7 Sorrows of the Virgin Mary

MP3 Audio:  WS330306_Dn-Joseph_7-Sorrows-of-Mary.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, September 15, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Gospel Reading:  Luke 18:9-14

“Everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased,
and everyone that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.

Today is September the fifteenth, a day that we remember the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

The first sorrow was the prophecy that she received when she brought little baby Jesus into the temple. And Simeon saw Him, and he gave prophecies concerning the rise and fall of many in Israel, the salvation that would come through this Messiah that he was beholding with his own eyes. And in the context of talking about her infant Son, he looks at Mary and he says, “and a sword shall pierce through your own soul also.”

A while later this evil king tries to put her baby to death. And to make sure the job is done, he has all the little children slaughtered in that town. But thanks to the warning of the angel, they escape. They leave their home, they go off into Egypt, this foreign land. This is the second sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And at the age of 12, Jesus is in the temple doing His Father’s business. And for three days, she [Mary] and Joseph cannot find Him. She has lost her Son, she doesn’t know where He is. That’s the third sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And then on the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering, Jesus is walking that path to the cross, already bloodied, and beaten, and whipped, and humiliated. And his mother sees him in that condition–the fourth sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And then she witnesses as He is crucified, as spikes are driven through His hands and His feet as if He was a common criminal, shamed, naked, executed, spat upon, tormented. She sees the torture and execution of her own Son. It is the fifth sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And as horrible as it is to see one’s child suffering, what is it like to see one’s child actually die, so that the consciousness is literally gone from the body, and He no longer even senses your presence? It is horrible to watch your child suffer, but at least you can be there with them. You can be as she was in the 19th chapter of John’s Gospel, standing at the foot of the cross, beside the apostle John, at least being there for Him [Jesus], hearing His voice. But now she hears His voice no more, for her Son is dead. She sees her dead Son. His body is taking down from the cross. She sees His body, lifeless. This is the sixth sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And as horrible as it is to see your child tortured, as horrible as it is to see your child dead, there comes the point that even the body is taken away from you, and the stone is rolled in front of the tomb, and you see your child no more. Your child is buried. And here in the burial of Jesus, is the seventh sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary is not the only person in history to have suffered. We all suffer many things. What is special about her sufferings? Did her nerve endings–were they built differently than ours? Were her emotions different from ours? No, she’s human. Mary is a human being just like you, just like me, same nerves, same skin, same type of emotions: human.

So what’s special about her seven sorrows?

You can tell a lot about a person, by what it is that truly hurts them. You see, pain and suffering is not foreign to any of us. But some people are hurt by different things.

You never see Mary express grief or complaints to God because of the virgin birth, done in a secret way, so that at the time the whole world just thought that she was a common whore, an unclean woman. She didn’t complain about that.

You never see Mary in anguish because she’s a poor Jewish woman, and not royalty, not married to someone that wears jewels in a crown.

What is it that wounds Mary’s heart?

It is not that she didn’t get to wear the latest fashions. It is not the she doesn’t get to have this exalted name among her people during the time she lived. It’s not that she didn’t get to travel, to go do fun things.

But her soul is wounded first at the prophecy of Simeon, when she’s hearing all these wonderful things that are going happen regarding her Son. But then in the context of talking about her Son, her precious little baby boy, Simeon says, “a sword is gonna pierce through your own soul.”

Now, it’s bad enough if somebody says, “Ruth, something really bad is going to happen to you.” That’s scary. You don’t want to hear that. Somebody says, “Jeni, something rough is gonna happen.” Okay, that might make you a little uneasy. But how much more uneasy would it be if I said all these things about [your son] Xander; “Oh, and by the way, in regard to Xander, there is going to be a sword that pierces through your soul.” “In regard to Andrew, your soul is going to be pierced.” Now, how much more scared are you? “In regard to Landon, your soul is going to be pierced.”

You see, you can only go so far with an individual. But now when you start messing with somebody’s kid, when you start messing with somebody’s child, how much deeper is that wound? How much deeper is that fear, that pain? You see, I can hurt you worse by hurting your child, than I can by hurting you. There is only so much you can bleed, there is only so much pain that you can feel, but if your child suffers, and you have to watch that, that is a sword right through your heart, right through your own soul.

