Veneration of the Virgin Mary, Part 6

This is Part 6 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 6

In the Old Testament Moses was called by God to be the agent in delivering the Hebrew people from the bondage of Egyptian slavery.   In so doing, Moses became a mediator and an intercessor of God’s Old Covenant with His people.   In the New Testament, the Virgin Mary was called by God to be the agent in delivering the Hebrew people from the bondage of sin and death.  In so doing, she became a mediator and intercessor of God’s New Covenant with His people.

The hymnody of the Orthodox Church often entreats the Theotokos to intercede on mankind’s behalf before the Lord for deliverance from harm and evil.  An example of this is the Protection of Christians hymn, Prostasia ton Christianon, that is often heard at the Divine Liturgy: 

”O Protection of Christians that maketh not ashamed, O Mediatrix never-failing with the Creator: Despise not the sinners’ voice of supplication; but in that thou art good, come speedily to the aid of us who faithfully call upon these; make haste to our petition and further our prayer, O Birth-giver of God, who ever protectest them that do thee honour.”[1]

 A Mediator, from a religious standpoint, is one who acts as an intermediary between God and man.  Christ is the perfect Mediator as the Son of God and true Man, because He partakes of both natures.  There is also the important aspect of a mother-son relationship that is highlighted in the hymnody of the Orthodox faith.

A scriptural passage that is frequently heard in Church is in relation to the intercession of the Mother of God, the Assembly of the faithful, and the messianic banquet.  This scriptural passage is from John 2:1-2:11 which records the wedding of Cana where the Mother of God intercedes for the wedding party about the lack of wine for the guests and the miracle of changing the water in to wine becomes Jesus’ first miracle recorded in scripture.

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”.

Obviously, the disciples were invited together with Jesus and His mother to the wedding.  So, one could also say that there was an assembly of the community to witness the first wedding in Jesus’ Ministry.  The timeframe of the wedding of Cana says, “On the third day”…the phrase “the third day” means two days later from the previous timeframe.  An ancient biblical commentator, Theodore of Mopsuestia says that the first day was that of His baptism in which Andrew and his companion (who is believed to be John the author of the Gospel), followed him and then passed the night with him.  The second day relates the events concerning Philip and Nathaniel.  The third day points to the events of this wedding party at Cana.  Immediately after his baptism, Jesus left with his disciples and went to live in Galilee.[2]  St. Cyril of Alexandria said that the wedding was not held in Jerusalem but outside of Judea, as it were, in the country of the Gentiles —“Galilee of the Gentiles”, as the Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesied in IS 9:1.    St. Cyril says that it is obvious that the synagogue of the Jews rejected the Bridegroom from heaven and that the church of the Gentiles (gladly) received Him.[3]  The wedding taking place on the third day also has resurrectional implications showing that the marriage of God and His Church will be fulfilled in Christ’s Resurrection.

As we read in the scripture of the wedding, the wedding feast ran out of wine.  The Cana incident is frequently chosen to illustrate the Theotokos’ intercession.  Based on the scripture itself, the Theotokos takes the initiative and alone mentions the lack of wine and essentially acts as the intermediary between her Son and the bridegroom.

There are many differing opinions among biblical scholars about this, but if you consider her words at the time, they indicate that she knows the family of the bridegroom well enough to take such an initiative over the people serving at the Feast…. she knew the wine ran out and wished to relieve the embarrassment of the family.  Again, this points to a community of believers who are intimately known to each other and looked out for each other’s welfare.  The Theotokos doesn’t ask her Son per se to do anything ….she points it out to Him and then fully expects Him to do whatever He needs to do to correct the situation.  This again reflects the familiarity of the families involved and that Jesus is just as familiar with the family as is Mother is.

