The Fire Eaters

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Photo: Saint-Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy https://www.flickr.com/photos/spbpda/ under Creative Commons license

 

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The mystery of the Eucharist is something Orthodox Christians are hesitant to discuss with anyone who is not already Orthodox. It has been our most precious secret from the very beginning of the Church. You may wonder why it would be necessary to keep something so central to our faith a secret, so with some trepidation I will attempt to give you a small peek behind closed doors. I hope that in doing so, I will help you understand why we guard this part of our faith so passionately.

The Lord said to His disciples “this is my body” and “this is my blood” when he instituted the Eucharist. The Apostolic tradition was and is that the bread and wine that we bless and offer back to God in thanksgiving truly are the body and blood of Christ. We see no use in trying to understand in a scientific or even a rational way how this could possibly be true. We simply call it a mystery. We know in part. In the West the word “sacrament” is used, whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church uses the word mystery.

Believe it or not, the Eucharist is foreshadowed in the book of Isaiah.

And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory. And seraphs stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.

And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

And the lintel shook at the voice they uttered, and the house was filled with smoke.

And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts.

And there was sent to me one of the seraphs, and he had in his hand a coal, which he had taken off the altar with the tongs: and he touched my mouth, and said, Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins.

When Orthodox Christians celebrate the Eucharist, the priest puts the bread and wine, which have mystically become body and blood of Christ, in the mouth of the communicant with a long-handled gold spoon. Hebrews 12:29 tells us that our God is a consuming fire, so much like the seraph bringing fire to Isaiah’s lips, so do those who partake of the Eucharist have the fire of God brought up to their lips. Not only that, we take God right into our bodies. We consume the fire which consumes all in order that Christ might be all and in all.

Obviously something so spiritually powerful would be precious to Orthodox Christians and would make us feel compelled to keep it secret and keep it safe…much like Frodo guarding the ring of power for Gandalf…sort of…ok maybe not, but it seemed like the right time to throw in a Lord of the Rings reference.

Anyhow.

Every Sunday I eat fire that comes down from heaven and the fire is truly God and is the medicine of immortality. I kid you not. So there you have it. Now either you think I’m completely nutty or you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m actually not a fan of having people think I’m nutty, so I tend to keep my experience of the Eucharist to myself. But if anyone asks I will tell them that God sets a banquet table for us all, so that we can taste and see that the Lord is good.

We come to know God and be healed of our sins through the mysteries of the Church. This means that somehow, in a manner which we cannot fully explain or understand, they help us to put on Christ. For it is Christ’s life that saves us. By partaking of the mystical supper of the Eucharist and literally taking His life into ourselves, we draw closer to salvation.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Justin Martyr which was written around the year 155 AD

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], … not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood…”

Now you know what it means to be a partaker of the Divine Life. I hope that it wasn’t all too much. I hope it was just enough,actually, and just what you were hungering for.

What Draws People To Orthodoxy?

 

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By Petar Milošević (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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It’s time to answer another listener question. This one comes from my friend Zach Perkins, who is the co-founder of the blog Theologues and an inquirer into Orthodoxy.

Zach writes:

Many people (like myself) are converted through much of the heady, intellectual aspects of Orthodoxy (e.g. history, ecclesiology, theology, etc.). But how does the Orthodox church communicate to the person who isn’t exactly concerned about the history or the theology? Some people just aren’t wired to be that intellectual about their faith. How does the Orthodox church speak to them and draw them in, especially considering we live in a day and age where mega-churches sprout up all over the country, selling more of a spiritual “experience” than faith founded on the Apostolic Tradition?

Thanks for your question Zach, and I  encourage other listeners to send me questions or suggest topics of discussion for future podcasts. They really are greatly appreciated!

I’ll start answering this question by speaking a bit about my own personal experience. My husband Richard and I converted to Orthodoxy about 5 years ago. We had been Protestant Evangelical Christians and Richard had actually been a pastor and youth worker for a couple of years. I had been really happy with my faith and enjoyed working with my husband in ministry. Richard, however, had started a slow and steady movement back toward Orthodoxy, the faith of his father’s side of the family. He bought a stack of Death to the World zines and started listening to Ancient Faith Radio. He even framed some colour prints of icons and put them up in our house. For a few years I just turned the volume down on the weird chanting music whenever he wasn’t looking and was oblivious that the nice pictures of Jesus and Mary were anything other than…nice pictures.

