He Shall Exalt the Humble and Meek

All heaven and earth exalt the humble Saints, and the Lord grants them the glory of being with Him. ‘Where I am, there shall also my servant be.’

The humility of the Mother of God is greater than any, wherefore all generations on earth exalt her, and all the heavenly hosts serve her; and this His Mother the Lord has given us to intercede for us and be our help.

There is no better way than to live in humility and love. The soul then knows a great peace within her, and will not set herself above her neighbor. If we love our enemies, there will be no place in our souls for pride, for in Christ-like love no one ranks above another. Pride like a burning fire consumes all that is good, whereas the humility of Christ passes description and is sweet. Did men but know this, the whole world would be apprenticed to this science. Day and night, all my life long, have I striven after humility, yet am I not able to prevail. My soul ever reflects: I have not attained to that which I desire, I cannot rest, but I humbly entreat you, brethren, you who know the love of Christ – pray for me, that I may be delivered from the spirit of pride, that the humility of Christ take up her abode in me.

St. Silouan in St. Silouan the Athonite

I often wonder when discussion reaches towards the Mother of God and becomes contentious – whether those who are uncomfortable with her veneration by Orthodox Christians have not become enmeshed in the “idea” of the Mother of God, rather than looking directly at her. For many, she remains a collection of verses in the Scripture, a cypher to be debated. What is lacking in this is the utter and complete depth of her humility that resides in her personally. To look at her is to blush – because we ourselves are so full of pride yet she whom God has exalted, remains so utterly and completely humble. She abides in the humility of Christ which was manifested in her even at the high greeting of an angel.

Those who fear her veneration do not see the person who is the recipient of that veneration – or they would see the vast humility that so far from vaunting itself against God, instead eternally cries, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word!”

How can Christians who have actually gazed upon the reality that is the Mother of God not love her and give her honor – an honor that flows into the vast expanse of her humility before God? Woe to those who accuse the Orthodox of giving to her an honor that belongs to God! Her own humility rebukes such honor!

Instead, she beckons us, fearful humans as we are, to walk the humble path she trod to the Cross, and to stand by the crucified Lord, able to hear His wondrous words from the Cross. So many love His words – but to whom were they spoken? Who was it that bore witness? Perhaps John or Mary Magdalene, but surely His own mother who did not abandon Him, whose own soul was pierced by a sword also. Who else would have understood His words as she did and does?

God grant us grace to lift our gaze towards the heights of humility and not just our arguments, so devoid of reason. God grant us grace to call blessed she whom He has blessed.

30 Responses to “He Shall Exalt the Humble and Meek”

  1. MuleChewingBriars Says:

    Most holy Theotokos save us

  2. neil Says:

    Sometimes I wonder — and I wondered about this even before I knew of anything like Orthodox devotion to her — what it must have been like for her to raise Jesus, the little boy. Even when she requested the servants at the wedding at Cana to “do as He says,” she must have done so with a little reverent fear. What a unique challenge as a mother to teach a child she’s been told and knows is the Christ and to do so with, as you point out, the ever-present humility of God’s servant.

  3. Carl Says:

    The proposition that the Theotokos was sinless is a stumbling block for Protestants, since they feel that only Christ could be sinless, but I wonder if they would agree that (non-fallen) angels are sinless. If so, would they deny that even the sinless angels are in need of Christ’s redemption? For angels, the cross must represent the absolute worthiness of Christ the Lamb to open the book of Life, which sustains even them (sinless though they are). While we do not currently know all about the soteriology of angels, since it’s not directly relevant for us, I have been thinking about the issue lately, and I think it bears on the Protestant theory of “Substitutionary Atonement.”

  4. Ian Says:

    Amen Father. And I pray that I first and foremost have the proper and correct understanding of our ever-blessed and ever-virgin Lady’s role and place in my life in the Church.

    And I really do need to get some books on St. Silouan.

  5. shevaberakhot Says:

    Father Stephen,

    The life St. John Maximovitch is inspiring. His earthly ministry bears more than just a passing resemblance to that of Moses, with fruit that is unmistakeably the New Adam’s.

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  8. David Di Giacomo Says:

    Father Stephen,

    I am not uncomfortable with the veneration of the Mother of God because of the idea of the Mother of God, or because I doubt her humility or fail to see her person. Indeed, if any saint is worthy of veneration, she is the first.

    No, the reason it makes me uncomfortable resides wholly in myself. I fear the treachery of my own heart. I fear that I do not love Christ enough, that I do not believe quite as strongly as I think I do or wish I did. When I was a very young Christian (not that I am a very old one yet) I had this fear that if my idea of Christ in my mind, or my understanding of God or love for him, or my faith in him were not good enough or not sincere enough, the prayers that I thought I was offering to him might go to some false God or false Christ without my even being conscious of it.