It is because Mary loved her Son, it is because Mary loved Jesus, that this vague prophecy of something happening with Him–that would pierce through her own soul–that’s why that’s such a sorrow.

What about the flight into Egypt? Well, there’s people in your own hometown that are trying to kill your infant Son. You are fleeing there, not for your life, but for His. If you didn’t care about His life, and all you cared about was your own life, you could stay. She could have stayed in Bethlehem. She was in no danger at all. The only person that was in danger was her baby boy. Her fleeing to a foreign country was out of love for her baby, out of love for her Son, out of love for Jesus.

And where do they go? They go to Egypt, the very place that Israel had been slaves for 400 years, and had come out of through the miracles of God. And here she is going back. She is driven back to Egypt because she loves her Son.

When He is 12 years old and He is in the Temple, and she can’t find Him, would that have been a sorrow to her if she didn’t love her Son?  No.  You see, there are parents out there who do not love their children. Every day, 4000 moms put their children to death before they are even born, just in this country alone. That’s not the type of mom who weeps over her Son being gone somewhere. There are parents who–their kids can be gone for hours or days at a time–and they either don’t realize it, or they just don’t care. The kid is out walking the streets, doing whatever, going to see whoever. “I don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t care. I’ve got my own life.” You see, it’s not a sword piercing through your soul, it’s not a sorrow, unless you love your child so much that you can’t bear for 30 minutes to go by, and you not know where your child is. And here–this three-day journey–Mary is brokenhearted. She doesn’t know where her 12-year-old boy is. She can’t find Him. It’s a sorrow to her, because she loves her Son, because she loves Jesus.

And then, on the Via Dolorosa, when Jesus is walking the path of suffering, to be crucified and put to death, Mary was not the only one to meet Him on that path. She was not the only one to witness this. But she was very nearly the only one who was in sorrow over it. For most of the crowds were cheering. The crowds were the ones saying, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!” The crowds were the ones spitting on Him and hurling insults at Him. The soldiers were the ones beating Him and compelling Him to walk the path to His death. Many people saw Jesus going to be executed, in absolute torture and shame. And they laughed. Or they just ignored it. They were not sorrowing. But it was a sword through the very soul of Mary, because she loved her Son, because she loved Jesus.

Then the crucifixion itself, when the hammers come down, and excruciating pain–which, by the way, the word “excruciating” literally means “out of the cross”. Excruciating pain gets its name from crucifixion. So if you want to know the very definition for excruciating pain, it’s not migraines, it’s not diseases, it’s not anything you have ever felt. Those are all like excruciating pain. But the very definition of it, is the pain you receive when you are crucified. That is literally excruciating pain. And she watches her own flesh and blood, her own Son, her own child, innocent, already beaten, already bloody, already naked, already shamed, and now without mercy they are driving these metal spikes through his hands, through his feet, piercing through that nerve that runs through your arm.

The cross is put upright. And as He stretched out like this, His whole body weight comes down on those outstretched arms, and his shoulders are dislocated, causing a great amount of suffering. So He has pain in His hands, pain in His dislocated shoulders as His arms are stretched several inches beyond their normal length, and then in that fully extended position He cannot breathe, until finally you are so suffocated and you have no oxygen, that you have no choice but just reflexively you put the entire weight of your body on those two feet that have a nail through them.

And you cause great torture and suffering to your feet, just to get yourself up, just so you can breathe. And there is no way that your thighs can hold you up at that angle for very long. So you have this torment in your muscles. You have this pain in your feet as you’re putting your entire body weight on that nail, until finally your legs just give out, and you can’t hold any longer, and POW! You slam those two nails in your wrists again, and those dislocated shoulders.

And you stay in that position, until you’re about to suffocate because you can’t get any oxygen. And you’re forced to go like that again. And you go up and down. You see, most people think the torture of crucifixion comes when they’re driving the nails in. That’s just the beginning. It is constant self-inflicted torture. They set your body up in such a way that every few minutes you’re slamming back down on those nerves in those dislocated shoulders, and then you’re pushing yourself back up on that nail that’s driven through your foot, and slamming yourself back down on those dislocated shoulders. And in the whole process, you’re getting physically exhausted, because your muscles are constantly having to hold up your entire body weight.

