Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mary Brings Christ To Us All

I wanted to bring you in on an email conversation I had with someone at the Protestant church I used to attend. As with all those who have never had any significant exposure to the Orthodox Church, the question of Mary always comes up. I had emailed my friend a snapshot view of what the typical Orthodox Christian believes about Mary - here is the response followed by my response to him - enjoy!

I wanted to continue our conversation about the Orthodox Church. This has been great interaction for me. Thanks for sending the info about the church's position on Mary. I'd love to talk face to face about it but for now, let me say this. I could live with most of their position but when they say:

"She becomes the New Eve as Christ is the New Adam, lifting by her obedience the curse that the first Eve brought upon the human race by her disobedience."


"...the Orthodox Church believes that Mary was cleansed of all sin at the Annunciation after she had agreed to accept God's offer. It was at that point that the Holy Spirit came upon her to make her fit to receive the Word in her womb. At that moment she became "blessed" and "full of grace." "

I tend to think that to be heresy. I know that is a strong response and like I said, I'd love to hear more of what you think.

No one but Christ can be attributed with the work of lifting the curse of sin and no one but Christ has lived a moment on earth without sin. Thoughts?

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply!

I never in my life ever thought I would be defending Marian theology, but, like you, these interactions have been great for me as well, as they help me clarify my own thoughts.

I guess the questions I must ask are these: Does Mary's obedience or disobedience mean anything at all? Was she just an insignificant slave girl whom Gabriel found going door-to-door until he found someone who would say "Yes" to his proposition? Or, was she fashioned, formed and knit together for this very purpose, and then placed into a family that would train her in the righteous ways of the Lord? Considering the amount of detail in the Law regarding the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the offerings, the cleansings, etc., it would seem God would take great care in preparing and purifying the one in whom He would dwell. But even after all of that preparation, Mary still had a will - she could decide yes or no when confronted by the angel Gabriel. Yes, it was Christ who reversed the curse of sin, but was it not also the work of Christ who prepared Mary for the holy moment which opened the door for God to enter into our world? Nonetheless, it still was Mary's choice that brought us life, just as it was Eve's choice that brought us death.

I can certainly understand not wanting to take any glory from Christ or diminish the work only He could do, but as both the Old and New Testament demonstrate, God's work is accomplished through people. No Christian would argue that the Bible is God's work, nonetheless, He used people to write it. In the same way, Mary is used to lift the curse by being a humble servant of God and offering her body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him, giving birth to the Life, and making the Way available to us all. An interesting side note - in all of the Orthodox pictures (icons) of Mary, Christ is also always in the picture with her - they are never separated.

I am going to venture a guess here. When Billy Graham dies, I would guess that many memorials in his honor will be placed in churches all across the world. Why? Because he has lead millions to Christ, because we are to give honor to whom honor is due, and because it will be our way of saying, "Thank you for giving to the Lord." In the same way, Mary has been honored in the Orthodox church as the one who has brought Christ not just to millions, but to us all.

Regarding Mary being cleansed of all sin, I know that for me as a Christian, there have been many truly life-changing moments. God's great grace has purged many things that will simply never be a part of my life again - He has cleansed them from me thoroughly. And as I continue to grow, he will prune and cut as He knows how until the day "I am presented before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (Jude 24).

Now, in preparing a vessel of honor that He Himself would dwell in and enter the world through, is it such a stretch to imagine that His great grace so changed Mary that she commited no sin after "the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her" (Luke 1:35)? I think it can be reasonably inferred that this power was not only to conceive Christ inside of her, but also to form Him, protect Him, deliver Him, raise Him and for all of those other things mother's do for their children. Would not such direct, intimate and continuous interaction with the power of the Most High and the purging fire of the Holy Spirit have an effect on your entire being? You are correct to say it is a heresy that she was without sin, but to say that God so graced her that she then committed no sin is not heresy, as John says, "he writes these things so that you will not sin" (1 John 2:1). She offered her body as a slave of righteousness - there could have been no other act more righteous than to bring the Savior into the world!

For me, it helps to imagine how the culture of that time would have reacted to such events; what their perceptions would be. Also, what are the implications of their thoughts and reactions of these holy events. Then, look and see how history actually played out.

What do you think?

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Reality of Faith

I recently read a quote that said a Christian is someone who lives in a three-dimensional world while everyone else lives in only two. When I thought about that quote, I thought it might be better said that we live in a four-dimensional world while everyone else lives in only three. After all, we pray to our Lord Who lives in a timeless dimension, we participate in a worship that transcends time and space in the Divine Liturgy, and we consider all of our actions in light of the final reality of our judgement. I'm sure it looks irrational to the "three-dimensional" world, but this other reality is ultimately everyone's reality. Like Abraham, we live by faith in the promised land, in the city built without hands - the heavenly city.

