Tag Archives: Virgin Mary

Joachim and Anna, and Love.

In the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos on December 9th. Following from the fact that Christ received His human nature from his mother, she is of supreme importance in our salvation history.

Father Thomas Hopko writes in The Winter Pascha: In the Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is the image of those who are being saved. If Jesus Christ is the Savior, Mary is, par excellence, the image of the saved. She is, in every aspect of her life, as Father Alexander Schmemann so often said, not the great exception, but rather the great example. From her conception to her dormition, that is, her true and real death, she shows how all people must be when they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit as servants of God and imitators of Christ.

I had to keep pushing that last sentence to the front of my mind as I tried to think and write a little more about the mystery of our salvation…

The icons of this feast tell the story of Mary’s parents Joachim and Anna, who had been unable to have children until late in life when Anna became pregnant with the child who would become the mother of our Lord. “Iconreader” has an article on the festal icon with links to related articles and discussion about its theology, and why the icon has been so popular in Russia.

From that article on A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons: The icon of the Conception of the Theotokos is very simple. Joachim and Anna tenderly embrace, standing before a bed. Without being explicit, it is boldly confessed that, whilst a miracle granted to a barren couple, the conception of St Mary happened through natural means. This can be compared with Icons of the Annunciation, which could be described as the Conception of Jesus Christ: in those icons Mary is not shown with Joseph; Mary remained a virgin.

And from the Orthodox Church in America , an excerpt from an article on the feast that discusses beliefs about original sin: The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although she committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, she would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibility of our salvation is in doubt.

There is so much to think about here! I would like to read these articles more carefully and thoughtfully, to stretch my mind toward the theology of “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7) Whenever I think about theology as a field of study, it brings to mind these words about theology and prayer from Bishop Kallistos Ware, and they help me refocus on the example of Mary, who said to the angel, “Be it unto me according to your word.”:

Theology, mysticism, spirituality, moral rules, worship, art: these things must not be kept in separate compartments. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed: a theologian, said Evagrius, is one who knows how to pray, and he who prays in spirit and in truth is by that very act a theologian. And doctrine, if it is to be prayed, must also be lived: theology without action, as St. Maximus puts it, is the theology of demons. The creed belongs only to those who live it. Faith and love, theology and life, are inseparable.

In the Byzantine Liturgy, the Creed is introduced with the words, ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity, one in essence and undivided.’ This exactly expresses the Orthodox attitude to Tradition. If we do not love one another, we cannot love God; and if we do not love God, we cannot make a true confession of faith and cannot enter into the inner spirit of Tradition, for there is no other way of knowing God than to love Him.

At Christmas, the Truth that ties everything together is (I John 4:19):

We love him, because he first loved us.

Web Gleanings from July

Several articles I’ve read lately strike me as worth sharing.

Boredom is a topic that comes up a lot, maybe more so in summertime, when some people have more time to be bored.  In “The Quiet Alarm” Andreas Elpidorou explains why  “Boredom is precious, but there’s nothing particularly good about being bored. Its unpleasantness is no illusion, its subjective character no taste worth acquiring. We should give thanks for it – and avoid it like the plague.” 5161~Girl-Reading-Book-Posters

I’m not sure what I think about all of this; perhaps Boredom is so related to Time that it’s one of those realities that I could muse on for a long time and get more and more confused – but never bored! Read the whole article here.

The threat of boredom comes to mind when I think of cocktail parties, but David Brooks uses them as a metaphor for the exciting “online life” in his article “Building Attention Span”: “Being online is like being a part of the greatest cocktail party ever and it is going on all the time….” He says that “This mode of interaction nurtures mental agility,” or what he calls “fluid intelligence.”

He contrasts that with “crystallized intelligence,” which is what we get more of in offline learning, “…the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory.” This kind of learning leads to wisdom, and goodness knows we need that. Read the whole article here.

Fr. Stephen Freeman’s retheotokos Decani monasterycent article “Why the Orthodox Honor Mary” begins a discussion that continues in the resulting comments,  contrasting the humility and submission of Mary as something to recognize and emulate, with the actual veneration of her as an aspect of our worship of God.

A fascinating bit of Bible exposition is in the comments where Fr. Stephen explains Jesus’s words to Mary at the marriage of Cana, and the meaning that becomes clear when you see that they hearken back to the story in I Kings of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Read it all here.

https://i2.wp.com/cdn8.openculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/28001845/Emily-Dickinson-Coconut-Cake.jpgTo end on a lighter note, how about some coconut cake to have with your iced tea on a summer afternoon? (If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, even better – just make that hot tea.) This picture of Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Coconut Cake recipe, and the accompanying text, do encourage me that if I get back into the kitchen more, it won’t necessarily mean a lessening of my writing output. I do wonder what the form of the coconut ingredient is intended to be, but it would be fun to experiment with one of my favorite foods.

