More Spacious than the Heavens

The Platytera in the apse of the sanctuary, St Andrew’s Orthodox Church, Mesa Geitonia, Limassol, Cyprus

Father Michael Chua Kim Wah is the priest of the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Klang, the royal town of the state of Selangor in Malaysia.

I have just this minute returned from visiting and praying in this 1928 church, which is situated just across the road from the palace of His Royal Highness, the 9th Sultan. The Church was designed by Father Jean-Baptiste Souhait MEP, who studied architecture before being ordained priest as a missionary for the Paris Foreign Missions Society (la Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris – MEP).

The following is the homily prepared by Father Chua for this very day, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, 1 January 2015. The Church now commemorates Our Lady on the very first day of the New Year under her most fundamental and greatest title, the Mother of the Lord. The Church places Our Lady once again in the feast of Christmas. The Orthodox Church does the same thing, but immediately after Christmas Day, on 26 December.

Father Chua meditates on the image known as Platytera ton Ouranon (Πλατυτέρα των Ουρανών), “More Spacious than the Heavens”. This comes from the (Byzantine) Akathist Hymn to the Holy Virgin:

You were made more spacious than the heavens, O Most Pure Mother, for God cannot be contained by the whole universe, and yet He chose to be contained in your womb for the sake of our salvation.

_______________________________________________________________ It is never flattering to describe a woman as “large” or “big” (EDITOR: I think what Father actually means here is “now that I have all your attentions!”).

And yet, the Church in describing the immensity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, pays her the greatest honour. Mary is described as the one “made more spacious than the heavens” or in Greek, “Playtera ton Ouranon.” Wow! that’s big! The title also refers to the icon found in most Orthodox churches in a very prominent position – high in the front apse over the Altar and is often of such scale that it overwhelms and overshadows all other icons in the Church.

The immensity of this icon can present a rather striking first impression especially to a non-Orthodox visitor. How is it that in a Christian church, a place where life centres around Christ, can an image of His mother appear to have such prominence? And so on this first day of the New Year, the Church speaks of her the greatness of the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Holy Theotokos, the Mother of God, because she carried God within her. . . Perhaps, due to attacks from Protestants, we have become embarrassed by such titles being accorded to Mary or to any other human person. How could a creature be deemed the mother of her Creator? . . .

Please read the rest of Father Chua’s homily for today on his own blog. And, oh, a most blessed Year of Grace 2015 for CP&S readers!

About GC

Poor sinner.
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5 Responses to More Spacious than the Heavens

  1. kathleen says:

    Dear GC, thank you for this magnificent article. I enjoyed reading the whole of the excellent homily of Fr. Michael Chua Kim Wah for yesterday’s feast… and I saw some other very good homilies from him there on his blog. What a great priest! (Unfortunately, with our new liberal parish priest, we were given a very poor homily all about justice and peace [groan] in our local church, with Mary’s Blessed Motherhood of God being totally brushed over! I now need to go up to the city to find anything resembling a properly celebrated Mass.)

    You were made more spacious than the heavens, O Most Pure Mother, for God cannot be contained by the whole universe, and yet He chose to be contained in your womb for the sake of our salvation.”

    Such beautiful words! I keep reading them over and over again, for their full meaning is so fantastic, amazing, and shows so perfectly the greatness of God and His love for Mankind [and His special love for His Holy Mother], that I think the wonder of it is hard to take in – it simply bowls one over.
    We pronounce this truth every time we pray the Creed and the Hail Mary of course, but the mystery is of such staggering proportions, that we can never fully comprehend it.

  2. GC says:

    Mary nurturing in her womb the maker of the whole universe is indeed a concept that takes some getting used to, kathleen.

    Thank you, dear kathleen, as always you take the trouble to give us all a bit of encouragement.

    And, yes, Father’s sermons are good, aren’t they, and he has them prepared well in advance! Here, for instance, is already his homily for Epiphany coming up. And here is Father. God love him.

    Looks like you should have gone to St Peter’s for Mass, kathleen, as there the Bishop of Rome had this to say:

    In celebrating the Solemnity of Mary the Most Holy Mother of God, the Church reminds us that Mary, more than anyone else, received this blessing. In her the blessing finds fulfilment, for no other creature has ever seen God’s face shine upon it as did Mary. She gave a human face to the eternal Word, so that all of us can contemplate him.

    In addition to contemplating God’s face, we can also praise him and glorify him, like the shepherds who came away from Bethlehem with a song of thanksgiving after seeing the Child and his young mother (cf. Lk 2:16). The two were together, just as they were together at Calvary, because Christ and his mother are inseparable: there is a very close relationship between them, as there is between every child and his or her mother. The flesh (caro) of Christ – which, as Tertullian says, is the hinge (cardo) of our salvation – was knit together in the womb of Mary (cf. Ps 139:13). This inseparability is also clear from the fact that Mary, chosen beforehand to be the Mother of the Redeemer, shared intimately in his entire mission, remaining at her Son’s side to the end on Calvary.

    Full text at:

    http://www.news.va/en/news/homily-for-the-solemnity-of-mary-the-mother-of-god

  3. GC says:

    The particular Akathist (=”not sitting”) Hymn Father Chua refers to above can very well serve as a New Year tribute to our Blessed Mother. Here is Sister Marie Keyrouz, a sister of the Melkite (Greek Catholic) Basilian Chouerite order, singing part of the Akathist Hymn to the Virgin in Sister’s native Arabic (of course, this is in a literary form of Arabic).

    You are a fortress protecting all virgins, O Mother of God and Maid; for the Master of heaven and earth prepared you, O Immaculate One, and dwelt in your womb, and taught all to cry out to you: Hail! Hail! Hail to you!

    Rejoice, Pillar of virginity. Rejoice, Gate of salvation.
    Rejoice, Leader of spiritual restoration. Rejoice, Bestower of divine goodness.
    Rejoice, for you regenerated those conceived in shame. Rejoice, for you gave guidance to the thoughtless.
    Rejoice, you who abolished the corrupter of hearts. Rejoice, you who gave birth to the Sower of chastity.
    Rejoice, bridal Chamber of a seedless marriage. Rejoice, you who joined the faithful to the Lord.
    Rejoice, fair Nursing-mother of virgins. Rejoice, bridal Escort of holy souls.
    Rejoice, O Bride Ever-Virgin.

    Quite a substantial litany there! And there’s plenty more where that came from in the rest of this hymn, which is very long.

    If you would prefer a version without “twinkle-fingers”, the associate artiste, please see Soeur Marie singing the hymn section in the Our Lady of Lebanon Church, Harris Park in Sydney here.

  4. GC says:

    Hello kathleen. You might well be interested in reading this news report of an event almost exactly a year ago, when non-Christians, very much including Muslims, showed up at early Mass on Sunday 5 January 2014 at Fr Chua’s Klang church and presented flowers to the 900 Mass-goers. Certain other types had planned a noisy demonstration outside the church around that time.

    http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/at-morning-mass-non-christians-turn-up-with-flowers

    Warms the heart!

  5. kathleen says:

    Thank you GC for all these interesting additional pieces of information and links.🙂

    Hope you don’t see this as a negative opinion, but 20 friendly Muslims presenting flowers is hardly a large representation of Islam! Still, a very nice gesture all the same, and something I cannot imagine happening over here.

    Cherish your fine priest too; truly “a gift from God”.

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