The Protection of the Mother of God

1001BProtection

Many blessings on the Feast of the Protection of our Lady, the  Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary! I am off for my preparations for the Liturgy at Church this morning. May God bless all as we offer thanks for the prayers of all the saints – and most especially for those of his Blessed Mother.

Today the faithful celebrate the feast with joy
illumined by your coming, O Mother of God.
Beholding your pure image we fervently cry to you:
“Encompass us beneath the precious veil of your protection;
deliver us from every form of evil by entreating Christ,
your Son and our God that He may save our souls.”

Tropar of the Feast

 

Having returned home after the feast…

I reflected this morning on the “Veil of Protection” which we enjoy many times in the course of our life. Protection is more than the active warding off of enemies – it is sometimes a gracious hiding. My short trek to Church this morning was through one of the fogs that blanket the Tennessee Valley this time of year. Many things are hidden.

Much of my life remains hidden even from myself. Who is there that knows all of his own sins or all of the goodness of God? I think that these things remain hidden from us by the mercies of God. Who could bear the full knowledge of his own sins or even the full knowledge of the goodness of God?” The depths of such things are hidden and revealed to us by a merciful God as and when they are good for our salvation.

The prayers of the saints, including those of the Mother of God, is a great mystery – they are part of the greater reality of life as communion with God. Earlier this year I offered this thought on the prayers of the saints:

Christ’s “intercession for us” should not be understood as an eternal torrent of words; intercession is Christ’s union with us who have now been united to Him and thus united to His eternal communion with the Father.

This same understanding of prayer is at the heart of the intercession of the saints. Much confusion about the intercession of the saints has been wrought by poor images of prayer. We have reduced prayer to talk and intercession to talk to God about someone else. It is in this imagery that the Protestant question comes forward: “Why do we need someone else to speak to God for us? Isn’t Christ’s prayer enough?”

Of course, if prayer is just talk, then surely Christ’s words would be sufficient. But this oversimplification of prayer fails to do justice to Christ’s own prayer (as well as that of the saints). The intercession of the saints is their communion and participation in the life of Christ. By His life they live and the very character of that life is a communion with God. Rightly understood – that communion is prayer itself. When we express our own communion with the saints through asking their prayers we are giving verbal expression to what is already an ontological reality. As we are in communion with Christ so we are in communion with the saints. The Church cannot be other than the Church.

There may be those who reject the “intercession of the saints” (particularly as caricatured by inadequate understandings of prayer), but if they are truly in the communion of the Church then the intercession of the saints is inherently part of that communion. There is no Church that is not also the communion of the saints.

Today I give thanks for the protecting veil of the Mother of God – for the things I do know and those that I do not.

13 Responses to “The Protection of the Mother of God”

  1. Eric Says:

    Most holy Lady, Mother of God, save us!

  2. yeamlak fitur Says:

    Amen! And Prayer is not just Talk it is more.

    It is hard for me to understand why Protestants and others would not have a problem on asking prayer of their friends, pastor or someone else in a situation, and cannot bear the fact of asking the Holy Mother who is above the Saints or the Saints who are in communion with Christ for a prayer.

    When they ask their pastor or friends to pray for them, aren’t they doing the same thing. Why do they need someone else to speak to God in that case?

  3. yeamlak fitur Says:

    I want to iterate…

    It is hard for me to understand why Protestants and others would “NOT” have a problem on asking prayer of their friends, pastor or ….