 Jesus addresses His mother as “woman” in this Gospel, but this address is not disrespectful of Her.    Jesus would not have been disrespectful of His mother because that, in fact, would be breaking a commandment.  St. John Chrysostom says that when Jesus was 12 years old and Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple teaching the elders (Luke 2.51), Jesus greatly honored his mother and did what she told Him since Luke writes in his Gospel that Jesus was “subject to His parents”.    The venerable Bede says, “The miracle of the water becoming wine is Jesus’ first miracle and it is performed at His Mother’s request which indicates that he honors His mother.   Jesus not only addresses His mother as “woman” in this passage, He uses the term again when she is standing at the foot of the Cross with the disciple John.  Jesus said to John, “Behold thy Mother” and to His mother He said, “Woman behold your Son”.  Other usage of the term woman is of course seen with Eve who is called woman by Adam before the Fall, therefore, it was respectful in its usage relative to Eve.  Eve (which in Greek is Zoe) is the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20).   Mary is the new woman and often referred to by theologians as the new Eve.  She is the Mother of the new humanity restored and deified through the incarnation of the eternal Son, Who is the new Man, the New Adam.

The wedding at Cana is significant in the Gospel of John.    In the Old Testament, marriage feasts were used to symbolize the union of God with His Bride, Israel (Is 54:1-8, Ezk 16:7-14; Hos 2:1-23).   In reviewing Jesus’ lineage, Mt 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38, these genealogical records bear witness to the fact that the chain of the generations of the ancient Israelites was leading to a goal….the coming of Christ, the Messiah … that in the framework of God’s plan for mankind’s history; human fertility was a means for bringing man back to God.   In biblical history, marriage was not only a function determined by society but was also leading to a point when God, “…Who out of the root of Jesse, according to the flesh, produced the Ever-Virgin Mary, and from her were Incarnate – born for the salvation of the human race,[4]”….and do you know where this is all said?….right in the Orthodox wedding service of today.

So reflecting on Old Testament Judiasm, the Isrealites saw the essential meaning and goal of marriage as procreation.  The most obvious and necessary sign of God’s blessing of a Jewish marriage was seen in the continuation of the race…which is why – as we have discussed over the last few weeks – barrenness was such an issue for Sarah, Rebekkah, Rachael, Hannah, and, Elizabeth.    The early Israelites did not have a clear understanding of life after death.  Within their paradigm, God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 22:17-18) implied that life could be perpetuated through progeny, therefore, the central importance was that of childbirth.  Marriage of the early Israelites could be monogamous or polygamous and maintaining concubines was also accepted because it secured the continuation of the race (Gen. 16:1-3).  And, then there was also the obligation for a man to “raise the seed” of a dead brother by marrying his widow (called “Levirate”), and thus securing for the dead brother a partial survival in the children of his wife. There is an interesting story about Tamar and Judah that encompasses this Tradition of the Ancient Israelites (Gen 28:1-20).  Tamar is one of the women listed in Jesus’ Genealogy in the Book of Matthew.

Monogamous marriage, based on eternal love of a husband and a wife for each other, existed rather as an ideal image for the ancient Israelites.  It was implied in the story of creation, in the Song of Solomon and in various prophetic images of the love of God for His people, but it never became a religious norm or requirement for these ancient people.[5]

With the wedding at Cana, the entire idea of marriage changes in the New Testament.  It changes from a witnessed agreement only leading to legal procreation of the human race, to a sacrament which can lead to the Salvation of the souls of the husband and wife.

Through the intercession of the Mother of God at the wedding of Cana, the first miracle that Jesus performs is done at her request to protect the people of God so they may be saved from embarrassment.

The Gospel of the wedding at Cana is read at every Orthodox wedding service.  In an Orthodox wedding, Marriage is a Sacrament of the Church.  As an Orthodox Christian, we are not only a physiological, psychological and social being; we are also a citizen of God’s Kingdom.  As such, all the decisive moments in our life involve God Himself[6] and the wedding of Cana is the first example of God’s involvement in the New Testament where God blesses the decisive moment of the married couple by performing His first miracle at their marriage by changing the water into wine for the couple.  This miracle that was performed by Jesus is significant and the Fathers of the church aligned this miracle with the Holy Eucharist when the simple elements of wine and bread mystically become the Body and Blood of Christ.

