Don’t Panic – It’s Just the Mother of God

The first time I offered prayers to Mary I had a panic attack – literally. I was in college and my best friend had become Roman Catholic. We argued a bit, and he won (mostly). It resulted in my return to Anglicanism, to the “high” side. So, like a good high churchman, I got a rosary and a book, and started my prayers. Then came the panic attack.

Many Protestants are viscerally opposed to Catholicism. It’s in their heart and bones. I had no idea at the time that my bones (and heart) were as firmly orange as they seemed to be (let the Irish explain). My experience showed me otherwise. But, theology wins. I spent the next nine months reading about Marian devotion and early Christian practice. After that long “cooling-off” period, I picked up my rosary and gave it another try. No panic. I’ve never looked back.

Western devotions to Mary have forms that differ from Orthodox practices, and I’m not at all sure that the Western, Catholic understanding is the same (I’ll admit that I don’t know). My Anglican use of the rosary and devotion to Mary, which largely followed Catholic practice, certainly made my conversion to Orthodoxy ever so much easier. Indeed, her presence in the text of an Orthodox service far exceeds anything you’ll ever see in Rome.

The Orthodox veneration of the Mother of God is grounded in its understanding of salvation. As such, the veneration of Mary is an expression of the most foundational doctrine of the faith. This is generally misunderstood by the non-Orthodox for the simple reason that they do not understand salvation itself. Salvation is about a union or communion with God. It is a participation in the very life of God. We were created for this communion, breathed into us in the act of our creation. Through sin, we have broken that communion and become subject to death and disintegration.

Christ, in becoming a human being, united Himself to our human nature. He suffered death and was buried. But in His death, because He is also God, He tramples down death and rises from the tomb. Our human nature is raised with Him. When we are Baptized, the Scriptures say we are Baptized “into His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection.” In Holy Communion, we eat His very Body and drink His Blood, a true communion and participation in His life.

When this fundamental doctrine is understood, Mary’s role in history and her place in the Church become clear. Christ does not enter her womb as though it were a borrowed space. The Creed says, “He took flesh of the Virgin Mary.” Christ’s humanity is not a separate creation, but “bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh.” She is truly His mother.

The Scriptures recognize this in various ways. In particular, when Mary brings the Christ Child to the Temple on the 40th day, the Prophet Simeon prophesies the coming sufferings of Christ and adds, “…and a sword will pierce your soul as well.” This is far more than saying, “It will make you unhappy.” In Christ’s suffering on the Cross, Mary suffers as well. This is because of the peculiar union that was their relationship from the beginning.

Christians describe the life of salvation as “beholding Christ face to face.” Mary would have done this quite literally numerous times a day for nearly three years as she nursed Him. In St. John’s gospel, at the Wedding in Cana, there is a level of communication between mother and Son that transcends words.

At the wedding feast, she comes to her Son and says, “They have no wine.” She does not ask Him anything. His response is frequently misinterpreted. He says, in the Greek: “Tί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί,” (Jn. 2:4). (“What is this to me and you?”) It is a very strange phrase in the Greek, but is a direct quote from the widow of Zarephath when she is speaking to Elijah about the death of her son (1 Kings 17:18). Christ is warning His mother that “it is not my time.” But, if He acts in helping with this wedding and its wine, it will set in motion something that cannot be stopped – His kairos – His time. And when His time comes, she will be like the widow of Zarephath, a widow whose son is dead. All of this is contained in this tiny conversation of but a few words.

Her response is equally terse, “Do whatever He tells you.” This is similar to her first words to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word.” She is ready for what will take place, including its most fearful consequences.

But all of this can only be rightly understood if we remember the nature of the union between mother and Son. It is also a union that will be our own salvation. Christ has become what we are by nature, that we might become what he is by grace. This is the great “exchange.”

Orthodox prayer gives expression to this communion. St. Paul says that the Holy Spirit prays within us saying, “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). Those words are the words of the Son (the one says, “Abba”). We do not pray as strangers, but as members of the household, now emboldened to speak with the very voice of the Son of God. It is this same voice that speaks of Mary as “Mother,” and gives her honor. That honor, or veneration, is the expression of love. Just as she loves Him, so she loves us.

In my experience, devotion to the Mother of God comes very slowly for converts to the faith. Five hundred years of Protestant thought have created a Christianity in which Mary has little place other than on Christmas cards and in badly produced movies. English translations of the Scriptures often butcher Marian passages conveying false images.

The Wedding at Cana passage cited above is frequently rendered: “What do I have to do with you, woman?” which is simply inaccurate. It gives the impression of disrespect, as though Mary were being a bother to her Son. What is deeply lacking is the spiritual consciousness rooted in salvation through union with Christ. None of the doctrines expressed in the Great Seven Ecumenical Councils make any sense apart from that awareness. Put simply, it is how both the Scriptures and the early Fathers understand our salvation. Union (communion, participation) is the fundamental grammar of Christian teaching.

When this grammar is properly grasped, it becomes clear that we cannot speak of Christ apart from Mary (nor Mary apart from Christ). By the same token, we cannot speak of Christ apart from the Church, nor the Church apart from Christ. We are told in 1 Cor. 12:21 that the “head cannot say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you,” and this in the very passage in which we are told that Christ is the “head of the body (the Church).” We cannot speak of one member of the Body apart from all the others, for the life of each is the life of all and the life of all is the life of each.

In our devotional life, this is expressed in the communion of saints, our prayers that gather all together in union with Christ:

Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed lady, Theotokos, and ever-virgin Mary, and all the saints, let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.”

On the personal level, the experience of the Church has taught us private devotions as well. Within those, we begin to discover the mystical bonds that only such devotions reveal. Years ago, in a reference I have long since forgotten, I read a quote in which St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “There are things about Jesus you cannot know until His mother tells them to you.”

This part of the Orthodox life is difficult to describe. It is a perception of Christ, though with a greater fullness, one that extends into the persons of the saints. In Mary, that person encompasses an intimacy with Christ that is without equal. In my own experience, this intimacy includes the depths of her maternal love, for her Son, and for all creation.

The absence of Marian devotion and awareness has created a Christianity with an absence of the feminine. I do not suggest that Mary is a cipher for an abstract universal, or of a “divine femininity,” but it is simply bizarre to have a Christology that speaks of the “humanity” of Christ that is somehow devoid of a human mother (for all intents and purposes). Orthodox Christology begins its formal expression in the 3rd Ecumenical Council in which the largest and most central question was Mary’s title of “Theotokos” (Birth-Giver of God). Classical Christology began with consideration of Mary.

The most egregious example I have ever encountered of anti-Marian sentiment is a treatment in which she is seen as a mere “container” for Christ. It is an insult to every woman who has ever borne a child.

I offer no speculation as to the damage done to Western culture by a distorted Christology. Secularists would argue that Christology has nothing to do with our cultural constructs: such is the ignorance of our own foundations. Secular modernity is built on the foundation of a distorted version of Christianity. We are children who deny our parents, imagining that we have created ourselves.

Now that is a cause for panic. Holy Mother of God, pray for us.

 

100 comments:

  1. This is excellent. It is an odd thing. The..,denial of Mary in the West. It also strangely seems to follow a denial of the Saints or perhaps the the Saints follow a denial of Mary. In any case, we seem to be at a point where many in the West are realizing our story of Christianity came with missing parts. A lot of us are on salvage missions for our very salvation. The way it’s meant in this post.

    God bless

  2. I never guessed there was so much of an undercurrent to the Cana miracle. It’s clear that Mary’s first acts in the ministry of Christ were of intercession. When Christ said that it wasn’t His time yet, what did He mean? Apparently, it was His time because He did the miracle and it all began. I may be misunderstanding the meaning of “time” in this sense. I’m imagining His ministry as a series of predestined events that would begin at a wedding in Cana, but could His ministry have started with any miracle in any place, rather than at some fixed time? The first way of looking at it makes it look as if something is revealed to Mary that Jesus, in his humanity, didn’t know. I’m not sure such a notion is kosher…uhh…orthodox. The second way, which is kind of a subtle, “Let’s roll,” moment–an irrevocable, fateful decision made then and there–seems less of a problem.

  3. Fr. Stephen,
    I was out of town staying with my brother-in-law. At the time I was looking into Catholicism…knew nothing of Orthodoxy. While he was at work I went to a Catholic book store. There I purchased a rosary. I had learned the Hail Mary shortly before. As I held it in my hands and began praying the rosary I felt two things…an exhilaration and at the same time, fear. Was I doing something wrong, would God strike me down as I walked along the street praying? Well, obviously He didn’t and His Mother accepted my first feeble attempts at venerating her. I continued my prayer of the rosary and eventually was led to Orthodoxy. Because I had been raised pentecostal my trepidation continued for some time. Yet now, many years later, there is a richness in my walk with Christ that I had never experienced before, a familial aspect that was simply missing. I so love the Axion Estin hymn to the Theotokos, “It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos….” Over the years she has become my mother as well.