But then my rose-coloured world of joyful Christian ministry ended in painful rejection. In the blink of an eye it was all gone.  I was so disillusioned by “church” as a result, that I was ready to simply give up on it. But I knew God had not washed his hands of me. And so it was that when I had nothing left to lose, I took my first cautious steps inside the doors of our little Orthodox mission.

And I will say that yes, the theology appealed to me. I am a big theology nerd and always have been. Yes, the discovery of the ancient Apostolic traditions drew me in. However, what really drew me in was God. I remember standing in my first Divine Liturgy thinking “what ON EARTH are these people doing here?” It did not make sense to me on an intellectual level. But in spite of that, in spite of not getting it in the least, I felt that I had to come back, week after week and then I simply never stopped.

The Orthodox Church drew me in because I was seeking God. If you are going there for any other purpose, you’re doing it wrong. Orthodoxy appeals to the heart; it conveys the language of God, which is the language of the heart. It appeals to academics as much as it does to non-academics. Just look at Peter and Paul the founding Fathers of the Church as an example: one was a scholar and one was a fisherman. The Church conveys God’s truth and love in a way that will appeal to anyone who seeks Him.

If you know someone who has found God outside of the Orthodox Church and is content with his or her faith as it is, it may be difficult to convince him or her to give Orthodoxy a try. Orthodox faith and practice can seem very foreign to someone who is not familiar with them. In my opinion, it is best to simply be Orthodox yourself and share the faith through acts of humility and love.  I’ll tell you this: I was drawn to the Church by God’s love and I stayed when I saw how His love was changing the lives of the people there. When I saw that amount of hope before me, there was no turning back.

So, a big thanks goes out once again to Zach for submitting this question. Please visit my website http://www.theseekingheart.com to read transcripts of my podcasts, to give feedback and to submit your own questions.

Modesty and Girl Power

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I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want: for modest, feminine beauty to be appreciated as it once was and for women to stop rating themselves and each other based on sexual desirability. I know, it’s a goal which is highly idealistic, but I believe women can snap out of it and not only get over the need to turn heads, but also learn the great value of modesty and humility.

In Western culture, up to World War I, women of any sort of social respectability wore extremely modest clothing that left relatively little skin showing.  After the war, hemlines got higher and dress style became less restrictive. Women were gaining more rights and independence and this meant they had more freedom in their choice of clothing.

As times changed and our society moved from Modernism to Post-Modernism, women’s fashion became more and more sexually provocative.  For some reason the move toward sexier clothing was attributed to women’s liberation and the sexual revolution.  But this kind of “liberation” only ended up perpetuating the objectification of women. Although we were no longer tightly laced into corsets, we became constrained by something worse: the pressure to always look young and sexy.

Today there are hardly any social expectations when it comes to modesty. You could walk down the street in little more than your underwear and most people would hardly bat an eye. And according to most magazine covers, it is considered a major achievement for a woman to look great in a bikini – especially a woman who has either lost weight or had children and now has regained a toned abdomen worthy of showing off. Is this evidence of our liberation? Does being more sexy give us more control and equality? Should having a great body to show off really be considered such a great accomplishment for a woman? Because I think the fact that we see this as some kind of ultimate goal only demeans us.

That said, the prevailing attitudes about female beauty pose quite a challenge to Orthodox Christian women because our faith takes humility very seriously. The Gospel teaches us that true power comes from humility and warns us of the deceitfulness of vanity. Even so, when we walk through the mall and see the latest fashion trends on display, we can easily forget that certain clothing, although socially acceptable, is not appropriate for Christians to wear. And Christians really need to be careful not to compromise their piety for the sake of dressing fashionably.

The Orthodox Christian faith teaches that in order to worship God, we must first put aside our earthly cares, vanity and pride. Orthodox Christians, as you are being mindful of your life: to pray, fast and give alms, be mindful about letting the clothing you wear reflect a humble heart. Do it out of your personal desire to honour God, as well as out of respect for those around you.

I know it’s not the 1800′s anymore and no one expects a woman to cover herself from the top of her neck to the tips of her toes.  But Orthodox ladies, I’m going to be very blunt right now: we don’t want or need to see your thighs, midriff or cleavage. We don’t want to be able to see the outline of your every curve through your Lycra blend clothing. We don’t want to see your breasts on display, as if served up on a platter. Please spare your Christian brothers and sisters the awkwardness and embarrassment of seeing too much of you.

