God’s Grandmother

Today is the patronal feast of my parish, St. Anne. St. Anne (Anna) was the wife of St. Joachim. Joachim and Anna were the parents of the Virgin Mary, according to the early tradition of the Church. In Orthodox commemorations they are referred to as the “ancestors of God.” It is a shocking title, perhaps even more shocking than Mary’s “Mother of God.” Christmas devotion has accustomed many Christians to think about Christ as a child and thus as a child with parents. But the popular imagination generally stops there. We forget the fullness of what it means to be human (perhaps because we ourselves live in a world in which our own humanity is severely truncated).

St. Joachim was a priest who served in the temple. His wife, St. Anne, was unable to have children and elderly (a very familiar story in the pages of Scripture). The child Mary is a gift to them in their old age, a joyful intervention in their lives. The tradition goes on to tell how the couple present their young daughter for service in the temple (the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple). This feast, far more than a sentimental remembrance of a special day in the life of a young girl, is a feast of dynamic irony. The child who will become the true temple and ark of God when she conceives Christ, enters the temple which had been described as “Ichabod,” (“devoid of glory”). The temple that had once been filled with the glory of God stood empty. The ark had been carried away, the glory faded to memory. The child who enters appears insignificant, but is herself the fulfillment of the temple itself. She is the true Temple, the true Ark. The glory of God that will reside in her womb is none other than God Himself.

Orthodox devotion to the Mother of God and to the Ancestors of God, is a devotion born of Divine irony. The very phrase “God/Man” is the height of oxymoronic irony. How can a man be God? How can God be a man? It is the very heart of the Christian faith and a scandal to many.

The same irony is the true revelation of God’s great love of man, and the foundation of human dignity. Only the incarnation of Christ protects humanity from destruction in the face of the Absolute. God, when considered as a cypher for the Absolute, will brook no rival, no diminution of His complete sovereignty. In the name of such an abstraction, human beings are all too easily swept away. We are less than dust and without value. No concept ever entertained by man is more dangerous than the concept of God.

The Christian faith has no conception of God. God is not an idea. The Christian faith begins with a man, Jesus of Nazareth. It confesses this man to be both fully God and fully man and that through Him and through Him alone is knowledge of God possible.

No man has seen God at any time. The Only-Begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known (John 1:18).

Thus Christianity does not know a God who is revealed apart from man. It is the condescension of God, His meekness and humility that we see in Christ. We also see His great mercy towards mankind that He should raise us up and exalt us and bless us uniquely as sons and daughters. The dignity (worth) of human beings is guaranteed by this reality alone. Human rights, as the world now knows them, did not exist except through the foundational understanding of human persons made known in the revelation of Christ. The revelation of God in Christ not only makes it possible for us to know God but also makes it possible for us to approach in safety the throne of His glory. Ideas and abstractions offer no such thing.

And so the Orthodox Church embraces the wonderful paradox and irony of God: that God should become a man; that a woman should be the Mother of God; that an older couple can be called the ‘ancestors of God’; that we should be fellow-heirs with Christ. Anything less is not Christianity. Anything less is simply a dangerous idea.

Greetings on the feast!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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69 responses to “God’s Grandmother”

  1. […] Pick it up!☦Nothing But Orthodoxy☦ var pulltime = 'Wed, 25 Jul 2012 15:17:57 +0000';1) God’s Grandmotherhttps://glory2godforallthings.com/2012/07/25/gods-grandmother/By fatherstephen on Wednesday, Jul […]

  2. CB Avatar

    When is your next book coming out? This deserves a (much) wider audience. Other than that I’m temporarily speechless. Respectfully yours.

  3. goldie marousis Avatar
    goldie marousis

    I never thought of Saint Anne being God’s grandmother
    It’s a nice way of looking at it…

  4. Brian in Baltimore Avatar

    Excellent comments re: being scandalized and/or having a limited view of the parents (and grandparents) of our Lord due to our own truncated sense of humanity. Very good.

  5. Han Avatar

    As the Yia Yia of God, St. Anne is the patron saint of all those ladies who whack kids with their walking sticks in church to rebuke them for accidentally stepping on the bishop’s rug.

  6. Father Nathan Thompson Avatar
    Father Nathan Thompson

    I’ve heard that the Patriarch of Moscow sent an instruction that it is inappropriate for people to strike one another with canes in Church for the purpose of instruction. It may be apocryphal, but I hope not, because it’s a great story.