  4. Karen Says:

    yeamiak fitur,

    I don’t know if this will make any sense to you, but I’ll give you my perspective as a former Protestant. There were two factors that inhibited me from making the connection between asking fellow Christians to pray for me and asking the Saints to pray for me. The first was that I understood supplication of the Saints to be part and parcel of a notion I ascribed to Medieval Roman Catholic error that the individual believer could not approach God directly, but required the mediation of others such as the Saints and Bishops (not saying this is truly what was taught, but just that this is what I had been taught to believe). The second is that I was taught (usually using the OT passage where King Saul attempts to contact the deceased Prophet Samuel using a pagan witch as a medium and is rebuked by Samuel’s spirit) that it is wrong in any circumstances for a Christian to attempt to communicate with the “dead,” i.e., those who have passed from this life. Protestants are also taught that Roman Catholic prayers for the dead originated in an erroneous reading of certain deuterocanonical OT Scriptures. I did not find out until I began to study Orthodoxy that praying for the dead was an established Jewish practice in the first century and which continues also in Judaism to the present day. I then had to ask if Protestants are correct that NT does not teach this practice, why is there no record of Jesus condemning it? He was a pious participant in first century Jewish faith and did condemn what were genuine accretions and misreadings as practiced by the Pharisees, for example. Yet it is clear that prayer for the dead continued in the early Church as the catacomb walls where the early Christians worshipped attest. After that point, I had no trouble embracing the Orthodox perspective and find it to be a marvelous blessing. God is indeed wondrous in His Saints!

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    yeamlak,

    I went in and edited your comment to insert the “not”. By the way, I’d love to know the origin of “yeamlak fitur.”

  6. Teranne Says:

    yeamlak fitur – to answer your question…

    The problem protestants have with “asking the Holy Mother who is above the Saints” to pray for us is that we do not believe that Mary is above the Saints (nor that she is still a virgin, for that matter). The problem is not so much in asking others for prayer, but in elevating certain saints to a divine position. Also, as it says in the book of Hebrews, Christ is our mediator before God (not His mother) and He is our defender and protector, not His mother. In the Psalms it says we are sheltered under the wings of God, not the veil of the Messiah’s mother. It also does not say anywhere in Scripture that Mary is divine; you would think that might be an important and immediate detail to be included in the Gospels if it was so. I believe that this elevation of Mary to god-like status had more to do with goddess worship within Gentile culture of that time period and gnosticism that could not bear having any fleshly connection to the divine (thus, the mother of the Son of God must have been more holy than other people, perhaps even divine…in fact! she was born of a virgin, too!). Then that belief was made doctrine and tradition and was passed down to you, too, but it was not the original belief nor what Scripture (prophets, writings, Moses, Gospels) claims.

    The miracle of her bearing the Son of God (aside from the fact that God was born as a man!) is that she was just a humble everyday person, like the rest of us. It was not some innate super-spiritual quality that made her chosen, but her humility to trust and obey God. God uses everyday people and the prayers of everyday people. (Afterall, Abraham was called from a nation of pagans! …and so are all of us!).

    In the end, it is quite a deep matter that keeps protestants from elevating and beseeching Mary.

  7. Academic Says:

    How can I not marvel at the Mother of God who so perfectly submitted to the will of God to bear Christ in her womb? When we say that we long for Christ to dwell in us, do we stop to reflect about the awareness the Theotokos had when carrying Christ in her womb? When we seek to honor Christ as He voluntarily submitted to the cross, do we consider His words to the disciple “Behold your mother” (John 19:27)? When we lift our voices in praise, do we consider the great song of the Magnificant (Luke 1:45-56)? Why do we so easily dismiss the Mother of God as just a person that happened to be the womb present at Christmas?

    Most Holy Mother of God, pray for us to be devoted disciples of Jesus your son even as we must submit fully to the will of God to the point of total transformation +

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    Teranne,
    I understand that from modern cultural Protestantism that it is easy to misunderstand Orthodox attitudes to Mary and the saints. We do not think of her as Divine. We do not see her as possessing the singular mediation of Christ. We do not worship her or expect that she do anything that substitutes or distracts from God. It would be blasphemy to us were these the case.

    But we are very aware of how God has used his servants throughout history, and continues to do so. She is within that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ in Hebrews. Her prayers are among those that rise continually before the throne of God as mentioned in Revelation.