And so you’re not only tortured in every conceivable way from fingertips down your toes, but in the process of this, just trying to keep from suffocating, your legs and your arms and every muscle in your body becomes exhausted.

You are absolutely thirsty from all the blood loss that you have had. The heat is beating down on you, and you are naked, and getting sunburned like you have never experienced in your life. You’re naked, and all these people are walking by you, and there’s no mercy. There’s no pity. There’s people yelling at you, and spitting on you, and cursing you. You are being tortured from head to toe, and emotionally besides.

And Mary got to watch this happen to her own flesh and blood, to her own child that she had raised from birth. It was a scary and sad day indeed for the apostles. You see, they had walked with Jesus for three years. But Mary is the only person that had walked with Him–not for three years–but for 33 years. From his conception, to his birth, to growing up, to His public ministry, to His first miracle, to His crucifixion, Mary had been there with Him for 33 years. And now she is watching watching Him be slowly and cruelly tortured until the life goes out of Him. Thousands witness this. But Mary sorrowed over it, because she loved her Son, because she loved Jesus.

At least there is maybe some small comfort in being able to stand at the foot of the cross, and hear His voice one more time, as He looks at her and the apostle John and says, “Woman, behold thy son . . . son, behold thy mother,” as He gives Mary to the Church as its mother, and gives us to her [Mary] as her children. She got to hear His voice!

But then later He said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” He breathed out His last, and gave up His spirit, and He died. And then when Mary listened, she didn’t hear His voice anymore. His eyes were closed, they didn’t look upon her anymore. She couldn’t even be with Him in His agony anymore, for now her Son was dead. And He is taken down from the cross, and she beholds the dead body of her Son.

Thousands saw that dead body. Thousands saw the thieves crucified and dead. Thousands had seen many other people crucified in Rome. But for the most part, people didn’t sorrow for these people. They spat, they cursed, they ridiculed, they just ignored. They were too busy with the stuff they had to get done that day, to even bother with it.

But Mary sorrowed. This was a sorrow to the Virgin Mary, when Jesus died, because she loved her Son, because she loved Jesus.

And then finally, when He is placed in the tomb and she sees Him no more, [she] cannot even touch His body, cannot even touch His hand or touch His head, cannot give Him any more kisses, cannot even hug Him. And the dead body of Jesus, her Son, is buried.

The Pharisees didn’t sorrow. The Romans didn’t sorrow. All they did was get together and agree to put a seal on the tomb, just to make sure nobody tried to steal His body. They just wanted rid of Him. But when He was buried, when she saw Him no more, Mary sorrowed, because she loved her Son, because she loved Jesus.

The seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary are not sorrows that we remember her suffering because of disease, or sickness, or even personal torture that she received from without. The seven sorrows for which she is remembered, are the sorrows of love, the sorrows of a heart that is broken, not for her own trials, not for her own pain, but a heart that is sorrowed and pierced and broken for someone else.

That’s love.

The thieves on Jesus’s right hand and left suffered many things, but we don’t really remember those sorrows. Many people who lived during the time of Christ suffered hemmorages, and demon possessions, and tortures of various kinds, but we don’t remember those sorrows. There are many sorrows that people suffer because they themselves are in torment, and in general those are not the things that we remember.

But Mary sorrowed, not for herself, she sorrowed for her Son. She sorrowed for Christ. The pain that she suffered, she suffered because of love. Put another way, the pain that she suffered is the pain that everybody else should have suffered if they had loved Christ.

Sometimes, if this person is suffering and this person is not, if we are talking about a suffering because of love, then that means this person loves much, and this person does not.

The other kind of suffering, the suffering that we feel over bad things that happened to us personally, that’s different. You see, a person who does not love anybody else, who cares for no one but themselves, they won’t sorrow over the death of Christ, they won’t sorrow over the absence or the pain that their children have to deal with or that their spouse has to deal with, their parents, their neighbors. But if something bad happens to them personally, now they’re sorrowing, now they’re upset. “Well, now I’m the one that’s hurting!” It’s sort of like Daffy Duck in those Bugs Bunny cartoons. I remember watching that as a kid, and one of the sayings that Daffy Duck would say is, “I’m not like other people. I can’t stand pain. It hurts me.” 