  7. kantsemi22 Avatar


  8. Andrew B Avatar
    Andrew B


  9. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Since becoming Orthodox, and then becoming aware of the fact that GOD had a GRANDMOTHER (!!!), I’ve always felt a little sorry for St. Anne. I mean, how old would it make you feel to know that you were GOD’S GRANDMOTHER? Obviously, from a purely human perspective – your final paragraph sums up the real truth of her connection to God, and through her, His connection to us. Glory to God for His economy in uniting the Timeless One with His creatures in time!

  10. […] Today is the patronal feast of my parish, St. Anne. St. Anne (Anna) was the wife of St. Joachim. Joachim and Anna were the parents of the Virgin Mary, according to the early tradition of the Church…  […]

  11. John Avatar

    Why do catholics put so much stock in mary since she is not mentioned past early acts?

  12. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    First of all, we aren’t Catholic. Been there, done that, and I could talk two weeks about the difference. Second, without her, there would be no incarnation at all, therefore, no salvation.

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    John, your measuring stick, “how often or many times is something mentioned in the Scripture,” is flawed. There’s no mention of the Nativity after the early chapters of the gospels, or many other such things, and yet everything else presupposes it. The central act of salvation is obviously the death, burial, descent into Hades, resurrection of Christ and that figures most in preaching as recorded as well as St. Paul’s theological writings. But those chapters relating to Mary (the appearance of Gabriel, etc.) are included in the Scripture. Apparently God thought they were important. Christ addresses her from the Cross and points to her as a central figure (“behold your mother”). The interpretation that he is just saying something nice about his Mom and telling St. John to take care of her, really doesn’t do justice to the gospel of John and the profound nature of every syllable that is there.
    It is the Church’s theological understanding of the role of Mary (and thus humanity) in the Incarnation of Christ that leads us to give her honor and to have a proper focus towards her. In the history of the Church, devotion and theological understanding of Mary were seen as required by the right understanding of Christ’s humanity, and His God/Manhood. It is the weak Christology of so many Christians that tends to devalue the Mother of God. Many Protestants would feel no particular loss at all if she were left out of the Gospels entirely (as she is largely left out of St. Mark). There’s a reason why there are 4 gospels. Mark is not enough.
    This is the sort of thing which makes me critique Protestantism as a diminished form of Christianity. There is so much of the fullness of the Scripture that it never uses and finds superfluous.
    “All generations will call me blessed,” and yet they don’t. “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…and exalted those of low degree…” But many don’t regard her and do the opposite of exalting her.” They exalt themselves and their own reason.
    I do not think it is possible to understand or truly appreciate what it means that God became man, without pondering the mystery of who Mary is, and what God did in her and through her. These things in Scripture are given for our edification – but we cannot be edified without meditating on His law day and night.
    The Orthodox have a critique of Roman Catholic dogma regarding Mary, in certain points. But that is another matter. In our services, she is always given honor. There is no service in Orthodoxy that does not mention her and give thanks for what God has done through her. Without this, we believe that Christians are denying the true humanity of Christ.

  14. PJ Avatar

    “Why do catholics put so much stock in mary since she is not mentioned past early acts?”

    Scripture contains a fragment of the history, teaching, and tradition of the Church. Most of the Apostles wrote not a single word, yet they traveled from Spain to India spreading the Gospel of Christ, which is not limited to the pages of what we now call the Bible. Mary is beloved and revered in all the ancient churches, though they span hundreds of cultures, jurisdictions, kingdoms and principalities; thousands of miles; and nearly two thousand years.

    John, you have taken a tiny wedge of Christianity and confused it for the whole pie. Yours is a highly Americanized and thoroughly modern rendering of the glorious Gospel of the Incarnate Word. The question is not why the vast majority of Christians venerate Mary, but why you snub her so. The answer, of course, is that you have lost the full sense of the incarnation, as have most all Protestants, which accounts for their impoverished ecclesiology and inordinate fixation on a single dimension (the juridical) of the final act of Jesus’ saving work (His crucifixion).

    Mary did not simply bear Christ in her womb for 9 months: She was his mother. She nursed the Lord of the universe. She taught Him to walk; to eat; to read. She whispered Scripture into His ears and told Him the stories of the People of God. She made Him an Israelite: a son of Abraham by spirit as well as by flesh. This is not recounted in Scripture, but truly it happened. Protestantism’s inherent gnosticism cannot help but minimize the incarnation, and thus the humanity of Christ, and thus the importance of Mary, who cradled in her arms the very Logos.

