On August 15, the Orthodox Church (new calendar) commemorates the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Most Holy Mother of God. The feast is considered to be one of the 12 Great Feasts of the year and thus an integral part of the proclamation of gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many who are not familiar with Orthodoxy, or its manner of understanding saints, easily see feast days and the veneration of saints as distractions from the gospel. The thought is: “If it’s not about Jesus, then somehow the gospel is not being preached.”
I am willing to grant the point – but to quickly add that the veneration of the Mother of God is inherently about Jesus and that without paying proper attention to Mary, Christ is being short-changed and not fully understood.
In the history of the Church the first dogmatic proclamation concerning Mary was the use of the title, Theotokos, meaning “the one who gave birth to God.” Nestorius, for whom the heresy of Nestorianism is named, objected to the use of the term saying that she should be called Christotokos instead. This would mean that she was the mother of Christ, but not properly called Mother of God. The Church condemned Nestorius’ teaching and affirmed the use of this title for Mary, for Christ is not properly divided into a schizophrenic being (God and Man but not united), but is instead but one Person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Eventually the Church would declare that He was one Person with two natures (Divine and Human) but never sought to contemplate Him in a manner that divided His person.
Thus the title given to Mary was and is about Jesus and was solemnly defined in order to protect the proper understanding of His incarnation.
The Scriptures themselves bear ample witness to her unique position. “All generations will call me blessed,” are words spoken by Mary in her dialog with her cousin, Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). To refuse this honor to Mary is to violate the clear word of Scripture.
At the Wedding at Cana, where St. John records Christ worked his first miracle, we have a story of an encounter between Christ and His mother. For what reason we do not know, the problem of the wine shortage is brought to Mary. She takes the problem to Christ who responds: “What is this to me and you, woman? My hour has not yet come.” Idiomatically the statement means, “What concern is that of ours?” Addressing her as “woman” is not derogatory as some claim (why would Jesus fail to honor his mother in violation of the law?). Her response to His statement is interesting. She turns to the servants and tells them to “do whatever He tells you.” At her intercession Christ works His first miracle. Argue with it if you will, but on the plain face of the story that is what happens. Why does St. John record the story? It is certainly a story that points towards the great wedding feast at the end of the age, but Mary plays a central role.
This same role is played throughout Scripture in the lives of the righteous. They intercede before God for others and God hears them. Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah; Moses interceded many times for Israel and God heard him; the stories of these righteous men and women can be multiplied many times over(Read Hebrews 11).
This same communion of saints has continued through the ages adding to its list those who have followed Christ and in union with Him offered intercession for the world. Those who have known the communion of the saints and their fervent prayer before God on our behalf have known something of the fullness of the Church. For it is they (and us) whom St. Paul has in mind when he says that the Old Testament saints awaited a promise which is now ours, that, together with them, we are made complete (Hebrews 11:40). That promise, of course, is Christ, born of the Holy Spirit and the Most Holy Virgin Mary who is blessed through the ages.
Eternal life is to know God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent (John 17:3). But the Christ we are called to know is to be known in His fullness. That fullness includes His incarnation and the communion of saints He established when He united Himself to our flesh in the Virgin.
Thanks for these reflections! As a newcomer to Orthodoxy, I struggle with properly relating to Mary because as a Protestant, I had zero knowledge of her.
As Catechumen wrote, though I am Orthodoxy, my experiences in the Protestant church have made my getting an understanding of the proper place of Mary difficult [so I believe]. Yet each time I read I feel the cracks opening a bit; thank you Father.
A question if I may, slightly off topic. Was the blessed Theotokos one of those who did go the tomb on that first Easter Sunday? If she “the other Mary” mentioned by Matthew [28:1]? I see the priminent role of Mary Magdalene, but I do not understand why the Theotokos was not similarly mentioned? If you understand what I am getting at. My thanks, Father.
It has been said that the Virgin is “mankind’s solitary boast”.
This statement does not, in any way, clog up the life line of the church which is of course, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
On the contrary, it is highly complementary to it.
To illustrate the above point. The Holy Spirit turns the Eucharist from an act of faithful obedience, to full communion with the Godhead.
“At her intercession Christ works His first miracle.”
That clears up the whole story. It never made sense to me before. Perhaps he even shows reluctance in order to make that point clear. (Something like the Syro-Pheonician woman in Mark 7 nor 8 whom he repulses at first before giving way to her faith.) If Christ shows us what God is, translated into human terms, then God is someone who hears the prayers of the holy Theotokos – and of humanity, in fact.
