Last Sunday, the Orthodox Church celebrated the feast of All Saints. This Sunday, each local Church remembers and celebrates the saints who figured prominently in its land.
Here is an icon of the Orthodox saints from America.
They are (from bottom to top and from left to right):
Herman of Alaska, Valaam monk and missionary to Alaska
John (Maximovitch), Bishop of Shanghai and later Archbishop of San Francisco
Innocent of Alaska, missionary bishop to Alaska and later Metropolitan of Moscow
Tikhon of Moscow, Archbishop of New York and later Patriarch of Moscow
Juvenaly of Alaska, Valaam monk and missionary to Alaska, martyred in Alaska.
Raphael of Brooklyn, Bishop of Brooklyn
Varnava (Nastić), Bishop of Hvosno, born in Gary, Indiana, confessor under the Yugoslavian Communists
Jacob Netsvetov, Russian-Aleut priest in Alaska
Peter the Aleut, protomartyr of America, martyred by the Spanish in California
John Kochurov, priest in America and later martyred under the Bolsheviks
Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, former Uniate who led a mass conversion to Orthodoxy
Nikolai Velimirovic, Bishop of Žiča and later rector of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary
Alexander Hotovitzky, priest in America and later martyred under the Soviets
I hope that you had a fine All Saints’ Day. Unlike the Western tradition in which the feast of All Saints falls in the autumn, the Eastern tradition places the feast of All Saints on the Sunday following Pentecost. As the priest said today, Pentecost is the feast of the planting and All Saints’ Day is the feast of the harvest.
Next Sunday—the second Sunday after Pentecost—is another feast of all saints, but rather with an emphasis on local saints. Thus, in Serbia, it is a commemoration of all the Serbian saints, while in Greece, it is a commemoration of all the Greek saints. These “local” saints do not have to originate in the land where they are celebrated. In the case of the initial missionaries—the “apostles” to the land who first brought and spread the gospel, they are almost always foreigners, as Patrick was from Roman Britannia, but the Irish claim him as their own. Nina was from Cappadocia, but she is known as the apostle to and enlightener of Georgia. Americans have their local Orthodox saints, as well, though quite limited in number. Return next week to see a localized All Saints’ Day icon.
Today is the feast of Saint George on the old calendar (April 23). George is one of the most beloved saints. Indeed, he is probably the patron of more nations than any other saint. This is understandable, as he is a role model for principled perseverance, faith, and courage. Plus, he looks really cool on the horse, and military fellows always earn a sane society’s respect.
You can read a short summary of Saint George on Orthodox England.
George is a patron saint for soldiers, and on this day let us remember the men who risk their lives—and often offer them up—to protect their homeland.
In the United States, we easily forget that American soldiers are still fighting and dying on foreign soil. We have become so self-absorbed in our culture that we cannot be bothered any more with our troops overseas. We owe them our thanks. For a small but very accessible way to show your appreciation, consider this idea. Any Soldier and Operation Gratitude coordinate care packages. At the very least, a verbal show of support to the military folks whom you meet in public helps to foster a culture of appreciation in our society.
You were bound for good deeds, O martyr of Christ, George;
By faith, you conquered the torturer’s godlessness.
You were offered as a sacrifice pleasing to God;
Thus you received the crown of victory.
Through your intercessions, forgiveness of sins is granted to all.
God raised you as his own gardener, O George,
For you have gathered for yourself the sheaves of virtue.
Having sown in tears, you now reap with joy;
You shed your blood in combat and won Christ as your crown.
Through your intercessions, forgiveness of sins is granted to all.
On this third Sunday of Pascha, we commemorate saints Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the myrrhbearing women who went to pour spices on the body of Christ in Joseph’s donated new tomb—the Theotokos, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary the wife of Cleophas, Salome, Susanna, and Joanna. As my patron is Joseph of Arimathea, today is one of my patronal feast days. Saint Joseph’s main feast day is July 31 (currently August 13 on the old calendar as reckoned on the new calendar). The women steal the show, however. In many parishes, only women sing in the choir on this day, but perhaps this is a Russian custom. My friend Andrew suspects that it is an unusual practice.
It is difficult to sort out the myrrhbearing women. There are so many Mary’s in the bible just as there are so many James, and Eastern and Western traditions maintain different identification schemes. Here is what I believe to be the common Orthodox schema.
+++ The Theotokos—there is no confusion about this lady. She is the only one listed here who is not represented in the icon above. She is portrayed below (left), along with Mary the wife of Cleophas (center) and Joanna (right).