    It is perhaps a false and irrational fear, but it still lingers. These days I no longer think that my prayers are perhaps being “intercepted”, but I do fear that they may not be acceptable to God and that he thus shuts them out. I have to constantly struggle to have faith that it is God who hears and accepts my prayers, even if my faith is lacking, which it always is. It’s hard. Perhaps this can explain why, even though I am beginning to accept intellectually the idea of the intercession of saints, including that of the Mother of God, my heart fears it and rebels against it even as I long for it. What if I were to make of her, or any one of them, an idol instead of letting her point me to Christ?

    I used to think that this is what all Orthodox and Roman Catholics were guilty of. I no longer think so. But I am not yet reassured that I myself am not in danger of doing so. Perhaps my faith is not strong enough to be Orthodox, even though I want to be.

  9. shevaberakhot Says:

    Affirmation of the Virgin birth can be a FIRST step towards knowing God in the death, resurrection and glorification of the Lord.

    The problem is not so much the veneration of the Theotokos but steps two, three and four.

  10. Fr. Philip Says:

    Joji,

    If I might offer a response for Fr. Stephen on calling Mary the Mother of God. We do believe that Mary stood in need of a Savior just as much as the rest of the us. She was born into the same sinful world as everyone else and therefore in order to be renewed, she too needed the grace of her Son. The title of Mother of God is not an attempt to say that Mary is above the need of a Savior. The title Mother of God refers to her bearing in her womb the Word of God who was in the beginning with God and Himself is God, as is mentioned in the Gospel of John. While not the source of His Divinity or even His existence, she is the source of His humanity and truly called God’s Mother. As to her sinfulness or sinlessness, I, like many Orthodox will remain silent. I am a sinner without a doubt. But we must be careful to not put as an impossibility for others what is not possible with ourselves. What is clear is that though she was put on a high pedestal by God Himself who chose her to bear His Only-Begotten Son, the Savior of the world, she instead of exalting herself chooses to give all honor and glory to her Son our Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him to the Cross and beyond. That is the humility that is transforming and that is worthy of honor and veneration:

    More honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim without defilement you gave birth to God the Word and are truly Mother of God, we magnify you!

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    The third Ecumenical Council formally declared Mary as “Theotokos” or “She who gave birth to God” to defend the unity of Christ’s person, that the One born of her was none other than the 2nd person of the Trinity, even though she is not the source of His divinity. And thus the Church has always named her.

    I would agree that speculation about the atonement and angels is just not a place we have been called to go.

    I have deleted the remarks offered (by Joji) because they were simply lacking in factual knowledge and were too harsh in tone – kindness is asked for in comments on this blog. Forgive.

  12. Karen C Says:

    Dear Father bless! For me the ability to overcome my Protestant misunderstanding of the meaning of the Church’s historic veneration of Mary and the Saints came and was complete when I understood that if we truly honor Christ, we must honor and venerate the humility of Mary (and the virtues of all the Saints), precisely because those virtues are not theirs apart from the grace of Christ–meaning that these virtues ARE in fact Christ Himself within the Saint as the Saint participates in Him. Christ is pleased to share those virtues with any who will receive them and to honor them Himself in those who have been willing to receive them by faith. How can we do less? It is also impossible to meaningfully honor someone’s virtues without also honoring their whole person as well because our virtue is not separate from our personhood.

    This is completely analogous to the truth that if we do in fact truly love God, we will also love Him in each of our brothers (in effect all human beings who are created in His image–even our enemies), or we show that we do not truly love Him either. We love God only to the extent that we love our brothers as He does–meaning, as you have so many times beautifully expressed, that we love them even when they are our worst enemies. Accordingly, giving proper honor to the Saints also shows our love for God.

    For brother Di Giacomo, I believe God will lead you in your understanding and you need not fear disrespecting or offending Him if you do not express honor for the Saints in the way it has been traditionally expressed until you are fully confident of the proper meaning of those actions. Insofar as you truly do honor Christ in your heart, He receives it and the Saints certainly share in that honor and glory whether you can explicitly express it to them personally or not. God is greater than the treachery in our own hearts, so fear only Him!

  13. Karen C Says:

    Dear Father bless. I was able to overcome my Protestant misunderstanding about the meaning of the Church’s historic veneration of Mary and the Saints when I realized that we honor them for their virtues precisely because those virtues are NOT theirs alone, but Christ’s, and that those virtues are in fact, not separate from Christ Himself in whom all the Saints participate by His grace through their faith. Christ Himself is pleased to share His virtue with them and to honor them for such participation. How can we do less? Further, it is impossible to meaningully honor someone’s virtue apart from their whole person, because our virtue is not separate from our personhood. To recognize the Theotokos is to recognize the fullness of the truth of the gospel: it is to recognize that, that which God–Who alone can make things holy–makes holy IS in fact truly holy and deserves to be honored as such.