    She is unique among the saints – “a sword pierced her own soul also.”

    Interestingly, both Martin Luther and John Calvin believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. It was later protestants who rejected this teaching of the early Church.

    But these are matters that within Protestant understanding do not fit – I understand. They seem extraneous and without merit, I understand. They are not additions based on pagan worship – we have better historical materials that bear witness to this devotion. Imagine how strange it would have been had the same fathers who gave us the Creeds, and the great doctrines of the faith, the canon of Scripture, etc., been drawn into a semi-Paganism in such a matter. It was not so. But I understand the thought.

    It is not an argument. Sometimes the protestant opposition to the communion of saints is puzzling to some Orthodox, just as much of Orthodoxy is a puzzle to many protestants.

    May God help our hearts that we may all know Him in the fullness of the Truth.

    Peace.

  9. yeamlak fitur Says:

    Father,

    yeamlak means God’s-fitur means hand made or creature. It means God’s Creature in general.

    Teranne,

    As father explained it clearly here it his her presence. All the way and which will continue till the second coming.

    The honor paid to Mary, our Holy mother and of Jesus Christ our Lord and God, goes back to the earliest days further back even before the birth of her Son. There are several records from her life, how she was conceived to the faithful Joachim and Anna, the encounter by the angel Gabriel that she was to bear the Messiah, her Visitation to Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the Nativity of our Lord, the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple at the age of forty days, the flight into Egypt, the Passover visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve, the wedding at Cana in Galilee and the performance of her Son’s first miracle Oh!.. and her presence at the foot of the Cross, where Jesus commends her to the care of the Disciple, and her presence with the apostles in the upper room, (which is the first church) waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. She is thus seen to be present at most of the chief events of her Son’s life. The point is she was there all the way and she will be with him close and she is there interceding for us. Her message to us her instruction to the servants at the wedding feast, to whom she says simply, indicating her Son, “Whatever he says to you, do it.” This is her message to us to the world as she speaks to us. She invites us to know the word of God.

    I have so many things happening through my prayer to her and I feel I am not worthy even to say much and it bothers me.

    Just one look of her icon holding her son and she is there. Her obedience to the Lord. She is the means of the New Covenant, there is no creature who can equal that. And how it is hard for one to see that is so hard for me.

    So I cannot understand why one cannot see it.

  10. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    “Much of my life remains hidden even from myself. Who is there that knows all of his own sins or all of the goodness of God? I think that these things remain hidden from us by the mercies of God. Who could bear the full knowledge of his own sins or even the full knowledge of the goodness of God?” The depths of such things are hidden and revealed to us by a merciful God as and when they are good for our salvation.”

    In “Gifts of the Desert,” Kyriacos Markides talks about a friend of his who asked God to show him his true spiritual state — and when he saw it, fell into such depression that, as his spiritual father noted, only intense and prayerful intervention was able to rescue his sanity. The spiritual father scolded his spiritual son, “Not even the great saints would have the temerity to ask such a thing of God!”

    So yes, indeed it’s God’s mercy that keeps such things from us — and His even greater mercy that those sins of which we are unaware are *also* forgiven in confession. Thank God, or I for one would have no hope at all!!

  11. james Says:

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=146126053683&ref=mf

  12. james Says:

    By His Grace Bishop BASIL (Essey)

    Mary the Theotokos is very close to my heart, and, I am certain, close to the hearts of all who love her Son, Jesus. I can hardly think of her name without tears. When God, in the fullness of time, because of His great love for His creation, sent His Only-Begotten Son to save us sinners, He chose to do so in a way that is at once simple and tender, and profound, beyond our comprehension. He came to find a bride.

    And God the Father, who is above all and in all and over all, chose to unite Himself, through the Person of the Most Holy Spirit, with one of us: the only daughter of Joachim and Anna, the young woman of Nazareth who had been prepared from all ages to become the bride of God. She is our boast. She is like us in her earthly beginning, and she is like us in her earthly end. She is at once our sister—a daughter of Adam, just like us—and also our mother.