+++ Mary from Magdala—the apostle to the apostles. Western traditions tend to identify her with other Mary’s while the Orthodox do not. She is the woman from whom Christ cast seven demons. In Luke’s gospel, we read about the sinful woman’s anointing Christ’s feet in Simon the Pharisee’s house (chapter 7), and then right after we read about the people who accompanied Jesus during his travels, with Mary Magdalene listed among them (chapter 8). Her description is “out of whom went seven devils,” not the sinful woman who went in peace from Simon’s house.
+++ Mary of Bethany—the sister of Lazarus and of Martha. She is the contemplative friend of Jesus who chooses the better part. She also anoints Christ’s feet in the house of Simon the Leper. As there are two accounts of women who anoint Jesus’ feet in a house that belongs to a Simon, some in the West identify Mary of Bethany as the sinful woman and thus also as Mary Magdalene. However, the two events have nothing else in common save the name Simon and the anointing. In one story, we have a typical Pharisee (Simon) who is hesitant about Jesus’ claims, while in the other story, we have Judas Iscariot’s greed as the moral backdrop in the leper’s (Simon’s) house. The Orthodox maintain that Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, and the unnamed sinful woman are all different women. Of course, the Western obsession with answers could not easily allow the poor sinful woman to go in peace unnamed. She just has to be one of the listed cast among the New Testament followers.
+++ Martha of Bethany—the sister of Lazarus and of Mary. She busies herself with practical matters while her philosophical sister gets away with no cooking or cleaning. Those of us who would like to choose the better part but recognize that meals just do not pop out of baskets miraculously (well, you know, there are exceptions to everything) love and sympathize with Martha. Somebody has to do the busy work for those lazy ingrates (not meaning, of course, Jesus, Lazarus, and Mary—but most folks in the same situation). As such, Martha typifies for me what is especially admirable about women.
+++ Mary the wife of Cleophas—the mother of James, probably James called the Less. In Mark’s account of the crucifixion, we read (15:40-41):
There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.
In John’s gospel, we have (19:25):
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
Mary the wife of Cleophas is identified in the East with Mary the wife of Alphaeus. Alphaeus and Cleophas are understood to be the same man, though the West generally does not accept this identification. This Mary, then, is considered by the Orthodox to be the mother of the apostles James and Matthew, the sons of Alphaeus—though some modern scholars wonder if the two sons of Alphaeus are the sons of the same Alphaeus. The West holds that James the Less is the same as James the son of Alphaeus, but the East maintains that “Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses” is the Theotokos, not Mary the wife of Cleophas. James the Less, then, is not identified with James the son of Alphaeus among the Orthodox. Rather, James the Less is the Brother of Our Lord—the first bishop of Jerusalem, a.k.a. James the Just. For the Orthodox hold that Joseph the carpenter was a widower who had several children from his first marriage when he betrothed the Theotokos, including James. In Matthew’s gospel (13:55-56), we see:
Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
Furthermore, it would be strange if, in his crucifixion account, Mark did not specify Jesus’ mother as one of the women. Nonetheless, though I am not a biblical scholar, I find it odd that Mark would refer to Jesus’ mother as the mother of James rather than simply Jesus’ mother, as John’s gospel states. Assuming that the mother of James and Joses is the Theotokos, Mark’s account, then, specifies the Theotokos, Mary Magdalene, and Salome, while John’s account specifies the Theotokos, Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and the sister of the Theotokos.
+++ Salome—the mother of James and of John, the sons of Zebedee. In the gospel of Matthew, we read (27:22-56):
And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedees children.
Some traditions hold that Salome is the sister of the Theotokos, and the previous parallel between the gospel accounts in Mark and John appears to agree with this position. Other traditions hold that she is the daughter of Joseph the carpenter, but that does not seem consonant with the gospel accounts unless we assume that Mary the wife of Cleophas is the sister of the Theotokos. To make matters even less clear, there is a tradition that holds that Cleophas is the brother of Joseph the carpenter, which would make Mary the wife of Cleophas the sister-in-law of the Theotokos. We can see how the gospel accounts agree with this tradition, too. Regardless, Salome is held by all to be a close relative to Jesus—an aunt or a stepsister—which would make the beloved disciple John Jesus’ cousin or nephew.
+++ Susanna—one of Jesus’ many followers during his ministry. I cannot find out anything else about her. There have been several later saints named Susanna, but I do not know what became of the New Testament woman.
+++ Joanna—the wife of Chuza, the steward for Herod Antipas. One account of Joanna that I found speculates that she is the same person as Junia, mentioned in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. However, that seems like an incredible stretch if there is no tradition in support of it. Moreover, one may assume that the Andronicus mentioned with Junia is her husband or brother. If so, and if Joanna is Junia, then what happened to poor Chuza? I have no idea, but the suggestion seems fantastic without other evidence.