Perhaps translated ‘O Woman’ (which I understand is possible?) Christ’s address of his mother would jolt our sensibilities less.
Tradition says the other Mary is the Theotokos. It is interesting that her role on that day – she is among the Myrrhbearers – is downplayed. Scriptures occasionally magnify her role (no pun intended) and then also veil the mystery as well. There are many things in the NT that are stated in a muted or veiled manner, that in time are stated more clearly. The NT does not fail to mention the role of Mary, but it was a few centuries before that role was underlined in the manner of the present. Heresies denying the truth forced some of it. The diminishing competition and presence of paganism also made some things possibly of stating without fear of misunderstanding.
In honoring Mary “in an Orthodox manner” as the hymn says, the focus is always deeply integrated in the saving life, death and resurrection of Christ. There are no Marian doctrines that are not, finally, doctrines of Christ and our salvation. In this way, Orthodoxy differs from later Western developments where she becomes sort of an object of speculation in her own right. In Orthodoxy, Christ and our salvation is everything, and anything else that is stated serves our understanding of Him and His work.
Thus I would say without fear that the more fully we know the Theotokos, the more fully we will know Christ, for she only points us to Him: “Whatsoever he says, do.”
My wife, whose wisdom I deeply value, always says the only way to know a saint is to ask for their intercession.
As a former Protestant Pastor (Lutheran) I once delivered a sermon in August, (which is the only time in the church year Mary is even mentioned for Lutherans) titled: “Hail Mary? Hail Yes!” needless to say it was not received very well – and my “superiors” were not amused at my play at words. Father, pardon the pun, but my desire was to introduce the church that I was serving to the Biblical account of the Theotokos. How can anyone truly dispute: “Hail Mary, full of grace/favor, the Lord is with you…” “blessed are you among women” “henceforth all generations shall call me holy”. It amazes me that Protestantism which claims such devotion to the “Word” is so undevoted to the truth that we cannot understand the person and work of Christ without understanding the person and work of Mary. She is the new Eve, who says “Yes” so that we might know paradise again through Her seed, He Son and our Savior Jesus. My family and I will be Chrismated at Vespers this Saturday at Holy Cross Antiochian Mission in Dorr, MI… last night we celebrated our first confession after the service of Paraklesis to the Theotokos. Indeed I am thankful to see my dear wife and our four children (aged 13 to 7) embrace the one true faith. Hail O Bride without Bride Groom!
Welcome home! And to all of your family! I know that after my conversion, the freedom in Orthodox worship that acknowledged the Theotokos and all the saints, was like the clouds parting and the brilliance of the sun breaking through. Christ shone even brighter. I could never abandon the Church, much less the communion of the saints. Your point is very well made. These things are truly Scriptural. Those Churches who claim to be based on Scripture only use some Scripture (and that rather badly) but ignore (perhaps unwittingly) huge portions that don’t fit in the narrow confines of various modern ideologies.
May your Chrismation be a day of rejoicing! I’ll remember you and your family in the Liturgy. We entered the Church with 4 children – the oldest was 17. To two oldest girls are now married to Orthodox priests. My son is a tonsured reader, and my baby, now 17, is just plain Orthodox joy! May God give you such blessings and more.
If I may, I think confusion for Protestants comes not from asking our brothers and sisters to pray for us, but rather asking those departed from this world – including Mary – to pray, or intercede for us.
Father Stephen, I’d be curious on your thoughts about this Though I’m not Orthodox, I greatly enjoy your blog and make it part of my daily, if haphazard, devotion.
From an Orthodox perspective the question would be, “Why such a distinction between our brothers and sisters and those “departed from this world.” God is the God of the living not of the dead. Christ seemed rather clear for those who would have viewed Abraham as dead. I think it’s this two-storey world-view of Protestantism (and modernity) that is finally the issue.
For the Orthodox the “departed” are only out of sight, but are very much present and unite with us in our prayers. The icons in the nave of the Church serve as reminders that our worship is in heaven and we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, who pray with us.
Thus the problem, from an Orthodox point of view, is that Protestants have an odd view of death that would seem at odds with the gospel and certainly with the unbroken Tradition of the Church.