What I really, really want is for women to reclaim their beauty in all its wholeness and goodness, to respect it and be wary of how easily anyone can fall into the sin of vanity. There are so many temptations in this world; why should we add to them?  God gifted women with beauty.  Of the two sexes, let’s face it, we are the pretty ones.  But God didn’t give us beauty so that we could seduce everyone around us, or please the lustful eyes of others; he gave us beauty to glorify Him.  Sure it feels good to be told you’re attractive and if “you’ve got it” society says you should flaunt it. A scantily clad woman may be able to attract men like moths to a flame, but for a Christian, it is far better to attract the grace of God.

St. Isaac the Syrian said

Even devils in their craftiness and beastly manners and with their arrogant minds; they become like dust when they face a modest person.

And St. Anthony the Great had said,

I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”

Many times we are admonished in the Scriptures to put certain things on while taking other things off. For example, in Colossians chapter 3 we are told to put off anger, wrath, malice and blasphemy and instead put on tender mercies, kindness, humility and meekness. Then Paul writes “but above all these things put on love.” Ah yes, the first and most important commandment: love. This is the key to humility. By contrast, without love, there can be no humility.

We work so hard sometimes to look great on the outside and forget to work on the true substance of who we are, the part that is eternal, the part that God sees. So as St. Peter says:

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

So, put on love…and for goodness sake put some clothes on too.

On Marriage and Family Life – Royal Martyr Alexandra Fedorovna

Today we remember the July 17th, 1918 martyrdom of Tsar Nicholas of Russia and his family. In honour of their memory, I wanted to share an article which I found extremely helpful and inspiring. It shares a collection of Empress Alexandra Fedorovna’s writings on marriage and family life.

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On Marriage and Family Life

Excerpts from notes made by the Royal Martyr Empress Alexandra Fedorovna

Matrimony is a blessing from God

The divine design is to have marriage bring happiness, to have it make the husband’s and wife’s life fuller, so that neither of them would lose, but both would gain. However, if the marriage does not bring happiness and does not make life richer and fuller, the fault lies not in the matrimonial ties, but in the people who are bound by them.

Marriage is a divine rite. It was part of God’s design when He created man. It is the closest and the most holy union on earth.

The anniversary of marriage must always be remembered and must be distinguished among other important dates in one’s life. It is the day whose light will shine upon all other days until the end of life. The joy arising from entering into matrimony is not turbulent, but calm and profound. Over the wedded pair standing before the altar, when hands are joined and sacred promises are made, angels invisibly stand and quietly sing their songs, and afterwards they cover the happy pair with their wings, as the newlyweds’ mutual life begins.

Without God’s blessing, without His sanctification of the marriage, all the congratulations and best wishes of relatives will remain an empty sound. Without His daily blessing of married life even the most tender and true love will not be able to fulfill the spouses’ hearts. Without the blessing of heaven all the beauty, joy, value of married life may be destroyed at any moment.

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Marriage and True Love

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Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage, that blessed arrangement: that dream within a dream….and love, true love will follow you forever….

These words of wisdom were spoken by The Impressive Clergyman in the movie The Princess Bride and they are a good way to introduce today’s topic. 

So what do you think? Is marriage just a sentimental notion of true love and dreams come true? Do people still live happily ever after…or did they ever? What should we even expect when it comes to marriage? If over 50% of marriages end in divorce anyhow, why should we even bother getting married in the first place? In our modern times, is it even realistic to expect to be with the same partner for life?

Although it is surely not as popular as it once was, marriage continues to be a valued institution in North America and is still more prevalent than common-law relationships. However, the trend over the past decade has been a gradual decrease in marriages and an increase in single-parent homes and common-law relationships. At least, this is what is happening in my home country of Canada. According to the 2011 national census, the number of married couples in Canada only rose by 3.1% between 2006 and 2011, whereas the number of common-law couples rose by 16.7% and the number of single parent homes rose by 16.3% within the same 5 year period. As of 2011, only 63.6% of children aged 14 and under lived with married parents. In 2001 the percentage was 68.4.

In light of these statistics, I want to now turn our focus to marriage as a sacrament in the Orthodox Christian Church. To begin, I want to read you Matthew 19, verses 4 to 6, which shows us what Jesus Christ taught about marriage:

Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.

St. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 5: 28-31 that marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church. Christ, the faithful bridegroom laid down his life for his bride. Christian marriage is a living image of this relationship. He writes:

…husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Here Christ and Paul are both alluding to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 2, which tells us how God created mankind. The Bible reveals that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: an eternal communion, “one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” And it is this eternal, undivided God-in-three-persons who created humanity in His own image and likeness. First He made a man and then out of the rib of the man he formed a woman, the man’s perfect mate and counterpart. The two were made of the same flesh, yet they were two persons; they were co-equal, yet unique in gender.

