"More honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, you the Theotokos, we magnify."
September 8th marks the first feast day of the Eastern church new year which began on September 1st. It also happens to be a date that has a special significance in my life. September 8, 2003 was the day my Dad was born into eternity. September 8, 2014 was the day my Mom came into full communion with the Catholic Church. September 8, 2021 was the day we placed my Mom's cremains into the niche that she is sharing with Theresa. The last event date was picked by me in large part due to the other two events that took place outside of my control. I just liked how they all lined up.
Today was the 8th day of the month and was also the 80th day of Mom being born into eternity. The number 8 in Catholic theology is also an important number. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week." Because it is the first day, the day of Christ's resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the 8th day following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ's resurrection. The 8th day reminds us that when we walk into church for the Divine Liturgy, we are glimpsing our first day in heaven. The 8th day serves to remind us that before we even open the doors to the church we are to prepare ourselves to experience heaven in the person and real presence of Christ.
The Divine Liturgy that took place this morning for the Nativity of the Theotokos. From Matins of the Feast we sing: "O marvelous wonder! The Source of life is born of the barren one and grace begins to bear its glorious fruits. Rejoice, O Joachim at the birth of the Theotokos. No earthly father is the same as you, for through divine inspiration the Virgin is given to us; she is the dwelling place of God, the divine." In the Vespers for the Feast we sing: "Today Anna, the barren one, gives birth to the maiden of God who had been chosen from all the human generations to become the dwelling place of the Creator, Christ our God and the King of all. In her he fulfilled his divine plan through which our human nature was renewed and by which we were to be transferred from corruption to eternal life."
After the Divine Liturgy was over, Jennie and I processed out to the columbarium behind Fr. Diodoro Mendoza who was incensing the path from the Church to the final resting spot. . After Theresa was born into eternity we placed her cremains into the St. Nicholas columbarium on May 14, 2016 which happened to be the 5th All Souls Liturgy of 2016. After the niche was opened, Fr. Diodoro sprinkled dirt onto the top of the container and it was placed into the niche and sealed with the words: "This niche is sealed until the Second Coming of Christ in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Several months before she died Mom said that she wanted to be placed in the same niche as Theresa. Today the simple granite stone was removed, the niche unsealed and the earthly remains of Irene Cullen were placed inside the niche first occupied by her daughter in law 1,943 days ago. After the stone had been removed I caught my first look at the box containing the earthly remains of my first wife, Theresa. While it has been several years I was immediately taken back to that 5th All Souls Liturgy of 2016 when I last saw the contents of the niche. There was still a pain in my stomach seeing the box with the label: Theresa R Cullen, 1971 - 2016. For all the time that has passed there is still a part of me that was ripped away in 2016 and a scar remains. We humans cannot go backwards and we cannot stay where we are. The only path is to move forward and forward we have moved. I love the life that has come after the pain of loss in 2016 and am thankful for that every day. But like a scar reminds us of an event, seeing the contents of the niche served as a reminder that our life is but a few years on earth, but an eternity in the afterlife.
When speaking of a loved one who has died we like to say they were born into eternity. Today marks the 6,575th day since Robert Cullen was born into eternity. Today marks the 1,969th day since Theresa Cullen was born into eternity. And today marks the 80th day since Irene Cullen was born into eternity. On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos we celebrate the birth of the one who would give birth to the One that opened paradise and restored us from our fallen state. Looking into the niche which holds 2 peoples earthly remains, there is in a sense a "barren" spot as what remains is merely ashes. . But today also is the "the beginning of our salvation, O people; for behold the Mother and Virgin who was chosen from all generations to be the habitation of God is born and comes forth from the barren one." Let us celebrate the birth of the Theotokos some 2,035 years ago which brought forth the one who bore Christ in her womb allowing us to celebrate the 18th, 5th and 1st years of my family members being born into eternity.
"With the souls of the just brought to perfection, give rest O Savior to the souls of your servants. Keeping them for the blessed life with You for You love us all. In your place of rest O Lord, where all Your saints repose, give rest to the souls of Your servants for you alone love us all."