“See, all those other people can hurt, and I can deal with that. But if it hurts me, if it’s my pain, wait a minute! I’m gonna get my feathers ruffled!”

We need to distinguish between these two types of sorrow, these two types of suffering, because you can be righteous and suffer like Jesus did or like the martyrs have done, or you can be unrighteous and unloving and suffer the way the thieves on the crosses beside Jesus did.

So, suffering itself means nothing. It doesn’t mean whether your righteous or unrighteous, you can’t tell. But the sorrow of suffering that comes because of love, the righteous person will feel that, and the unrighteous person will not.

We remember the seven sorrows of Mary, because those are seven indications that she loved her son. The deeper the love, the deeper the sorrow. The deeper the love, the deeper the suffering, when that other person goes through difficulty and pain.

But if you poke the righteous person with a sword, they are going to hurt, and they are going to bleed. If you poke the wicked person with a sword, they are going to hurt, and they are going to bleed. So it’s not enough to look at yourself and say, “Well, I’ve suffered this, and I’ve suffered that, and I’ve suffered this, and I’ve suffered that, and I I I I I . . .” That alone, by itself, means nothing.

If you want to look in your own heart, ask yourself,

“How much suffering do I feel that is not about me? If I see something difficult happen with my wife or my husband, that they are having to go through–not because it causes me difficulty, not because it causes inconvenience–but something difficult that spouse of mine is having to go through, or those parents of mine are having to go through, if I am looking at something difficult that is hard for my children, something that’s bad for them, something that’s gonna hurt them–not because it embarrasses me, not because it inconveniences me–but because it hurts them . . . that breaks my heart! That wounds my soul.”

What about people that aren’t even in your family, bloodwise, but that are in your church family? When you look across to the other side of the room, or you look into a different pew in the room here, and you see somebody else, and you know that they are hurting for this reason or that reason, how much does your heart break because they are hurting?

Count your sorrows. If all of them, or even most of them, are because of suffering you experience directly, then you need to take note of where your love is, and where your focus is. But if the sorrows that fill your mind and fill your time, are the sorrows that you have–not for yourself–but for your spouse, your children, for other people in your church community, in your church family, if your sorrow is so deep for those other people that you don’t even have time left to think about the sorrows for the things you personally are dealing with, if you are so overwhelmed with sorrow for the pain that your brother is going through, and that your sister is going through, and that your children are going through, if that’s where your thoughts are, then at some point it eclipses your own personal suffering, or you forget:

“Oh, that’s right, I forgot.  I do have this physical suffering I’m going through, but that’s nothing compared to this!”

“Yes, I know that emotionally and relationally this is happening over here, and that upsets me, but that’s nothing compared to this!”

The deeper your love for other people, the more your sorrow for their hurting will eclipse any focus that you take on your own suffering. And it is a sorrow of love.

Now the reading today, from the Gospel of Luke, shows us the origin of the “Jesus prayer”, “O Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” It comes from the Pharisee and the publican.

The one walks up there and says, “I thank you, Lord, that I’m not like other people, You know, like this tax collector over here. You know, I fast twice a week, because I’m a good Orthodox person. I tithe a tenth of everything that I possess. I just thank you, Lord, that you blessed me so much, and that I am this holy, and this righteous, and this wonderful.”

And this tax collector, this publican, this sinner, he won’t even raise up his eyes to God, but he just beats his chest and says, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And he walks away.

And Scripture says that according to Jesus, this sinner, this tax collector walks away justified rather than this Pharisee who was so self-confident. And then what does Jesus say? He says, “Those who exalt themselves are going to be humbled, but those who humble themselves are going to be exalted.”

What does that have to do with the seven sorrows of Mary?

What does that have to do with her sorrows that came, not out of personal suffering, but out of love, the suffering that she felt because Jesus was suffering?

In the Magnificat–the Holy Spirit inspires Mary to pray the Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke–and she said that “God has seen the lowliness of His handmaden,” literally the humility of Mary. In the Old Testament we read that Moses, the great prophet, was the most humble man on all the earth, and then here in the Gospel of Luke–in the Magnificat–we hear from Mary’s own mouth that God himself has recognized her for her humility.