    To begin the betrothal of Mary with God, an archangel was sent, one of those who stand perpetually around the throne of God and sing His praises. An angel, beneath whom mankind was created, was sent to the house of Joseph, the betrothed of the Virgin, and began the relationship of betrothal and marriage, an unwedded marriage, between God the Father and the young virgin of Nazareth, with the word, “Rejoice.”

    The hymnography of our Church says that when the Archangel was sent he came in awe and wonder, and he stood in confusion in this humble abode in North Palestine, announcing to a creature on a scale lower than his own that she was to become the Bride of the Father, the Mother of the co-eternal Son. Her relationship with God is our cause of rejoicing. She is our offering, our oblation, our prosphora [Eucharist bread], offered to the Father, from which the Lamb of God will come forth—the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In a very real way, she became the first to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior. She alone among all humanity can say that she not only received Jesus into her heart spiritually, but she housed Jesus in her womb, in her body.

    To imagine Mary’s response to that news of the Archangel Gabriel is beyond our comprehension. We have become so accustomed to hearing the account of the Annunciation that we forget the power and the wonder and the godly fear that must have overcome this young virgin. She was only about fourteen years of age when she said “Yes,” and when all creation began its rejoicing at its salvation.

    “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” she sings. She becomes a prophetess when she says, “Behold, all generations shall call me blessed.” She whom all generations call blessed and she in whom all rejoices was our offering to God. We see this in a well-known hymn from the Nativity of Our Lord:

    The angels offer Thee a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother.

    When it came time for God to send His Son and take flesh on this earth, all of His creation wanted to offer a gift. The earth offered a warm cave, and the heavens offered a star—not just any star, but a brilliant star such as the world has never seen and may never see again. The bodiless hosts offered a glorious hymn, the most glorious hymn with the most glorious message ever heard on earth. Even the animals offered a gift. They offered their food trough, the manger. And beyond that, tradition tells us that they offered their breath to warm the newborn Child.

    The poor shepherds could offer nothing but their wonder, but they offered that. They came and knelt in that very strange cave that was the temple. Magi who traveled from afar came and offered their best gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And we, humanity, offered God our best gift, a Virgin Mother.

    Her relationship with Christ was a unique relationship, something that no one else can have. It gives her a unique place in salvation history. Until the coming of the Archangel Gabriel to the dwelling in Nazareth, the people of God would make pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, to worship God who was present there, and to revere the very stones of the temple. Yet at a moment in time, in an obscure Palestinian village, in a young virgin, that temple became passé and irrelevant. She became the temple, and it is for that reason that we venerate her. She became the temple, a unique thing that gives her a unique position in our salvation. It was from her blood that God took blood, blood that would become the fountain for our immortal life. It was of her flesh that God took flesh, the flesh that is now offered to us as the food of immortality.

    Who but Mary breastfed Him who feeds all of creation? Who but Mary carried in her arms as mother Him who sustains and upholds all the universe? It was Mary who upheld God, the Creator of all things visible and invisible, as He took His first steps on this earth. She offered her little finger for a tiny hand to grasp. When the child Jesus, as He must have done, scraped His knee or was hurt by some unkind words of a playmate, and wept and came running to mother, it was Mary who kissed the wound and made it feel better, or took Him in her arms and assured Him that the unkind words and the sadness He felt would pass, that everything would be all right. She brought comfort to God. And when God wept, when Jesus wept, it was His mother, like every mother, who wiped away His tears. Mary wiped away the tears from the face of God.

    What is profound about this is not just the fact that these things happened, but that Mary knew who it was that she supported with her little finger. She knew who it was who suckled at her breast, whose diapers she changed. She knew who it was whose wounds she kissed and bandaged, whose hurt feelings she comforted, and whose tears she wiped away. Mary knew.

