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Why is St. Mary such an important figure in Christianity?

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May 1, 2018

Why is St. Mary such an important figure in Christianity?

There’s a true need to answer the following question: why is Saint Mary an important figure in Christianity? Unfortunately, many non-Orthodox Christians misunderstand the Church’s dedication to Saint Mary and more often than not, this misunderstanding is extended to the choir of the saints as a whole. Some think that Orthodox Christians worship St. Mary and the saints as if they are some sort of deity, but this is in no way our belief, or intention. Orthodox Christians only worship the One Trinitarian God and no other! However, the Orthodox Church does hold St. Mary in great esteem. And the reason for that is because God Himself holds her in high esteem in comparison to the remainder of humanity. Although God’s love is equal to all, God’s relationship with humanity still varies from one person to another. This is due to the human component of this relationship. In other words, how much I love God in return to His love for me dictates the strength of our relationship. We have already explained the subject of intercession and the video can be found on our YouTube channel under the name As God’s child, why do I need the intercession of the saints?

What is essential for us to understand for this specific question is the very crucial concept of synergy. Synergy means working with God, cooperating with God. In this relationship example we just mentioned, it means that without my will to connect with God, there’s no relationship. I therefore do have a role to play. In Orthodox understanding, humans work with God in achieving His objectives. Not that God is not capable on His own, but because God wants us to share with Him in His work. He has created us in His image and He wants to use us to glorify Him, and in that process, He glorifies us through our efforts. This is why we participate with him in procreating for example. We participate with Him in being the light of the world—in sharing in His work according to His will.

Now, for us to understand the importance of St. Mary, we have to develop our understanding of the Son of God’s incarnation. When He took flesh, it was not only for the sake of our redemption through the cross and resurrection. His incarnation is multifaceted. As a matter of fact, if Christ is crucified on my behalf, but I refuse to unite with Him and obediently walk in His way, then I have rejected His salvific work for myself. I have rejected the power of the cross for myself. Thus, an essential component for my personal salvation is my own obedience to God. This obedience is what Adam and Eve essentially lacked. But nowadays, we call Christ the second Adam and we call St. Mary the second Eve because Adam was supposed to be the father of humanity through obedience and therefore humans would be united with God, but he failed. Christ was hence incarnate and the God-Man obeyed instead of Adam to the point of death. St. Paul says in Philippians 2:8: “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Through obedience Christ united humanity with the One Trinitarian God once more. In this salvific work, St. Mary, the second Eve, had also a role to play. St. Irenaeus of Lyons of the 2nd century said: “Christ by His obedience renewed and reversed what was done by disobedience in connection with a tree (in Eden). The power of that seduction, by which the Virgin Eve, already betrothed to a man, had been wickedly seduced and was broken, while the angel in truth brought good tidings to the Virgin Mary who already, by her betrothal, belonged to a man. For as Eve was seduced by the word of a serpent to flee from God, having rebelled against His word, so Mary by the word of an angel received the glad tidings that she would bear God by obeying His word.” St. Irenaeus is explaining how St. Mary’s obedience was essential in breaking the power of seduction

that originally came through disobedience. St. Mary cooperated with God—synergy. St. Mary’s actions of obedience were needed for God’s salvific plans to be fulfilled. In other words, the incarnation was not forced upon her. She willingly accepted it and therefore participated in the salvation of humanity. And since God is outside of time, He foreknew her acceptance and therefore chose her to be His mother because she first chose Him. St. Mary is a special person because of her devotion to God throughout her life and it is ultimately because of this devotion that God chose her. This is seen in Luke 1:28 as Archangel Gabriel tells her: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” The literal translation from Greek should say, “Rejoice O, full of grace.” She is not only highly favored, she is full of grace. She is full of grace because of her devotion to Him. In Isaiah 49:1, there is a beautiful verse where God the Son is speaking to the people and says: “Listen, O coastlands, to Me, And take heed, you peoples from afar! The LORD has called Me from the womb; From the matrix [or bowels] of My mother He has made mention of My name.” Approximately 700 years prior to the incarnation, the Son of God is already referring to St. Mary as “My Mother.” She was already chosen. What an honor!

Now, some people use the fact that Christ said: “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” as a degrading comment toward St. Mary. Nevertheless, this is an inaccurate explanation. First, it is not typical of Christ to degrade anyone, especially not in public. Moreover, this verse is not specific to St. Mary as Christ’s close relatives were also there with her. When this verse is read in its proper context, we realize that God is emphasizing that he who does the will of His Father becomes part of His family, or will inherit the Kingdom. This verse does not imply that St. Mary has no special place. Actually, St. Mary’s connection to God is even more special than we realize because the God-Man, Christ, was inside her womb and Christ’s humanity is REAL. Why is this fact important? Because, today, any mother has a deep relationship with her child, even while in the latter is in her womb. And more importantly, the child has a deep attachment to their mother. This is seen when a new born is crying and they refuse to be comforted until they are in their mother’s arms because the child smells the mother and knows her. They feel protected and comforted. There is a special bond there between these two that cannot be shared with anyone else. Since Christ’s humanity is REAL, this bond existed between Christ and St. Mary. To say otherwise would mean that Christ wasn’t fully human, which would have disastrous repercussions for any Christian. This is potentially the bond that we see in the wedding of Cana of Galilee. As St. Mary was complaining to Our Lord about the lack of wine during the wedding, He responds the following: “Woman [which was a respectable way to address her at the time], what does your concern have to do with me?” meaning, this issue doesn’t concern me. Yet, she tells the servants: “Whatever He says to you do it.” She knew that He would do something because they have that special bond—because she is His mother in the flesh.

Are we supposed to give her reverence? As mentioned earlier, the Church doesn’t worship anyone other than Christ, but we do give St. Mary her due reverence. We acknowledge that she is the mother of God and that she has this special relationship with Him. St. Mary herself prophesied about this when she said in Luke 1:48: “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” She is therefore blessed and we need to acknowledge it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If we think about it, we give reverence to our parents, friends, in-laws, bosses, colleagues, teammates, etc., and we rightly do so because all humans are created in the image of God and we therefore ought to respect all humans. We also do so more rightly for the Christians who hold God within them. This doesn’t mean that we worship them. If it is correct to pay this reverence to one another within God, how much more should it be for us to pay reverence to God’s mother when God Himself has chosen to exalt her.

The last point to be considered to explain the many prayers dedicated to St. Mary is found, not only in her special relationship with God, but also in the outcome of the council of Ephesus in the year 431. The language used by Nestorius, at the time, in his attempt to explain the nature of Christ was very complex and often misleading. His theology stressed a distinct separation between Christ’s divinity and humanity, which led him to call St. Mary the Mother of Christ rather than the mother of God as she was called by some fathers prior to him. Since the nature of the Incarnate Logos is so crucial to our salvation, the Church reacted to Nestorius’ teaching by introducing more prayers to the Mother of God with the purpose to explain the true Orthodox faith to her members. The Orthodox Church’s prayers always contain a correct theological understanding and they are used as main channels of communicating the faith. These prayers are still included in our churches today as a reminder that St. Mary is the mother of God. We ask her to intercede on our behalf using her special relationship with God.

Remember know your faith, live your faith and teach your faith and glory be to God forever, Amen.

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