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lkritchey
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« on: November 27, 2009, 02:10:32 AM »

One of the hardest things for me as a convert has been dealing with the theology of the Theotokos.  I believe strongly that the Theotokos is the Mother of God.  I believe it is right and good for us to ask her to pray to her Son to help us.  I believe that we should venerate and honor her.  And I accept the Church's teachings of her perpetual virginity, and of other beliefs we are taught.  I rarely have issues with the liturgical hymns, save for a few choice hymns about the Theotokos, such as the one mentioned in the title of this post.  In fact, I feel comfortable with this because of just getting to the point of asking her to pray for my grandpa...which ended up turning out okay.

Nonetheless, the hymn, O Virgin Pure, seems to go beyond human reverance and honor - to more of a type of worship / requests that I thought should be made to God alone.  I truly want to understand this - so please don't think I'm trying to rebel against the beliefs of the Orthodox Church.  I accept the teachings of the Church - but I always have a difficult time singing this hymn, and would like to get beyond this stumbling block.  Below is the verse that I have the hardest time singing and understanding.

I supplicate you, Lady/ now do I call upon you
And I beseech you, Queen of all/ I beg of you your favor
Majestic maiden, spotless one/ O Lady Panagia
I call upon you fervently/ O sacred, hallowed temple
Assist me and deliver me/ protect me from the enemy
And make me an inheritor/ of blessed life eternal.
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!


The entire hymn seems to be a huge amount of honor and veneration and even worship beyond where I thought any human...no matter how perfect and pure and important...should receive.  Individually, most of the lines of the hymn can be broken down (in my mind) to the point where they are acceptable.  However, the last verse I have posted seems to have several lines that I have a very hard time reconciling.  For example, it sounds like we are asking her to do the things listed...not having her pray and ask her Son to do them.  "Assist me and deliver me"..."Protect me from my enemy..." and most importantly "And make me an inheritor of blessed life eternal."  We believe that salvation is given from God...that we aren't given eternal live by a human, right?  Why does this hymn (and several others) seem to assign that role of redemption and salvation to the Theotokos as opposed to God? 

I asked my boyfriend's mother about this (they all are cradle Orthodox), and she said that she and others know that it is truly right to say these things because they have experienced the Theotokos coming to their aid.  That she had a vision of the Theotokos comforting her...that others have had the Theotokos do things to help them...and that they have seen her do that.  Which to me also rubs me the wrong way...since shouldn't it be God doing those things?  If I understand it correctly, the roles of the Saints and the Theotokos are of honor, veneration, and requesting prayers from them in the same sense of an intercessor. 

I truly do want to understand this...I don't want to have this sticking point.  And I accept the teachings of the Orthodox Church...and I wont' let this keep me from trusting the teachings of the Orthodox Church...but I would like to understand it more if I can.

Thank you for your help!
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« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2009, 02:20:37 AM »

This thread may help:

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,23495.0.html
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« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2009, 02:34:54 AM »

Thanks Salpy....a lot of the responses in there are similar to how I came to accept the phrase Most Holy Theotokos, Save us.  And maybe it is the same thing...but this seems to just cross the line of the meaning of Most Holy Theotokos, Save us, into the realm of Co-Redemptrix.  It seems to me (like Ortho_Cat said in the other thread) that there is a fine line between what is "meet and right" in worshiping and honoring the Theotokos and what is beyond the realm of what we should be giving her / crediting her.  How do we determine where that line is?  How do we make sure we don't go beyond the Orthodox theological beliefs and move into the realm of Catholicism Marian beliefs?  Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us has a very clear explanation.  It's just a little more fuzzy, imo, with hymns like this.  While Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us refers to her role / participation in the salvation that Christ has given us...this seems to (maybe incorrectly interpreted on my part) to take that statement and move beyond her participation in what Christ did - to her doing that instead.  I read through the thread...but I'll go back and look at it more carefully.
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« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2009, 02:40:19 AM »

To clarify...I think the crux of the matter is where is the point that we focus more on the roles of others in 'saving' us (through prayer, etc) more than we focus on the bestower of salvation, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  I accept and understand that we all have a part of the salvation of others, in the context mentioned in the Bible and taught be the Church Fathers...especially the Early ones.  I accept and understand the Theotokos had a very important role in this.  But the hymn doesn't say anything...at least directly...about God.
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« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2009, 02:48:52 AM »

Thanks Salpy....a lot of the responses in there are similar to how I came to accept the phrase Most Holy Theotokos, Save us.  And maybe it is the same thing...but this seems to just cross the line of the meaning of Most Holy Theotokos, Save us, into the realm of Co-Redemptrix.  It seems to me (like Ortho_Cat said in the other thread) that there is a fine line between what is "meet and right" in worshiping and honoring the Theotokos and what is beyond the realm of what we should be giving her / crediting her.  How do we determine where that line is?  How do we make sure we don't go beyond the Orthodox theological beliefs and move into the realm of Catholicism Marian beliefs?