As such, for Orthodox Christians, God’s involvement in the lives of humanity is best realized in the Divine Liturgy with the Holy Eucharist as evidenced by the miracle of Jesus at Cana.  When we are baptized, we become a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  The Divine Liturgy begins with the exclamation, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and so does the Sacrament of Marriage at the Service of the Crowning.  This is because in the early centuries, the marriage service took place within the context of the Divine Liturgy,   A Christian author of the second century, Tertullian, writes that marriage “was arranged by the church, confirmed by the Eucharist, sealed by the blessing and inscribed in heaven by the angels”.  Every Christian couple who wanted to be married went through the formalities of civil registration, which gave it validity in secular society; and, then through their joint participation in the regular Sunday liturgy, in the presence of the entire local Christian community, they received the Bishop’s blessing.  It was then that their civil agreement became also “sacrament”, with eternal value, transcending their earthly lives because it was also “inscribed in heaven”, and not only in a secular “registry”.  It became an eternal union in Christ.  Earlier, around 100 AD, the same procedure is implied in a letter of the famous bishop-martyr Ignatius of Antioch, “Those who get married must have unity with the knowledge of the bishop, so that marriage may be according to the Lord, and not by human desire”.[7]

We learn from Ephesians 3 that the Church itself – a mysterious union of God with His people – is the Sacrament, the Mystery of salvation.  When man is incorporated into this union through Baptism, this is a “sacrament” for the Mystery of salvation as applied to the individual person.  But we are told by the church fathers that all individual sacraments are completed in the Eucharist.  Actually, the Eucharist is itself a wedding feast, so often mentioned in the Gospels.  Cabasilas writes, “This (the Holy Eucharist) is the most-praised wedding, to which the Bridegroom leads the Church as a Virgin bride…when we become flesh of His flesh and bones of His bones”.  In the early Christian Church, Baptisms, Ordinations to the diaconate and the priesthood and the episcopate and also a marriage and all took place within the Liturgy.

In the fourth century a specific solemnization of the sacrament is mentioned by Eastern Christian writers, the rite of “crowning” performed during the Eucharistic Liturgy.

In the ninth century, marriage was separated from the Eucharistic Liturgy.  The process at that point for a couple was to enter into a civil marriage, then the Christian couple took the Eucharist and this communion was, according to Tertullian, the seal of marriage.

Over the centuries various changes occurred to the process of the sacrament of marriage, but within all the changes, however, within its canonical and practical tradition, the Church also remembered the fact that the Eucharist is the true “seal” of marriage as it was foreshadowed in the miracle of the wedding at Cana.

It should be noted that the wedding at Cana happened after Jesus’ baptism and the assembly of the wedding party could be seen as the first public gathering of God’s people as He begins His ministry on earth.  It is a type of Liturgy.  It had the 4 elements of a gathering of the people of God as the ancient Israelites assemblies did (refer to Lesson 4):

1) The Gathering was called either by God or in His Name

2) God is present in their midst

3) God spoke His word

4)  The covenant sacrifice which was a miracle bestowed by Him through His compassion for His people (at His mother’s request) to save the wedding party embarrassment by performing His first miracle of changing the water into wine – a foreshadowing of the Holy Eucharist.

In the Liturgy today, the Church, being concretely a gathering of the people, a gathering of the Community of God, becomes the Church of God.  Then Christ Himself leads the assembly, and the assembly is transformed into His body through the Holy Eucharist.[8]  With this reality in our religious life, the true meaning of marriage as a sacrament becomes understandable in the framework of the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy.[9]

Let’s look at how the Fathers of the Church during the first 1000 years after Pentecost perceived the Theotokos as an intercessor.

St. Irenaeus writes in his paper Against Heresies[10], “For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.” – He viewed the Virgin Mary as the advocate of the Virgin Eve.