Orthodox think of the departed in a fairly normal way in which they are very much a part of our lives. Some of my closest friends are among that number and I take great comfort in their presence in my life.
First I just wanted to say thank you for this blog, as it has been very encouraging and helpful to me. I am not Orthodox, so your posts have cleared up a lot of misconceptions I’ve had about Orthodoxy, in addition to strengthening my faith.
This particular post was very timely, as I was thinking to myself the other day that one of my last “hang-ups” with Orthodoxy was the Marianism. You’ve cleared up some things. At this point I agree that Mary may be appropriately called the Thetokos, that she can and does intercede for us, and that among God’s people, living and asleep, she holds a place of high honor and respect. However, it seems to me that many of the prayers I hear directed at her (for instance, on Ancient Faith Radio) sound more like outright worship than they do of simple honor. Perhaps you could help clarify this for me?
Also, what of those who have died but were not in Christ? In a one-story universe, “where” do they go? Although they could not intercede, could they hear a “prayer” directed at them? Or are they too preoccupied with torment, as in the story of the rich man and Lazarus? Not a critical matter to the faith, perhaps, but it would help complete the picture.
In a very real sense, we pray “with” this great cloud of witnesses — we who are caught up in Christ’s death, resurrection and return to glory.
And as we pray, live and listen in this holy communion, our attention is always drawn to the source of life.
John the Evangelist says this of Jesus: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17)
A paradox indeed, but this is the resurrection!
I agree that to non-Orthodox ears some of what we say or sing to the Theotokos in a liturgy sounds like worship. To an Orthodox ear, it only sounds like honor. My own opinion is that most Christians have become fairly deaf to worship of the Triune God and spend more time in expressing emotion and how good they feel about God, etc.
Also, I would add, that the language of Orthodox worship developed largely in a Byzantine context. If anyone became familiar with Byzantine Greek, they would see that it is a very florid, flowery form of Greek, given to extreme expressions (if St. Basil says anything once, he says it five more ways immediately). Thus the American ear is not attuned to it.
But that God alone may be worshipped is Orthodox dogma.
That the saints may be given honor and respect is dogma. The language concerning the Theotokos is very high honor because she is intimately, even flesh and bone, united to our salvation, Christ the Lord. It is an utterly unique situation that frequently brings unique language. But we have and do condemn anything that to the Orthodox dogmatic ear sounds like worship. We sometimes differ with Rome on these things, though it would be incorrect to say that Rome worships the Virgin.
As for those who have died outside the faith, etc., we believe that everyone receives only love from God, but for those whose heart is hardened and wicked, the love of God is to them as a burning torment (our God is a consuming fire, Scripture says). But the precise state of those outside the faith is known to God alone. We generally do not ask their prayers, but will pray for them.
There are fairly strict rules about who for and how we pray in Church. Though there is much freedom in private prayer – as long as it does not violate the boundaries of Church teaching.
By the way, in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus, I think had the Rich Man called out in repentance for his sins and asked the intercession of Father Abraham, he would have found help. Abraham prayed for God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. But the Rich man only thought of himself, even in death, and only asked for Lazarus to be in a servant position to him – never acknowledging his wicked treatment of Lazarus. If you will, the gate of paradise, sat outside the gates of the Rich Man throughout his life. Had he shown kindness to Lazarus, he would have been with him in Abraham’s bosom. Paradise is daily all around us – and yet we turn aside.
That helps immensely. Thank you.
Hello. I wouldn’t say that I was familiar with orthodoxy. What I do know is that my prayers to Mary have been gradually strengthening over the years and my “ponderings” on her life and her sacrifice have given me great and gradual insights. The link to the human suffering, of her own very real suffering in the flesh, was brought home to me when I visited the Notre Dame in Mechelen in Belgium: there is a life-sized statue of Mary clothed in robes; her face is looking up towards heaven and her eyes look upwards and there is great sorrow, distress, anguish and tears on her face; her arms are outstretched and her hands open as in reluctant but freely-given acceptance; finally, and most shockingly, there are seven, full-sized swords in her chest. I was amazed, overwhelmed and truly moved by this and still am – even though it was some years’ ago now. At the time I was going through much anguish in my own life and this was like a coming home of understanding to me. It has remained with me ever since and it helps me with my understanding of other saints’ lives, of ordinary people’s lives, with their struggles and their real suffering. The gradual dawning upon myself, upon my own soul, upon my being, that Mary is indeed the co-redeemer with Christ is so profound, so moving and so humble that if I seek to worship this true magnification (Mary) of God (alongside asking for help and grace) then I shall do so without hesitation and without further qualification because I choose to do so. Pondering and learning throughout a life within the context of, or outside of the context of orthodoxy and theology is a gift of the Spirit to every single person – in or outside of a particular religion. Truly I have been able to look at the life of other saints (like Saint Augustine and importantly his Mother Saint Monica) and been enabled to begin to see their struggles and their human condition, with a recognition borne in my own spirit of course, being fully aware of my own imperfections. Mary has led this way for me because she had the greatest humility, the greatest suffering and sacrifice and yet carried on alongside her son The Christ to the very bitter end; thank God for his gifts of grace and foregiveness.
