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Author Topic: St. Mary the Virgin and Converts (from last week's chat)  (Read 2532 times) Average Rating: 0
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Ebor
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« on: July 03, 2003, 05:01:21 PM »

Last week, I was in the Chat with Bobby and TonyS iirc.  Bobby wrote about being puzzled that some converts to EO "slam" St. Mary.  I didn't have a chance to ask him what this was about before we all logged.  

Bobby, could elaborate please?

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« Reply #1 on: July 03, 2003, 05:46:31 PM »

SOME converts who evangical protestant backgrounds carry over their same attitudes towards the Mother of our God that they had prior to conversion.  Coming from RCism I had trouble exactly understanding the role of the Mother of God in Orthodoxy.  In the end she is honored more in Orthodoxy (especially liturgically where she has sort have vanished in the West).  The Latins try to honor her by the making up of new dogmas (i.e the Immaculate Conception) which the Orthodox reject.  I think this confusion...i.e. rejecting some of the Catholic veneration of Mary, leads many to think the Theotokos is not honored as much as Catholics do.  This thinking then leads SOME  (and I think very few) to treat her in a more evangical protestant manner than Orthodox manner.  St. John of San Fransisco wrote a good (and fairly short) book on the topic that helped me sort things out.  All I can truly say with any authority on the topic is that I have never heard anything so beautiful as when the monks of Saint Anthony's chant the "Axion Estin" which goes so in English:
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It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, the ever blessed and all immaculate Mother of our God.  More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, thee who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, thee do we magnify."
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Robert
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« Reply #2 on: July 03, 2003, 05:59:28 PM »

Nektarios hit it on the head.

I won't repeat what he wrote, but SOME converts don't seem to understand the role that the Mother of God plays in the life of all Christians, how crucial she is, and how she truly is OUR mother as well.

Granted, it takes time, especially for someone who came from a background which didn't honor the Theotokos as the Mother of God to adjust and really see the important part she plays.

Our Lady of the Sign is one of the most awe inspiring icons for me, as it shows the importance of the Theotokos and how necessary she is for all. She is the hope for all Christians.

Bobby
« Last Edit: July 03, 2003, 05:59:45 PM by Bobby » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: July 03, 2003, 07:25:38 PM »


This is a curious thread for me, as a convert from Protestantism, because I have found the opposite to be true.

I find myself placing a great deal of emphasis on the Blessed Ever-Virgin Mother of God. I take great joy in defending her whenever and wherever possible, and I find it liberating to be able to address petitions for prayer to her.

I have observed this same tendency in other converts from Protestantism. It's like we are making up for lost time!

I will admit that in the process of my conversion veneration for the Mother of God and the saints was one of the most difficult hurdles to get over; but once I understood and accepted it there has been no looking back.

If anything I think we converts go to great lengths to be as unProtestant as possible. In fact, sometimes we can be silly about it, and it takes a little time to settle down.

Like one of my RC aunts said to my Dad when she found out I had become Orthodox: "He's more Catholic than the Pope!"

Amen, Auntie!  Grin
« Last Edit: July 03, 2003, 07:29:55 PM by Linus7 » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2003, 08:36:55 PM »

When I converted to Catholicism, it was the veneration of the Mother of God (specifically the Rosary) that made me sure it was the right thing. I too find myself venerating her a lot like Linus because as a protestant she was pushed into the back, despite the Magnificat in Luke 1 and the Wedding Feast at Cana, among other scenes in the Gospel that show her to be more than an ordinary mother.

As for a favorite veneration of Mary, I like the Akathist hymn the most, because it shows her to truly be the Mother of God and the champion defender of all Christians. It is a beautiful battle hymn for the woman who is considered to be the Ark of the Covenant. If you get a chance, go to the Greek Orthodox website and listen to the Real Audio of it: http://www.goarch.org/en/chapel/learntochant/akathist.asp

« Last Edit: July 03, 2003, 10:17:06 PM by Frobisher » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: July 04, 2003, 01:52:37 AM »

Like one of my RC aunts said to my Dad when she found out I had become Orthodox: "He's more Catholic than the Pope!"

Amen, Auntie!  Grin

Funny coincidence, Linus!  Some of my RC relatives say the same thing about all of us who are their Orthodox relatives, i.e., that we're more Catholic than they are!  Shocked  Go figure!

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« Reply #6 on: July 04, 2003, 02:31:49 AM »

As a Catholic, I was uncomfortable with the teaching about Mary, because her role seemed separated from that of Christ.  When I embraced Orthodoxy, I found, much to my delight, a view of the Mother of God that placed her in absolute dependence on her Son's Divinity.  I can't think of one Orthodox icon of the Theotokos where her Son is not also portrayed.  Compare that with Roman Catholic statues showing her alone most of the time.
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« Reply #7 on: July 04, 2003, 11:05:11 AM »

I agree that there is evidence some converts to the Christian East retain some residual Protestant prejudice against Marian devotion. I've never seen it in person but one example I can think of is the Orthodox Study Bible, which in its suggested daily prayers has no Marian prayers, IIRC.