  4. Thank you. Very insightful. It is true that, as a convert, I have found it much easier to warm up to the saints than I have to the Theotokos. But she grows on me more and more with each passing year.

  5. Coming from the Catholic Church, I didn’t experience this panic when I converted to Orthodoxy. Thank God. This post is amazing. Perfectly explained. Thank you.

  6. I grew up in the Baptist Church, converted to Orthodoxy in 1975 when I was a college student, and spent much of my adult life teaching in Catholic high schools. It is true that much of the West has absolutely no concept of the Theotokos, no sense of Mary’s centrality to the story of salvation. However, I do remember Anne Lamott writing something like the following: “I love Jesus, and I’m absolutely wild about his mother.” I can’t remember which of her books I was reading, but I do remember the little thrill I got when I read this because I thought to myself, “There is hope after all!”

  7. Saying the rosary was one of the best parts of being Catholic. I now use my rope for prayer, but I still carry my rosary with me and take it out from time to time.

    Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
    Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

    Thank you, Father.

  8. I have to admit mixed feelings about the panic attack you experienced: sadness that you endured such a thing, and relief at the recognition that the Theotokos and the saints are difficult for Protestant converts. I am not alone.

    I used to envy Catholics their view that they can pray to saints who have gone before us. Now as a new convert I am so excited about the Theotokos and there saints, but it is still very strange and I have so little understanding. I want to embrace them and work toward that.

    Thank you for such an encouraging post!

  9. When I first became Orthodox, I commented to my priest that I stood on the left side of the Church because I felt more comfortable being closer to the Theotokos. He simply nodded and said something like, “Yes, that is not uncommon for new converts.” I have always found the Theotokos more comforting than fearful. Perhaps it is because Jesus had always been as much a judge as a savior in my Protestant worship; Mary is not tainted with the aspect of judgement (at least to me) and is, at times, more approachable.

  10. Indeed, Father Stephen, that distorted view of Christianity is very hard to contest. It is as if the original texts don’t tell us anything, but rather what has accumulated over the centuries since they were written.

    I understand the importance that Orthodoxy places on tradition and how our Gospel derived from that tradition, the living Church, but to me it is also right there in the very words, plain to see, so that even only having the Scriptures, her place in our worship is so evident, once you look.

    What was wonderful in the consideration of the first miracle for me came at one point with the realization of who is telling us about it. That it is the evangelist John who brings it to us, who has been given as his own mother the mother of Jesus, from the cross. Seeing those relationships made it a living text for me.

  11. Thank you Father!

    At my first Church service I was so overwhelmed…blown away, as it goes…I new I was home. I had absolutely no reservations about anything…nothing…not Mary, not the Saints, not the icons, not the clergy, not the solemness. The “strangeness” was welcoming. It was (is) more alive than anything I’ve ever experienced. (Actually, it wasn’t totally strange, as I was raised Catholic, but left early in life, much later became Protestant) At the 2nd service I did what I saw others do…venerate and kiss the icons, crossed when they crossed, and Oh I couldn’t wait for the day I could receive Communion! Not saying I didn’t feel awkward, but not for terribly long.
    I am still ‘getting to know’ our Mother. It is a delight!

  12. The first time I entered an Orthodox Church, I was overwhelmed by the icon of Mary behind the altar, so imposing and yet so welcoming to come and worship her son. He is here.

  13. Thank you Father Stephen, on this closing day of the Feast of the Entrance to the Temple of the Mother of God ! where so much deep joy is unfolding around Her, the most holy Woman who surrendered herself entirely to the divine will !
    The more days pass and the more I discover the reality, the truth of Theotokos is immense and infinitely subtle and precious …. It is true that my faith had no Catholic or Protestant influence because I plunged directly into Orthodoxy and there is a deep, inexpressible force in these spiritual realities.
    The Queen of Heaven, the Sovereign, and the woman Mary who said Yes !
    There is a monk-ascetic of Mount Athos who said that the Mother of God has such divine greatness that she could be confused with God, if he did not exist ! He spoke about his experience and his encounter with the Theotokos …
    She gives us, makes us know the infinitely simple and humble and aspires us to the heights to get closer to the mysteries of God and his Son !
    Through it we can discover the true tenderness and the real strength of love …
    May we all love it and venerate it because it intercedes powerfully !

  14. Helene,
    Thank you for your beautiful words!

    “There is a monk-ascetic of Mount Athos who said that the Mother of God has such divine greatness that she could be confused with God, if he did not exist ! “

    I love that quote!

    And feel so so sorry for those who (considering themselves Christians) do not honor the Queen of Heaven, our best intercessor and teacher of love for Christ, Her son. May She forgive them their mistake and misunderstanding and open their hearts to know the Truth of Christ and His Church.

  15. Thanks Fr, Freeman for this insightful article. I believe that my prayers to the Theotokos started me on my journey to Orthodoxy. God bless you and your ministry.

  16. “Secular modernity is built on the foundation of a distorted version of Christianity. We are children who deny our parents, imagining that we have created ourselves.
    Now that is a cause for panic. Holy Mother of God, pray for us.”

    Regarding panic, I would like to cite a quote that Abbot Tryphon of Christ the all-Merciful Savior Orthodox Monastery (of ROCOR) included in his post today on his daily blog, The Morning Offering.

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2018/11/unbelief-6/

    “You need not be despondent. Let those be despondent who do not believe in God. For them sorrow is burdensome, of course, because besides earthly enjoyment they have nothing. But believers must not be despondent, for through sorrows they receive the right of sonship, without which it is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Saint Barsanuphius of Optina).”

    And next, let’s substitute a fear word for “despondent”:
    “You need not be terrified. Let those be terrified who do not believe in God. For them fear is burdensome, of course, because besides earthly security they have nothing. But believers must not be terrified, for through terrors they receive the right of sonship, without which it is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Saint Barsanuphius of Optina, quote modifed).”

    (This is not meant as criticism of the reasonable statement that we are in a panic situation – brave people rightly panic when we need to, and I admire Fr. Stephen as much for his courage as for his gentleness.)

    Besides us older people, American teenagers are currently suffering a scientifically documented epidemic of anxiety (it’s a big deal for the psychologists and high schools who deal with it). They’re really scared, generationally and understandably, but where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. We need to be brave as family, role models, and adult friends to children, if not as parents or leaders. Courage comes from love, and means we trust God’s strength and mercy to be “enough.” Our fears are temptations to return to the ego’s false boundaries (which Fr. Stephen’s writing has taught me about), as if the universal human need for security can be satisfied without a commitment to accept suffering and loss as essential avenues to be joined to Christ’s life experience and Divine Personhood.

    A great practice taught by my parish’s Matushka for handling fear is to write down what is the worst thing that could happen. In general, the worst possible outcome of a human life is eternal dislocation from Christ, i.e. hell. But the way fear works is that it confuses us about future problems, in a humiliating, paralyzing way. So simply being rational about the future and what is possible is a big step towards inner peace. It is easier to pray when we know what we are praying for salvation from – what is the threat, what is at stake? In general, our fear is both of displeasing God, and of losing what we cherish. God cannot be taken away from us without our own rejection of Him, so in a sense, life is fair- we have a sufficient chance to obey the Lord.

  17. “Secular modernity is built on the foundation of a distorted version of Christianity. We are children who deny our parents, imagining that we have created ourselves.”

    Many secular children are alienated from their parents because they feel rejected and unworthy of sonship / daughterhood, not primarily because they are arrogant or aloof. The shame involved in isolation and relationship decay generally precedes the compensatory pride hiding vulnerability, though the pain of shame includes “ego injury” (I say it’s more hurt feelings than hurt pride because of my faith in people’s humility, and because the human soul is naturally very sensitive to rejection and blame even when someone is not proud).

    One prayer for family relationships in my Antiochian Orthodox prayer book for youth, titled Hear Me, petitions God to protect our hearts from easily being offended. Humility includes having a “thick skin,” so while only God copes perfectly, we do not need to respond with anger or avoidance – we can confess our similar sins and forgive as equals. Children only deny parents when they feel tyrannized or disowned a priori – nobody wants to lose his parents, and it doesn’t feel like a free choice when it happens (because it is demonic, not human). Divorce is similar, war is similar…we might suffer the passions of sadism and rage, but we do not really want to hurt anyone.

    Christ is always in us, loving us quietly, reminding us of our place in His perfect heart. The irony is that most parents and elders were once somewhat estranged from their own elders, but can forget how difficult it is to be humble and obedient at a young age. Disappointed parents might think it is easier to obey them than it was to obey the parents they had themselves. Now why would that be the case? This is part of what the parable of the several debtors conveys – awareness of our common struggles and weaknesses, across generations, socioeconomic class, etc.

