Veneration of the Virgin Mary, Part 4

This is Part 4 of a seven (7) part series on The Veneration of the Virgin Mary, also called the Mother of God, or Theotokos (Greek for God Bearer) in the Orthodox Christian Church.

Part 1     Part 2   Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6    Part 7

Related blog posts on Jesus Christ’s Geneology: Women in Jesus’ Geneology also, Old Testament Priesthood as compared to New Testament Priesthood.

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PART 4

Overview

This part will explore the Orthodox practice of identifying the Virgin Mary’s role in God’s Covenant with His people through her role as being part of the community of believers of both the Old and the New Covenant.   By extension of this association, this lesson will additionally explore the hymnody of the Orthodox Church that calls the Virgin Mary the Temple, the Ark of God, the Mother of God, the New Jerusalem, the Mother of the Church, biblical historical perspective of God’s Covenant with His people.

The only way for an Orthodox Christian to understand the Old Testament is in light of the New Testament and this will also be true as the only way to understand the role of the Virgin Mary in bringing mankind’s salvation into the world.  From this viewpoint, the following paragraphs will explore the Biblical historical perspective of the Old Covenant with God’s people as originally established with Moses as the mediator between God and His people and correlate those events with the Biblical historical perspective of the New Covenant with God’s people with the Virgin Mary as the mediator between God and His people.

From the very beginning of Christian church history, believers gathered regularly for prayer and this was regarded as characteristic of their way of life.[1]   In the book of Acts, the gathering of the community for prayer is mentioned often and this is further evidenced in the Epistles by St. Paul and his directives and correctives for the assembly in 1 Cor 11, 14.    The tradition of the gathering of the faithful together was actually begun over 1300 years earlier than the book of the Acts of the Apostles by God Himself in the book of Exodus.  The book of Exodus provides a witness to God’s action to deliver the Hebrew people from Egypt’s bondage and to bind them to Him in a covenantal relationship.  From a Christian perspective, we know from the New Testament that the Old Covenant was replaced with a New Covenant between God and His people when the Virgin Mary accepted to bring the salvation of mankind into the world.   Just as Moses’ perfect obedience to God’s Will brought salvation to the Israelites from Pharoah’s bondage, the Virgin Mary’s perfect obedience to God’s Will brought salvation to God’s people from the bondage of sin and death.  With the Virgin Mary’s perfect obedience to God’s Will,  the advent of the New Covenant was begun with the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then became fully ratified when Christ gave Himself for His people to free them from the bondage of sin and death and lead them to true freedom as the children of God (Roman 8:21).

The very first gathering of the Israelites in the wilderness at the foot of Mt Sinai when they escaped from Pharaoh’s bondage was called by God Himself through Moses.  During this gathering, scripture tells us that the people actually heard God’s voice, received the Law from Him, and promised to obey it.  In the New Testament, Mary was called by God to bring the Salvation of mankind into the world and like Moses in the Old Testament, in perfect obedience to God’s Will, she accepted to be the agent to bring into existence the New Covenant with God’s people.  When Jesus Christ was born, like the people of the Old Testament, God was with His people in the New Testament.  The people of the New Testament heard God’s word and He walked beside them in their daily life, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden and as God interacted with His people in the New Testament.

  • The Virgin Mary’s identification with the  community

Some biblical scholars have remarked that the Virgin Mary’s words in Luke 1:46-55, often referred to as Mary’s Magnificat, were modeled on the Psalms, in particular, the Song of Hannah 1 Sam 2:1-10.    Mary’s opening words are, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.   Similar wording is found in the Old Testament in Hannah’s song, I Sam 2:1-2.  Although not identical to Mary’s Song, it is similar in nature: “My heart rejoices in the LORD  … I rejoice in Your salvation”

Samuel’s mother was Hannah and his father was Elkanah. Hannah, at the beginning of 1 Samuel, is barren and childless. In the story (I Sam 1:1-18), Hannah prays to God for a child.   Eli, a priest of Shiloh and the last of the Israelite Judges before the rule of kings in ancient Israel[2], is sitting at the foot of the doorpost in the sanctuary at Shiloh and sees Hannah apparently mumbling and thinks Hannah is drunk.  Hannah explains that she was praying and in her prayer had promised that if the Lord were to let her have a child, the child would be dedicated to Him.   Eli blesses her after she promises the child to God and subsequently Hannah becomes pregnant; her child is called Samuel.   True to her vow to God, 1 Sam 1:11, after Samuel is weaned, she leaves him in the Priest Eli’s care when he was 3 years old.  It is at the presentation of Samuel to the priest, that Hanna worships the Lord with the song that biblical scholars entitle, “Hannah’s Song”.