I am curious as to how prayer might violate the boundaries of the Church teaching (other than being totally selfish of course).
This is an interesting blog, thank you for your efforts.
I find your thoughts interesting, but too focused on freedom of the self to define your own worship, etc. But, that is to say, you do not approach things as an Orthodox Christian. We accept what we have been given in Holy Tradition, because 2000 years and many lives have proven its truth and trustworthiness, where none of us on our own is capable of making safe judgments about spiritual matters. Self-deception is the most common form of deception. Thus we would never offer worship to Mary because she is a creature, not the Creator. And such worship would only add to her sorrows.
There is a famous icon with the seven swords as well, very popular in Russia. It reminds us of her sorrows that were prophesied in Scripture. The icon is known as “Assuage my sorrow.”
Prayer in Church carefully conforms to the teaching of the Church. The old rule of thumb is, “Lex orandi, lex credendi” the Law of praying is the law of believing.
I might ask my grandmother’s prayers in my home in my private prayers, but she is not a canonized saint of the Church and would not be treated in such a way in the prayers within the Church, where prayers, hymns, etc. are also specific teachings of doctrine.
Prayer would violate the boundaries of the Church’s teaching if, for instance, I was praying for God to harm someone, etc. That would be the simplest example. Praying to a “God” other than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would be another obvious example.
My life belongs to Christ. I am not free to now reinvent myself according to my own desires and imagination. Grace is given to us only to conform us to the image of Christ, not to give us self-fulfillment, or to disobey the teachings of Christ.
My thoughts were primarily thinking of your statement:
“if I seek to worship this true magnification (Mary) of God (alongside asking for help and grace) then I shall do so without hesitation and without further qualification because I choose to do so.”
This is contrary to Mary who said, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be done unto me according to Thy word.”
“because I choose to do so,” is not humility and can lead to spiritual trouble.
Forgive me, I do not mean to scold. May God bless you in your journey and in all your prayers.
I grew up in a dispensationalist Evangelical crowd. For as long as I can remember I had the deep knowledge in my heart that something wasn’t quite right about it, namely how it seperated the living and the dead and the strange leaps and bounds it had to make to justify some of its positions on things like original sin, the second coming, and the ceasing of gifts.
Last year, I left the Evangelical crowd to attend my fiance’s church, a United Methodist Church. This particular church happens to be much more orthodox, but of course it does not have the fullness of the faith (for which I long to be a part of, and only wait until my fiance realizes her longing as well.)
Needless to say, God has been rewiring my mind (with much help from your reflections and writings Father, bless you) and i now believe many things that only a year ago sounded so absurd.
The first I heard the term Theotokos referred to Mary was in my History of Christian Thought class taught strangely by a baptist who also longed to be Orthodox, but whose circumstances (family namely) would not allow it. It was then that something began to click and I began to understand the Church not in terms of legal contracts between me the individual and God but between Us, the bride of Christ and God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I now find myself crossing myself (of course usually in private) praying to my guardian angel, the saints, and even to Theotokos for intercession, and using written prayers. Praise God.
In regards to Gourdy’s comments, I very much sympathize. It is very strange to western Protestant ears to hear Mary referred to in that way, but if you desire, God will “re-wire” your thinking as well.
It is really a strange, but marvelous thing when you pray, not alone, but with the great saints who have gone before and are forever around us as the great cloud of witnesses. There is such peace and comfort in praying as us and not just as Me.
Thank you father and bless you for these wonderful blog posts, and pray for me that God would make my journey to Orthodoxy a clear and easy one.
As St. Basil says in his Prayer over the Catechumens: “May God grant you a light yoke!”