  15. PJ Avatar

    Every morning after Mass, I admire an icon of Mary and the Child Jesus from a darkened pew, their faces lit by flickering candles.

    I try to really, really think hard about the incarnation: That a woman, a girl really, perhaps only 15 years old, gave birth to the Logos. How can it be? A lowly Israelite, a virgin of no estate, she birthed and nursed and raised the very God who created her! It is astounding.

    Sometimes I can barely mutter a prayer of thanksgiving, so astounded am I.

  16. NW Juliana Avatar
    NW Juliana

    Thank for your helpful reply this morning, Fr. Stephen, as we enter this fasting time devoted to the Holy Theotokos. I haven’t heard that said about the “Behold your Mother” scripture before, or at least I hadn’t gone beyond what you said above about it being nice that Christ was caring for his mother from the cross, and that he was calling her (only) John’s mother.

  17. John Avatar

    You have misdefined my ‘measuring stick.’ There is no reference to any veneration of mary. once is enough. If its there, point it out. There is nothing in the text to support your treatment of the mary at the cross passage. I believe our understanding of it is its simpliest reading, the most straight forward.

    How far back can you trace the veneration of mary in your tradition?

    Btw, my younger son has loaned me his galaxy tab and i cant figure out how to captalize words in a sentence. I dont presently have acces to my notebook.

  18. PJ Avatar


    If you’re like the Protestants I know, you believe that veneration of Mary and the saints somehow subtracts from the honor and worship of God. That is a noble suspicion, but entirely unnecessary, for the exact opposite is actually the case. His Divine excellence is multiplied and magnified in His chosen ones, as Mary herself declares.

    She also declares that all generations will call her blessed, and the angel calls her full of grace, highly favored one, which is the foundation for our great honor of her personage. However, even if she was never once mentioned in Scripture, she would be worthy of veneration, for she bore the Logos.

    Jesus Christ was a good Jew. He followed the commandments, including, “Honor your mother and your father.” How deeply He loved His mother is impossible to imagine, for He is Love itself! If we wish to imitate Him, we too must love and honor His mother, Mary of Nazareth, the Godbearer and Handmaid of the Lord.

    It is simply impossible for me to understand why one would resist reverencing the woman who bore and raised the Word of God incarnate. Her holiness, humility, and devotion to the Lord are profound: for this we offer praise and thanksgiving in the Spirit. She is an important part of the Body of Christ, and has been recognized as such since the earliest days of the Church. This appreciation only grew through the years, as Christians’ awe of the incarnation grew greater and greater.

    Most Protestants I know give more respect to the American flag than they do the Mother of God. It’s baffling.

  19. PJ Avatar

    I have a theory that Protestantism’s puritanical minimalism results from ignorance as to God’s loving desire to share His glory with His creatures, and men in particular. They fear that to honor the creature is to deprive the Creator of that which is properly His own. This is indeed the case — outside the Church. But since the Christian is part of Christ’s very own Body, glory to Mary or St. Mark or St. Chrysostom is actually glory to the Father, Son, and Spirit, in whose life and love the sanctified partake. As I said, ecclesiology is of utmost importance.

  20. Karen Avatar

    PJ, well said. I’m sympathetic with John’s difficulties with this, having once been Protestant myself and shared the same outlook.

    Since then, I’ve realized what a blind spot this was. Not only that, but it is interesting to note how seriously pious Protestants, out of that honoring instinct we all have, do, indeed, venerate their own various traditions’ heroes of the faith by biography, preserving their relics and memory, praising them, and using their examples as illustrations of virtue/holiness, etc. *Foxes Book of Martyrs* comes to mind. They just don’t do this in some of the formal, liturgical ways traditional in the Church birthed in the Middle-East, where people expressed such respect, love and honor by bowing/prostrating and kissing the one venerated (as recorded frequently also in the Scriptures). Protestants reared outside of such Middle-Eastern expressions of respect especially have difficulty seeing this bowing, kissing, and praising, as anything but the “worship” due God alone. At least that is what I’ve learned based on my own experience.

  21. PJ Avatar

    Culture is indeed a factor. Our hyper-individualism explains American Protestants’ difficulty in grasping the reality of the communion of saints. The Church is not a fellowship, it is a communion, rather like how the Godhead is a communion: multiple persons, yet one substance. We are all literally, if mystically, members of Christ’s Body. As such, reverence of the saints is really reverence of Christ’s work in the saints. God has adopted us, made us co-workers and co-heirs. He is not a bully or an attention hog. He gladly shares His grace and honor. Among the saints, Mary stands alone as the very Bearer and Mother of the Incarnate Word.