  18. Thanks again Father. How true that Mary’s presence in the Orthodox Liturgy and worship far exceeds anything in the Catholic Church; however, the general impression is that only the Catholic venerate Mary (their visible use and propagation of the Rosary is the reason — despite being Orthodox, i am a huge proponent of the Rosary). All that apart, how anyone cannot seek Mary’s help is beyond me. And Sola Scriptura proponents should know that almost all of ‘Hail Mary’, the quintessential prayer of both the Orthodox and the Catholic is verbatim Luke 1.

    A bishop of our Church says this often: The Orthodox faith is THE version of faith, the Catholic faith a deviation, the Protestant faith a diversion, the Pentecostal faith a distortion and the New Age faith a perversion. I agree with what he says, but my heart also says that the Catholic faith can’t be that irredeemably deviated because of its veneration of Mary.

  19. I was raised in a Pentecostal church, but then spent much of my life as a non-denominational “Reformed” Christian, before finding the true faith- the Orthodox Church. Veneration of the Most Holy Theotokos was very foreign to me. I remember the first time that I prayed to her, and how awkward the prayer felt as it fell from my lips. Over time, it has become more natural.
    In my case, there has been much to “unlearn” as I am sure is the case with many converts, but I am thankful for the chance to do just that. I am also thankful to be able to connect spiritually with the Saints who have “fought the good fight ” and “finished the race” before us. It is one of the most beautiful components of the Orthodox faith.

  20. Kevin,

    I was only recently talking to someone about the Wedding at Cana and I find your pondering about timing interesting. Who can say what all went on between them and so forth, but I believe one lesson to draw from this is that God works with us. In this situation Mary was allowed to start His ministry off. I don’t know Jesus’ position in this – whether He had been delaying it or was simply (as Fr. Stephen suggests) reminding His mother that this would begin the path that ended in so much pain for both of them. But there are other occasions where God seems to work WITH us rather than just acting on us. The 3 angels visiting Abraham to discuss Sodom and Gomorrah comes to mind. In fact my belief is that God wants to work with us more than lording over us.

  21. Incidentally, it seems that only the Douay-Rheims translation gets the wording of Jesus’ response to Mary “correct” as it’s quoted here. I really need to get those commentaries by the Blessed Theophylact and see what is written about this moment. Mary says very little in the Bible, but what she does say is very significant. Perhaps she “says” much more in the sense that Luke had to have used her as a primary source for parts of his gospel.

  22. As usual, Father, I am humbled by the words you are given. May I become worthy as I continue waking up from my Protestant inspired dreams of God…often ducking under the covers again because someone this good and full of love is so hard to accept as real; even though my heart knows God is good, real, and ever beckoning me to sit with Him in His lap; to be in His presence and never leave Him who never leaves anyone.

  23. Father, can you comment further on your words:
    “On the personal level, the experience of the Church has taught us private devotions as well. Within those, we begin to discover the mystical bonds that only such devotions reveal. ”

    The last two paragraphs of this post are…well, I’m speechless….

  24. I read this aloud to my wife. She was speechless, then then she stomped off. Then she started screaming at me. Now she is silent.

    “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me…”

    It is strange how prayer has been made to be a proxy for true worship in the mind of virtually every protestant.

    In a “two story universe” how else would you talk with the immaterial?

  25. Matthew,
    I’m sorry – I can imagine that was painful. It is deeply saddening what has transpired in the theological history of Protestantism. Both Luther and Calvin had a fairly high regard for Mary – both, for example, believed in her perpetual virginity. I doubt that either of them would recognize the sentiments of their successors. This makes it all that much sadder, in that the heart of darkness that becomes evident among many Protestants when Mary or the saints come up in conversation is largely the product of pure, intentional anti-Catholicism, driven primarily by antipathy and not theology.

    It is ironic. I spent a couple of years in the backwoods of the Tennessee mountains serving as a hospice chaplain. I was not outwardly identified as Orthodox – just a chaplain. Most of my patients and families were Baptist, Pentecostal, or something similar. None of them were members of mainline groups (including the Southern Baptists). Most of their preachers were uneducated, part-time men who had simply been called to preach.

    I found interesting things in their homes. For one, the single most common and popular picture in their homes was religious in nature: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I understood immediately why they loved it. The crown of thorns on His heart speaks volumes concerning the love of God. I even found a three foot statue of Mary in the home of a woman, the daughter of a preacher. I asked why. The family said, “She liked it.” Why did she like it? Because it spoke volumes about the love of Jesus mother for her.

    Antipathy and bad theology have to be taught – or they are learned by osmosis and subtle signals – the same way we learn racism and such. It’s very irrational – but understandable. And Mary doesn’t resent it. She loves us all.

    Your wife is right, we shouldn’t have any gods before the one true Living God. But the true and living God’s only begotten Son became flesh of the Virgin Mary. And she will be blessed by all generations. I will ask her to pray for your wife (and for us all). We need what she can teach us.

  26. Diana Christina,
    There are many, many private devotions. Akathists, the Paraklisis, simple prayers and hymns – and, especially her icons. I knew a Pentecostal woman who became Orthodox in the Greek Church. She said that after a year or so, she went to the priest and told him that she did not understand Mary or devotion to her. He was a Greek of the old country. He didn’t try to teach her (I would have droned on and on, no doubt). He said, “Go into the Church and sit in front her icon for an hour.” That’s what she did. She told me, “After the hour, I never had any questions again.”

    I think of many stories of her involvement in the lives of saints, or other stories. I have learned to run to her (to take refuge) when I am in need. She never(!) takes me away from Christ or replaces Him or even remotely competes with Him. But she takes me to Him and holds me with Him. Jesus gave her to St. John, as his mother. St. John is the author of the deepest and most theological of the gospels. He doesn’t give us the infancy stories that we can see in Luke or Matthew. He takes us to the pre-eternal Word, the only-begotten of the Father. Mary lived with St. John for the rest of her life according to the undisputed tradition of the Church. It is St. John who gives us the account of the Wedding at Cana – a revelation of the mystical union between Christ and His mother.

    She knew. They had no wine. And she already knew the significance of that wedding feast and the Wedding Feast to come. She chose the moment. And He let her choose it. He only did those things which He saw the Father doing – and He saw a similar obedience in His mother who had said, “Be it unto me according to Your Word.” At even the hint of her words – He saw what she was doing – that she was moving towards the Cross – and He saw the action of the Father. Water became wine, just as wine would become blood. The very best at the very last.

    Just sit with her.

  27. Dear Fr. Stephen, I cannot thank you enough for your words here in the comments to Diana Christina and for your words in your blog post here. Glory to God for All Things!

  28. A comment and a question:
    Comment: As a lifelong Catholic, I have known Mary the Mother of God all of my life and was taught the rosary from a very young age. However, I only began feeling close to her in the last few years. (A number of things, too personal to go into, got in my way.) One thing that confused me for a long time was how Mary was called the “Queen of Heaven” but then we celebrated the Feast of “Christ the King”. That didn’t sound right to me – which shows how little I know of monarchies. One day I was reading from the Book of Kings (1 Kings 2: 19-20) and it finally dawned on me. As King Solomon bowed to his mother, Bathsheba, and said that he would not refuse her request, so too would this final/eternal King to reign on the throne of David reverence His mother. Mary is the Queen Mother, so to speak. Spiritually, of course, she is much more than that but this gave me a context for understanding her very elevated status in the Kingdom. Just a thought…

    Question, Fr. Stephen: With the Orthodox Church’s veneration of Mary, why does it generally not recognize the appearances of Mary to us? I’m not talking about the silly hoaxes of people who claim to see her on water towers but the more carefully investigated ones from which have come many documented miracles? I realize that some of this may be because of tensions between Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church (please do not call us “Rome”) but I wondered if there was a theological basis for not giving these more regard?

    Thanks for another good post.

  29. Amen, and Thank-You father for your kind words, and maybe even more especially your prayers – even as they are prayed to our Holy Mother.

    Yes, it hurts that my own wife is unwilling to consider saints, icons, and miracles out of hand; and yet, if I didn’t still have my own reservations, none of this would matter.

    Most holy Theotokos, save us!

  30. Thank you father Stephen for these words of life with Theotokos, its proximity, its presence, it becomes more and more real and alive !
    Thank you for your testimony, it puts in the heart such enthusiasm !
    Yes, sing or read an Akathist, and the Paraklisis to the Most Holy …
    Yes, just sit with her.

  31. Mary,
    Indeed (on the comment). Psalm 45:9 “The Queen stands on Thy right hand, arrayed in glorious robes all glorious.” That is, traditionally, a position of the Queen Mother, the woman who gave birth to the king.