It is a shame that the various traditional accounts have so many discrepancies. Such inconsistency naturally casts doubt on anything conclusive, especially for us moderns who normally operate with a hermeneutic of suspicion.
On this day, we commemorate the raising of Lazarus from the dead. I really like the story of Lazarus. I find the family and the friendship recounted in the story very meaningful; it helps to flesh out our understanding of the Christian community during Jesus’ earthly ministry. For Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha are Jesus’ friends and followers in Bethany. The famous sentence from John’s gospel, “Jesus wept,” has always been a powerful example in Christianity of the humanity and love of Christ. Moreover, the story in Luke’s gospel about Mary and Martha is very instructive about how we live our daily lives. Of course, practical work has to be done; one must eat. Yet, we must orient the active life toward the contemplative life, “the good part.”
Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept.
Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.
The Gospel of Saint John, 11:1-45
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your Passion,
You confirmed the universal resurrection, O Christ God!
Like the children with palms of victory,
We cry out to You, O Vanquisher of Death;
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!
Christ - the Joy, the Truth, and the Light of All,
the Life of the World and the Resurrection -
Has appeared in his goodness to those on earth.
He has become the Image of our resurrection,
Granting divine forgiveness to all.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day on the Julian calendar. As they say in Gaelic, “Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!”
Some folks are surprised to learn that the Orthodox celebrate Western saints, but it is no different than the Romans’ remembrance of most of the biblical saints who never traveled west or of the thousands of lumen ad revelationem gentium who never knew Latin. However, the celebration of pre-schism Western saints has increased as more Westerners adopt the Orthodox faith. Celtic, English, and Germanic saints like David of Wales, Patrick, Columba, Boniface, and Benedict are quite popular among Western Orthodox Christians. My own patron, Joseph of Arimathea, has a peculiar Western following in Britain due to the legends that he traveled to Roman Britain both before and after Christ’s earthly ministry.
The Western rite Orthodox, of whom I have before written, hold Western saints in particular high esteem. For they see them as their own forebears—spiritual ancestors who preached the gospel to their distant grandfathers. Last year, Andrew and I visited one of these parishes on its patronal feast day of Saint Patrick. I had never before celebrated the apostle to Ireland liturgically.
You may learn more about Patrick at the Saint Patrick Centre in County Down, Ireland and at OrthodoxWiki, which includes links to several Latin, Orthodox, and secular resources.
Holy Bishop Patrick,
Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock,
You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel:
The mighty strength of the Trinity!
Now that you stand before the Savior,
Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!
From slavery you escaped to freedom in Christ’s service:
He sent you to deliver Ireland from the devil’s bondage.
You planted the Word of the Gospel in pagan hearts.
In your journeys and hardships you rivaled the Apostle Paul!
Having received the reward for your labors in heaven,
Never cease to pray for the flock you have gathered on earth,
Holy bishop Patrick!
As much of a natural Luddite that I may be, I love the internet. I remember the days when an answer to an obscure question might require hours of research at the city’s main library. Now, one can find such information online in less than a minute. Of course, such “old-fashioned” skills are useful, and the ease of online research may have some unfortunate consequences for the new generation. Nonetheless, I feel fortunate to have lived in both eras.
One of the more interesting opportunities that the world wide web affords us is the ability to encounter various points of view so easily. In the “real world” meetings places of classrooms, cafés, train cars, youth hostel lounges, and church meals, it takes a considerable amount of time investment to discover people who share certain interests and to build up a relationship so that such matters can be discussed. The internet facilitates this process, though the depersonalized medium has its own shortcomings. For example, many folks feel free to behave like arses in ways that they would not so act among flesh and blood associations. Still, the phenomena of discussion groups, blogs, and alternative news sites are quite exciting.
In tribute to this new medium, today and tomorrow I am offering some sites that I find interesting. You may enjoy them, too. On this Lord’s day, I offer some sites that focus mainly on religion, though with commentary about society at large, while tomorrow’s entry will concern sites about truth more generally. Besides these, I recommend my “blogroll” offerings in the left column of each subject area, as well.
American Orthodox Institute
Glory to God for All Things
Journey to Orthodoxy
Roman Catholic sites:
Thomas Peters’ American Papist
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s What Does the Prayer Really Say?
Today is December 6 on the Julian calendar, which is the feast of the beloved Saint Nicholas.