    Consider the words of Cranmer:

    “Forasmuch as we have lately been informed that in our cathedral church of Chichester there hath been used long heretofore, and yet at this day is used, much superstition and a certain kind of idolatry about the shrine and bones of a certain bishop of the same, whom they call Saint Richard, and a certain resort there of common people, which being men of simplicity are seduced by the instigation of some of the clergy, who take advantage of their credulity to ascribe miracles of healing and other virtues to the said bones, that God only hath authority to grant…”

    He is amazingly oblivious. It is not Saint Richard who is working miracles (never mind his bones), but rather God *working through* him. But for Protestants, it is either/or.

    As a side note, Cranmer must have forgotten Scripture on this one: “And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet” (II Kings 13:21).

    Neither the sacraments nor the communion of saints make any sense in a universe ruled by a deity that will not share honor and glory. Thankfully, the One True God is love, and love cannot help but share and spread itself.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    The inclusion of the stories themselves is evidence of the veneration of Mary. There is archaeological evidence of her veneration that dates to around the early 2nd century (catacombs in Rome). The veneration of Mary is articulated theologically at the Council of Ephesus in the 5th century. It was never opposed in the early Church.

    More importantly, the veneration of Mary is taught in the Old Testament – but you have to know how to read it. No one would argue that there was a veneration of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. The Church held and holds that the Ark was a type of Mary, she who contained the Uncontainable in her womb. That example can be multiplied many times over. But Protestants do not read the Old Testament in a typological manner (or allegorical) unless forced to.

    I also understand that it is incorrect to keep referring to you as a Protestant, since you are Restorationist (Church of Christ), and hold to a fairly unique view of sola scriptura.

    I have no argument with you that in the way you read Scripture you can’t find veneration of Mary. In the way a Jehovah’s Witness reads Scripture they can’t find the divinity of Christ. The failure to find the veneration of Mary in the Scripture is not proof of it’s absence, just proof that you do not read the Scriptures in the manner of the fathers. Oddly, you read them like a 19th century Scottish Protestant who read too much John Locke.

    There is a “circular” argument in the question of hermeneutics. You cannot appeal to anything outside of your tradition for why you read Scripture as you do. I cannot appeal to anything outside of my tradition for why I read Scripture as I do. The difference is my tradition is 2,000 years old and yours goes back to East Tennessee and Eastern Kentucky in the 19th century.

    You can’t find anyone who speaks about reason in a manner similar to the Restorationists in the early Church. There was no such thing as Lockean reason then.

  23. John Avatar

    The story of the birth of Jesus, which would include references to His mother, is proof that Mary was venerated as Catholics do her today. Maybe just a little jump there? Is there a link to your second century reference? Painting her picture on a wall is not proof that they were doing what y’all do today. There are a few pictures of mine and Debbie’s ancestors hanging around in this house. But, we don’t bow down to them every morning. I guess that you would reason that we do. You would be wrong. That’s another jump in reasoning. My older soon is a lawyer. These kinds of ‘proofs’ are not going to get very far in court. 5th century is too late.

    “…you have to know how to read it.” Yeah, right. Why do you ‘know how to read it’ any better than I do? Your suggested Ark symbolism doesn’t prove anything.

    I really think you hide behind Locke. I could argue that you use Locke in coming to the conclusion that your tradition is superior. Frankly, I have never read Locke that I can recall.

    Here’s the way I see it. If we do things the way they did in the NT, and God was pleased with them, then God will be pleased with us. He was, and He is. That’s not rocket science. And, I don’t see how it could be faulted. Southerners, like you and me, might call that common sense.

    I have an interest in the Orthodox understanding of spirituality. That’s why I read your blog. But I feel that Catholics, of whatever shade, are way, way off on a number of other things. Mary heads the list. Also, and I may have mentioned this in the past, I have serious doubts that your lay Orthodox can keep the fine line between worship and veneration in place when they are bowing before an image. You may can. But I wonder what is really going on in the head of a non professionally trained Orthodox.

    I have been meaning to ask you this, so I’ll make my comment yet a little longer. What is your understanding of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and its context? As you know, we have understood it to refer to the Catholic Church and the Pope in particular. I imagine you have a different take. If I am wrong, then what does the text mean? Who are these people specifically?

    If you had rather do this by email, that is fine with me. That is a two-way street, though.

  24. PJ Avatar


    “Painting her picture on a wall is not proof that they were doing what y’all do today.”

