I need to fly out the door for liturgy in a few moments, but I wanted to at least share a little about today’s feast now, because I may not be back at the computer for quite a long time today. I hope very much to write more about this feast, because it is one of the wonderful, deeply theological and "quiet" feasts of the year, and we should understand it. I had many ideas last night, after listening to the parables of Vespers and the entire Vigil service (especially the canons at matins, well sung by Reader Nicholas and Natalia Hawthorne), but unfortunately, the ideas in my head have much trouble making it into print when it is late at night.
Here is something from a sermon by St Gregory Palamas on this feast:
Today we celebrate the memory of those things that contributed, if only once, to the Incarnation. He Who is God by nature, the Co-unoriginate and Coeternal Word and Son of the Transcendent Father, becomes the Son of Man, the Son of the Ever-Virgin. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8), immutable in His divinity and blameless in His humanity, He alone, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied, "practiced no iniquity, nor deceit with His lips" (Is. 53: 9). He alone was not brought forth in iniquity, nor was He conceived in sin, in contrast to what the Prophet David says concerning himself and every other man (Ps. 50/51: 5). Even in what He assumes, He is perfectly pure and has no need to be cleansed Himself. But for our sake, He accepted purification, suffering, death and resurrection, that He might transmit them to us.
God is born of the spotless and Holy Virgin, or better to say, of the Most Pure and All-Holy Virgin. She is above every fleshly defilement, and even above every impure thought. Her conceiving resulted not from fleshly lust, but by the overshadowing of the Most Holy Spirit. Such desire being utterly alien to Her, it is through prayer and spiritual readiness that She declared to the angel: "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word" (Lk. 1:38), and that She conceived and gave birth. So, in order to render the Virgin worthy of this sublime purpose, God marked this ever-virgin Daughter now praised by us, from before the ages, and from eternity, choosing Her from out of His elect.
The entire homily is masterful, and you may read it here: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-theotokos_+entry-of-the-theotokos+by-saint-gregory-palamas.html
Also, a little about one of the parables of Vespers. On feasts, we have at least three readings at Vespers, usually from the OT. If I get time, I really want to expand on these readings.
Ezekiel 43:27-44:4 27 And when these days are expired, it shall be, that upon the eighth day, and so forward, the priests shall make your burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord GOD. 1 Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. 2 Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. 3 It is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the LORD; he shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same. 4 Then brought he me the way of the north gate before the house: and I looked, and, behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD: and I fell upon my face.
This gate is understood by the church to refer to none other than the Holy Theotokos. Her birth-giving was unique among all of mankind, since she bore the “prince”, and there would never be another such birth, thus the gate was shut. The closed gate also references her ever-virginity; after the birth of Jesus, she has no more children, and did not even have carnal relations with Joseph.
The gate faced east because Christ, referred to here as the “LORD, the God of Israel” is the “dayspring from the East”. This is the direction that represents holiness; to this day we situate our altar tables so that when the priest stands before it he faces to the East, and it is the custom to, if it is possible, to have our icon corners face to the East. Our dead are also buried such that they face east, that is, so that if they were to stand up, they would be facing east. In the Second coming, Christ will come from the East.