My son, Fr Steve Mathewes, told me that once a man came to him interested in Orthodoxy, but he couldn’t get used to our relationship to Mary. It bothered him that we praise her so highly, and he feared we thought of her as being as important as Jesus. That’s a stumbling block for many Protestants.
Then he had a dream. He was in a meadow on a mountaintop, and across from him he saw Mary standing in the air. She spoke to him and said:
“Here I am.
I am your Mother.
He did begin to try asking Mary to pray for him, and for some concerns in his life. As he did so, he began to see how it all fits together. Orthodox don’t think of Mary as being part of the Godhead or a rival to Christ–the very idea would horrify them. No, she is a human being, and that’s what we celebrate. She represents us. In the whole drama or salvation, it is Mary who stood forward and provided the human connection for our Lord’s Incarnation.
As he took a chance and began asking her to pray for him, he began to understand by experience how she fits the Orthodox Christian life. There’s a lesson in that. Fr Steve says that not everything can be understood about Orthodoxy just from studying it. Some things you can only understand by putting it into practice. Once you experience it, it all falls into place. And when you try out taking Mary as your prayer partner, she turns out to be an extraordinary gift. Just to think of it–while Jesus was dying on the Cross he was thinking about his mother, thinking about her. He said to St. John, and through him to all of us, “Behold your mother.” And then it is Mary who says to us, “ASK ME.”
You are right about Mary being a stumbling block for many Protestants. They seem to be quite confused thinking we pray to Mary and the Saints as if we thought they were additional Gods. I like your piece here as it clarifies the difference between the reality and the misunderstanding.