Monday, October 1, 2012

Feast days

Today is the feast day of the protecting veil of the Mother of God, as well as the commemoration of my name day saint, Romanós the Melodist, who some say is the author of the Akáthistos Hymn. This hymn is all about Mary’s role in salvation history, and it is the one place where most, if not all, of her epithets are collected, that is, all the prophetic types that she fulfills, and that is not a few. I love this hymn because in the original Greek it is supernaturally poetic. Even in English translation it is an awesome piece of poetry, but you must read (or sing) it in Greek to immerse yourself in its many nuances.

Fr Stephen, obviously one of my favorite symblogothetes (Greek, sym > together with, blogothete > blogger… I just coined it a moment ago), posted on the feast day of the protecting veil, which drew varied comments, one of them from a classical mainline evangelical (not mainline protestant, there’s a difference). She countered the Orthodox veneration of Mary and the saints, but said it was not so much asking for their prayers, but the idea that we exalt Mary above the saints and make her semi-divine, that irked her. I’m not sure that she was telling the whole truth about her feelings, but along with Fr Stephen, I give her a sympathetic response, while holding the line on where Orthodoxy stands, especially in contrast to Roman Catholicism, against which her arguments really are directed.

About Mary, I want to repeat what Fr Stephen wrote, but just add a bit of organisation:

We do not think of her as Divine.
We do not see her as possessing the singular mediation of Christ.
We do not worship her or expect that she do anything that substitutes or distracts from God.
It would be blasphemy to us were these the case.

But we are very aware of how God has used his servants throughout history, and continues to do so.
She is within that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ in Hebrews.
Her prayers are among those that rise continually before the throne of God as mentioned in Revelation.
She is unique among the saints…
“a sword pierced her own soul also.”

Obviously, Mary is more than the “just anybody” that some Christians say she was, sort of an incubator for the Son of God, who then went on with her life as if nothing extraordinary had happened, having more kids and being a typical Jewish mama. There are enough hints even in the scriptures that somehow she was alone during Jesus’ ministry, that her husband was no more. True, she sometimes came to see Jesus with “his brothers” and so we know for sure He had other relatives, but the fact that He entrusted her to His best friend John tells us something.
Aside from her virginity, which is an act of God in her life, the Orthodox also see Mary as the first Christian, the first to have received (accepted) the first words of the Good News of salvation, preached not by flesh and blood, but by the angel Gabriel,

Rejoice, so highly favored!
The Lord is with you.
Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor.
Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son,
and you must name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called
Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne
of his ancestor David;
he will rule over the House of Jacob forever
and his reign will have no end.
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will come
and cover you with its shadow.
And so the child will be holy
and will be called the Son of God.

Luke 1: 28-35 passim

Mary’s response?

I am the handmaid of the Lord.
Let what you have said be done to me.

Luke 1:38

She was not “just anybody.”

The symbol of Nicæa says that Christ was born of a virgin, and that is what we believe. Something extraordinary about that birth carried itself forward and colored everything in its path, to be sure, and as the early Christians pored over the scriptures (of the Old Testament) they began finding what they felt were prophetic utterances that could be applied to Mary. Hence, the Akáthistos Hymn, written by a convert from Judaism who was a deacon in the Church of Antioch, my name day saint, Romanós.

Fr Stephen ended his comment with these words:

It is not an argument. Sometimes the protestant opposition to the communion of saints is puzzling to some Orthodox, just as much of Orthodoxy is a puzzle to many protestants. May God help our hearts that we may all know Him in the fullness of the Truth.
That which is called ‘Orthodoxy’ is the common heritage of all followers of Jesus, all confessors of His name, and as such it encompasses all those who do not resist Him. Our denominational skirmishes and problems are all at our end, not at His. They are caused by all of us being somewhat imperfect in understanding, in experience, and in love. We have enemies who like to arouse our contempt for one another by abusing history to enflame us. But really, we are Christ’s, all of us, and whether we honor the saints outwardly and dogmatically or not, we worship one Christ, who is King of kings and Lord of lords. There really is only One Lord, One faith, and One baptism,’ as the holy apostle Paul puts it. Whoever honors and worships the Son of God, also honors the saints by gratitude and worships the Father by faith. As holy apostle and evangelist John writes,

My dear people,
let us love one another
since love comes from God
and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

My dear people,
since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another.

John 4:7, 11 Jerusalem Bible

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