Everybody else was squirming. They were obviously having a hard time with the information and seemed to rather have been elsewhere. But I was at peace. It just made sense to me, I guess.
Some of you know the story of how I entered the Orthodox Church. I was a pastor of a growing Pentecostal church in the Metro Atlanta area, and my best friend and I were really interested in Church History. Well, one thing led to another and we discovered we weren’t alone. We found another group of (former) Protestants who had already travelled many miles toward the Orthodox Church. We heard about their community in Indianapolis, IN and they were called the Evangelical Orthodox Church. These precious people received me and my best friend Rod Loudermilk one weekend as we struggled with our growing interest in the Ancient Church.
Eventually the three leaders of the Indianapolis community began to catechize us toward Orthodoxy and we got to the sticky part of the historical theology of Christianity where we talked about Mary. Yep, that’s the third rail for most Protestants because it looks so “Roman Catholic” to talk about Mary, and our “romaphobia” was in high gear!
But I had had an “encounter” with an icon called “Our Lady of the Sign.” This icon depicted Mary pregnant with Christ and we could “see” into her womb. There was Christ as a child and He was surrounded by stars inside Mary’s womb! Yeah, stars! He Who could not be contained had made Himself small enough to fit inside the womb of a woman. He has exercised His mighty power to enter into His creation and take His flesh from one of us, a pious and dedicated woman named Mary, a “vessel” that had been preparing her whole life to fulfill this ministry for the salvation of the world.
Well, by the time we got to discussions about the normal understanding of the place of Mary in the Church, it just seemed to make sense to me. This was the way even the Reformers thought about Mary, even her “ever-virginity!” And this was the way I was going to think about Mary too.
But this is the way we always think about anyone who has become a “home” for Christ in their lives. What Mary did physically, we are now called to do in our spiritual lives: become a fitting home for Christ inside us. Mary did what we are called to do. She became a home for God to “birth” Him to our world just like we are to do today in our lives, our choices, and our discipline.
Look at our Lesson today in Hebrews 11:33-40; 12:1-2, and notice please the phrase “of whom the world was not worthy.” This is how we think of the Theotokos!
Brethren, all the saints through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering over deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
Today’s devotional is a bit different because we embark today on a season of fasting in preparation for a great celebration. We begin the Dormition Fast today until the 15th of this month. And on the 15th we celebrate the Falling Asleep of our Mother Mary and her (and our) participation in the power of the Resurrection of her Son, our Lord Jesus. It’s time for we “modern” Christians to lay aside the shallow prejudice of misinformation about the consistent teachings of the Church concerning the wise, profoundly powerful, and absolutely consistent Christian shaping devotion to the Lord Jesus preserved in the theology concerning our precious Theotokos. Today, your Christian life will be more devoted to Christ, more disciplined to follow Christ, more focused on Christ, if you will embrace the wisdom of the Church concerning Christ’s mother, and the vision of who YOU are called to be because of what she was called to be!