    On your question. Less easy to say. For one, I’m not entirely sure of the status of Marian apparitions within Catholicism itself (officially). I have understood that they represent, more or less, “approved” devotions rather than, so much, required devotions – that they are marked as not containing any error, but not exactly giving them the status of doctrine, etc.

    If so, then the Orthodox would mostly just raise an eyebrow and say, “These seem to be absent in the Orthodox experience.” Not that Mary has not appeared or been seen. I am personally quite disturbed by the “messages” generally associated with such apparitions, and would always express caution about such things.

    I have twice attended the “appearances” of Mary in Conyers, GA, both times during my Anglican past. I was extremely disturbed by what I saw. And all I can say is to share what bothered me. I found it to be pretty much “charismatic renewal” stuff – everything about it. I have been there, done that, and came away with deep doubts and a realization of the power of delusion. I’m not sure anyone in Georgia was claiming to “see” anything beyond their “mind’s eye.” This is generally the case of “visions” in Pentecostalism, as well as “Prophecies” (“the mind’s ear”). The potential for error and false delusion is inherently strong in such things. I certainly came away from those phenomena with this mindset: “If what they are doing is what was being done and described in the New Testament, then we stand pretty much in mid-air as far as our faith is concerned.” That’s what was deeply soul-shaking and faith-shaking for me.

    Orthodoxy has always had a very skeptical approach to these things (when it is at its healthiest). There are segments, indeed, whole cultures, that are as given to excitability and wishful-thinking as Pentecostalism within Orthodoxy. I am alarmed when Elders become too popular – that a sort of “cult” can grow up centered too much on that phenomenon – affecting the sobriety of believers. There are strains in the teachings of Romanides that I put in that category. I value spiritual sobriety pretty much above everything else.

    There are things within the culture of apparitions that seem filled with problems. For example, specific promises – “Do this, and get this” (days out of purgatory, etc.). They become ex-cathedra doctrine-like statements. In many cases, such things have contributed greatly to a kind of legal/forensic culture within certain strains of piety – and, as such, encourage error.

    I suppose one great caution within Orthodoxy is the fact that such apparitions are not part of Orthodox piety and experience. They lack a universal quality – and, as such, are less than “Catholic” in the proper sense. They do not form part of the experience of the early Church – the early centuries – but seem to have begun in the Middle Ages – with a distinctly Medieval flavor, just as today they have, more and more, a distinctly Charismatic flavor. That is to say, there is so much that seems “cultural” about them – to a level that is troublesome.

    Another concern: they are too public and make public claims and requirements. When someone tells me, in the name of God, that I should do something, I need (rightly, I think) more than just their word of “Mary told me.” Things need to be utterly integrated in the theological life of the Church. If they are not, I think they make tears in the “seamless garment” of the faith. My perception of Roman Catholicism is that it is littered with lots of pieces here and there that are rooted in such non-integral experiences. The extreme “multi-culturalism” of Roman Catholicism as an eccelsiastical body has this same quality. By that, I do not mean the cultures of language and peoples, but the cultures of Franciscans, Benedictines, Charismatics, Cursillistas, Jesuits, and so much more. It is less seamless garment and more patchwork quilt.

    The differences between papal regimes are rooted in these sorts of things, it seems to me. It’s not sober so much as it is disturbing.

    This is a difficult area for conversation because it represents something of the inner cultures of Churches – it emphasizes just how much the life of Orthodox and Roman Catholicism differ – and the separate paths they have trod since the Schism.

    I do not mean to engage in anti-Catholicism – only to say that Catholicism itself seems to feel that something is wrong – that something needs to be reformed. The Reformation got out of hand – but it was, in fact, a sort of Catholic thing to do. Various “Reforms” preceded it and have continued. Vatican II represents almost a break – certainly it has become a historical watershed in which what went before seems to have criticized as much by certain Catholics as it was by Protestants.

    Being part of the historical Church always means putting up with lots of embarrassing things. It’s a long history and a large family. Some of it is no more serious than the cultural issues that would always arise. We kiss icons in Orthodoxy, I think, because the Church started among Jews and Greeks. Had it begun among the English, we would still venerate the icons, but would do so by feeling awkward and apologizing.

    Forgive me.

  32. Matthew,

    I feel for you! My wife is staunchly Evangelical. When I first became Orthodox, there were fireworks!

    She grew up in a Catholic country, and according to her upbringing the rejection of Mary & the Saints is part of what distinguishes Christians from Catholics (!)
    After that initial period I backed off and gave her space (and prayed for her). Over the years, she has softened up. She likes listening to stories of Saints when I tell such things to the kids, and she recently started reading prayers from my Orthodox Prayer Book.

    I do not know how long you have had this division but I can recommend patience. Above all, be a good husband. If you have children, be a good father.

  33. There are precious witnesses, Orthodox, to whom the Mother of God appeared, known (St Seraphim of Sarov, St Silouane, etc …) and unknown… But each time it was a singular and personal relationship that was going on. And the words of Theotokos concerned precisely the life of the person. Sometimes one or two witnesses, it seems to me, but always in a precise and personal way. Maybe I miss information about it …
    As Father Dumitru Staniloae, (Romanian priest-theologian) says, “There is no charismatic movement, but charismatic people”.
    This sentence makes me think …

  34. Matthew – My wife is a Protestant and quite devout, although she rarely goes to church. (She is essentially a pietist). Nevertheless, people visiting our home have occasionally asked if we are Irish Catholics, because everywhere you look there is an image of Mary. The top of an old icebox in the corner of our dining room has well over twenty small statutes of Mary and the walls on either side of the icebox are covered with images of her. (No icons. Those are all in my bedroom.) It all started when I became a Catholic. Anna firmly rejected the church, but she warmly embraced Mary. They obviously love each other very much.

    I did not share Father’s post with her, however. Anna has rejected Orthodoxy even more firmly than she rejected Catholicism and I have learned to not share Father’s posts with her. I used to, but they only made her angry and confused. In the past, Father has said something to the effect that only the church can understand the church. I have taken that to heart in my relationship with my very non-Orthodox wife. She certainly understands a lot of Christianity, i.e., the nature of the Trinity, that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, that Christ died for our sins and that our only salvation is through Him, etc., but she cannot understand Orthodox teaching because she is not Orthodox. It is a foreign language to her. So I leave it alone. As one of my friends (a Catholic priest) likes to say, Jesus will fix it all in the end, I am sure.

  35. ” . . . after a year or so, she went to the priest and told him that she did not understand Mary or devotion to her. He was a Greek of the old country. He didn’t try to teach her . . . He said, ‘Go into the Church and sit in front her icon for an hour.’ That’s what she did. She told me, ‘After the hour, I never had any questions again.'”

    I love that story, for it is the story of my Orthodox conversion. I went to a liturgy and I was evangelized.

    Reminds me of Kallistos Ware’s story of his evangelization. Out of curiosity, he wandered into a Russian church in London just as vespers was beginning. The entire service was in Russian. He knew little or nothing about Orthodoxy and he did not understand a word of Russian. Yet, he says, when he walked out of that church, he was Orthodox.

    I do not think Orthodoxy can be didactically taught. It must be experienced.

  36. I suppose I must be on the right track because every time you post one of these articles about Mary it brings me to a real flow of tears.

    “Most of their preachers were uneducated, part-time men who had simply been called to preach.”
    I resemble this remark and you might be surprised to see the icon Mary Pochaev in the house. The Sacred Heart of Jesus would be wonderful also…

    One more piece of my stony heart broken and scattered leaving only Love for you, Lord.

  37. For those of you waiting for loved ones hostile to the Church….

    I began reading ‘Everyday Saints’ a couple days ago. When the author, Archimandrite Tikhon, desired to become a monk as a young man, his spiritual father said he could not until his mother agreed, and she was not willing. He was told not to worry but wait on God and pray. After nine years of silence from him, his mother agreed without hesitation and he was tonsured.

    I am trying to learn to wait and pray about any number of things, and not fret. It is ironic how something seemingly simple and freeing can be so difficult!

  38. We recently converted from a reformed type of Protestantism. The baggage is heavy and wearying! The enormity and comprehensive nature of the paradigm shift coming into Orthodoxy catcjes me off guard at times.

    Last night some friends from our last church came for a visit. We have not rated in touch and are reconnecting. The husband asked mine how our church ‘does evangelism.’ How can we even begin to answer that? We lack language for much of our experience…my husband get a little defensive because he knew how he would sound to his listener when he told him people just have to come and be in the church. That’s so hard to accept from the old perspective! We can not control how God calls us and speaks to us, there is no evangelism formula. It makes no sense from the outside but being inside makes all the difference. How can you explain that?!

    Of course it’s not that we don’t talk about God, what He does, or doctrine or scripture. It’s just done differently. Please, if I’m in error about these things too deep for me, please correct me!