Western or Eastern, true devotion to Mary (to cop an expression from Tridentine Catholicism) is grounded in the Church and always points to Christ, not to Mary as an end in herself.

And I think just about everybody here, including the Anglicans, can agree on the basic statement on Mary I describe on my Orthodox Tradition page (under the heading 'There's Something about Mary' - I thought it was cute). Namely, the teaching of the Council of Ephesus that she is the Mother of God.

My take on the Immaculate Conception can be read here (scroll down). I've skimmed the Maximovich (forward by Rose) book and found it a little lacking - the IC isn't part of Byzantine theology but to ridicule it while demanding one believe in pious legends not necessary to salvation seems pretty hypocritical. The IC isn't part of the Byzantine theological picture but the rite does call her 'immaculate'.

Don't get me wrong - such legends can be believed in (they might be true) and can be wonderful things.

My take in general on personal devotion to any saint is that one must accept that such devotion is acceptable, thanks to belief in the communion of saints, but at the same time one isn't required to practise it (except perhaps by default at Divine Liturgy if you're Byzantine Rite). Simply talking to God is just fine and always an option.

Eastern Orthodoxy rightly understood does keep Marian piety in a wonderful proportion to the rest of the faith (Trinity, Eucharist, episcopacy, etc.).

I can symbolically imagine caricature Roman Catholicism, including the Novus Ordo conservative kind, as one big, exaggerated picture or statue of the Pope on one side, in front, and one equally distorted image of Mary (probably standing alone without Christ) on the other side - in a mean little ’50s A-frame church that except for these grotesque distorted images might as well be Methodist. (A setting for a charismatic guitar Mass.) The things I see as central, like the things I named in the paragraph above plus old-fashioned liturgical worship, usually don't matter to such people.

While rarer than in Western Catholicism, there are images of Our Lady by herself that are venerated by the Eastern Orthodox. There is the icon that St Seraphim of Sarov died in front of. Our Lady, Joy of All Who Sorrow is often shown without Christ in her arms - she resembes Our Lady of Grace (the Miraculous Medal image) or Our Lady of Fatima. There's Our Lady of Vilna (also called Our Lady of Ostrabrama), who is venerated by Lithuanians, Poles and Russians alike. And there's Our Lady of the Seven Swords, also called 'Softener of Evil Hearts', which is a Russian copy of the Polish devotion to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows - she too is depicted alone.

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As for a favorite veneration of Mary, I like the Akathist hymn the most

It's a winner. I use it.

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Funny coincidence, Linus!  Some of my RC relatives say the same thing about all of us who are their Orthodox relatives, i.e., that we're more Catholic than they are!

I describe this ironic feeling in my blog entry for May 16, 'What I believe'.
« Last Edit: July 07, 2003, 10:26:42 AM by Serge » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: July 07, 2003, 09:34:22 AM »

I can't think of one Orthodox icon of the Theotokos where her Son is not also portrayed.  Compare that with Roman Catholic statues showing her alone most of the time.

Such icons exist, but they are meant to be placed to the left side of an icon of Christ (since she is on His right, and Prodromos is on His left). She is depicted facing towards her left with her hands raised, directing our gaze to her left, to Christ our Lord and Saviour.

John.
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« Reply #9 on: July 07, 2003, 10:18:31 AM »

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I can't think of one Orthodox icon of the Theotokos where her Son is not also portrayed.  Compare that with Roman Catholic statues showing her alone most of the time.

-- This is interesting (and true). Also consider the devotion given to Saint Joseph the Betrothed by Catholics, while the Orthodox always downplay him--not because of a lack of sanctity--but because the focus is to be on someone other than him (which is what he would have wanted, being humble and righteous). An Antiochian Deacon friend of mine (an ex-Catholic priest) makes a good point, though, in saying that it's unfortunate that Saint Joseph has seemed to have been forgotten to some extent in Orthodoxy. He's suppose to be in the background... but in the background working miracles and providing a saintly example of humility and sanctity!

-- Speaking of not giving certain biblical figures their due, I sometimes think we slight the other biblical figures for what seem to us more exotic (= less familiar) saints. I suppose what really got this ball rolling in my mind was when I was reading Saint John Chrysostom yesterday (Fifth book of his Treatise on the Priesthood), where he was talking about Saint Paul. He venerates him to such a degree that I found myself embarrassed at how casually I had sometimes been reading St. Paul's writings. To heal someone with a hankerchief? To have such love and boldness before God that you could ask to go to hell in place of the Jewish people Paul was ministering to? St. John said that Paul could work miracles and accomplish things then, by himself, that ten pious men praying and lamenting and such couldn't do now (ie. in his time). And there are, of course, other biblical figures just as amazing (the wonders of Elijah and Peter, the patience of Job, the asceticism of James, etc.) Yet, how many people have an icon of Peter or Paul or James, much less Elijah or Job? Not counting people who are named one of the five above names (and not counting people who attend a Church called "Sts. Peter and Paul," I bet the answer is very few. It's not that St. Nektarios and St. Justin Martyr and St. Justin Popovich and St. John of San Francisco and St. John Chrysostom, and St. George and so forth should be slighted: I'm not calling for a decrease in devotion (veneration, if you like) to these saints. Yet, are we not slighting many of the biblical figures?