    This principle is analogous to the truth that if we genuinely love God we will also love our brothers who are made in His image, even our enemies (as you have so often beautifully expressed), as He does. All of us see here clearly that love for others in this sense does not detract from our love for God, but rather fulfills and expresses it. So also for the proper veneration of the Saints.

    For brother Di Giacomo, I believe God will help your understanding and that you need not fear offending Him (or the Saints) if you are unable in good conscience to express reverence for the Saints in the way it has been traditionally expressed in the Church. In fact, as I’m sure you know, it is sin for us to do anything contrary to conscience, even if that act is not, strictly speaking, a sin in and of itself. Ifsofar as you genuinely honor Christ in your heart–and it is obvious to me you do–Christ receives that honor, and whether or not you overtly express it, that real honor and glory for Christ is in fact automatically shared by all the Saints as well. God is far greater than the treachery in our own hearts, so fear only Him and you will do well!

  14. shevaberakhot Says:

    Karen,

    Good point about saint’s virtues existing within Christ Himself. Let us see only Him.

    Thank you and God bless.

  15. shevaberakhot Says:

    David,

    I daresay that everything in this present world is but a covering, waiting for the day it will be revealed for what it is, in the Lord’s good time.

    In a one-storey universe (thank you Fr. Stephen) the question is not whether we should become Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant or Messianic. The bridges we build will eventually fall, and they will be rebuilt by God’s all encompassing, eternal love. We will possess the promise and share a peace that transcends all understanding.

    That reality is with us today, in Christ’s own body.

  16. Ben Says:

    I agree with Father Stephen. I am coming from a protestant background myself, but I know that God is calling me to Orthodoxy, not just of the intellect or of the spirit, but in the literal Orthodox Church.

    My parents aren’t too keen on this idea. My mom has told me that I may want to wait until I am “out of [my dad’s] house,” because she doesn’t know whether he will refuse to pay my last year of college (which, being a private Christian institution is quite a chunk of change). Still, I cannot deny the call of Christ to Orthodoxy. In it I have found the fullness of the faith, and if I were to deny that fullness, I am denying God’s call on my life.

    Not that heterodox will not be “saved” in an eternal sense, but that isn’t up to us but God. However, should anyone know the fullness of the truth (Orthodoxy) and choose to reject it in favor of something that has been revealed to be something less, that person is in danger of being one of those who Jesus says: “Many will come saying, Lord! Lord! . . . but I will say to them ‘Depart from me. . . I never knew you.”

    When one knows the truth, he must be willing to leave his father, mother, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers, treasures, and even his entire life for it. This is the true call of Christ to all that wish to be called his disciples.

  17. Chris R Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    As an Orthodox catechumen serving in the military overseas, I would like to say that your blog is a blessing to me. Orthodox chaplains are few and far between over here, and the postings on the blog help fill the void of being seperated from other Orthodox faithful.

    Right or wrong, I sympathize (but no longer agree) with Protestants and their inclinations against the veneration of the Theotokos and other Saints. I know how foreign this practice can seem, coming from a Lutheran background myself.

    My question to them, however, is this. Have you ever taken the time to read about or investigate the lives of the Saints? I know when I finally did, I was amazed at what I found. It is the testimony of their lives in Christ that is the ultimate proof of their worthiness of veneration, not our attempts at philosophical and theological arguments. Their witness speaks for itself. You cannot deny God’s mercy and grace in them. To do so, would be denying the Glory of God Himself.

    Most Holy Theotokos, pray for us sinners.

  18. Benjamin Says:

    Amen Chris,
    And may God, through the intercessions of his saints and Mother grant you safety.

  19. Joey Says:

    What then does the Bible mean when it states that there is ONE mediator between God and man – the man Jesus?
    What does it mean when the Bible says that “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God”? Where does it say ALL except Mary.
    A Protestant is one who follows those that separated themselves from the Catholic church in Rome. There have always been believers that trace their history back to the first church without going through the church of Rome.
    I am aware that the probabilty of this post being printed is small to none.

  20. fatherstephen Says:

    Joey,

    Of course there is only one mediator between God and man – the man Christ Jesus. No one else reconciles us to God. But there are other uses of the word mediation that are not meant to carry that meaning.

    We would not disagree with the Scripture that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. As exceptional as Mary is, we include her within that, but there are things we say of her that we would say of no one else.