The Catholic Church teaches a different version of how the Theotokos reposed than the Orthodox Church.  I know them and I won't list them in the interest of avoiding strife.   Cheesy

Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us has a very clear explanation.  It's just a little more fuzzy, imo, with hymns like this.  While Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us refers to her role / participation in the salvation that Christ has given us...this seems to (maybe incorrectly interpreted on my part) to take that statement and move beyond her participation in what Christ did - to her doing that instead.  I read through the thread...but I'll go back and look at it more carefully.

The Theotokos intercedes with Christ on our behalf.  The Orthodox venerate the Theotokos like any Saint except that the Theotokos is "special" in that she bore the incarnate Son of God / "Burning Bush" without experiencing death.  There is a lot of symbology in understanding the Theotokos; however, you will never cross the line into Marian beliefs as long as you know the differences between how Catholics view the Theotokos and how Orthodox view the Theotokos.  There are tons of threads related to the Theotokos on this forum.  Have fun!   Wink
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« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2009, 02:56:28 AM »

Most people,  I would say, do not ask themselves such questions.
Perhaps by living long enough in the Church one can let go of lingering Protestant sensibilities to the point of no longer caring about these things.
But what do I know?
Anyhow, this paraliturgical hymn does not say anything not already found in the liturgical hymns, be it at Vespers, Matins or occasional services such as the Akathist or the Parakleisis.
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« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2009, 03:09:10 AM »

Augustin717 - Very true  Smiley I guess it's just 'overdose' for a recently former Protestant....tons of things about the Theotokos packed into one hymn.  Individually, it's a lot easier to accept it...I guess it just is harder when there is so much at one point. 
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« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2009, 06:52:18 PM »

One of the hardest things for me as a convert has been dealing with the theology of the Theotokos. 

You and me both. This and toll-houses are really the only issues that I am struggling with on my journey towards Orthodoxy.
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« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2009, 02:18:12 AM »

One of the hardest things for me as a convert has been dealing with the theology of the Theotokos. 

You and me both. This (A) and toll-houses (B) are really the only issues that I am struggling with on my journey towards Orthodoxy.
A). Even though the words may sound strong to you, if you know what you actually mean rather than what you think it sounds like you mean, then practice makes perfect. It gets easier with time and practice to accept, and she really does take your prayers and intercede for you to our Lord.
B). Belief in toll-houses is not dogma.
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« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2009, 02:56:25 AM »

I still struggle somewhat searching for this "line" or whatever, but you really aren't going to find it.  The thing that has helped me the most is remembering the role of theosis in all of this.  The very goal of salvation is to make us gods.  Salvation is restoring the divine image within us, and taking it to deeper levels than our ancestors ever knew.

Not only the Theotokos, but all of the saints are able to act directly in our lives and respond to our requests.  We can ask them to help us in the same way that we ask God for help, because any power they have, they receive from God.  Think of the halos (nimbi) which are depicted around the heads of the saints.  They represent their inner illumination, the very light radiating from their minds.  They have been deified, but only by moving eternally closer to the source of that light: Jesus Christ the Lord.  When we call upon them for their aid by their prayers and direct actions, anything accomplished is done by God's energy and power surging from them.

Does this help at all?
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« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2009, 05:07:17 AM »

This is my ultimate fear; that I will end up losing my focus on Christ and look towards his saints for help more than I do Him.
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« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2009, 05:35:17 AM »

This is my ultimate fear; that I will end up losing my focus on Christ and look towards his saints for help more than I do Him.
The Saints don't compete with Christ. They are all pointing to Him, each in their unique way.
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« Reply #12 on: November 28, 2009, 01:01:45 PM »

Alveus - That does help...at least with showing me a thought process to examine further.  I think it would help for me to understand Theosis more.  I accept the teaching, but when I was a catechumen, I had so many other issues to work out that Fr Tim suggested that the details of Theosis be sort of on the back burner.  I think I'm at the point though that it would be beneficial to learn more.  Do you know of any good resources that are easy to start out with?  I'd love to get into more detailed books as well, but I think it would be good to start out with an overview.  I'll write more about other responses in a bit.  Thank you everyone!  This is helping me...
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« Reply #13 on: November 28, 2009, 03:13:25 PM »

This is my ultimate fear; that I will end up losing my focus on Christ and look towards his saints for help more than I do Him.