When Adam and Eve desired to be independent of God, they ceased to be all that God had made them to be and the image of God in them was darkened. The communion with God, which created and sustained them was interrupted. The world became distorted. Knowledge of good and evil did not enlighten them. Independence did not free them.

Outside of the garden, Adam and Eve had to struggle to get by and to live with the tarnished image they now bore. However, they still had a creative mandate from God to “be fruitful and multiply” and to be stewards of His creation.  

This is where the teachings of the Orthodox Church come in. Every teaching is meant to restore the darkened image of God in us to its intended glory and to bring us back into full communion with God.

First of all, Orthodox Christianity teaches that marriage was created and designed by God and is a mystery, otherwise known as a sacrament, through which a man and a woman become “one flesh.” Through this communion, which reflects the image of the Triune God, human beings procreate in order to populate the earth, in cooperation with the creator.

Marriage is a picture of unity and love, reconciliation and co-operation and it can be redemptive, if we seek Christ in it. It is not an end, rather it has been given to us as one way to work out our salvation. Not everyone will be called to marriage, so the decision to do so should be made very carefully. However those who are married must remember that it is indeed a calling and its purpose is for the image of God to be manifested more in us. 

In the Orthodox wedding service, the bride and groom have crowns placed upon their heads. These crowns have several symbolic meanings. First of all, they are like the crowns of athletes. In ancient times crowns were given instead of gold medals in athletic competitions. St. Paul compared our life in Christ to an athlete running a race to receive a crown, although the crown we receive for perseverance in faith is eternal. Secondly the crowns symbolize that the husband and wife are now the king and queen of their own little kingdom within God’s kingdom, which is their family. Thirdly the crowns are associated with martyrdom and the calling of the husband and wife to die to their own selfish motives and instead to love and serve one another. Just as martyrs offer their lives to God, a husband and wife should love each other sacrificially. 

What motivates anyone to get married these days? Is our culture just too jaded to believe nothing can stop true love – not even being mostly dead all day? I don’t think so. I think something deep within us keeps hoping for an unseen ideal, longing for happily ever after. I believe this is because God created us this way and he created marriage to be holy and good. I also believe that if we look to God, the source of life and love, we will find the motivation and the strength to form healthy marriages which last into eternity. It won’t always be like riding off into the sunset, of course. Sometimes you may find yourselves in a fire swamp being chased by a rodent of unusual size. But marriage, by its very nature will always be blessed by God. Whether It feels like a marathon, a martyrdom or a monarchy, marriage crowns us with glory and honour.

I’ll end with a quote from the Royal Martyr Empress Alexandra Fedorovna:

When the beauty of the face fades, the shining of the eyes dims, and with age come wrinkles, or when illnesses, sorrows, and cares leave their traces and scars, the love of a faithful husband should remain just as deep and sincere as before. There are no measurements on earth that are capable of measuring the depth of Christ’s love for His Church, and not a single mortal can love with the same depth of feeling, but nevertheless each husband must do it to the extent that such love can be recreated on earth. No sacrifice will appear too great to him for the sake of his beloved.

Sure, that sounds a little bit like a fairy tale, but it’s one that rings true. True Love is God’s love and you could not ask for a more noble cause than that.

God’s Mom

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Last time I talked about fathers and the Fatherly love of God. This week I am going to talk about a very important mother: Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. I occasionally meet non-Orthodox Christians who are uncomfortable with the place Mary takes in our worship of God and our life of faith. 

The purpose of this podcast is to briefly shed some light on two of the major points of contention and hopefully add some clarity and historical perspective to the debate. The first objection that often arises is that, even though Mary is Jesus Christ’s mother, she was still just an ordinary woman who doesn’t deserve an elevated status in the Church.

Many non-Orthodox Christians object to prayers to Mary, making icons of her and celebrating her feastdays. Orthodox Christians would argue that no ordinary woman could give birth to God’s Son, that she was chosen by God because she was a holy young girl whose will was aligned with His Will. She was ordinary only in the sense that she was a human being like the rest of us, but her submission to God set her apart for the most important job any mere human was ever given.

