The Theotokos – Ladder to God

6 Aug

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Up until a few years ago I had, like many protestants, an ambivalence to the Virgin Mary (of whom I referred to only as “Mary”).  Yes, of course she bore Christ, but she was just a human and certainly no greater than I or any other man or woman.  Perhaps this was in direct response to what many call “Mary Worship” in the Roman Catholic church in which I was raised.  I believe now that many (including myself) do not quite understand the integral role the Virgin played in our salvation.

Now, I’m asbsolutely not a theologian.  I operate under St. John Chrysostem’s words: “A comprehended god is no god at all.”  I seek to know Christ, not the theories of Him.  So instead of discussing theology, let me tell you about my relationship with the Theotokos.

We found out that I was pregnant with Adeline right before Christmas 2007. I remember standing during Mass considering Christ’s birth and birth in general.  I knew my fear about giving birth…but in a barn?  With no one but Joseph to attend?  I, quite honestly, did not think much more  about the Virgin throughout the remainder of my pregnancy. 

Oh, and then came Adeline.  Over this past year of motherhood, I’ve thought often about the Virgin Mother.  In the beginning, I wondered how she dealt with sleepless nights, learning to nurse her infant Son, and just plain wondering at what her future would be.  Christmas came again and I remembered my own labor pains and imagined birthing a child in the conditions she did…let alone God Himself. I’ve considered how she felt watching her child and her God take His first steps, say His first words, and grow way, way too quickly.

I’ve been watching the Theotokos from afar for quite some time and have felt drawn closer and closer to her as I experience all of the milestones and emotions of motherhood, but have still not known quite what to make of her and what her role is in our lives today.  I thought about the “Mary worship” of my youth and the “So, Mary birthed Jesus. What makes her any different than me?” thoughts of our evangelical days.  I’ll tell you, as a mother, what makes Mary different than me.  She bore Christ!  She was selected has the handmaiden of God, was visited by the angel, Gabriel, and accepted the task of carrying the Christ child.  In this respect, Mary become the first Christian.  

Once I really considered and accepted the fact that the Virgin was  not just any other woman, I was able to ask her for her intercessions.  I do not pray TO her, but ask her to pray FOR me.  No, I do not NEED someone to intercede for me.  Christ has made Himself approachable to us.  But friends, I ask you to pray for me, don’t I?  Why wouldn’t I ask His mother to bend  His ear for me? Certainly, if given the opportunity, Adeline will select me above all others. If Christ will listen to anyone, certainly it is His mother.

Shortly after I began asking the Virgin for her intercessions, a dear friend lent me the book Close to Home- One Orthodox Mother’s Quest for Patience, Peace, and Perseverence by Molly Sabourin.  Molly has a beautiful outlook on motherhood and faith.  Seeing how the  faith is intertwined with every day life of the Orthodox is beautiful.  I believe my heart opened up to the Orthodox faith through that book. (If you’re interested, I’ve since bought a copy…)

I truly believe that had it not been for my deepening relationship with the Theotokos, I would never have considered joining the Orthodox Church.  She is too important in the tradition and Theology.  In the Orthodox church, the Theotokos is considered to be the ladder to Christ.  She is not a co-redemptress. But she bids us to come, meet her Son.

The Orthodox church (and we, as catechumens) are in the middle of the two-week Dormition Fast as we await the falling asleep of the Virgin.  These two weeks of  strict fast and and prayer are designed to bring each of us closer to the the Theotokos, and ultimately Christ.  Three times a week the church meditates on these words from the Small Paraklesis:

A protection of Christians unshamable,
Intercessor to our Holy Maker, unwavering,
Please reject not
The prayerful cries of those who are in sin.
Instead, come to us, for you are good;
Your loving help bring unto us,
Who are crying in faith to you: Hasten to intercede
And speed now to supplicate,
As a protection for all time,
Theotokos, for those who honor you.

 I am, in many ways, eternally grateful to the Virgin.  Most recently I thank her for guiding my heart and helping it open to the Orthodox Church and leading me, once again, to draw nearer to her Son.

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