What the saints have become shows us exactly why Christ came.  The chrism you receive when you enter the Church makes you an anointed one (christos) as well.  We are heirs to his promise, and called to do things even greater than he did when he was among us.  God is glorified in his saints, and when we turn our attention to them, we turn our attention to the Christ-reality being made manifest: the very purpose of the Incarnation.
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« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2009, 10:00:57 PM »

Have you read Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God by
St. John Maximovitch (author) and Seraphim Rose (translator)?  I think it might assist with  your questions.

They have this book for >$5.00 on that online shopping site that starts with the letter "A" and has earth's biggest selection of books. 
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« Reply #15 on: November 29, 2009, 11:43:19 PM »

Just ordered the book  Smiley Looking forward to reading it!
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« Reply #16 on: December 26, 2009, 09:26:18 PM »

I used to have a problem with this as well but from a different perspective. I think ultimately it's an issue of semantics. I remember having a problem with someone saying, "Trust in Mary, she will you help you" because it made it sound like she is the one causing the help. But this "trust" is really trust in her intercession. So as long as you have the proper understanding of these things, I don't think it's wrong to say, 'Mary I call upon thee..." etc.

God bless
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« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2010, 12:39:36 AM »

This is my ultimate fear; that I will end up losing my focus on Christ and look towards his saints for help more than I do Him.

I wondered about this too when I was reading the life of St. Seraphim, but I noticed all this stuff about Mary did not give him pause, indeed he considered it very helpful, and the bare fact is his life in Christ visited heights and depths that are still beyond my fathoming.  Given what he knew of intimacy with Christ it seemed and seems his testimony and that of others on this point is trustworthy.  

The thing is, I think, is that we must remember how very deeply incarnational Christ and the Church are.  Christ works through His Saints.  Theologically the Theotokos is the God-bearer. Her purity of faith and prayer opened the way for God to be incarnate among us.  She was the new Eve, the one whom all the salvic history of the Jews was pointed towards...the living ark set apart to bear the bread of life, the living Law of God within, and from whom He would come forth to save His people.  This is why we cry to her to open the doors of repentance.  She was the first to believe and receive Christ, the very first Christian...all other Christians are added to her in Christ. Her prayers are especially helpful in making our hearts ready to receive Christ and stay pure for Him, a fit dwelling for His Spirit.  Her incarnational role in the Church is to make us like her in faith so that Christ may be formed in us and that we may come to the fullness of the measure of His stature.  She does through prayer for us all what was once accomplished in her body for us all.  

It is also well to remember that she is not just a departed soul living with God; according to the Tradition Christ raised her. She is not disembodied, but after Christ lives as the fruit of the Resurrection. What things are opened to Her are those things that belong to the age to come when all are resurrected. So we should not stagger at the profoundness of the veneration shown her.  Examine the whole of the liturgical life of the Church and you will see despite some occasional concentrations of veneration and loving acclaim, there are carefully observed boundaries with respect to her.  Like her icon on the Iconostasis, in the Church she presents Christ to us, a throne for Him as it were, but does not present herself.  We do not see her absent Christ. Christ however reveals her to us "behold your mother". His body is not sundered from itself, and each of us contributes to the salvation of each other and are joined to each other by bonds and joints of the Spirit. The bonds and joints related to the Theotokos and the rest of the Body of Christ are just more clearly known than that of other saints and faithful.
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« Reply #18 on: January 02, 2010, 01:08:52 AM »

It is also well to remember that she is not just a departed soul living with God; according to the Tradition Christ raised her. She is not disembodied, but after Christ lives as the fruit of the Resurrection. What things are opened to Her are those things that belong to the age to come when all are resurrected. So we should not stagger at the profoundness of the veneration shown her.

It's things like this that really make me think that Church tradition might as well be de facto dogma.  We don't "have" to believe in the bodily resurrection of the Mother of God, it's just a resounding teaching of the Church's liturgical deposit.  Roll Eyes  It might as well be dogmatized along with her presentation at the temple and all that accompanies it.  At least that way converts know what they are getting themselves into.
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« Reply #19 on: January 02, 2010, 01:48:13 AM »

Orthodox doctrine/dogma only encompasses those things that are necessary for our salvation and essential to our understanding of Christ.
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« Reply #20 on: January 02, 2010, 01:51:54 AM »

Orthodox doctrine/dogma only encompasses those things that are necessary for our salvation and essential to our understanding of Christ.

And submitting to the traditions and the apostolic authority of the Church through all of her liturgical deposit and hymnography aren't essential to our salvation?  Isn't submission to the Church's teachings an essential component of our salvation?  If not, then why aren't we all Protestants?