Unique to Samuel’s birth, and not evident in other births until Jesus Christ, is a song extolling God’s special intervention toward His people and this is heard in both Hannah’s Song (1 Sam 2:1-10)[3] and Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).  Some biblical scholars have thought that Luke, or a scribe, made some mistake in ascribing the Magnificat to Mary, rather than to her older cousin, Elizabeth, whose situation more nearly mirrors that of Hannah who was also barren woman.  But upon further investigation, although the Virgin Mary and Hannah have two different situations, there is continuity between the two songs in that the salvation of the community of Israel is the primary emphasis.  The mindset of both of these women was not isolated to their personal situation; they both identified themselves with the Israelite community and the promise of the salvation of their people.

From the very beginning at Mt. Sinai when God gathered the community of Israelites for the first assembly, the Israelites considered themselves in relation to their community – all was accomplished for the Community of Israel, God’s chosen people.  The “community” was an important part of the entire history of the Israelites.  The Scripture of both the Old and New Testament provides evidence that woman images are often used to represent various communities.  For example:  In Hannah’s case, the Priest Eli misunderstood Hannah’s prayer while moving her lips as being drunk and thought she was a pagan Canaanite woman who were typically identified as, “daughters of corruption”.   When accused accordingly, Hannah defended herself to Eli and the Priest gives her his blessing, but she was identified initially, although in a negative way, with a “community” of people.   Hannah’s song is one of looking forward to the Salvation of the Israelites, and identity between Mary and community of Israel is implicit in Luke 1:54 in Mary’s Magnificat as Mary’s comment clearly aligns herself with being the vessel through which God will save the community of Israel.

Another example of a woman as being identified with community is in the Gospel of John 4:1-42 when Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well.  John makes a clear parenthetical phrase at the end of verse 9 that what was unexpected about Jesus conversing with the Samaritan woman was not that she was a woman, but that she was a Samaritan.  This reference is a clear identification of the woman as a representative of her community.   The community of the Samaritans were a mixed race and traditionally enemies of the Jews.  Although they worshiped the God of Israel and were also awaiting the Messiah, they accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament as their Scripture and did not accept any prophets after Moses.  After Moses, the only prophet they expected was the Messiah who Moses foretold (Dt. 18:15-18).  The woman at the well perceives Jesus to be a prophet.  She then ends their conversation with, “….I know that the Messiah is coming (who is called Christ).  When He comes, He will tell us all things….”, and Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”(John 4:25-26).     John 4:5-42 is read on the fifth Sunday of Pascha, called the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, and the woman is clearly identified in the Gospel as a representative of the Samaritan community.

The identity between Mary and the community of Israel became implicit long before the hymnographers of Fourth Century AD used the phraseology in church hymns.   In the New Testament, Luke 1:54, The Virgin Mary identified herself with the community of Israel when she says, “He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever”.  The identity between Mary and Israel is implicit as Mary’s comment aligns herself with being the vessel through which the Israel of God, the Church, will receive God’s mercy as God had promised to Abraham and his descendants.    Additional identification of Mary with the community of Israel is found in Lk 1:67-69.  In this passage, Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied aligning the Mother of God as the “horn of salvation” for the people of Israel.    Zacharias recognized that the people of Israel would be redeemed through the Mother of God who will raise a “horn of salvation”[4] in the house of David for the people of Israel; and, that his son John (the Baptist) will go before the Lord to prepare His way.

If one thinks about it in this way, the identity of Mary, the Mother of God, with the community of Israel as heard in the hymnody of the church becomes easily understandable.  An example of Fourth Century hymnographers usage of “New Jerusalem” in hymns as a typological form referring to the Theotokos is evidenced in the ninth ode of Pascha, “Shine, shine O New Jerusalem!  Exult now and be glad O Zion! Be radiant O pure Theotokos in the resurrection of your son!”   Another example of the Virgin Mary as being identified with a community in the hymnody of the church is composed by St. Andrew of Jerusalem which is heard at Matins of the Nativity of Christ when the Virgin Mary is referred to as,  “…thou Living City of God the King, in which Christ has dwelt, bringing to pass our salvation…”

