We are a people strongly shaped by an inherent mistrust of all authority except our own and we hold to the notion of equality to the point of idolatry. This might be good for having a culture shaped exclusively by free market ideals and entrepreneurship, but it might not serve us well in embracing ideas much older than either of these two philosophies.
Look at our Gospel Lesson for today in Luke 1:39-49, 56:
In those days, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.
Notice, Elizabeth gets a taste of what will be freely offered to all at the Feast of Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit; she is filled with the Holy Spirit. This means her words aren’t inspire by some over the top emotion, or even familial devotion. What inspires her words is the same inspiration in the whole of Holy Scripture!
Elizabeth declares three blessings and asks one significant question. First, she declares what is obvious to anyone who actually realizes Who Mary is carrying in her womb – Blessed are you among women. If I can put this in some Southern slang – Ain’t never been a woman like you, ever, and ain’t never gonna be another like you! Next, she proves her first statement wise and true because she recognizes just Who is being brought into the world – Blessed is the fruit of your womb. This is no ordinary Baby. This is no ordinary pregnancy. This is not God just renting space inside a lady so He can get Himself a body (that’s more of a pagan attitude than Christian). No, this is a better “fruit” than Eve ate in the Garden. This fruit undoes the damage of that fruit!
And the third blessing flows naturally from the first two – blessed is she who believed. But that’s what believing does, it makes possible the impossible. God, in His desire to make us like Him, offers us the soul-expanding participation in His love by granting us the ability to choose to believe and the freedom to reject faith if we will.
But the question reveals just why the history of Christianity has ALWAYS held that Mary occupies a unique place as the First Christian (after all, she accepted Jesus to come and live inside her!). Elizabeth, the Jewish lady shaped by centuries of Israel learning the hard way not to fall into the pagan notion of many gods; the Jewish lady whose husband was a Jewish priest and who knew the scriptures, the theology, and the warnings against idolatry; the Jewish lady who, filled with the Holy Spirit, calls her younger cousin “the mother of my Lord.”
We Orthodox Christians don’t call Mary the Theotokos (Greek for God-bearer) to exalt Mary, though she deserves to be held in the utmost esteem and honor for her faithfulness, her devotion, her piety, and her love; but because the Baby in her womb is God Himself taking on flesh to redeem all of humanity. She is the most honored Portal through which the Uncreated God entered His creation. To diminish her is to risk diminishing Him, and when we do that we diminish each other, for we are called to do exactly what she did – have Christ formed in us and show Him to our world. Missing Mary means missing Jesus and Who He is and what He came to do for you and me.
Today, let’s do what Christians have always done through the centuries: Call Mary blessed because she is the “mother of God.”
P.S. God bless you on this Feast day of the Entrance of Our Lady into the Temple!