The assumption is that after you join the Church, you will gradually come to accept and believe these things.  If a large enough contingent in the Church started to openly challenge such teachings surrounding the Mother of God, a council would be called and dogmas would be established.  That's why the Roman Catholics ended up dogmatizing the Assumption of the Mother of God: too many challenges from within because of Protestant influence.

Don't things like this only become clearly defined and made dogmatic when they are challenged from within?  Certainly at this point the Church would have sufficient ammunition to refer back to such legends' illustrious histories and longstanding places of belief among the many saints of God.
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« Reply #21 on: January 02, 2010, 01:58:07 AM »

If a large enough contingent in the Church started to openly challenge such teachings surrounding the Mother of God, a council would be called and dogmas would be established. 


I wouldn't hold my breath on that! Cheesy
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« Reply #22 on: January 02, 2010, 02:00:50 AM »

I wouldn't hold my breath on that! Cheesy

Fair enough.  But keep the lid on that can of worms, because do we really want to dwell on the Orthodox Church's inability to effectively communally manage itself?
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« Reply #23 on: January 02, 2010, 02:05:43 AM »

I wouldn't hold my breath on that! Cheesy

Fair enough.  But keep the lid on that can of worms, because do we really want to dwell on the Orthodox Church's inability to effectively communally manage itself?
Since it has managed to stay together for more a couple of millennia , the situation must be less grim than you think.
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« Reply #24 on: January 02, 2010, 02:09:05 AM »

Since it has managed to stay together for more a couple of millennia , the situation must be less grim than you think.

I agree with your sentiments, and I certainly don't think the Church's condition "grim."  But the lack of ability to respond to these sort of things might be a weakness.  Then again, maybe not.  The likely thing is that no councils need to be called.
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« Reply #25 on: January 02, 2010, 03:08:39 AM »

It doesn't seem to me the Church lacks the ability to respond. Rather it seems to me something must be pretty high profile before the Church feels the need to respond.  Given our hymns and icons the belief that Christ raised up the Theotokos strikes me as pretty well established, but I'm not convinced it is a matter or should be a matter of dogma.

Our ultimate salvation is not predicated on Mary's reward, but on Christ's gift. Granted it may injure potential growth in Christ to doubt or worse to deny such things, but being stunted is not a damning condition, lamentable though it may be. Further, I'm not aware of any particular doctrine or dogma that is dependent of the resurrection of the Theotokos before us per se.  So I don't see how it could be viewed as a matter of dogma.

That said, it is more of an issue with respect to converts than cradle Orthodox. One coming into the faith cannot come fruitfully with reservations about something so deeply held in the Church. One must come surrendered and willing to be taught, and patient to understand what is not initially clear.  If not clear it is fine to wait to enter until clarity comes...or a dollop of faith to get one through.
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« Reply #26 on: January 02, 2010, 03:27:27 AM »

Orthodox doctrine/dogma only encompasses those things that are necessary for our salvation and essential to our understanding of Christ.

And submitting to the traditions and the apostolic authority of the Church through all of her liturgical deposit and hymnography aren't essential to our salvation?  Isn't submission to the Church's teachings an essential component of our salvation?  If not, then why aren't we all Protestants?

Acquiring the mind of the Church is part of the process of salvation. It is not a prerequisite for starting the process. Which is why the Church has not and will not "dogmatize" things simply because they are true. "The earth is round" is no more Orthodox dogma than events at the end of the Theotokos' life.

The items which are treated as dogma are those which, if they were *not* true, would make salvation impossible. Thus, if Christ was not fully God or not fully man salvation as understood by the Church could not occur. But if God had, for whatever inexplicable reason of His own, chosen to leave the body of the Theotokos with us on earth, that would not actually change the path of salvation for the rest of us.

and earlier:
Quote
It might as well be dogmatized along with her presentation at the temple and all that accompanies it.  At least that way converts know what they are getting themselves into.

Actually, leaving these things 'open' does help converts know what they are getting into. One of the things which often frustrates Western inquirers--particularly but not exclusively Roman Catholics--is the degree to which Orthodoxy is content to remain 'fuzzy' on any number of topics that their former church felt it necessary to nail down (witness some of the debates about original sin or how various jurisdictions receive converts). That's not a 'weakness in our magisterium' (from our perspective) but a deliberate attitude about maintaining the necessary boundary-stones established by the Apostles and Fathers and leaving the rest as an exercise for the student as they acquire the Orthodox phronema.

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« Reply #27 on: January 02, 2010, 03:39:35 AM »

An excellent response!
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