  39. Thank-You all who have offered words of support.

    I really don’t share much of what father writes with my wife. However, being, as she says, an “external processor”, she hears me when I’m at my most most challenged as I reach out to bounce ideas off her. For over 30 years she has shared in my turmoils, and yet she still loves me. Ironically, she may be hearing the most difficult and extreme subjects I face in Orthodoxy as I wrestle with them myself.

    Thanks again.

  40. Father Stephen

    Any thoughts on the Mother of God appearance at Fatima? I saw a documentary on it this past year…. that even from an Orthodox perspective was compelling…

  41. I thought there was a comment on the nature of worship but I cannot find it. It had something to do with worship being sacrifice, and through the Eucharist we see the sacrifice of Jesus; Protestants on the other hand see prayer as worship. Perhaps this is key in understanding why they see devotion to Mary as worship.

    Since I cannot offer sacrifices to God daily in terms of flesh and blood in the Eucharist, how can I worship Him continually? I always thought my prayers were worship, at least a form of it. And what is a sacrifice of praise?

  42. Kristin,
    You are so right in your observation. So much shifts in becoming Orthodox. We wind up rethinking almost everything. On Evangelism: I’ve had a hand in the planting of 5 Churches over the past 20 years. I think that this is the most essential work of evangelism – because the parish is the normative place where the Orthodox life is lived. We are saved as a community of believers – not as isolated individuals. There is no place in the New Testament that envisions Christians apart from the Church.

    That said, a normal, healthy parish, engages in evangelism in many ways – in the course of its whole life and existence. We’ve had a steady stream of inquirers, etc. I’ve been asked what sort of evangelism program we have. I say, “I answer the phone!” For, in truth, I don’t know where these people come from. Each has an interesting story and reason for coming. God brings them.

    The American experience has created in many Churches the notion of evangelism as a sales campaign – and it appeals to the shopping instincts of a decadent and corrupt society. In the name of evangelism they have morphed their churches into entertainment venues.

    Orthodoxy is not an American consumerist life. Indeed, that is something of which we need to repent. So, when we’re not actively engaged in selling the product, it looks like we’re not doing anything.

    But, the fruit of our work says something different. Orthodoxy in America has received (many times) whole Churches of people who asked to enter the Orthodox life. When did that ever happen in the Protestant world? Entire African denominations have entered Orthodoxy. In Russia, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Churches were baptizing hundreds a people per week – and have averaged building 3 Churches a day since the early 90’s!

    I write a blog, one of many out there. I’ve done over 2500 articles – with nearly 100,000 comments. Ancient Faith Radio has only existed about a decade but its programming and archives are a treasure. The Orthodox Christian Mission Center trains, supports and sends missionaries across the world.

    In the past decade, several hundred thousand Mayan Indians in Guatemala requested to be received into the Orthodox Church. They have been received, schools have been built, parishes, hospitals, etc.

    None of this has been the result of a sales campaign, but a result of living the Orthodox life and allowing its fruit to be shared.

    It is ironic that your friends sat in your home, with you being converts, and asked what we do for evangelism. You yourself are living proof that it is happening as are so many thousands of others.

    In the OCA, over half of the clergy are converts – including the last two Metropolitans. This vine which God has planted with His right hand is alive and bearing fruit. But, it can be as hard to explain as it would be to answer a child’s question, “How does a vine produce grapes?”

  43. Kristin,
    Not sure which comment…but your question is good. I have written on the topic of worship as sacrifice – most perfectly the offering of the Crucified Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

    In the Scriptures, there are a couple of places that use the analogy of prayer or praise being the morning or evening sacrifice in the Temple. It is an analogy. It is “like” a sacrifice in certain respects. In other respects it is not.

    If praise, for example, were always a sacrifice, then Christians would be forbidden to praise anything or anyone else, ever. But, instead we read in the Scriptures (Wisdom 3), “Let us now praise famous men…” We go to football games and root for our favorite team with praise, etc.

    By the same token, prayer can be taken up in the same analogy. But, somehow (as a function of rabid, anti-Catholic sentiment) prayers to saints is considered idolatry – though, in fact, it is simply talking to them and asking things of them – no different than what is taking place at this moment as I write. You asked a question and I’m answering it. Nothing idolatrous.

    What we see is a sort of irrational madness. It has nothing to do with a reasonable understanding of what is taking place and everything to do with an irrational, visceral anger and hatred born of a deep misunderstanding and centuries of false propaganda.

    Our Orthodox life, among many things, tries to draw us back to sanity. It is not an argument – it is a life – the human life lived in the fullness that has always been intended by God.

  44. In my Orthodox journey…coming from a former Catholic background as a child, and a time in the Protestant church in early adulthood…I am immeasurably in gratitude to the Mother of God. She continues to hold my hand on my journey.

    For an earlier Orthodox linkage to the Rosary, I have come to love the Prayer Rule of the Theotokos as prayed by Saint Seraphim of Sarov. It is said to have been given by the Mother of God in about the eighth century. “There is tradition that the Egyptian monks of the Thebaid prayed 150 Angelic Salutations grouped into 15 groups of ten, after the pattern of the Psalms,” as quoted from this prayer book. Also, as of recently, just in time for the Nativity Fast, I have loved reading from the book “The Unrivaled Protectress” with an introduction on the Mother of God given by Saint Nectarios. St. Nectarios explains her true standing in the Church, her ever blessed veneration, but the distinction between this and worship which is to God alone. He explains past heresies with this. This wonderful small book gives accounts of fifteen miracles of the Mother of God through the centuries. Most Holy Theotokos save us!

    Anonymous: I edited the reference to the link. I did not think the article to be a reliable treatment of the matter. – Fr. Stephen

  45. Dear Fr. Stephen,
    Yes, I understand. Information even from reliable Orthodox sources must be treated with the utmost care. I suppose I simply wanted to convey that I have learned to be cautious and careful concerning visions outside of the Orthodox Church, but it is important to be loving and gracious.

  46. My mother once asked me, “What about the great commission–that’s what is really important–how do the Orthodox evangelize?” (paraphrased). My reply was that we build parishes and live among the people we go to. I also gave her the book Go Forth! Stories of Mission and Resurrection in Albania to read.

  47. Byron,
    It is seriously under-reported in the news, but contemporary Orthodoxy across the world has been busily rebuilding the Christian basis of the former Soviet Empire – in what is probably the most massive outreach work in many centuries. I have a priest friend who planted 95 parishes in Albania. Imagine! Because Orthodox is a whole-life-lived, it is a very slow, patient work. We cannot judge our efforts in the short term – mostly it is measured in decades and centuries. We are, essentially, the last traditional form of Christianity remaining in the world. Were it not for the Orthodox, the modern project would devour all of Christianity. Even now, it is touch and go for us. We are under a vast, relentless assault that threatens our very existence – but such is the cruciform life.

  48. This post reminded me of an insightful (and funny!) passage from G.K. Chesterton’s excellent book, “The Everlasting Man”:

    “If the world wanted what is called a noncontroversial aspect of Christianity, it would probably select Christmas. Yet it is obviously bound up with what is supposed to be a controversial aspect (I could never at any stage of my opinions imagine why): the respect paid to the Blessed Virgin. When I was a boy, a more Puritan generation objected to a statue upon my parish church representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable.

    You cannot chip away the statue of a newborn child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without the visiting the mother; you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it is followed in history. We must leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.”

  49. Some ten or fifteen years ago, when Orthodoxy was hardly on my radar, I developed an interest in Church history and the Church Fathers. At that time I was a devoted member of an Evangelical church (whose people I still love and greatly appreciate) where I had the opportunity to teach adult Sunday school classes on those topics (the best way to learn something is to teach it, right?). I was astonished how often I cited some bit of classical Christian doctrine, only to have someone respond, “That’s kind of Catholic, isn’t it?” Such experiences eventually convinced me that in many ways the practical definition of Protestant, even in the twenty-first century, is “Not Catholic.”

  50. Reid,
    When we first became Orthodox we gave our sister-in-law and her husband a book to read…I think Becoming Orthodox. I suppose they only heard “Catholic.” I doubt they read the book. They in turn gave us a book to read written by, of all people, Jimmy Swaggart! It was essentially an anti-Catholic diatribe full of exaggerations and untruths.
    Father, thank you for your word on evangelism in the Orthodox Church. I have also been asked what we do to evangelize. I can think of no better response than that of Philip to Nathaniel, “Come and see.” I came and saw. The liturgy “evangelized” me as it has millions of others.

  51. This is so good. Thank you.

    Your final remarks remind me of Satan’s words in Paradise Lost:

    “We know no time when we were not as now;
    Know none before us, self-begot, self-rais’d
    By our own quick’ning power…”

  52. Hi Fr. Stephen,

    I appreciate your thoughtful answer to my question regarding Orthodoxy and appearances of Mary recognized by the Catholic Church. You are correct that the Vatican investigates apparitions that receive a lot of attention, primarily to protect people from getting caught up in the kind of thing you described (in Conyers, GA – a claimed apparition that is viewed with skepticism, if viewed at all). The faithful are not required to believe in approved apparitions but are given permission to, while being warned that others have not been found worthy. When such claims arise and persist, it would be irresponsible to not try to root out reports that are hoaxes or the result of delusion or sin. (Some will die out on their own – but others need some help going away.)