    You don’t seem to grasp the full importance of this. These early icons had theological significance on account of their liturgical context. They were situated above altars, which were often the tombs of saints.

    Anyway, what do you think is done today? Mary is prayed to for intercession; her life and piety are honored through song and meditation; she is praised and thanks for her important role in salvation. Basic communion of the saints stuff.

    No doubt the Church’s understanding of Mary has matured, but so did its understanding of, say, the Trinity. We are ever “growing in every way more and more like Christ.”

    There is no record whatsoever of any challenge to traditional Marian piety prior to the Reformation, at least among orthodox (read: Nicene) Christians. It is found in Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental churches from India to England. Even the iconoclasts, though they would have done away with most images, were certainly not opposed to praising Mary and begging her intercession as a glorified member of Christ’s Body.

    “Here’s the way I see it. If we do things the way they did in the NT, and God was pleased with them, then God will be pleased with us. He was, and He is. That’s not rocket science. And, I don’t see how it could be faulted. Southerners, like you and me, might call that common sense. ”

    That’s just it. The New Testament is a snapshot of the early Church. The bulk of it is comprised of letters, the contexts of which are hazy at best; they are parts of larger conversations which we do not and cannot know. For centuries, most Christians worked with a handful of epistles and one, perhaps two, Gospels. It is anachronistic in the extreme to believe that the first Christians were primarily “Biblical.” In terms of Scripture, their main point of reference was the Old Testament: only later did what we know as the New Testament become widely available in its fullness. But even then, focus remained around the Eucharist (understood not simply as the sacrament, but the whole liturgy). The focal point of Christian life is the Eucharist, not the Scripture.

    What you call “common sense,” I call a hermeneutic, a method of interpretation, which is distinctly Protestant and uniquely American. What you’re doing is typical of American Protestantism, which loves to doll its radical innovations up in “aww shucks” language, thus passing off novelties as “common sense” reasonable to the “ordinary guy.” Thing is, Christianity was not born in Peoria. It is a product of Second Temple Judaism and antique Hellenistic thought.

    ” As you know, we have understood it to refer to the Catholic Church and the Pope in particular”

    2 Thessalonians 2:3 is about the Antichrist.

    John, the basic problem here is that you are operating entirely on the level of speculation. Catholicism — never mind Orthodoxy — cannot be understood from the outside. It must be lived.

    My Catholicism is rooted in daily Eucharist. Every morning, I gather with my brothers and sisters before the altar of the Lord: We read the Scriptures, sing holy songs, recall the saints, offer prayers of intercession and thanksgiving to the Trinity, offer the mystic oblation, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Throughout the day, I keep the hours, reading the psalms and prayers of the Church in invisible unison with countless others. At night, I read the works of the divines, those fathers and saints who have preserved the faith throughout the centuries. If you do not live the liturgy of the Church, you cannot know the faith.

    Anyway, you have your opinions and I have mine. What’s frustrating is that you actually believe that you are somehow free of intellectual presuppositions, cultural preconditioning, and personal prejudices. Whenever I hear someone say that the Bible is “simple,” its meaning “obvious,” I cannot help but suspect that they are ignorant or calculating. Of course, it is an axiom of modern American Protestantism that anyone who can read can understand Holy Writ, a notion that would have horrified even the likes of Luther, Calvin, and even Zwingli.

    Well, I’m rambling on and on. I hope I don’t come off as harsh. You seem a fine fellow, and I actually find many of your blog posts quite inspiring. But, then, you did call me part of the Antichrist! 😉 God bless.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There is no icon of Mary, except for the icon of the Annunciation, that does not include Jesus. What is more is that the perspective of the icons always have Mary directing the gaze of the beholder to her Son. She is important beyond other mothers because of her son. Her “soul magnifies the Lord”. If you honor her, you honor her son. If you defame her, you defame her son.

    The Council of the 5th century, nor any of them, did not introduce new doctrine or belief. The Councils clarified, codified and articulated what the Church had always believed and still believes.

    The main point of the Council was whether or not Jesus Christ was God from conception or became the annointed one later. It was agreed that if one rejected Mary as the Theotokos (the God bearer) and did not honor her as such, one rejected Christ as both fully God and fully man. If one rejects Christ as fully God and fully man, not only do they do violence to the meaning of Chrisitianity, they put their own souls at risk.

    I assume John that you believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man?

    But no amount of reason or explanation will help John to understand and appreciate what we find as self-evident because we experience it in every service and in our daily lives as well.