    In the Feast of the Presentation, she brought her Son to that stone building in Jerusalem that she knew was no longer needed, knowing that He was the Son of God. It was at that time that her sorrows began. Forty days after the birth of her only Son, the great sorrow that would come to her heart was foretold to her: that there would come a day when His wound would be not just a scraped knee, but nailed hands and feet, and a pierced side. That the tears He shed and the unkind words and actions He endured would be not just unkind words of little playmates, but the sentence of death from those whom He came to save. How her heart must have been pierced wanting to kiss those hands, and the feet, and the side, and the brow, to make the wounds and the pain go away, to no avail. And how she must have anticipated receiving her Son from the Cross, now dead.

    Who among all humankind has offered so much to our God? She offered her flesh to become His flesh, her blood to become His blood. She offered every motherly tenderness (and there’s no tenderness like a mother’s tenderness)—who but Mary endured such pain? Our hymnographers show us Mary standing at the Cross, remembering Christ the child when He took His first steps, and when He said His first word, and when He shed His first tear, and when He laughed His first laugh, and called her “Mother” for the first time. Imagine, now, that very human Mary standing at the Cross.

    The Theotokos was overcome with sorrow Seeing You crucified and dead on the Cross. She cried out, “How You suffer, my beloved Son! The sword thrust in Your side has pierced my heart. My wound burns with Your agony. Nevertheless I sing Your praise, For You willingly died to save the human race.”

    “Nevertheless I sing Your praise.” In spite of all the ugliness she sees and the pain she endures at seeing her Son unjustly crucified by those He came to save, yet she glorifies Him. She knows He is God. The only thing that can balance that sorrow is the joy she had three days later, when her Son rose as victor. Imagine her joy when the angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, again I say rejoice, for your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb, and with Himself He has raised all the dead. Rejoice, rejoice!”

    It is not a theological proposition, but a simple fact, that God became man, He became what you and I are in everything except our sin. And for that to be possible, He needed a mother. The honors and prerogatives given to her during His earthly life must pale compared to those accorded to her now that He is seated at the right hand of His Father on the throne of glory, bearing the flesh and the blood which He took from her. Her flesh and blood given to Him, her Son, sits at the right hand of the Father and is accorded worship by thousands of angels and ten thousands of archangels—her flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of Adam, the flesh and blood which you and I share with her, and because of her, with our God.

    It is no accident, then, that our Lord’s first miracle, at the wedding in Cana, was worked at her intercession. And at her intercession, although the wedding reception is nearly over, He makes over a hundred gallons of the very best wine. When His mother asks, He pours forth His grace abundantly and richly. Who would do less, at the request of his mother? Thus Mary has what the hymnographers call “motherly boldness” in interceding with Christ—and as our mother also, she is always ready to intercede on our behalf.

    Mary is our boast, our cause of rejoicing, our sister, our mother, and most of all, our intercessor. Let us honor her, love her, and bring our needs before her with the innocent confidence of children who know that their mother will meet their needs with love.

    “She stands at His right as a real Queen, with much boldness, clad in golden garments, attired in embroidery, according to the prophetic saying. Yea, she [stands at] the royal throne glittering as the glorious Queen of heaven and earth, and shining inside and outside with the lightings of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as the ever-illuminating Bride and Mother of the heavenly King of Glory, Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour . . . she stands at the right side of the Son, embroidered in the virtues and gifts of purity, of holiness, everything beautiful, chosen, innocent, as the holiest of saints, noblest of the cherubim, and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim and all the heavenly hosts, being thus, next to God, venerated, glorified, and praised above all beings in heaven and earth.” —St. John of Damascus

  13. yeamlak fitur Says:

    Thank you for this James.

    Indeed Mary is our boast. We learn everything from her in holding our Faith.

    Most of all she shows us sisters, mothers, women in general the importance that God has chosen us to be in leading the human life, with all the characters that He has within us.

    God Bless!

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