Thank you father.
By the way, Ben, I commend you on being patient with your wife. God rewards patience and certainly doesn’t hold it against us when we are being kind to those we love. Don’t let the devil hassle you about it.
Gourdy and others – I completely agree that some of the prayers to Mary sound like worship of her. I can only say that in the full context of the Orthodox liturgical life they sound very different. For example: before I became Orthodox I was troubled when I listened to a CD of hymns from the Paraklesis service, with its seemingly endless repetitions of “Most Holy Theotokos Save Us” and similar things. But when I actually attended a full Paraklesis service (which I did not do till after I was received into the Church), my troubles melted away. With the full context of the service – the Trisagion prayers, the litanies, and all the other elements that were omitted from my CD – I knew I was worshiping the one God in Trinity, in loving harmony with the Mother of the second person of the Trinity.
Another thought: when you first fall in love with someone, you want to be with that person, and only that person, all the time. But as the relationship matures and deepens, you want to meet his or her family. You come to realize that you don’t really know someone until you know where they come from and who they are connected to. And so, lovers will eventually invite one another to meet their parents.
When we first fall in love with Jesus, we want him and nothing but him, all the time. But there comes a point when it is right to want to meet his Father and his Mother, and he invites us to do so. I love Jesus more than anything or anyone, but it has been a tremendous honor and privilege to meet his Mother and to get to know and love her as well. And I thank the Church for helping set up the meeting.
Thank you Father, and shevaberakhot. And all who have contributed.
A blessing indeed.
“For the Orthodox the “departed” are only out of sight, but are very much present and unite with us in our prayers.”
Oops. Meant to say this clarification seems particularly insightful. Thank you Father.
So blessed to find your blog now! I am in a card shop where I work to help the owner who is on holliday. I will miss the service held in our Greek Othodox Church by our priest also called Father Stephen! I also work at making stained glass windows for Our Most Holy Mother Of God. Here is the blog for the windows http://nlglass.blogspot.com
God bless you,
> By the way, Ben, I commend you on being patient with your wife. God rewards patience and certainly doesn’t hold it against us when we are being kind to those we love. Don’t let the devil hassle you about it.
Father Stephen, thank you for this word to Ben – it speaks to my situation (and my own impatience) as well.
Blessings to you on this Feast Day from an Orthodox inquirer in Memphis.
Several points that stand out to me (paraphrased)
‘You can only get to know a saint by asking their intercessions’ It is easy to forget that saints are people, special people true, but people nonetheless. How else do we get to know people but by talking to them, asking their help, etc. That’s how I began with Mary. I knealt down at a shrine to her and cofessed my ignorance of her and told her I’d like to get to know her better. When I forget the friendship that began that day, I suffer.
“Do whatever He tells you to do”: I’d had never thought this statement of Mary as a directive to me before. Shows how thick I am. Especially since it fits in so well with “Let it be done unto me according to your word”
It cannot be said too often that Mary always points to her Son and that proper veneration of all the saints is because of the sanctifying work of God in their lives and their own devotion to Him.
My favorite icon of the Theotokos is “More Spacious than the Heavens” It is frequently above the altar in Orthodox parishes. Jesus sitting on Mary’s lap giving His blessing while Mary has her arms outstretched in prayer that also welcomes us to come and do the same. The title of the icon refers as well to a hymn to Mary in which we sing; “Her womb became more spacious than the heavens and contained the uncontainable God”
The realization that Mary is the icon of the Church, handed over to the disciple whose ‘first love’ for Christ was the remarked upon in Scripture.
John’s (and Mary’s) ‘first’ whole-hearted single-minded love for Jesus points to our own responsibility, indeed the necessity, to maintain that same state of heart – constant devotion, worship and abiding. Apart from Him, we, His Church, lose the ‘Life’ of the True Vine and can do nothing…
Sorry, I wasn’t clear…I was referring to Jesus on the Cross, giving Mary to the disciple John ‘who loved Him’.
I’m not sure of your point. I have discovered as the father of four children, that I am able to love each of my children with my whole heart. The love for one does not distract from the other. Honor and devotion from the heart for the Mother of God does not diminish our love and adoration of Christ. If it is rightly done, in an Orthodox manner, it enhances and increases our knowledge of Christ and our love for Him. This is the experience of the Church through the ages.