    BTW your reading of 2 Thessalonians taking into accout the time when it as established is rife with what, in historical terms, is called presentism: reading the conditions of the present back into the past. It never produces good interpretation because it is an inherent logical fallacy.

  26. PJ Avatar

    “BTW your reading of 2 Thessalonians taking into accout the time when it as established is rife with what, in historical terms, is called presentism: reading the conditions of the present back into the past. It never produces good interpretation because it is an inherent logical fallacy.”

    Yep. The old slander that equates the pope with the Antichrist and the Catholic Church with the Whore of Babylon is a piece of propaganda with as much relationship to reality as a piece of Stalinist propaganda.

  27. Karen Avatar

    John, with respect, I have to say in your comments you give strong evidence that when a human being grows up in, or for other reasons strongly identifies with, a certain philosophical and cultural environment and has limited exposure to any other, it is very difficult for that person to see anything apart from the mindset generated by those cultural philosophical assumptions. Fr. Stephen, I, and others are arguing that the culture and the philosophical assumptions of the biblical writers and early Christians were far different from those of the founders of the Restorationist movement and also those who have shaped the mindset of modern American culture. Like the fish doesn’t notice the water in which it swims, and we don’t tend to notice while we are living in our own house that it has its own distinct odor, we don’t notice the influence that our own mindset and philosophical assumptions have in shaping the entirety of our perception of all the data we encounter (biblical and historical data included). To the extent that such a culture in which we are steeped actually differs from another, there will be little real one-to-one correspondence between the “objective reality” of that culture, on the one hand, and our perception of it, on the other. There also is little motivation to get out of that perceptual rut if one has a certain comfort where one is. If it can be shown that the culture and philosophical assumptions of the founders of Restorationism, on the one hand, and those of the biblical writers and early Church on the other are indeed quite different, then I think you would have to consider what contemporary Christian culture and context might be more like that of the biblical ones and try to understand how they understand Scripture and its correct application in spiritual practices if you want to approach more fully what the writers of Scripture really intended to teach their audience.

    Indeed, I don’t believe a true and proper intercultural communication can take place in a blog setting, any more than we could be saved and united to God by God dropping us some written instructions from the sky, but never actually Himself entering human history and becoming human in order to literally take us and our human condition upon and into Himself. Not that God cannot truly know our human needs and condition apart from this (hopefully this is obvious), but we would have no possibility whatsoever of being united to God and genuinely containing His life apart from actually experientially encountering that Divine Nature in human form in Jesus Christ.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think the process of Biblical interpretation is something determined by a community to which we belong (and not vice versa). Human beings live as creatures of community whether we want it to be so or not. You come from an American, Protestant, Restorationist, etc. milieu. Many things that seem obvious to you do so, not because of reason (abstract), but because “reason,” is that which seems reasonable to your community. I understand that you cannot imagine people being aware of a line between veneration and worship (for example), because you cannot imagine what it’s like to be in that other community. You only imagine what things would seem like to yourself. I warn people when they first become Orthodox to beware of confusing the two, because it takes time to internalize the difference between worship and veneration. We pay attention to it because it is part of our world. You don’t pay attention to it because it is not part of your world.

    But when it comes to Scripture, you find that it largely supports the world of your community (with slight adjustments now and again). The Restoration movement faced the historical crisis of American Protestantism and its pluralism. It sought to find a way to a single Church, a single interpretation, etc. It failed, except in its own mind where it has rationalized itself into being the New Testament Church. That, of course, does not mean the historical Church, but the continuation of an idea through history, or the replication of an idea. The fallacies of this are extremely obvious for anyone with historical awareness, but that does not seem obvious to you. Don’t think I could convince you otherwise.

    You have a sensitivity to saints, relics, objects, veneration, etc., primarily born out of the sensitivities of anti-Catholic Protestant ideas. Those are and were ideologically driven, rather than being driven by the text of Scripture. But your thoughts are similar to a man thinking that English is the superior language because that’s the one he understands. Your world-view is driven by an amazingly narrow slice of data. The Restorationist mind is a tiny moment in Christian history, unknown to most Christians everywhere else and all other times.

    Why should anyone pay attention to how I read the Scriptures? Because I read them in a community as well. And unlike the Restoration community, the Orthodox community exists, and has existed since the beginning of the Church, and is not an idea, but a historical reality. I think what the fathers thought because they are part of my living community. You think like a 19th century American Restorationist with ideas that are unique to that period. You do so because the Restoration Movement is the community to which you belong.