Another way of looking at it would be to imagine a world in which everyone was blind. If someone who was sighted came along and explained things to you from a sighted perspective or performed actions that seemed ridiculous or irrelevant to the way a blind person behaves and acts, we might consider such a person irrational. A way of explaining living by faith in an unseen reality could be something like this: As a blind person walks along a path, he will bump into a rock, a sighted person will walk around a rock, but a person of faith will cast the rock into the sea as our Lord has said.

We have many examples of what living by faith looks like in both the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints to know that this other world is in fact a reality.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Witness of the Cross

I admit, I am sometimes a "shy-crosser". Being the only Orthodox Christian in my family, I try and secretly cross myself after praying over my food, or even after a big group prayer over a family potlock. Making the sign of the cross on myself just seems so awkward in these family get-togethers, especially since everyone knows I didn't grow up that way. So far, I haven't been caught, or at least no one has said anything about it, but I have thought about what I might say if they ask me about this ritual - here is how I anticipate the conversation might go:

Them: "Why do you cross yourself, that seems so ritualistic."
Me: "Why do you close your eyes or bow your head? Isn't that ritualistic too?"
Them: "No, that helps me to concentrate and show reverence to God."
Me: "I believe I am showing reverence as well by remembering the Cross in my prayers. After all, it is because of the Cross that I am able to come to God in the first place."
Them: "You are right! We want to become Orthodox Christians too!"

I'm not sure that last line is exactly how it would go, but I am always hopeful. There might be many, many more lines of conversation before we got to that last one, but utimately the goal is to shine the Light of Christ, and one way of doing that is by glorying in the Cross (Galatians 6:14). I pray for boldness to always be His witness.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I recently read a book called "Technopoly", by Neil Postman, which is about how technology is not only controlling our lives, but taking over completely - a term the author calls Technopoly. In other words, we get our queues and take our orders from the technology we have created. Below is a quote from the book which is quite astounding:

In Technopoly, all experts are invested with the charisma of priestliness. Some of our priest-experts are called psychiatrists, some psychologists, some sociologists, some statisticians. The god they serve does not speak of righteousness or goodness or mercy or grace. Their god speaks of efficiency, precision, objectivity. And that is why such concepts as sin and evil disappear in Technopoly. They come from a moral universe that is irrelevant to the theology of expertise. And so the priests of Technopoly call sin "social deviance," which is a statistical concept, and they call evil "psychopathology," which is a medical concept. Sin and evil disappear because they cannot be measured and objectified, and therefore cannot be dealt with by experts.

He has many other great things to say, but this particular quote I think had the most impact on me.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Somewhere way back in my teen years as I was hearing about "churchy" things, I found a tract in a phone booth that said "Call this number for the answer...", so, I called it. It began with the overly dramatic and quite pretentious, "Hello, friend...", but I continued to listen to see what "the answer" was.

It told me I needed to be saved! What the heck did that mean?

At the time my parents were sending me to Lutheran catechism lessons and I had never heard this phrase before. As a matter of fact, the whole catechism was confusing since our pastor spoke without making much sense most of the time. Even my parents said they couldn't understand his sermons, so here I was stuck in these classes trying to glean a kernel of truth from this man.

He gave me a ride home one night from class, so I asked him, "What do I need to do to be saved?" He gave me one of the scariest answers I had ever heard from his mouth. He said, "I think you are saved by listening to me." I thought, "Man, I am doomed to hell, because I don't understand a single thing he says!"

Years later, I was attending a charismatic church, but he had stopped by our house to see my parents for a pastoral visitation. My mom told him I was going to a charismatic church now, and you could see in his face that he was scrambling for something nice to say, so he blurted out, "Well, we all have our different ways of believing."

Perhaps my experience with him is what drew me to a church that spoke in tongues.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Digging Deep

I have often asked myself after we have prayed, “Lord, have mercy” forty times in a row how God perceives this seemingly vain repetition. Then I realize, whether we pray it forty times in a row or once a day for forty days, that in God’s eyes, it is always in the ever present now. Our church prayers as well as the private prayers of an Orthodox Christian repeat this phrase often during prayer times. In fact, there are many prayers that are repeated day in and day out. An outsider may certainly assume it is dull, mindless repetition with no life in it at all. As with everything, it is a matter of the heart. Certainly God is not affected whether I pray it from my heart or not, as God is Who He is, the same, yesterday, today and forever. I am the one who is affected. I am the one who is changed and molded. Like the repetitious act of digging a deep hole in hopes of finding a buried treasure, so too, by the heart-felt sincerity of repeating the same prayer day after day, in church and at home, I am plunging deeper and deeper into the unlimited eternal wellspring of God’s divine Life. I am changed because, through the Church’s gift of life-giving prayers, I am digging out of the darkness and ever toward the uncreated light of God’s Presence.