She’s not loud, she’s not obnoxious, she’s not demanding her own rights, she’s not pushing every button and banging on every door just trying to get her way. She’s just humble. And she gladly, and joyfully, and patiently takes whatever God gives her, whether it’s suffering or whether it’s pleasure. And God takes notice of humility of this girl. And in that same Magnificat, in that same prayer, Mary says that God exalts the lowly, exalts the humble. And sure enough, look at how–after this life of sorrow–how God has exalted the Mother of God, how God has exalted the Theotokos, Ever-Virgin Mary.

She had sorrow for her Son more than she had sorrow for herself, because she was humble. There’s the connection.

You see, there’s a lot of us that get halfway with this. Yes, we we do sorrow for our own pain and suffering. If I get sick, if I get a disease, if somebody makes me feel bad, if somebody hurts me, that hurts me! And I get my feathers ruffled, and I’m upset about it. And simultaneously I have love for you, so if you get sick or you get hurt, or my child gets sick or hurt, my heart hurts for them. So I hurt for both at the same time.

So you are getting halfway there with it. But if you don’t have humility, guess which one of those two is going to ultimately win the day, most of the time?

You are gonna simultaneously hurt for yourself, and you’re gonna hurt for your child, or you’re gonna hurt for your spouse, or your friends at church. But at the end of the day, your primary thought is gonna be, “How can I relieve my suffering?” Which is another way of saying, “I’m more important.”

That’s not humility.

Humility holds up the suffering of another person–your child, your spouse, your friends at church–and then holds up your own personal suffering. And humility says, “I’m nothing. They are more important than me. I’m more concerned with relieving their suffering, than I am with relieving my own.”

Humility takes you the rest of that way that Mary went. She wasn’t so worried about her own reputation, her own income, where she had to live, what kind of life she had to go through. Her love was so much for God, her love was so much for her Son, that the primary things that sorrowed her were not the things she suffered, but her primary sorrows came from the things which her Son had to suffer.

And I think all of us can learn a lot from this, for it teaches us a lesson about suffering, it teaches us a lesson about love, and it teaches us a lesson about humility, for they all go hand-in-hand.

You want to avoid as much suffering as possible? That’s easy. Just stop loving as much as possible. You see, if love only yourself, then you only have one person that can hurt. And pain and suffering will still happen, you will still have sickness and disappointment to deal with, but you will just have that one person to worry about.

But if I’m going to love Ruth, and Calvin, and Russ, and Jennifer, and Jon, and Kimberly, and Kelsey, and Betty, I’m opening myself up to a multiplication of sorrows, for I’m going to hurt every time any one of them hurts.

So, if you don’t experience sorrow, you don’t want to experience suffering, then just love other people as little as possible. Care about what they are going through, as little as possible.

But the flipside is also true. If you want to love like Christ has loved, if you want to love other people as much as possible, then you are opening yourself up to suffering.

And then in regard to humility, whenever you have your suffering to think about and other people’s suffering to think about, if nine times out of ten if you’re focusing on your own so much that you don’t have time to think about their suffering, and you’re working on resolving your own suffering so much that you don’t have time to work on resolving theirs, that’s not just a lack of love, that’s a lack of humility. For if you were humble, you will think them better than yourself, you will think of them as being more important than yourself. And therefore you will focus on their suffering and how you can relieve it, more than you focus on how you can relieve your own suffering.

And do you want to know the irony? The irony of it all is that the more you’re focused on their suffering, the less you are even focused on your own, which means the less you experience your own. So, ironically, one of the keys to reducing your own personal suffering, is to stop focusing on it, and to open up your heart to the suffering of others.

The more you work to serve others, the more you work to help others, the more you work to relieve the suffering of others, the less your own personal suffering is even going to hurt. So, ironically, the more you focus on fixing your own pain, the more you will feel your own pain.

So let us follow in the steps of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and not just hurt for pain’s sake, and not just hurt for ourselves. But may we be people who are so humble, and so loving, that a sword pierces through our soul as well, when we see beloved fellow people in pain.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.  Amen.


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, September 15, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
Video | This entry was posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Luke 18:9-14, Luke 1:46-55, Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s