    It is actually rather hard to find a definitive list of “approved” apparitions. Among the best known among the approved are Lourdes, Fatima and Guadalupe. It is interesting to note that in all three of these Mary is said to have appeared to humble people (children in 2/3) who did not even recognize the “beautiful lady” as the Virgin until it became clear who she was by her words or instructions to them. I am not aware of any messages about getting days off of purgatory or the like. Do you have a reference for that?

    I do agree with you that people will be people (and will be sinners). There is a combination of inspiration and sadness associated with the broad attention given to places like Lourdes, for example. The inspiration comes from some of the well-documented and medically inexplicable cures that have occurred there, not to mention the spiritual consolation many receive, the latter probably being the more important. The sadness comes when the suffering are exploited or people try to make money off such situations, transforming a sacred place into a marketplace.

    BTW, some things that you find troubling in the Catholic Church, I, as one on the inside, don’t find troubling at all, e.g. as the existence of different religious orders, all approved at some point by the Church. When they are at their healthiest, the different orders are like the threads of a tapestry woven into a single cloth, each bringing its own particular gifts to serve the Church and glorify God.

  53. Mary,
    Forgive my ignorance – I have hearsay in my head like others, as well. I personally like the Guadelupe appearance – it even yields a miraculous icon! I see your point regarding the orders, though my own reservations remain. What is clear is that East and West had some very different tracks of development – and for historical reason (at the very least) the East experienced much less “development.” There are obvious, common threads – Mary among them.

  54. For Mary Benton … Kissing the brown scapular of the Carmelites removes x days from purgatory is one such reference.

  55. Wonderful post – thank you for writing it! I’m a “panic-y Protestant” myself when it comes to Mary. I would love to learn more, but I honestly don’t know where to begin. Do you (or anyone else here) have any books or resources to recommend for someone like me who is just starting that journey?

    Thank you again –

  56. At least from my reading, the recent Roman Catholic apparitions of Mary are fundamentally different. She typically appeared to ascetics and didn’t generate publicity. The Slavs have a feast (Pokrov) celebrating her appearance in a city near Constantinople to St. Andrew the fool for Christ that isn’t part of the Greek calendar. Such manifestations weren’t visible to everyone present in the way that weeping icons are. Fatima is odd because of its sensational nature and the cryptic “secrets” surrounding it. I remember the “Third Secret of Fatima” being a subject of much speculation. I don’t know whatever became of it, though. It seems out of character for Mary to deal in secrets.

  57. Thanks, William, for mentioning this – I had heard of such a thing and dismissed it as one of those pious notions gone astray. Your mention of it made me check it out further.

    The claim of the so-called “Sabbatine Privilege” is not considered authentic and is not promoted by either the Catholic Church or the current Carmelites (the contemplative monastic order from which it sprang in the Middle Ages). It came under scrutiny at a number of points in history and during Vatican II in particular, at which time the liturgies of Our Lady of Mount Carmel were revised – no mentions of the scapular promise.

    This does not mean that there are not still people out there who try to perpetuate this promise – someone tried to thrust it on my elderly mother who was rightfully skeptical. Such promises make no sense. What does make sense is what is taught: that we are to live our lives in imitation of the virtues of Mary and that we may trust in her aid, now and at the time of our death. The “promise” is not only superstitious (kiss, touch or wear something and you go free), it distorts the proper understanding of purgatory.

  58. Kevin,
    Fundamentally, all of the appearances of Mary have begun with “private revelations”. We wouldn’t expect the apparitions themselves to become ready to view at any time by anyone, anymore that having the Risen Lord alive and walking the earth for anyone to meet at any time. Not how God generally works. Typically instructions given by the Virgin has been to build a church, to pray – especially for peace, etc.. The three messages of Fatima, as I understand them, were about the existence of hell and praying for the end of both world wars. They were not the great “secrets” that some people hyped them up to be – as though they contained a prediction for the end of the world. Yet we have been given lasting signs at times from private revelations, e.g. as Fr. Stephen mentioned, the tilma of Juan Diego with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on it – which remains on display.

    Forgive me for going on about the topic. I find it interesting but, as noted, no one is required to believe in these apparitions. In my initial question, I had been interested as to whether there were any particular theological reasons why the Orthodox did not share in them.

  59. Dear Fr. Stephen:
    You made me literally LOL with this:
    “We kiss icons in Orthodoxy, I think, because the Church started among Jews and Greeks. Had it begun among the English, we would still venerate the icons, but would do so by feeling awkward and apologizing.” I am not English, but am an Anglophile.
    Anyway, why I write –
    I am at a pre-catechumen stage of Orthodoxy, and many of my questions are being answered. But re: the petition of the saints (to intercede), i do have this remaining puzzlement: Why do we ask saints to intercede for us when 1) God loves us more than they do, and 2) He probably hears us “faster” (beforehand is pretty fast!) and more clearly/perfectly than the spirits of the saints? Regarding 1), isn’t it about like asking an uncle to ask our fathers to help us, when our fathers are eager to help us, lives within earshot of us, and loves us more than our uncle? Why should we take the circuitous route??

  60. Shannon,
    There is nothing in the “mechanics” of prayer that even requires prayer – in the sense of petitioning. God already knows what we need and loves us and is willing to give, etc. And yet we pray? Why? Prayer is about communion – even our petitions. The same with the saints. We invoke the saints for the same reason we go to Church – because God has created us as social beings (“it is not good for the man to be alone”) and our salvation is not private but social.

  61. Fr Stephen-

    Thank you for responding to me regarding evangelism and sacrifice as worship. Your words comfort me as I struggle to live the Orthodox life. And you commented about the irony of a Protestant sitting in my house asking about evangelism…that made me laugh out loud! I was never good at sales and the tremendous guilt I felt as an evangelical over my lack of ‘evangelism and missions’ was crushing. Being with people, letting them be who they are, listening, having a genuine interest in them—it’s so much easier.

  62. Shannon,
    We’re communicating vessels; prayer for others & prayer to saints comes naturally the more we’re alive to this communion.
    You could therefore say: Hell is to be stuck with nothing but myself & no way out forever, while Heaven is the wonder, joy and meaning of being in communion with the other (all others and above all the Great Other [God], “in” which all have their being)

  63. Mary,
    I have seen the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe in at least one Orthodox church. The image is very compelling. It has existed on cactus fiber for many centuries, a fiber that should have disintegrated long ago. I think she is the patron saint of the Orthodox in Mexico…not 100% sure. One thing I have wondered about is why stigmata are only seen in Catholics, such as Fr. Pio (Saint?). He suffered long decades with these open wounds. Both Churches have holy ones whose bodies remain incorrupt. Many more similarities as well as differences could be cited.

  64. Dean,
    Such differences are puzzling. Most suggested answers are unsatisfying. I will make but one suggestion: God gives us our desires, to a certain extent. A devotion to the wounds of Christ is not a phenomenon among the Orthodox – it is, however, among some Catholics (St. Francis was the first, I think). The transfiguring of a saint is more common in Orthodoxy. Interestingly, levitation is known among both!

  65. Dean,

    Just a stab at the stigmata thing. Man co-creates reality (being in communion with God) and consciousness has a demonstrable effect on the shape and mouth feel of it. Even ‘science’ is admitting this as consciousness models break their own materialist models. It has been talked about on one or few of Father Stephen’s podcasts on the difference between the Catholic and Orthodox Cross as it depicts Christ. One is about pain/agony and the other is about bearing shame.

    With the Catholic fascination around pain perhaps a stigmata is the only sensible conclusion or arrival of a very gifted RC believer., he/she is manifesting what they believe and venerate – the pain of Christ.

    Part of what drew me to Orthodoxy was the overwhelming peace reading the words of Orthodox spiritual fathers. That peace born of bearing the shame of world? Again, perhaps the only sensible arrival for an Orthodox and this veneration of the Cross as it depicts Christ’s shame?

    I dunno. It’s indeed a Mystery with no comfortable answers. And that’s ok.

  66. Thank you Fr. Stephen,
    Your answer as to God giving us our desires…to a point, helps me. In my searching days I read a lot of Catholic literature. I remember that Fr. Pio was sometimes seen levitated during mass. I do believe that the fullness of faith resides in Orthodoxy and that soberness, as you cited, is needed in all. Yet God is wondrous in His saints, East and West.