St. Cyril of Alexandria who was a dominant figure at the Council of Ephesus, related the mediation of the Virgin to her office as Mother of God and her relationship with the Most Holy Trinity, when he wrote in his Homily IV, “…Mary Theotokos…It is through thee that the Holy Trinity is glorified and adored; through thee, the precious Cross is venerated and adored through the whole whole; through thee that heaven is in gladness, that angels and archangels rejoice, and that demons are put to flight; through thee that the tempter, the devil, is cast down from heaven; through thee that the fallen creature is raised up to heaven; through thee that all creation, once imprisoned in idolatry, has reached knowledge of the truth, that the faithful obtain baptism and the oil of joy, churches have been founded in the whole world, and that people are led to conversion.”.  …..”…(it is through thee) the Apostles announced salvation to the nations, and the dead are raised…”

In the 6th century, St. Romanos the Melodist constructed a Hymn on the Nativity, that also sets the doctrine of Mary’s mediation in a distinctive relationship to Adam and Eve which is a theme that is also brought out in every Sunday Matins service in the Evlogitaria, “O Virgin, you have given birth to the Giver of life; you have delivered Adam from sin, and to Eve you have brought joy in place of sorrow.  He who took flesh from you, who is both God and man, has raised up those who had fallen from life”.[11]

In the 8th century, St. Andrew of Crete called her, “Mediatress of the law and grace,”…”She is the mediation between the sublimity of God and the abjection of the flesh, and becomes the Mother of her Maker.”

In Rev. 22:16, Jesus says, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”  The ancient biblical scholar Oecumenius comments that “the root” and “the Offspring” of David are written in scripture for a reason.  Jesus is the “root” and cause of all things, in that He is and is known to be God.  Being the “root” of all things includes King David and ultimately the Virgin Mary who was the beauty and excellency of all of the generations of Israel and who could respond to God on behalf of His people and “yes” to do His Will and bring Salvation to His people.   So…Jesus is not only from the beginning…the “root” – He is also the Offspring of David through the Virgin Mary.

The Orthodox Faith venerates the Mother of God utilizing Old Testament prefiguring images of her in the hymnody of the Church to teach the faithful about God’s Divine Plan for the Redemption of His People through her.   She is worthy of veneration because she is the beauty and Excellency of all of the generations of Israel who in the fullness of time prepared herself so she could receive her own Salvation while accepting to bring salvation of all mankind into the world through the Incarnation of God.   She is the Mother of God, the New Jerusalem, the Church, the Mother of all Christians, the Protection of Christians, and the Mediatress of Christians before the throne of Her Son.

[1]Isabell Florence Hapgood, Service Gook of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, (Englewood, New Jersey, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America) 1996, 125

[2] Joel C. Elowsky, ed., Thomas C. Oden, Gen Ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament IVA, John 1-10, 89

[3] Joel C. Elowsky and Thomas C. Oden, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament IVA John 1-10 (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 88-89

[4] Orthodox Prayer book, trans. holzhausen & Gelsinger, ed. NMVaporis, Holy Cross Orthodox Press.

[5]John Meyendorff, Marriage: an Orthodox Perspective, 2d expanded ed. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2000),13

[6] John Meyendorff, Marriage: an Orthodox Perspective, 2d expanded ed. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2000), 10

[7] John Meyendorff, Marriage: an Orthodox Perspective, 2d expanded ed. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2000), 22

[8] John Meyendorff, Marriage: an Orthodox Perspective, 2d expanded ed. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2000), 10

[9] John Meyendorff, Marriage: an Orthodox Perspective, 2d expanded ed. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2000), 10

[10] Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies,  Book VI, Ante-Nicene Fathers, The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D.326 Vol. 1., Rev. Alexander Roberts, DD and James Donaldson, etd. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm B. Eerdmans Publ Co., 1987; repr), ch. 19 (1), 547

[11] translated by N. Michael Vaporis, The Service of the Sunday Orthros (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1991), 36-37

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
Revelation 12

John 2:1-2:11

Luke 2:51

Matthew 1:1-16

Luke 3:23-38

Revelation 22:16

Isaiah 9:1

Genesis 3:20

Isaiah 54:1-8

Ezekiel 16:7-14

Hosea 2:1-23

Genesis 22:17-18

Genesis 16:1-3

Genesis 28:1-20

Selected Hymns from Divine Liturgy

 

Excerpts from Sunday Matins.