    There is nothing in Scripture, rightly understood, that Orthodoxy would disagree with. It’s impossible. We were the ones who, guided by the Spirit, declared what is to be considered Scripture and what is not. And that same council also held Mary in the same esteem in which she is held today by the Orthodox.

    But our speech is very old, and sometimes you have to be patient with it to see what it means. Just like liberals who love to point to contradictions in Scripture – they do not want to know what it means – only to confound believers.

    Orthodox Christians have offered more martyrs, ancient and modern, as a sweet sacrifice to God, than anyone else. It’s only fair to take time to find out what is meant by what we say. And it behooves Orthodox to take time to explain to others what we mean.

    Appreciate the note.

  21. Margaret Says:

    Fr. Stephen, Thank you for this posting and for your responses to the comments. The comment by Chris R. reminds me that my time spent in the Anglican communion — in mostly Anglo-Catholic High Masses and learning about the liturgical church year — was certainly not a waste of time and God has been ever present in my life and that of my family’s life. I learned about the lives of the saints, and recited the “Hail Mary” and I truly believe that this knowlege and practice eventually led us into the full worship of the Church and Orthodoxy. It is true for me that reading about the lives of the saints, their love for God and their fellow man, and the love of God for them has taught and reminded my heart that Our Lord and God is truly the lover of mankind.

  22. Ben Says:

    I was going to write out a lengthy philosophical diatribe justifying why what Joey is advocating is Nestorianism, but I decided not to.

    Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  23. fatherstephen Says:

    I apologize,

    I took the evening off when moderation was obviously needed. I have deleted a number of posts and pray that peace reigns again.

  24. fatherstephen Says:

    Shevaberachot,

    I apologize for my misunderstanding. Perhaps I should have been clear that I simply thnik it matters when we speak of various Christian groups. I’m not sure there is a unity among them, as of yet, even at a hidden level. How Christ will manifest His unity remains a mystery for me.

  25. shevaberakhot Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I am trying to understand how the following conclusion was reached. You say:

    “Here I differ with shvaberakhot in the extreme. There is no Christ that somehow transcends the Body of Christ, nor is there a Body of Christ that transcends the particular Body of Christ on earth. To believe such is just Protestantism in which everything is blurred”.

    My position is and has always been, that we cannot know God outside the body of Christ. These are the fundamentals of our faith.

    Many blessings to you and all in the OCA.

  26. fatherstephen Says:

    I suppose I was assume reference to various Christians groups – saying that it doesn’t matter what we are (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, etc.) was subscribing to the doctrine of the “invisible Church.” Forgive me for making such an assumption.

    I cannot extend the notion of Body of Christ beyond the boundaries of Holy Orthodoxy because that is not Church doctrine. It doesn’t mean others are not Christians, but their exact relationship to the Church remains a mystery. But doctrinally, the Church is One, and that Unity is a visible unity, which, as yet does not exist, either sacramentally or doctrinally, etc., between these groups. That was all I meant. I was simply meaning to state an Orthodox position. Forgive me if I offended.

  27. shevaberakhot Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your explanation, I should have been much clearer about the Holy Catholic communion I belong to.

    We as Catholics, look forward to the day that full doctrinal union with Holy Orthodoxy is established.

    Thank you for your perseverance, faithfulness and long suffering in Christ Jesus, and may God bless all who read this blog!

  28. Chris R Says:

    I hope my earlier comment didn’t come across as an argument against apologetics. There are those around the world (so-called Christian and otherwise) who would like nothing less than to tear our faith down. We need to stand ready to defend the “right teaching” (i.e. Orthodoxy) when necessary.

    My intent was to suggest that maybe we need to direct those struggling with this issue to the saints themselves. Sometimes the Spirit, which is evident in the saint’s lives, can convince the heart in ways our words will never be able to.

  29. Benjamin Says:

    May I also point out that the way to point out the goodness of praying to the saints and viewing Mary as Theotokos stems out of a view of the faith being shared. As long as someone views their salvation as something that is between Jesus and him/her he won’t be able to understand the practice or doctrine of both.

    So, may I humbly suggest that when we are engaging people who are not Orthodox, our approach should not be “We believe Mary is Theotokos. If you don’t believe that she is not your mother, and God is not your father.” We need to be much more tactful, for these are not people in open willing rebellion against Orthodoxy, but have been misled by hundreds of years of slow creeping modern thinking.

    In engaging them, we need to point to first and foremost Christ, and as they see Him in his saints, how his Glory is manifested in them, they will want if nothing to be friends with they who are friends of God. That is how I came to think of the saints and Theotokos.

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