  67. Dear Seth,
    God bless you on your journey. I can suggest several books that can enhance one’s understanding and love of the Theotokos….
    “The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God” by St. John Maximovitch
    “O Full of Grace Glory to Thee” by Igumen Gregory (Zaiens)
    “Mary as the Early Christians Knew Her: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts” by Frederica Mathewes-Green
    “Mary the Mother of God” Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas

  68. Kevin Z. – I would be reluctant to equate a devotion to the wounds of Christ to a “fascination around pain”. Not to say that there are not people who over-focus on the pain and suffering of Christ – but not all such devotions take that turn. (This is not the place to share my private devotion, thankfully without stigmata, but I believe that there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of contemplating His wounds.)

    Fr. Stephen,
    An interesting thought but my own is somewhat different. I doubt that St. Padre Pio wanted the stigmata – rather he endured it. Having read quite a bit about Orthodox elders and saints, I have sometimes wondered about the severity of the physical deprivations and afflictions some have put themselves through. I remember feeling quite shocked when I read that St. Paisios of Mount Athos (whom I love) cut a chunk out of his leg when bothered by carnal thoughts.

    The conclusion I draw from these things is that different people have different vocations and it is not up to me to judge how someone else lives out theirs. Perhaps it serves God and His desire for our salvation for one person to mortify his body while another accepts the mortification of stigmata – while another experiences sleeplessness caring for an infant and another risks their lives serving the ill in a war zone.

    I who have done none of these things identifies with St. Therese of Lisieux who cried out, “At last I have found my vocation; my vocation is love!” Love always costs us – but what and how and when varies from person to person. Who can understand the plan of God?

  69. Kristin,

    I am also a recent convert (from the same background as you) and I resonate with so much of what you’ve written. In reading your comments, it occurred to me that like other topics, the Evangelical view of evangelism is far too narrow and shortsighted. It often amounts to little more than “how many people did you talk to about Christ this week?” This week? My goodness. It’s often not much different than the weekly and monthly goals of a person who works in sales (get 100 interactions, 10 interests, and one closed deal). Thankfully, true Christianity isn’t a business, The Church is not a MLM program, Christ is not a product that needs to be sold, and the people we meet aren’t potential customers. One thousand years ago, the Orthodox “evangelized” a country, out of which have come hundreds of millions of Christians and some of The Church’s greatest Saints. But I guess none of that matters when a person’s focus is limited to how many strangers I bothered at Starbucks this week.
    Please forgive the rant. Thanks again for your comments Kristin.

  70. I had no interest in Orthodoxy. I knew of it, but assumed it was just an ethnic thing. Nobody knocked on my door or handed me a tract (been there, done that Baptist). I “hit the wall” in Protestant Christianity and had lost hope. Hearing that “The Bible Answer Man” had become Orthodox shocked me enough that I had to go check it out. The priest of this tiny parish in a shack chapel answered questions for an hour and a half as I took in walls covered with icons and what was essentially a menorah on the altar table. I’ve been Catholic and different flavors of Protestant and even in a Messianic Jewish congregation. All the pieces fit together that day. I think the “kairos” vs. “kronos” thing works here. I knew of this parish years ago (kronos), but the kairos wasn’t right. It wouldn’t have made sense to me at the time. I had to be out of options, first. A friend recently asked me about Orthodoxy and I told him what I knew, but he couldn’t dig the style. He’s young enough to think there are still other options out there to try. At some point, maybe the penny will drop.

    Orthodox evangelism in America has a problem it never encountered anywhere else. The ecumenical and pluralistic spirit of America puts Orthodoxy at risk of being seen as a quirky or “vintage” expression of Christianity instead of a worldview-changing faith. If it uses Protestant methods, people may not get that. Orthodox are mostly going to encounter people who have been in a relationship with multiple denominations and have the scars to show for it. So much of the effort is going to go into remodeling their mindset. Many Americans’ minds are houses that have been worked on by multiple contractors, most of whom shouldn’t be allowed within a mile of a hammer or an electrical panel. As Mike Holmes would say, “Gut it and make it right.” Orthodoxy isn’t selling a new house. It’s a reno that lasts a lifetime.

  71. Thank you for this book suggestion, Esmee. There is also another very good book, and very thorough, titled “The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos” written and compiled by Holy Apostles Convent. Quoted from the book, this work is “viewed and treated within the framework of Sacred Scriptures, Holy Tradition, Patristics and other ancient writings, together with the Liturgical and Iconographic Traditions of the Holy Orthodox Church.”

  72. Seth, Anonymous, Esmee, et al
    Some of the suggestions are quite “meaty” and might not be the best place to start. The Veneration of the Mother of God by St. John Maximovich is probably best – along with Frederica’s book. It’s not all that common to find single works on the topic – for the simple reason that the veneration of Mary is an integral part of the faith rather than a separate subject. My own recommendation is to go slow, let it come naturally, and as it is fostered through the whole of the Orthodox liturgical life. Be patient with yourself.

  73. Early on in my quest to understand Orthodoxy, a subdeacon in our church suggested I get the Festal Menaion. He’d been in every variety of church prior to becoming Orthodox and understood well my hunger to know theology. Rather than give me a systematic book, he pointed me to the services of the church. As a choir member I can read the text with melodies and harmonies in my
    mind that can intensify or underscore the words for me. There is nothing better than reading and being in the services, as many as one can manage. Sometimes the newness of the ideas makes me emotional and I cannot sing. I am overwhelmed! I missed so much as a Protestant! Mary as a cave, gate, throne, as essential to our salvation (that was/is a hard one still…), the depth of Orthodoxy cannot be mined to its end! And it’s all there in the services. Every week. Every day. All over the world.

  74. Fr Stephen-

    I am grateful for Sbdn Steve. He has also called me out on some unhealthy, very bad thinking. We need community so very badly!

    When I purchased the Festal Menaion I had to learn that it is ok not to read every service this year, my first in Orthodoxy. If I read one or two, that’s ok. I also got the Lenten Triodion and read Great Lent by Fr Schmemann last spring. I will never plumb the depths of Orthodoxy. I not only have the rest of my life, but indeed all eternity to learn. That used to frustrate me, but now it brings peace and calm. Sometimes I feel lazy by not scouring the scriptures or doing things like I once did. Now I’m in a place where prayer, repentance, the services…these are paramount. It’s not that scripture isn’t, but I must learn to read it well and apart from some bad theology. The services and community are helping restructure, reorder, my mind and soul.

  75. Kristin – Saint Porphyrios was extremely fond of hymns and canons and encouraged his spiritual children to read them. He even said,

    “For a person to become a Christian, he must have a poetic soul. He must become a poet… A Christian, albeit only when he loves, is a poet and lives amid poetry. Poetic hearts embrace love and sense it deeply.”

    ~Saint Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 218.

  76. Kristin,
    You may also search the web for various Akathists to the Mother of God. Most of Her miraculous icons have a specific akathist, and each is more beautiful than the last.
    At our parish, we recently prayed the one for “Joy of all who sorrow” icon. I was even able to find a Polish translation of it for my visiting Mom to follow. When we got home, I looked up the calendar to show her how many feast days of various icons are listed during the year. Many have their own akathists.

    I love your words:
    “I not only have the rest of my life, but indeed all eternity to learn.”

    One of my priests suggested learning one of these Akathists or Cannons by heart. I wish I was making more progress on that! 🙁
    I know friends who pray one, from memory, every day on the way to work… 🙂

  77. David Waite and Dean, the Liturgy evangelized me as well. And to think it is celebrated every week, sometimes more, that we have that to look forward to every week… seems almost too good to be true.

  78. Mary and Fr. , This is such an interesting set of comments! I was raised Episcopalian, and as a teenager I converted to Catholic. 1965. I have been Orthodox for over 9 yrs now, and one of the things that made me know I was truly HOME in the church, was the veneration of Mary the Mother of God. I had left the Catholic church by my mid-20’s. Too many things that were in conflict. I have studied or gone to many other churches and denominations thru the many years since, but I was meant to be Orthodox. I am HOME.
    That said, in a small Hispanic Catholic church in Topeka, Ks, in 1971, I met Mary in person. As the grieving mother of a son who had recently died at birth; a 3 yr old; and having been told I could never have another child, I was really suffering that day in church. It was Our Lady of Guadalupe church. There was a beautiful mozaic of Mary on the front wall. As I was worshiping and facing the floor – kneeling – the most amazing voice quietly began talking to me. She told me I had to let go, and to trust that there was a reason for his death. I might not know it in this life, but all would be well, and I needed to trust God and Her. I looked up, and she was standing there – holding my son in her arms. She told me she knew the pain of losing a son, but that I needed to go on and let go of the pain. Over 47 yrs ago, and it still brings tears to talk about. She was right. God sent two more children that the doctors said could never be born – one of them due on the same date my son had died at birth four years earlier. Three doctors at three hospitals told me I had to get an abortion – for many serious medical reasons. I trusted instead, and not only was my youngest son born healthy and normal, but he has a genius IQ. Doctors had predicted there was no chance he could be ok, because of serious life-threatening illness and medications during my first four weeks of pregnancy.
    I was a high risk mother, and both of the children sent – in response to my toddler son’s urgent prayers to Jesus – were medical miracles. I have discussed these things with our priest, and he told me that oh yes, they do occur. In fact they are rather common in the Orthodox Church, but we just don’t talk about them.
    Mary is VERY deeply special to me, and her love for us is beyond description. She truly IS our Heavenly Mother, and she loves us all as her own children. Her love is immeasurable. Our earthly parents may hurt or disappoint us, but our Heavenly parents never do. I used to love my rosary too. I gifted it to a beloved sister-in-law, and she was buried with it I believe.
    I think the feeling of being humbled by her love was the most overwhelming thing I have experienced.
    In most of my 71 yrs. Becoming Orthodox is a genuine transformation, and it has been a welcoming into my true home on this earth. God bless you all. I really enjoy your comments.