(I am normally one who fights against this notion of "convert disease" and "converts having things wrong just because their converts and not cradle," but...) Perhaps in this, we converts from Protestantism have an especially tough time. We've most likely studied the Scripture pretty heavily; perhaps we didn't understand it since we weren't looking at it properly, but we are at least very familiar with it's contents: the names, the stories, the terminology. And now we've embraced something we fancy to be "mystical". Mysterious. Even esoteric. And so, somehow, for some reason, Paul healing someone with a hankerchief has become a commonplace miracle in our mind; Peter healing people just by his shadow touching them is ordinary; Job losing everything--family, friends, possessions--and coming through on the other side of the trial committed to God, it's nothing more than a "good example". If St. John of San Francisco did any of this, we'd praise him to high heaven for it, and we wouldn't stop praising him (and rightly so). But why, then, do we forget those who actually did do these things? How can we Orthodox (sometimes) attack the Catholics for venerating Joseph too much, or the Theotokos wrongly, or the Old Testament saints not at all, when we Orthodox ignore our own saints. (and I've said nothing of how we westerners usually focus on a few saints and ignore most of them: e.g., of the dozens of saints around during 4th-6th century Gaul/France, how many can we name? Can we name any Cappadocian Saints other than the "big 3"? Any Syrian ones other than those who have "of Syria" attached to their names?) Please don't misunderstand! I'm not trying to judge here, I'm trying to motivate (myself, mostly). It's not hard to learn about the saints, just read about the saints for today (and do more than just the "main ones"), and do tomorrow's tomorrow. Maybe read the Prologue, and then move on to a different collection.

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« Reply #10 on: July 07, 2003, 01:02:35 PM »

Paradosis,

Very, very well stated. I agree with all points.

Bobby
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« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2003, 08:15:05 PM »

:And there's Our Lady of the Seven Swords, also called 'Softener of Evil Hearts', which is a Russian copy of the Polish devotion to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows - she too is depicted alone.:

"One instant in the still light
He saw Our Lady stand;
Her eyes were sad withouten art
And seven swords were in her heart,
But one was in her hand."

Not too relevant, but I can't resist a quote from the Ballad of the White Horse. And no doubt you all count King Alfred as Orthodox, right?

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« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2003, 11:13:48 AM »

Thanks to Frobisher for the link to the audio files for the Akathist.  Magnificent!  When I was finished listening to them, I had to put in Rachmaninov's Divine Liturgy.  Just couldn't go back to "normal" audio files.

As appears true of the former Protestant replies so far, I have found the Theotokos to be the perfect bridge from a Protestant-style rational study of Orthodoxy (trying to understand and accept the arguments for various Orthodox doctrines: not the least of which was asking the intercessions of Our Lady), to a (I hope) more Orthodox and Catholic engagement of Orthodoxy through prayer.  I quite literally began my prayers to Mary--aside from some intermittent rosaries here and there--with the Akathist hymn.

I, too, now find myself more and more compelled to speak of Mary, and to defend her.  She is part, with other saints, of my daily prayers.  And I engage her as an advocate for my wife and our forthcoming baby (7 Aug.--during the Marian fast, no less!).
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« Reply #13 on: July 08, 2003, 12:36:51 PM »

CDHealy,

Very true. I always enjoy hearing stories about people coming from Protestantism and eventually seeing the Theotokos as the "bridge" to Christ. It is very touching.

Bobby

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« Reply #14 on: July 08, 2003, 10:33:34 PM »

I have to admit that when I first started attending an Orthodox church, I had a little trouble saying prayers and asking for her intercession.  I guess it was all the anti-catholicism that I was used to.  Anyway, I soon got used to her veneration and now it makes perfect sense to me.  In fact, I can get quite upset with Protestants on other boards I post on that make fun of veneration and put her down by saying it was no big deal what she did (especially when they argue that she had other children with Joseph after giving birth to Christ).  I always explain that we owe the Theotokos a huge debt.  She didn't have to agree to conceive, carry, and bear Christ.  She had the freedom to say no, and who could have blamed her.  I can't imagine what it must have been like for a woman to be pregnant before marriage.
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« Reply #15 on: July 08, 2003, 11:31:49 PM »

I had to go out somewhere with my nephew, so I didn't get to finish this.  Thinking how many generations it must have taken to get a woman as pure as the Theotokos (so that He could have the purest human nature it was possible to have), what would have happened if Mary had said no?  What would God's "Plan B" have been?

Four years ago, I would have been just like the Protestants on these boards that I'm talking about.  Now, I get upset on her behalf when people make fun of her and criticize her veneration.  She deserves our veneration.  She not only made it possible for the Son to be incarnate, she is a mother to all of us and intercedes for us constantly.  She is the epitome of the holiness that a "mere" human being can ever attain.  You can imagine how upset I got one time when a Protestant posted in the Orthodox section of one of the boards I go on called her a "pagan goddess".  It not only made me angry on her behalf, but also on God's behalf.  What would it say about God if He would choose a pagan goddess to bring Christ into the world.   Christ's mother gave Him His human nature.
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