As I write, the sun has yet to emerge in my cool corner of California, but by mid-afternoon the situation will probably have changed enough that I could sit outdoors with some tea and some more reading material from which to glean. Happy reading to you, too!

Our mother has fallen asleep.

 Today is the Feast of the Dormition, dormition meaning falling asleep.
It’s the day we have a funeral, so to speak, for the Mother of our Lord,
the Theotokos.


Our rector in his homily mentioned a couple of things that made an impression on me. Mary is not “the great exception” as some might teach. But she is our Great Example. She loved God and said “Yes” to Him, she bore Him in her heart and soul as well as in her body, and because of this love she suffered painfully with him as she stood by the cross.

Loving God was everything to her.

This love was expressed at the Incarnation and in its icon where we see her holding Christ in her arms. But in the icon of the Dormition, the detail shows Christ holding her in His arms. And of course that is where we also want to be when we fall asleep, with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

 A blessed feast to all!

The Celebration of Man in a Little Girl’s Birth



What a joy to be present at the “birthday party” for the beloved mother of our Lord! We began tonight, and will continue tomorrow, to rejoice at this first event of the church liturgical cycle, one of the 12 Great Feasts of the year. In honor and remembrance, I offer this sermon by:

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
Sermon on the Nativity of the Theotokos September 8

The Church’s veneration of Mary has always been rooted in her obedience to God, her willing choice to accept a humanly impossible calling. The Orthodox Church has always emphasized Mary’s connection to humanity and delighted in her as the best, purest, most sublime fruition of human history and of man’s quest for God, for ultimate meaning, for ultimate content of human life.

If in Western Christianity veneration of Mary was centered upon her perpetual virginity, the heart of the Orthodox Christian East’s devotion, contemplation, and joyful delight has always been her Motherhood, her flesh and blood connection to Jesus Christ. The East rejoices that the human role in the divine plan is pivotal. The Son of God comes to earth, appears in order to redeem the world, He becomes human to incorporate man into His divine vocation, but humanity takes part in this. If it is understood that Christ’s “co-nature” with us is as a human being and not some phantom or bodiless apparition, that He is one of us and forever united to us through His humanity, then devotion to Mary also becomes understandable, for she is the one who gave Him His human nature, His flesh and blood. She is the one through whom Christ can always call Himself “The Son of Man.”

Son of God, Son of Man…God descending and becoming man so that man could become divine, could become partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), or as the teachers of Church expressed it, “deified.” Precisely here, in this extraordinary revelation of man’s authentic nature and calling, is the source of that gratitude and tenderness which cherishes Mary as our link to Christ and, in Him, to God. And nowhere is this reflected more clearly that in the Nativity of the Mother of God.

Nothing about this event is mentioned anywhere in the Holy Scriptures. But why should it be? Is there anything remarkable, anything especially unique about the normal birth of a child, a birth like any other? The Church began to commemorate the event with a special feast…because, on the contrary, the very fact that it is routine discloses something fresh and radiant about everything we call routine and ordinary, it gives new depth to the unremarkable details of human life…And with each birth the world is itself in some sense created anew and given as a gift to this new human being to be his life, his path, his creation.

This feast therefore is first a general celebration of Man’s birth, and we no longer remember the anguish, as the Gospel says, “for joy that a human being is born into the world” (Jn. 16:21). Secondly, we now know whose particular birth, whose coming we celebrate: Mary’s. We know the uniqueness, the beauty, the grace of precisely this child, her destiny, her meaning for us and for the whole world. And thirdly, we celebrate all who prepared the way for Mary, who contributed to her inheritance of grace and beauty…And therefore the Feast of her Nativity is also a celebration of human history, a celebration of faith in man, a celebration of man.

Sadly, the inheritance of evil is far more visible and better known. There is so much evil around us that this faith in man, in his freedom, in the possibility of handing down a radiant inheritance of goodness has almost evaporated and been replaced by cynicism and suspicion. This hostile cynicism and discouraging suspicion are precisely what seduce us to distance ourselves from the Church when it celebrates with such joy and faith this birth of a little girl in whom are concentrated all the goodness, spiritual beauty, harmony and perfection that are elements of genuine human nature. Thus, in celebrating Mary’s birth we find ourselves already on the road to Bethlehem, moving toward the joyful mystery of Mary as the Mother to God.

Nativity of Theotokos contemporary

 

Thy nativity, O Virgin,
has proclaimed joy to
the whole universe!
The Sun of Righteousness,
Christ our God,
has shone on thee,
O Theotokos!
By annulling the curse,
He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death,
He has granted us
Eternal Life.