    I’m interested that Orthodox spirituality is interesting to you. It is a worthwhile point of conversation – what about it seems interesting?

  29. Maximus Avatar


    Recently Robert Arakaki at Orthodox-Reformed Bridge posted an excellent article called “Why Evangelicals Need Mary”. In it, he quotes Roman Catholic Kimberly Hahn with a very perceptive Catholic/Orthodox distinction between worship and veneration. She says:

    “I could not figure out why it was that it seemed to be that Catholics worshiped Mary, even though I knew worship of Mary was clearly condemned by the Church. Then I got an insight: Protestants defined worship as songs, prayers and a sermon. So when Catholics sang songs to Mary, petitioned Mary in prayer and preached about her, Protestants concluded she was being worshiped. But Catholics defined worship as the sacrifice of the body and Blood of Jesus, and Catholics would never have offered a sacrifice of May nor to Mary on the altar.”

    This really helped to clarify some of my own thoughts. Maybe it will help you, as well. I wholeheartedly recommend the whole article if youhave time.

  30. PJ Avatar

    Even the phrase “the church of the New Testament” is strongly ahistorical. The New Testament is of the Church, not vice versa.

    The term “New Testament” itself comes from the gospels’ and epistles’ proximity to and relationship with the Eucharist, specifically the phrase declared by the priest:

    “Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
    for this is my body which will be given up for you.

    Take this, all of you ,and drink from it:
    for this is the chalice of my blood,
    which will be poured out for you
    and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

    Do this in memory of me.”

    That’s from the current Roman Missal. The Liturgy of St. James, parts of which date to the first century, puts it this way:

    “In like manner, after supper, He took the cup, and having mixed wine and water, lifting up His eyes to heaven, and presenting it to You, His God and Father, He gave thanks, and hollowed and blessed it, and filled it with the Holy Spirit, and gave it to us His disciples, saying, Drink all of it; this is my blood of THE NEW TESTAMENT shed for you and many, and distributed for the remission of sins.”

    The apostolic and evangelical writings are called the “New Testament” because they relate and interpret the source and summit of Christian life, which is the Eucharist, the mystical representation of the sacrifice of Christ, by which the Christian enters into the life of God Himself.

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, what a great comment. Thank you.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Just reading Paul Evdokimov on Mary in his book: “Orthodoxy, the Cosmos Transfigured”

    “Man brings his offering to the Temple, the bread and wine; and God, in a royal gesture, transforms these into his body and blood, into food for gods. Humanity brings the most pure offering, the Virgin, and God makes her his birth place and the Mother of all living, Eve completed”

    The veneration and honor of Mary within the Christian community goes all the way back to the first Christians, John.

    As you asked why Catholics make such a big deal of Mary, I can easily ask why Protestants make so little of her.

  33. Eleftheria Avatar

    There’s also this: From the wedding at Cana, when the wine gave out, it was Mary who INTERVENED when she told her Son that the hosts had run out of wine. Even though Jesus told her that His hour had not yet come, Mary told the servants to “Do whatever he tells you.” This scene (John 2) points to the fact that Jesus fulfilled what His mother asked of him; its importance to the relationship between Jesus and Mary, His mother, cannot be underestimated, nor can its significance to us. Jesus inclined His ear to His mother because she, feeling sorry for the hosts, asked for his help. This is why, to this day, when we face troubles, we know that we can turn to the “panagne” – all-holy – Mother of God and ask that she intervene for us because we know that she has His ear.
    In short,we make a big deal of Mary because her Son made a big deal of her, as did/does all of heaven – but to understand this, one has to live the faith – as it’s been practiced for the past 2,000 years.

  34. PJ Avatar


    As Father Stephen noted, such a scene means little to most Protestants. Their hermeneutic minimizes portrayals of Mary by default. Although every sentence of the Gospel of John is laced with meaning, when it comes to the Mother of God, the most superficial readings seem to suffice.

  35. Westy Goes East Avatar
    Westy Goes East

    About a dozen years ago, as a life-long Protestant, sola Scriptura proponent and feverish iconoclast, I was having a conversation with the only Catholic in our small Christian men’s fellowship at work. I’m not sure how the conversation got around to Mary, but I told my friend that “we Protestants consider the way you Catholics treat Mary as ‘repugnant’”. As soon as I said that, I tried to take back that word, and I replaced it with something else. But it was too late. It showed just how much contempt I had for the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.