There is no shortage of information on the internet about the true Santa Claus, whose name is a linguistic corruption over time of Saint Nicholas. Read about the saint on the parish site of Oxford’s Saint Nicholas.
The Saint Nicholas Center has a lot of information about the saint and about the pious traditions involved with his feast around the world. The Saint Nicholas Society and the Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker site have some neat offerings, too.
Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, the metropolis of Lycia, in Anatolia. Myra is now Demre in Turkey. Italian sailors moved (stole) Nicholas’ relics to Bari in southeastern Italy in A.D. 1087. The Italians took advantage of the chaos that ensued from the Mohammedan hordes’ conquering that part of the empire. You can visit the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari, as well as the original Church of Saint Nicholas in Myra.
An independent movie studio in Buffalo, New York named Wonderworker Studios is making a film about the saint that will come out in December, 2009—Nicholas of Myra. You can watch the trailer here:
I would like to know how the origin of Santa Claus has been forgotten. Perhaps, the film’s makers should visit an Orthodox parish on the Saint Nicholas’ feast day.
Here is a short video of icons accompanied by Greek chant:
Troparion for Saint Nicholas:
The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith,
a model of meekness, and a teacher of temperance.
Therefore thou hast won the heights by humility, riches by poverty.
Holy Father Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion for Saint Nicholas:
Thou wast a faithful minister of God in Myra, O Saint Nicholas.
For having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ,
thou didst die for the people and save the innocent.
Therefore thou wast sanctified as a great initiator of the grace of God.
This evening, I had a discussion with a Protestant acquaintance of mine about religion. I assume that he is from a black Baptist background, but I am not sure. He asked what religion I was, and then he asked me if I worshiped Mary like the “Catholics” whom he knows. I responded that neither his Roman friends nor the Orthodox worship Mary, though we honor and venerate her. He further wanted to know if we had statues of her. I said that we have icons or images of her. He asked why we did so.
There are many possible responses to his questions, from scriptural passages (e.g. all generations will call her blessed) to reflection (she gave birth to and raised Jesus Christ), but I went the casual route and replied with a question of whether or not he respected his mother and had pictures of her in his house. If the saints are the family victorious, then doesn’t it seem proper to keep them in our memory and to show them honor?
In true low church American fashion, he said that the Bible tells us not to respect people differently but to treat everyone the same. I suppose that he was referring to Paul’s statement in his epistle to the Romans that God is no respecter of persons. I am no Pauline scholar, but I suspect that the modern radical tendency to demolish all distinctions is at work with such an interpretation rather than sound Biblical hermeneutics. It seems more likely that Paul means that there are no “privileges” in God’s justice. It cannot mean that God’s dealings with human beings are the same, as scripture, tradition, and experience show us that providence is highly customized to the individual.
Beyond God’s economy, such advice to humans is absolute madness and would be quite sensible grounds for discarding Christianity as an insane social malady. We are called to love everyone, but we cannot treat them the same way. Such irresponsible behavior would destroy society, and it would furthermore be a grave injustice. In my discussion with the Protestant, I gave the example of two men: Charles Manson and a physician who has spent his life working to heal others around the world, as those doctors in Médecins Sans Frontières. Think of what real equitable treatment of both men would mean. We would just as soon entrust a psychopathic murderer with the care of loved ones as we would a living example of the good Samaritan? We would hold them up equally as models for our children to emulate? We would be equally likely to allow them to stay as a guest in our house? You are just an idiot if you think that we ought to treat both men equally. It is a simple matter.
As Christians, we are called to love both—and this is in itself quite mysterious, as both men are not equally lovable. One standard Christian response to this obvious objection is that we are lovable because God loves us, not that we are loved by God because we are lovable. With men, we love lovable things—we respond as lovers to the good of things already in existence. In contrast, God’s love causes things to be lovable. Yet, God’s actions are not inconsequential; if we are loved by God, then that truly makes us lovable and valuable—in nature, due to God who creates us in love. In Augustinian excess, certain Christians go to extremes to avoid Pelagianism in rendering human beings worthless and in pretending that God’s actions have no relationship to the reality of God’s creation. They introduce a bizarre Manichean division in reality between God’s intentions and the natural world that he creates and sustains—it is one of the worst aspects of Reformation heresy.
We can see a similar relationship with baptism. In normal baptism, the water (through God’s grace) purifies us. Yet, in Christ’s baptism by John in the Jordan, the presence of Christ purified the waters. Yet, the waters truly were purified; we do not simply pretend that they were because of our respect for Christ.