  • The Virgin Mary identified with the Ark and the Temple

The Ark of the Covenant in Old Testament narratives carried the Word of God, and the Temple of God was built by Solomon from his father, King David’s, blueprints.   The Virgin Mary has been identified by theologians as the Ark and Temple of the New Covenant because she housed the Word of God, Jesus Christ, inside her.   This reality of the Virgin Mary physically carrying God has become a typological form for the Old Covenant Ark of the Covenant and Solomon’s Temple which is expressed in the hymnody of the Church developed in the Fourth Century AD. Some examples of this expression in the hymnody of the church are:

  • “Rejoice, all-glorious temple of Him Who is above the Seraphim” (Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos)
  • “Rejoice ark made golden by the Spirit” (Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos)

Conclusion:

The New Testament Christians identified the Virgin Mary with the Community of Israel, both the community of the Old Covenant and the community of the New Covenant; and, by extension of the practice of the early Christians, the Fourth Century hymnographers incorporated these images into the hymnody of the Church that is heard today.  The Virgin Mary is venerated in the Church’s hymnody as the Temple and Ark of God, the Mother of God, the New Jerusalem, the Mother of Church.

References:

Irénée Henri Dalmais, Pierre Jounel and Aimé Georges Martimort, The Liturgy and Time, New ed., ed. A. G. Martimort, I. H. Dalmais and P. Jounel (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1986), 91

Notes:  In the Old Testament, Hannah’s son, Samuel is viewed by rabbinical literature as a Hebrew Judge, a priest, and the first of the major prophets who began to prophesy inside the land of Israel.  Politically, Samuel lived between two eras:  the Theocratic era, era of the Judges – and – the Monarchy era, the era of the Kings.  The Judges of the Theocratic era were believed to have been appointed by God as representatives of Him to handle tribal or national situations/ difficulties and to act as military leaders in times of war.  The judges were not elected by the people and they did not assume leadership through heredity. Samuel being a Priest, Judge and Prophet anointed the first two kings of the Kingdom of Israel:  Saul (1 Sam 10:1) and David (1 Sam 16:13).:

Paul Nadim Tarazi, The Old Testament: An Introduction, vol. 1 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991), p.108

Note:  The “horn….” is seen as a symbol of effective strength which can be found in the Old Testament book of Psalms:  Pss. 17(18):1-3; 91(92):10-11; 131(132):17-18.  It’s usage represents a king who would bring salvation.

Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion (South Canaan, Pennsylvania: St Tikhons Seminary Pr, 1998), 285

N. Michael Vaporis and Evie Zachariades-Holmberg, “The Akathist Hymn and Small Compline,” Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/vaporis_akathist (accessed August 15, 2011).

Related blog posts on Jesus Christ’s Geneology:  Women in Jesus’ Geneology  also, Old Testament Priesthood as compared to New Testament Priesthood.

 
Scriptural Passages and Hymnody for this part
New Testament Old Testament Hymnody
1 Corinthians 11, 14

Romans 8:21

1 Peter 2:4-10

Matthew 16:18

1 Peter 2:4-10

Rev. 1:6, 5:9-10, 20:6

John 4:23

Acts 2:42, 2.47

Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55

John 4:1-42

John 4:25-26

John 4:5-42

Revelation 12

Revelation 11:19

 

Acts 7:44

Hebrew 8:1-5, 9:24

Revelation 19:7-8, 21:9-10

Revelation 17:4, 18:16

Luke 1:54

Luke 1:67-69

Galatians 3:27

Galatians 3:26-4:7

2 Peter 1:4

Deuteronomy 4:10, 9:10, 18:16, 23:1-8

Exodus 19:17-18

Deuteronomy 4:12-13

Leviticus 8:3

Numbers 8:9

Joshua 8:30-35

2 Chronicles 20:5-14

1 Kings 8

2 Chronicles 6-7

2 Chronicles 29-30

2 kings 22-23

Nehemiah 8-9

Leviticus 23:16

Exodus 19:6

Isaiah 61:6

 

1 Samuel 2:1-10

1 Samuel 2:1-2

1 Samuel 10:1

1 Samuel 16:13

1 Samuel 1:1-18

1 Samuel 1:11

Deuteronomy 18:15-18

Exodus 25:9, 40, 26:30, 27:8

1 Chronicles 28:19

Song of Solomon 9:8

Song of Solomon 6:4, 10

Jeremiah 2:2

Genesis 37:9

Isaiah 7:14

Psalms:17(18):1-3; 91(92):10-11; 131(132):17-18

Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God.

 

Ninth Ode of Pascha.

 

Hymn of Baptism, “All who are Baptized…”

 

 

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