From The Word Magazine, March 1999 – Page 7-8
THE BEAUTY OF MARY, THEOTOKOS
by Joy Corona
In a society and a culture which so emphasizes the masculine, I find myself, as a woman, sometimes confronted with the message that, to be successful, I must also be masculine. It’s as though I must be male in order to understand, exist in,. and make my way in this world.
Yet, it is in this confusion of gender with life, this hodge-podge of gender roles, gender confusion, and societal norms that the Church breaks through in a refreshing breath challenging us to be . . . female. Now,
I’m not going to convey extreme feminist learnings in this presentation, but I would like to point out that two of the most potent images in Orthodoxy are female in nature. First of all, we have the Church – the Bride of Christ.
Most women in their loves have pondered what it means to be a bride. Yet, for the men, it is likely a less natural question to be contemplated. Yet, we are all together the Bride of Christ. And not only that, but we have a Holy Mother whom we cherish and celebrate. She is the second prominent female image of which I was speaking. What does it mean to venerate this Holy Mother? Who is Mary, the Mother of God, the blessed Theotokos?
If TIME magazine is truthful in its reporting, the question of Mary in its many forms has reached
quite a prominence. The December 30, 1991, issue of TIME reports that, not only is Mary the most celebrated, venerated, portrayed and honored woman who ever lived, but she is also possibly the most controversial. In its reporting, TIME magazine indicates that people are dealing with the question of Mary in significant ways…..And this question is a crucial one. Perhaps she has been ignored or simply overlooked for too long. This is a far cry from, “henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” which Mary predicted when, as TIME puts it, her womb was touched by eternity 2,000 years ago.
The Veneration of the Blessed Theotokos
Now, when we refer to Mary, the Mother of God, we call her the “Blessed Theotokos”…Theotokos means literally “Birthgiver of God” or “God-Bearer”. We hear and sing this word, “Theotokos” often in our Divine Liturgy. As a matter of fact, Mary is venerated throughout the worship of the Church, being the conclusion to each set of hymns or prayers via the Theotokion.
This focus on Mary isn’t always very well understood by those who aren’t Orthodox, or Roman Catholic. Fearing that we’ll lapse into “Mary worship” (as they call it), they caution our admiration and reverence toward Mary. Yet, it is not Mary that we “worship”. We do not give to Mary what alone belongs to God. What we do give her is honor, is our veneration and love. For, if we cannot love the Mother of God, Christ’s own Mother, who can we love?
And we see that the “specialness” of Mary is tied integrally with Who Christ is. The Incarnation of Christ as a human child tells us a lot about Christ, and it also tells us a lot about Mary. First of all, . the Incarnation reveals Mary to us as God’s instrument. Because of her obedience, God was able to identify with His creation in Christ’s birth. Yet, Mary did not have only such an “instrumental” role. If so, she would have quickly faded from the picture of the Church and our Faith, being significant only in her biological capacities. (And, if I may, I’d like to sidestep for a moment and say that That is exactly the situation I found in my experience of Protestantism. The recognition of Mary went no farther than her pregnant trip to Bethlehem and bearing her Son in a cave. Then . . . silence . . . It’s a shame that the Mother of God got such a bad rap. She truly has been underestimated and disregarded in a most disrespectful manner in Protestantism.) As I was saying, Mary is more to us than God’s “instrument” in the Incarnation. For, in the Incarnation, we come to see her love of God, her humility, her strength, and her obedience. In the quietness of her statement “I am the servant of the Lord; Let it be done to me according to Thy Will”, we see Mary as a most beautiful person.
Mary was the first “Christian”. She was the first to accept Christ within her. She also was and always will be Christ’s “Mommy”. If you look at the icon of Christ with Mary called the “kissing icon”, in which Christ is gazing into her eyes, you begin to see Christ’s love for His mother. I have been noticing young children’s interactions with their mothers lately, and I have been likewise struck by the relationship Christ must have had with His mother. I saw something very special along those lines recently. I hope Adis does not mind me referring to her and her son, Nathaniel: Last week, as Adis was taking Nathaniel up to communion, I could not help but be touched with his obvious love for his mother. The love in his unwavering gaze, his coos and smiles revealed to me the precious nature of Christ as a child.
Isn’t it amazing to think of the All-Powerful, Eternal God as a cooing and gentle infant? Isn’t it amazing to think that Mary, human and finite, gave birth to her Omnipotent and Immortal Creator on that night in Bethlehem? In the mystery of our Faith, Mary remains a mystery for me. How can the human and finite carry within, bear, nurture, breast-feed, hold, and care for the Infinite, the Almighty? In the relationship between Christ and Mary, we see the most amazing combination of the human and the divine.
And this was possible because God made humans in His image. If people were not created in God’s image, God couldn’t have been incarnated in the Holy Virgin. If we love ourselves and others, in whom the image of God sometimes has become tarnished through sin, how can we not love the Holy Mother whom God Himself loves for His untarnished image in her?
An Icon of Creation – The New Eve
Mary is the example and inspiration to us all of the humility and obedience which should characterize our relationships with God, also. She is a model of submission which we all, women and men should follow.
Mary, the Mother of God, is often referred to as an “icon of creation”, or the “New Eve”. As Christ was the “New Adam”, Mary is the “New Eve”. Mary, in her simple “Yes” to God, inaugurated the beginning of a New Age. Her “Yes” reflected her choice to surrender her rights to further choice. Her ”Yes” reflected the self-sacrifice in the most powerful way, a self-sacrifice which is rather unfashionable in this age of ”me”, ” mine”, ”my rights”, and ‘self-fulfillment “. And Mary’s ”Yes” was an agreement of God’s will for her life.
Mary’s ”Yes” commenced a ”New Age” in which humankind’s separation from God because of sin was transcended. And this ”Yes” brought entry into a magnificent new life of love and communion with God. Suddenly, there was a glorious new vision of God’s relationship with creation, with humankind, with the Church, and a deeper realization of salvation. Humans were now able to truly become the ”temple of God”.
Icon of the Church
And, in this wonderful new potential of relationship with God, Mary stands before us, challenging us all to deeper intimacy with God. Mary reveals us to the new life. the new joy, new communion, love, and peace available to us all. She is an icon of the Church. She is the movement, the direction, the image of the Church’s piety. More than an icon of woman or women, Mary is representative of all humankind’s response to God’s call. ”Let it be done to me according to Thy Word”.
In conclusion, Mary enables us to truly love all humankind. Though she was touched by the Divine and gave birth to Christ, the Son of God, Mary was ”just human”. She had ups and downs in life. She had happiness and disappointment, joys and sufferings. She experienced life as we experience it. And, at the same time, she was a most amazing, lovely, deeply spiritual woman. You see, the beauty of Mary shows to us the beauty of all humankind. We are all capable of the obedience, humility, strength, and beauty which we see in Mary. And we see Mary before us in each Liturgy, in our homes, on icons, reminding us of who we are and who we can be.
As Mary gave us Christ, Christ gives to us Mary, revealing the beauty and wonder of humankind truly made in God’s image.
Joy Corona is a member of St. Matthew Church of Torrance, California.