body" as it was transcending. Thus, the blessed St. Mary did not allow St. Thomas to have any doubts of her love for him.

St. Mary at the Right Hand of the King
The Holy Spirit had told the apostles "The Lord did not will her holy body to remain on earth." According to the Lord's promise to the apostles, to show them St Mary in the flesh; on the sixteenth day of the Coptic month of Mesore, they did see her sitting on the right hand of her Son and her Lord, surrounded by the angelic Host, as King David the Prophet prophesied,

"At your right hand stands the queen" (Psalm 45:9).

Surely, the body of the blessed Virgin could not remain upon this earth, nor return to the dust thereof; since the Son she so willingly bore was not of the earthly dust. St. Mary's dormition is celebrated on the 29th of January and also on the 21st of each Coptic month.

As the Second Heaven on earth, the Mother of God, provided a vessel for the Son of Righteousness to shine.

St. Mary's life on earth was sixty years. She spent twelve years in the temple, thirty years in the house of the righteous St. Joseph, and fourteen years with St. John the Beloved, as the Lord had ushered her into St John's loving care saying, "Woman behold your son" (John 19:26), and to St. John, "Behold your mother" (John 19:27).

St Mary's Service From Heaven
On the twenty-first day of the Coptic month of Paone, the Coptic Church celebrates the commemoration and consecration of the first church built in St. Mary's blessed name. After St. Paul and Silas preaching among the Gentiles in the city of Philippi, a church in her name was built there for those who believed and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ.

On April 12, 1968 at 8:30 pm, the workers of a nearby Public Transit System garage across the street from St. Mary's church in Zeitoun, saw a young girl dressed in ethereal white walking over the dome of the church. Startled, since the dome's height made casual walking upon it impossible, they called the police as they thought the young girl would surely fall.

As people gathered to watch the phenomenal happening, the news rushed to the church priest Abouna Constantine who immediately sent word notifying His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI, the one hundred sixteenth Pope of the City of Alexandria and See of St. Mark. A young girl described as having a halo of light encompassing her, holding an olive branch in her hand, and bowing down in worship in front of the cross on top of the church dome.

Pope Kyrillos sent a delegation of bishops to witness the event, and scientifically explore and evaluate the occurrence. He then issued a declaration of the miraculous apparition of the Blessed Virgin. The beloved pope stated, "We thank the Lord for his great compassion. The Blessed Virgin is still appearing in a very clear way, and for long periods of time, that could extend to two hours without interruption. She has been seen by thousands, by Christians, and non-Christian alike. This event has caused many people to return back to their faith, and many others to convert. Numerous miracles have accompanied the appearances. People come from all walks of life came to record the different miracles that happened to them. Also, doctors testified about the miraculous healings which occurred to their patients."

It is worth noting that St. Mary's church in Zeitoun, located on the way to Matareia, is on the same route the Holy Family had taken on their journey to Egypt.

St. Mary's apparition was also witnessed within St. Demiana Church, in Shoubra, Cairo. On March 25th, 1986, thousands of people witnessed the great and glorious event of her appearance. Abouna Pishoy, the Church priest commented that, "The apparition has already cured the blind and the handicapped."

These two apparitions are not the only ones. Many other apparitions in different parts of the world over the six continents continue to witness to our Blessed Mother's love, concern for and service to humanity even while sitting at the right side of the King. She has learnt this quality service from her Son who offered Himself unconditionally for us in order to liberate us from captivity. Not only does St. Mary serve us through these overt public apparitions; but she does manifest herself to individuals, talk to them, anoint them with oil ask them to carry messages, just to mention a few of the things that she continues to do. Books and books have recorded her services to the sick and the needy who call upon her name time and time again.

St. Augustine summarizes the life of St. Mary's service in stating,

"Mary, sprung from Adam, died on consequences of sin;
Adam died in consequence of sin,
and the flesh of the Lord, sprung from Mary,
died to destroy sin."

May the intercessions and the prayers of the Mother of God, the Ever Virgin and pure in spirit St. Mary be with us all. Amen.

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

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