  79. What a joy to read your testimony Merry, thank you for sharing this, so personal, and at the same time it is the life where the Spirit of God breathes !
    There are many manifestations on earth, in the lives of many people where the presence of the Holy Spirit works, and it fills us with Hope and Gratitude !
    A short time ago, in France, a nun was miraculously cured of a serious degenerative disease, at 79, by going to pray the Virgin Mary in Lourdes (Marian shrine). After praying at the church, she prayed a lot for the sick people who were with her in Lourdes, she went to her room and she heard a voice from the bottom of her heart that told her, “I know your suffering, do not be afraid, give me everything”. She cried, she heard the voice tell her to get up (she was in a disabled chair) and remove her corset, her splints, everything that held her body and she got up, she felt a warmth unbelievable in her body, she started to walk ! She stopped all the medications she was taking and also morphine to calm the pain. In two days she was completely healed. It is very impressive, I saw it, and it’s a very simple person, and inhabited by a grace and an incredible energy. His miraculous healing has just been recognized by the Vatican.
    She does a lot of good and she says it’s the Lord who does everything, she just obeys.
    Yes, glory to God to give us witnesses of his ineffable Goodness!

  80. Merry and hélène D.,
    Thank you for sharing these beautiful stories. In this day and age, we are often too afraid to believe in miracles, to believe that God and the Mother he gave us could love us so very much.

  81. Merry,
    This is a wonderful story. My experience is that there are many stories out there that people do not share – assuming they will not be heard or respected or believed. It perpetuates the modern myth that such things do not happen. Indeed they do!

  82. The providence of God manifests itself in very small but intense things as those which seem remarkable and more “visible” ; there are “miracles” at every moment in the world and it is a joy to think about it, to know that the divine forces are constantly acting to heal us, to pull us from the “fall”, to stand up and show us the way from the “new man” to the Resurrection …
    Glory to God for his ineffable gifts !

  83. My own approach to Mary was simple. I was told by some people I respected that she is an important part of the Christian life. All I knew of her at the time were the Catholic holy pictures I had seen and the exceedingly odd, to me, radio recitation of the Rosary in a monotone that was on a local radio when I was young.
    Knowing nothing of icons, I took a holy picture and simply said, I don’t know you, I’d like to. I still don’t really know her, but over the years especially since becoming Orthodox I have come to deeply appreciate her and see her in so much that is good and beautiful.

    I think that her presence in the Orthodox Church allows men to be men without going overboard.

    Her absence in Protestantism has had the paradoxical effect of making some sections of Protestantism dominated by women with men absent or not particularly robust; while another portion blesses the abusive subjugation of women by corrupt and violent men.

    I am quite thankful for the faithful Catholics like mary benton and others who have shared their faith here. It has given me an appreciation for the Catholic faith that I never had before. A really good thing because I have been around Catholic people and churches all of my life and frankly, I just do not understand Catholicism at all. To me it is far more strange than anything I have encountered in the Orthodox world. I can describe certain aspects of it but that is all. It has never been attractive to me except for the Rosary. Even with the really weird radio presentation of it I experienced in my youth, it is the one thing I find authentic and attractive in the Catholic Church.

    Still, I share the same reservations as Fr. Stephen on the “Appearances of Mary”. I have read quite a lot about them over the years and attended a presentation on one such appearance back in the late 70s in Boston. With all of that, none of them have substance to me.

    Lourdes stands out as different from all of the others. The rest of the appearances are too self-consciously dramatic for me. Antithetical to the spirit of Mary herself, in my opinion. So against what my wife, Merry, experienced(her face is transfigured when she speaks of it BTW). Too much like the Wizard of Oz to be real. I keep looking for the man behind the curtain. Outside the Catholic world many of the appearances have been subsumed into the false “New Age” mysticism and they fit without alteration. That is troubling. My brother visited Garabandal several years ago, spent some time there hoping to find good things. He came away deeply troubled.

    As an aside, one of my favorite saints is Mother Walburga of Eichstadt. A pre-schism missionary to the German peoples who reposed in A.D. 726. She comes from a family of saints including St. Boniface and St. Willibad. There is a monastery in Eichstadt founded by her I believe that is still extant as a Benedictine monastery. Her mummified but not quite incorrupt body lies there and streams myrrh every year from October to February. So much that it is collected and bottled. It is healing. My sister-in-law made a tour of Germany several years ago investigating pre-Schism German saints (she is Swiss originally). She went to Eichstadt and found a Catholic gift shop there filled with representations of different body parts that have been healed by St. Walburga’s intercessions. Fake arms, legs, etc. They were for sale.
    She obtained a small vial of Mother Walburga’s myrrh from the monastery while there and gave it to me as a gift. It now resides in my parish in the collection of relics of the parish.

    I just do not understand at all the gift shop and its amazing collection of schlock–especially in connection with an obviously holy woman and place. I believe there is a similar occurrence around Lourdes.

  84. Alan-
    I’ve been thinking about you and our common church past. Isn’t this blog community a great comfort? While I am often challenged to leave evangelical comfort zones (such as evangelism, miracles, saints) I am so encouraged to do so by this community. These sorts of miracles talked about in the last comments were disparaged by our old church as being demonic…as if Jesus couldn’t perform miracles today! The silence surrounding them, or rather hesitancy to market them, speaks more to their truth than any possible falsehood.

  85. Michael Baumann (sp?) – Just read your comments on the Catholic Church and the Rosary. I have given up many of my Catholic devotions since becoming Orthodox, but I never leave the house without my Rosary. (I wear my chotki on my wrist.). The Rosary still brings me close to God, through the Holy Mother.

  86. When my ancestors came through Ellis Island the second ‘n’ was dropped. So either is fine.

  87. I converted to Orthodoxy from non-denominational Protestantism many years ago. However, my grandparents were Roman Catholic, and one of my favorite memories is of listening to my grandmother recite the Rosary. She never tried to convert me, or anything like that. I cannot say the same for my poor grandfather, whose belief in God was, shall we say, a wee bit harsh.
    My first hope-against-hope question on looking into Orthodoxy in my late teens ( a few months after my grandmother’s death) was, “Do Orthodox say the Rosary?”

    [Insert several years of discouragement here. I happily became Orthodox, but missed the Rosary I had never fully prayed.]

    Words cannot describe the deep sense of calm joy I felt the day my spiritual advisor gave me an affirmative answer to that above question, and backed it up with facts.
    I can now say the following:
    1) I have found my spiritual home in Orthodoxy.
    2) Reciting the Rosary is a gift from my grandmother —which has given me peace and joy for over twenty years.

  88. Kristin,

    Yes, you are so right! The community here is truly great. I’m deeply indebted to Fr. Stephen and many of the folks here for a great many things. You are spot on regarding miracles. One time in a former church I was at, perhaps in a moment of weakness (haha), the church let a missionary preach on a Sunday. He described in detail a truly miraculous set of events he had witnessed, that only God could have possible orchestrated. You could sense the tension among the large congregation. Not sure if they should embrace what he said, or run from it. Another time in a home group setting, we were going through a book that had a chapter that dealt with spiritual warfare, miracles, etc. One young man in the group was genuinely distraught, as his neo-reformed theology simply wouldn’t allow him to believe that these things actually happen. Truly sad to witness. Great comments Kristin, thank you.

  89. Fr Stephen-

    Thank you again for the comments about evangelism. I engaged in ‘evangelism’ just today! I was reconnecting with a woman from our last Protestant Church. She joined me and our Matushka for lunch. Afterward she asked how I went from reformed to Orthodox. So I just told her. No pressure, no worries, just loving this woman and sharing what God has done. I was delighted to think about how He brought me to the Orthodox Church, indeed prepared me for 30 years or so, and was filled with thankfulness for His goodness and kindness. It was lovely.

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