So, if it is true that God loves all men equally, and I am not even sure that such is good doctrine, though it is widely believed, then I do not know how we can rationally understand it. For me, it is something that I cannot understand, and I simply trust that, if true, there must be a good reason for it that I cannot see. Perhaps, God’s love for us is for us as we should be—our idealized persons in conformity with his will. In such a sense, God’s equal love for us might make sense. Yet, it is a very dangerous road to tread when we begin to consider our idealized forms in the mind of God—what we should be—as our “real selves” in contrast to their particular manifestation, here and now, in what we actually are. Such was the way of the Cathars. Yet, it seems that this is practically what people claim when they state that God loves us all equally because we are all equally men made in his likeness—as if God only deals with us on the essential level and not as creatures struggling for our own perfection in history. Christianity is not Greek philosophy, even the best of it. The Gospel appears to concern the personal, not simply the universal, of mankind.
The Protestant disgust for Marian piety may be rooted in modern egalitarianism; the Reformation was the seed of the so-called Enlightenment. So, if we can safely discard that we are to treat everyone equally as if people really were equal—an intolerable falsehood—then our honor and veneration of Mary, the Theotokos, makes more sense. For she is the model human being, who represents for us the ideal human response to God—in humble, loving submission to his will of pure goodness. She is the chief personality in Jesus’ family, both by blood in Palestine two thousand years ago and by spirit, in the Church, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. From the beginning, Christians have honored her. It is strange and disturbing that so many heretical sects could develop that interpret Marian piety as mariolatry. I have no doubts that the Theotokos is far better than I am in spiritual development, proximity and communion with God, wisdom, purity, and in just about any other conceivable way. That someone should have the same disposition toward her as toward me is unsettling. However, I wonder how Protestants who object to the honor traditionally given to Mary would really respond to her presence. Perhaps, their foolish disrespect is all abstract nonsense. If a Calvinist makes it to heaven, how will he treat the Mother of the Lord? It is a fascinating thought.
My Protestant interlocutor asked me why it seemed to him, at any rate, that Roman Catholics treat Mary as if she were as important as Jesus himself. I told him that not even they really believe that, though some of their practices give such an impression to outsiders. I said that for the West and for us, Mary is a guidepost to God. We are to manifest God among men through our lives, and the Mother of the Lord serves as our role model. In praising her, we praise God whom her soul magnifies and in whom her heart finds joy.
Andrew has a theory about the Latins’ emphasis on Mary that gives the Protestants the impression of mariolatry. He thinks that after the Counter-Reformation, the cult of the saints in the West dwindled. However, the honor and respect given to the Theotokos remained. With such an occurence, Mary no longer appears as the champion leader of the Church victorious, being the preeminent witness of the redeemed Christian life among many. Instead, she represents the saints by herself. Thus, the respect and honor in the Christian community for the host of saints channels to her alone, and this imbalance makes her seem like an appendage to the Trinity among the Romans, at least to outsiders. I do not know how accurate Andrew’s theory is, as, until recently, popular devotion to the saints in the West continued. Maybe, he judges the West from the post-Vatican II environment that he knows. I am not sure.
In the sermon today, the priest talked about various titles given to the Theotokos. What struck me was the military imagery used in some liturgical poetry—our champion leader, invincible champion, might unassailable, and the like. I know that many academic feminists from Roman backgrounds are interested in the Virgin Mary; I wonder what they think of the Mary as field marshal of Christendom.
Protestants might claim that to see therein the Athena pagan impulse at work, and perhaps they are somewhat correct. Paganism is simply natural religion; pagan rites and beliefs spring from the human encounter with the world and with the divine in the world glimpsed rather dimly. I do not find the transition of popular pieties from paganism to Christianity problematic. Rather, I see it as a confirmation of the Gospel. With respect to the Hebrews, Christ came to fulfill the Law, not to replace it. I believe that something similar is at work universally; the Gospel redeems and transforms all human things, from reason to culture. Natural human religion and the popular expression thereof get baptized in Christianity. Jack Chick and his ilk fret over the moons of Isis and Artemis making it into Marian symbolism, whereas I see the hopes, yearnings, and strivings after God among the heathen completed in the fullness of time. Human beings are naturally awed by sexual purity (in itself and as a symbol of purity in general), by the life-giving power of pregnancy and of childbirth, and by the unfathomable tender love of a good mother for her children. Reflection from the dawn of time on such matters likely resulted in the pagan deities and the cultic observances attached to them. In the Theotokos, these primeval human concerns manifest in the center of God’s providential nexus; Mary is the Ground Zero of God’s plan of salvation, in all the primitive and archetypal imagery thereof.