The point, that I left unstated, was that Mary as Icon of the Church…that we, the Church, in living and being in a ‘first love’ relationship with Christ, acts, molds herself to His purposes, acts, speaks, thinks, prays in cooperation with God, assumes the mind of Christ, fulfills the ministry of reconciliaton…and so acts as a ‘co-redemptrix’ as well.
I am sorry not to communicate as clearly, coherently as I would like.
You just did a great job. Well done. Thanks. and Amen.
The term co-redemptrix, to my recollection does not occur in Orthodox texts. Is it not a term being debated in Rome?
The other reason that I think the veneration of the Saints does not pose a problem to the Orthodox, is that the Church has such a high view of Christ. He is so clearly God, that there is never a risk of elevating a Saint too much.
In the modern era, in particular, Jesus has tended to become people’s “buddy” more than their God and Savior. Because of this, it would be hard to separate him from the Saints, and so the way to avoid the problem is to simply downplay them.
For a good recent article on “co-redemptrix” see http://www.zenit.org/article-21743?l=english
According to it, over 500 bishops have petitioned the Pope to define a dogma along these lines: “Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, gave to humanity from the Cross his mother Mary to be the spiritual Mother of all peoples, the Co-redemptrix, who under and with her Son cooperated in the Redemption of all people; the Mediatrix of all graces, who as Mother brings us the gifts of eternal life; and the Advocate, who presents our prayers to her Son.”
However, the Pope has not officially endorsed the term, so it is not part of Catholic dogma.
As I recall, the Orthodox were opposed to the approval of this title. I also understand that the Orthodox opposition has been one factor in the hesitancy of the Pope to approve it.
The Pope wants our approval to demonstrate to us the friendly face of papal infallibility, which, I think, would be the charism through which he’d define Mary as Co-Redemptrix.
My paternal grandmother had a quaint phrase for toys. She called them “play-pretties.” She used to also admonish us to “play pretty” with one another. Visibilium, your comment reminded me of my grandmother. But I, and you as well, I think, don’t want to play-pretty over doctrine, especially if it’s not true or necessary.
What heresy would defining such a doctrine refute? What other reason is there to define doctrine? Silence is better.
Fr. Stephen, you voiced my thoughts precisely.
Fr. Stephen, you wrote,
“The term co-redemptrix, to my recollection does not occur in Orthodox texts. Is it not a term being debated in Rome?”
You are correct in that the term co-redemptrix does not occur in Orthodox texts, as it is a Latin term dating to the 14th century, to my knowledge. The term, however, represents a doctrine that dates to the beginning, namely Mary’s participation in redemption, and there are Orthodox manifestations of this doctrine corresponding in your liturgical terminology.
From the Akathistos:
“Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded, the world’s salvation (diasosma)”
“Rescue us from temptation (rhusai hemas peirasmou)”
“O Champion General … since you have invincible power, free us (eleutheroson) from all kinds of perils …”
“Rejoice, my soul’s salvation (soteria)”
“deliver (rhusai) everyone from all calamities and deliver (lutrosai) from future punishment those who cry out: Alleluia”
From the Small Paraklesis:
“from all distress and dangers deliver me (me diasosov)”
“I have you as Mediatrix (mesitrian) before God who loves mankind”
…in addition to other similar references as was cited in the Akathistos (cf. Dr. Virginia Kimball, Marian Studies, Vol. 52, University of Dayton)
So the corresponding language is there in the East. Just as Catholics have nothing to fear from the ornately beautiful (and ontologically true) language of Eastern prayers, so our brethren in the East have nothing to fear from words such as “Co-redemptrix.” Both flow from the same deposit of faith.
God bless you abundantly!
The intention behind those phrases in Orthodox prayers is actually quite different than co-redemptorix. Phrases such as “the world’s salvation” refers to her role in giving birth to Christ and her union with Him as His mother, but not in the manner which Protestants would misunderstand. Byzantine hymnography has a florid quality that does not always translate into precise dogma.
The Orthodox reaction to discussion of Co-redemptorix has been quite vociferous, and that from hierarchs and theologians.
The Eastern language about Mary is very floral. That is one of the reasons that it is so beautiful. I love the language deeply. But a not-to-be-overlooked reason that the language is so beautiful is because it is true!
