I had really expected the weekend to be mainly about marriage, love, commitment, sacrament, union, and – of course – celebration! Truly, it was, but it was also a weekend in which I spent some time getting to know the Mother of God a little better. (And the Protestants in the crowd begin hitting the “BACK” button of their browser with all due speed! hehehe)
Aaron had in his possession a little booklet by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (Memory Eternal!) which was published by Conciliar Press for the St. Athanasius Academy. However, I was unable to find a copy at Conciliar and have instead found a book from the Celebration of Faith series entitled The Virgin Mary from which I believe the booklet was excerpted. It is well worth a read, as is anything by Fr. Schmemann.
In any event, I spent the elongated weekend periodically reading through this little text and found it thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening. It reminded me of a number of things including the very personal (almost private) sense we Orthodox have for our Marian Theology – to understand why we do and believe the things we do and believe in regards to the Theotokos, one really needs to enter into the overall theology and life of the Church. This is why we do not preach Mary, but rather keep her as a blessed theological treasure that flows organically from that which we do preach. Keyed on the Incarnation, Fr. Schmemann argues that it is in the Theotokos that we truly see the balance of Orthodox Christian anthropology, and that her deliberate absence in other Christian traditions inevitably reveals a deeper theological problem than is warranted by a simple shoulder shrug. More than ever, I am learning how the fullness of the Faith must include the veneration of the Theotokos.
But theological argument is not where I wanted to take this post. I instead want to relate my experience with the Theotokos at the crowning ceremony of my dear friends Chance and Cybil. Aaron’s booklet no doubt primed me for the reading of the Gospel at their wedding – for it really hit me then and there.
No one was more adamant about the lack of the Virgin Mother’s importance than I was while I was a protestant. She was simply a lottery winner in my mind, and as I often say nowadays: I ignorantly translated “blessed” as “lucky”. And I felt quite certain that the account of the miracle at the wedding at Cana supported my belief that Mary was of little import. Try taking a look at ALL the different translations given for Jesus’ words to Mary…it is astounding how different they all seem! In my mind, it was clear that Jesus was sternly rebuking the Theotokos for pushing Him into His work before it was time. But, the Theotokos' actions thereafter give us a better clue as to what was really going on...and this is what hit me on the head like the broadside of an Angel's sword.
The term used by Jesus: woman was indeed a term of prestige and honor. Christ would address her similarly while on the cross, and even more interestingly He would use the word for a number of other woman for whom we can assume it had never been offered before. But, more revealing than the title, instead of Mary cowering away from her Son's "stern" rebuke, what does she do?
She orders the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do! She expects her Son to act! An astonishing thing to do for someone who'd just been rebuked, don't you think? There is more going on here than meets the eyes and ears of those of us who are forced to stumble through all these translations - ridden with the opinions of those doing the translating. The Theotokos holds an obvious seat of honor at this wedding (ordering servants around) and Jesus certainly affirms that with the title He gives her, and more importantly by the fact that He does act - just as she expected Him to. Is it any wonder that we Orthodox covet the Virgin's prayers on our behalf?
So here I was, nervously standing in front of the crowd - having myself just accidently chanted the entire epistle (having intended to only read it) - and having a my own little revelation about the Theotokos. I looked past the priest as the Gospel was being completed and stared at the grand Icon of the Virgin so often seen behind the altars of Orthodox Churches: More Spacious than the Heavens and I beseeched her prayers for the soon to be married couple standing beside me. And indeed, for all our marriages. In reply, I am sure our Mother would tell us now as she did then:
"Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it."
Most Holy Theotokos, save us.
...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 7:49 AM [+]