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Solemnity of Our Lady

The Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Basilica Hymn
Our God, our mighty stronghold
He has chosen a dwelling for himself
The one to be born of her is from the Holy Spirit
The daughter of man became the Tree of Life for the whole mortal race, for the Glorious Fruit which dawned from her pours forth and grants all benefits. Come, O mortals, let us be brought near to the sweetness of his words, and sing praise to him!
[Praise the Lord with new glorification
He has chosen a dwelling for himself
The one to be born of her is from the Holy Spirit
The mother of Christ, the Virgin, is the glorious dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit; for in her the Lord of all desired to renew the image that had been ruined. He sent an edict from above to confirm his Existence that is without beginning, and he sealed the peace and serenity of the earthly and the heavenly within it, for they were to be freed from error. “I am Gabriel, who stands before that Fearful Majesty in order to serve. The Father has sent me to announce to you the gospel that gladdens the whole world: you will receive a wondrous conception, for the Power of the Spirit will fashion it for himself, that he may be a dwelling for his hiddenness. In him height and depth will be reconciled, and will give thanks to him as they say: O Savior of all, glory to you!” ]
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Through your pleading, O revered Mary, may peace reign in creation. And by your supplication, O full of hope, may the children of the Church be protected. Come, O mortals, let us take refuge in the wings of the blessed mother, that we may be made worthy of forgiveness.

The Tree of Life

It is impossible, or at least ridiculous, to imagine the nativity scene without Mary. Though she is not, and never is, the central figure, she is totally essential to the scene, and she is the closest to the One who is the central figure, Christ the newborn. This being the case, the richness of the image guides our eyes, our line of sight, from one thing to another: the angel points us to the cave; the cave points us to what is inside; the shepherd visitors inside point, with their glances, to the middle of the cave where three central characters sit; Joseph is faithfully protecting Mary; and Mary, with her loving eyes and tender hands, with every speck of her being, is pointing to her Son.

This perfect balance in imagery must be here in this re-construction of the family, but such harmony is not always there in human realities. It was certainly not there at the family’s destruction. No such balance was to be found when Adam and Eve sinned against God; there the pointing is not one of meaning, but of accusation, the sequence not one of importance, but of blame. God points to Adam in condemnation; Adam points to Eve and back to God whom he blames for her creation; Eve points to the serpent. There is no center in this scene, no balance, no harmony; everything is backwards.

Adjacent to this scene of condemnation in the third chapter of Genesis there is another scene, forgotten and left behind in the mess and chaos caused when Adam and Eve realized they were naked. The parallel scene is a more quiet one, though equally tragic: it is a scene of two trees. One tree, meant to be untouched, is mutilated: the serpent’s filthy tracks may still be imprinted upon it; a fruit is torn off against the command of God, eaten and shared; most likely, it was dropped next to the tree by the perpetrators in their fear, with only those two fatal bites taken from it; very possibly, its leaves were ripped away and used for clothing by the parents who gave birth both to the whole human race and to its shame.

The second tree, more important but further in the background in this twisted play, is protected, guarded by force from the thieves who stole what was not rightfully theirs. The Tree of Life is forgotten in the scramble by all but God, who knows the real meaning and importance of everything in the garden. More important even than the Tree of Life, however, and so forgotten by the ungrateful race of men that it is barely mentioned by the author of Genesis, is the Fruit of Life that the tree produces. What is to become of this tree and its fruit? For whom were they made, and to what purpose?

The Tree of Life, in the tradition of the Church of the East, has two fulfillments: the ultimate one is the Cross of Christ, which carried the One who is to be eaten, who is to dwell within us and give us life everlasting. But the first Tree of Life, from whom the Fruit of Life was produced, is Mary:

The daughter of man became the Tree of Life for the whole mortal race, for the Glorious Fruit which dawned from her pours forth and grants all benefits. Come, O mortals, let us be brought near to the sweetness of his words, and sing praise to him!