On Sunday, the Church began the third week of the blessed Coptic month of Kiahk with the account of the blessed visit of the Holy Virgin St. Mary to her relative, St. Elizabeth. We heard how the Holy Virgin St. Mary arose quickly in the days after the annunciation of our Lord Jesus Christ and went to one of the cities of Judah, to the house of St. Zacharias the priest and his wife, St. Elizabeth, the parents of St. John the Baptist. When the Mother of God greeted St. Elizabeth, St. John the Baptist leaped in St. Elizabeth’s womb. Immediately, St. Elizabeth praised the Holy Mother of God, saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:42–45)
In response, the Holy Mother of God uttered a famous praise that begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” which you can read from Luke 1:46-55. This praise is well-known to many people and full of deep spiritual meanings. It is known today as the Magnificat, because this praise begins with the words Magnificat anima mea dominum in Latin. This praise, this canticle of the Holy Virgin St. Mary, is so rich in meaning that one modern scholar said that the entire history of the Old Testament is contained in this one praise.
How are we to understand it?
Our pure mother, the Holy Theotokos St. Mary began this praise by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” The Hebrew word for soul here is nafesh. In Hebrew, the word “soul” referred to the entire being of a person. The soul was considered the essence of personhood, representing everything a person was. When we take this definition of “soul” and apply it to the words of the Holy Theotokos in the Magnificat, we get the following: “My whole person magnifies the Lord” or “My entire being magnifies the Lord.” St. Mary was proclaiming her complete and total devotion to the Lord in the deepest and most profound manner. “My soul magnifies the Lord” therefore means “My entire being magnifies the Lord.”
Now that we know the word “soul” here refers to St. Mary’s entire being, we come to the word “magnifies.” This word causes some difficulty for us, because, simply speaking, the word “magnify” means “to enlarge.” How can we magnify God? After all, one of the Lord’s Holy Names is YHWH or “I am what I am.” We can neither add anything to Him just as we cannot subtract anything from Him. In his Homilies on the Gospel of Luke, Origen of Alexandria explains that, while we cannot enlarge God in His nature, we can enlarge His Image within us.
In the Book of Genesis, we read that man was created in the Image and Likeness of God. After the Fall, however, this image was distorted within us because of sin and the consequence of death that entered into the world as a result. Christ came into the world to restore this image within us. Through His incarnation, life-giving Crucifixion, and Resurrection, He restored that image within us that became tarnished by sin.
Today, we magnify the Lord by enlarging the image of Christ within us; we magnify the Lord by taking the image that is tarnished by sin and making it pure and spotless. St. John Chrysostom explains this point when he says, “The Son of God has become the Son of David; do not doubt that you, a son of Adam, may become the son of God.” When we live a perfect Christian life, we restore the image of God within us to the original image that mankind had before the Fall. Again, St. John Chrysostom emphasizes this point for us when he says, “If God had stooped to such an extreme depth, He has not done so in vain, but to raise us to a sublime height.” The height of which he speaks is the original state of perfection enjoyed by mankind before the Fall. Our Lord calls us to return to this state when He says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The attainment of this state is made possible for all of us through our Lord Jesus Christ, as our Lord said, “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23)
In light of this, we understand the words of the Holy Virgin Mary, for she truly magnified the Image of God in her soul from her earliest life.