“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” This saying has been around a long time and been attributed to several famous and not-so-famous people, but it rings true, doesn’t it?: It’s hard to communicate AND easy to miscommunicate, especially if both speaker and hearer want to misunderstand!
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 Orthros Gospel on this Feastday of the Protection of the Theotokos 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.
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.”
This Feast in the Church continues our Orthodox “family” memory of an event in the tenth century when a man named Epiphanius saw Mary standing over a gathering of Christians with her veil stretched over them signifying her motherly protection over her Son’s Church. We remember because we need to constantly be confronted with the beauty of God’s family and our connection to it. And we must never forget we need the “covering” of our loving Panagyia (look it up. It will be good for you) in our lives.
Today, why not put aside all the knee-jerk reactions to how the Church talks about Mary and actually explore the massive amount of wisdom preserved in 20 centuries of Christian prayers and piety to discover for yourself just how absolutely necessary protecting the theology of Jesus is by honoring and doing what Mary, herself, said we should do: “henceforth all generations will call me blessed.”