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?


dg said...

What an excellent conversation! And I gotta say, your friend is being very subdued. I know he's calling these things heresy, but at least he's willing to dialogue about it. Good for you, too!

Nicodemus said...

dg - thanks for the kind words. Yes, he was surprisingly open, but I think he was trying to be careful as he knew I wanted to join the Orthodox church - once I finally made the break from my old church, he was not as open, and I certainly do not fault him for that as it is a foreign thing for any Protestant to encounter, but I am glad we still remain good friends.

Grace said...

I don't know whether I'm lucky or not that I've never had to get into things with a Protestant. Probably I'm lucky, because I don't think I'd know how to relate to the things that are the most upsetting to them.

(By the way, I don't know why your comments are limiting my signature to an older blogspot account, but anyway, it's me, Grace. The setup for comments here is fairly restrictive, and might limit commenting. Any way to adjust it?)