Now, from the early days of Christianity, Mary, Christ’s mother was called “Theotokos” or God-bearer. This title was confirmed at the Third Ecumenical Council in the year 431. Because Christ has two distinct natures, he is fully God and fully man, the council concluded that Mary can therefore be called The Mother of God. Think of it this way: prophets were chosen by God in the past to deliver God’s words to His people; by comparison, Mary was chosen by God to bear the Word of God in her womb and physically deliver Him. There is no Christianity apart from the incarnation of God and Mary played a vital role in it, not only by carrying God in her womb, but also by giving Him flesh and bones of her flesh and bones. This is why we call Mary the New Eve: in the way that Eve came from Adam, the New Adam, Christ, came from her. As the Early Church Father, Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in Against Heresies:

The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary, a virgin subject to a husband, undid the evil lie that seduced Eve, a virgin espoused to a husband. As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.

The next objection I will address is aimed at the Orthodox belief that Mary is a perpetual virgin and Jesus Christ is her only child. Many Protestants think that the Bible contradicts this belief. In actuality, the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is entirely Biblical and well supported by Church tradition. Church fathers such as Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Augustine and Cyril taught that Mary is ever-virgin and The Second Council of Constantinople (Fifth Ecumenical Council 553-554) twice referred to Mary as “ever-virgin.” Even many early Protestant leaders asserted the same. For example, John Wesley wrote in a “Letter to a Roman Catholic” that “The Blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as when she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin” (In This Rock, Nov. 1990, p.25). We can also see in the Bible that Jesus Christ is Mary’s only child. The strongest example of this is in John 19:26-27

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.

If Mary had other children, Jesus would not have had to entrust his mother to his disciple at the time of his death. And if Mary had other children, this act by Christ would have made no sense whatsoever. This scene at the foot of the cross only makes sense if you conclude that Christ asked John to care for his mother because He was indeed her only son.

But one of the most powerful arguments in defense of the ever-virginity of Mary is simply to consider what kind of madness it would have been for Joseph, a devout Jew to dare touch a woman who had given birth to God. Joseph knew what had happened to Uzzah when he had touched the ark of the covenant – he died instantly. That only held tablets on which God had written. Mary however, is a living ark, which had held God in the flesh. Joseph would never have viewed her as his conjugal partner because of this. He would have certainly kept her pure and cared for her as a father-figure and guardian.

Some will point to the passages in Scripture such as Matthew 12:46, that speak of Jesus having brothers and sisters as proof that believing Mary is “ever-virgin” is unbiblical. Well, the Greek word translated “brothers” in those passages is “adelphi,” which is a translation of an unknown Aramaic word that is then translated as “brothers” in the English. “Adelphi” can mean brothers, or sisters, but also cousins or kinsmen. It is the word used in the Greek Old Testament to describe the relationship between Abraham and Lot, who were uncle and nephew. Since the term is not as precise as simply saying “brother” or “cousin” in English, it must be understood according to the context of the given passage in the full context of the entire Scriptures.

Orthodox Christians would not interpret “adelphi” in Matthew 12:46 to mean Jesus’ brothers by Mary. The word “adelphi” in this passage is more than likely used to describe cousins or other relatives in Christ’s extended family. These “brothers” might also be children Joseph may have had from a previous marriage. Either way, there is substantial evidence to support the historic Christian belief in Mary’s ever-virginity.

From the earliest days of Christianity, the Theotokos has been honoured in the Church. The Ecumenical Councils upheld and crystallized Christian teachings about Mary, the Mother of God that had been part of the life of the Church for centuries as Apostolic tradition. Even major figures of the Magisterial Reformation, such as Luther and Calvin retained some traditional Orthodox beliefs about Mary. But as Protestantism developed, the role of Mary in its churches diminished. Some more radical sects rejected all devotion to Mary (and continue to do so to this day). But is it fair, or more specifically, is it wise to discard the first 15 centuries of Christian teaching about Mary? And if not, what role should Mary have in our Christian faith and worship?

The Orthodox Church reveres the great faith and holiness of Mary – she is truly a blessed and glorious woman, more honourable than any other. We sing her praises only because this brings glory to God – nothing she did was for her own glory – and we pray, asking her to pray for us because we know her will is aligned with God’s and that it is for the salvation of the whole world.  Her life amplifies the ancient refrain of the Gospel message that echos from Eden to Gethsemane. She is the quintessential Christian disciple, a beautiful example of faith, humility, long-suffering and selflessness. She loves us all very much and I assure you, it is ok to love her back. It is ok to ask the Mother of our God to pray for you because she always points us to Christ. Feel free to embrace her as a true friend and spiritual mother. Yes, we can approach God directly and with boldness. Loving Mary doesn’t diminish that fact. But she’s God’s mom. Let her be our example of how to welcome the Lord into our hearts without the slightest hesitation. Let us strive to be so intimately united to God. And let us ask the Most Holy Theotokos to pray for us in this regard.