We have a saying in the West, lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of faith). But this is hardly an axiom applicable only to the West. We believe what we pray, but is not this the case for all faiths who are sincere? After all, if it is florid but ontologically untrue, isn’t that more like flattery than prayer? Accompanying flattery are inward repulsion or envy, not love. And knowing how the Orthodox love the Theotokos, I do not believe that the Orthodox share mind and heart with many of the leading Orthodox theologians who break with their own tradition. This type of thing happens all the time in theology, as evidenced by the many Catholic universities in America who care little institutionally for the Church’s sacred tradition. I have heard with my own ears Orthodox theologians who have said such things, but I think they do a disservice to your great tradition, a tradition which we share.
Yes, ecumenical dialogue is a very important topic. We must not dilute our faith traditions in order to achieve unity, because then the unity would not be real. It would only lead to more division. This is why it is so important that we understand one another’s faith in its fullness.
This is what Co-redemptrix means: Mary gave Jesus his body, and his body is what saves us. Co-redemptrix means that she redeems with Christ as a New Eve at the foot of the Cross, but completely subordinate and secondary to him so that all the fruit of redemption originates in Christ and flows from him and is conducted to us by the Theotokos.
There is great ecumenical potentiality for unity between Orthodox and Roman Catholics in light of such similarity between the term “Co-redemptrix” and the Orthodox Marian hymnography. I will continue to pray and hope that great strides can be made in this area.
A blessed Christmas to you all!
A vast difference beween Orthodoxy and Rome is that Orthodoxy generally prefers not to define the undefineable, but to hold it in mystery and wonder. Only in this way can we actually know what otherwise cannot be known. Orthodox dogma only exists where necessary, to define the boundaries within which we do theology (and specifically to shut out heresy). From an Orthodox point of view, Rome has developed a habit of holding Ecumenical Councils, not to combat heresy, but simply for the sake of having them. And, to us, creating mischief by defining what should remain unspoken. The same can be said of the use of Papal definitions (such as the Assumption back in the early 50’s).
It’s not that Orthodox do not believe what we pray. We do believe what we pray – but the point is to pray it – not discuss it. Wonder is the beginning of knowledge according to St. Gregory of Nyssa.
The Orthodox would be scandalized by an attempt to define yet another dogma that should remain silent. As it is, Catholics have virtually ceased to give honor to the Mother of God in their liturgies. In America, the Rosary fell into disuse (though enjoying a comeback). I think Orthodoxy would say that the restoration of proper glory to the liturgy and proper prayer would do more good than discussing doctrine that has not been defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils (other than obliquely). It is not an ecumenical opportunity – but an opportunity (from an Orthodox perspective) to see if Rome can learn to live as it once lived – in mystery and worship. The rationalization of doctrine has done much harm to the faith.
May the Most Holy Mother of God pray for us all! and may God grant us joy as we celebrate his Holy Nativity.
Forgive me. I mean no ill will – but to write plainly.
Dear Fr. Stephen,
I know you mean no ill will, but only good will. I also make this clarification about myself.
The glorious title Co-redemptrix may be compared with the glorious title Theotokos. Two glorious titles, one Greek, one Latin. Both express truth about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yet the mystery of faith is not limited by the word in either case. Rather, the terms signify the bearer of the mystery and point to the reality of each mystery.
I ask you, would it be better if Mary had never been called the Theotokos?
That is a great reference to St. Gregory of Nyssa. I agree with him about wonder. The word “Co-redemptrix” itself is a fruit of wonder, not a theological formulation. It has its origin in a Psalter prayer contemplating the generosity of Our Lady’s sufferings.
Dogma does not limit contemplation in any way, rather it assists it and orients it towards truth, which is beauty in itself. Immaculate Conception is not a phrase to us that leaves Mary’s mystery as it is. Catholics do not say to themselves, “well, there you have it, that explains her. Let’s move on to the next mystery.” (And if a Catholic should somehow say that, there you have a Catholic who does not understand the nature of dogma!)
Speaking about mysteries does not violate their integrity. The mysteries themselves are immutable. But we are a people of language. God spoke to us in our language. We speak to one another in language. And the word preserves the mystery through the ages. We must not forget, as some modern thinkers have, the sublimity of the gift given us by our Blessed Mother.
“Co-redemptrix” reminds us of those seven swords wounding the Blessed Theotokos and it invites us to enter into that mystery prophesied by Simeon.
Thank you as always for the charitable discussion.
Theotokos was a necessary definition – in response to Nestorianism. But I understand your points.