    When I started visiting Orthodox churches two and a half years ago, one of the first things I did, long before I became Orthodox, was to repent of my attitude toward Mary, before the icons of Christ, and of the Theotokos. I was really ashamed of what I had said and how I had treated her with such contempt.

    Anyway, the point I wanted to make, in looking back, is that I’m not sure there is anything anyone could have said to me at that point in my life that could have made me change my mind. I was so blazingly arrogant about my faith and how much I knew the Bible. If anyone had told me that some years down the road, I’d be weeping in front of an icon of the Mother of God asking her forgiveness for the way I held her in such contempt, and to intercede with her Son for me, I’d have told them they were utterly insane. God had to take me on a long journey to get me to the point where I’d actually listen to something other than my own interpretation of the Holy Scriptures (in this case, Holy Tradition and Holy Church, those two bad words).

  36. Brian Avatar

    As Father pointed out, we all come from within the perspectives of the communities in which we were reared, and thus our conclusions are at variance. Like it or not, all of us read the Scriptures through our own lens to some degree. But when Christians speak of truth, we are not –or ought not be – speaking of ideas or religious opinions. We are speaking of reality as it is (or rather, Truth/Reality as HE is), and who HE is has been revealed to us in Christ. Being a good student of Scripture, I think our friend John would probably agree.

    But reality is not learned from books, even the most holy of books; it is something that is experienced first-hand, with spiritual realities requiring a step of faith in order to experience them. Thus, even a thorough knowledge of the Bible is useless without this step of faith. Here again, I think John would probably agree.

    How often have we all heard of those who doubted the very existence of God or the truth of His Son who, in a moment of desperation, cried out, “God, if you are real…” and were graciously answered? God answers even the prayer filled with doubt if it is from the heart. Therefore, my advice to John or to anyone else who is filled with understandable doubt about this ‘Mary stuff’ is this: Beg God for mercy if it is wrong to do so, and then ask Mary herself in the Name of her Son Jesus Christ to reveal if she is who the Orthodox say she is, for she does nothing apart from her Son and her Lord. “Whatever He tells you to do, do it.”

    If the Orthodox Christian witness of Mary is real, then she –like Christ Himself – is not merely an idea or an opinion; and she cannot be known primarily from reading about her in the Bible, whatever our interpretive lens. She is a person who, like everyone and everything that is real, is known first-hand, albeit by even the most doubt-filled step of faith.

    I fully empathize with the fact that the Protestant taboo of “communicating with the dead” militates against the idea of even contemplating talking to Mary. Yet it was my firm conviction as a Protestant that my loved ones who died in Christ are, in fact, alive in Christ and with Him in Heaven. When I realized that Orthodox Christians do not talk to the “dead,” any more than our Lord talked to the “dead” on the mount of Transfiguration, the communion of the Saints who live in Him became a natural extension of the truth (reality) that Christ has abolished death. Our communion is with the living, for He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

  37. John Avatar

    Stephen: I think your response above greatly oversimplifies things. IMHO, it comes a little close to condescension, though I do not believe that is your intent.

    If everyone’s understanding is entirely colored by their cultural lens, how could there ever be real communication, or even any absolute truth? I think if your position about community is followed to its conclusion, it would entail the denial of communication and truth. I believe meaningful communication actually occurs and that there is a real right and wrong.

    Regarding Mary,if she is to be treated the way you Catholics treat her, it is amazingly strange that there is no reference to that in Acts or the epistles. Paul should have been talking about this all the time, but, he is stone silent. Since he predates the ‘fathers’, veneration of Mary must have started after the close of the NT. Unless you are willing to claim inspiration for the Patristics, that should end it. Now, having said that, I think you arrive at truth differently than I do. I believe the reasons you do this may be separated from the process of doing it. The reasons probably do have a lot to do with lens/culture. You believe the church has the authority to set doctrine, so whatever she says, whatever it is, is truth in your understanding. I believe it is the individual, perhaps to some extent the elders of a local autonomous congregation. I don’t think The Bible is that hard to understand, as far as living a Christian life is concerned. Hard to obey, but not hard to understand. Can you demonstrate from the NT only that the church has authority to set doctrine?

    Also, I am really interested in your understanding of the digression that had already begun and the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians? It has to be a real, historical group. Who is it?

  38. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    It blows my mind the way you keep ignoring that WE ARE NOT CATHOLICS. Where are you getting this impression from?!

  39. Pio Quindecimo Avatar

    Well, speaking of a cultural lens that John is not aware of… Protestant worship and belief originated as a reaction against the practices of the Catholic Church in Western Europe during the 14th through 16th centuries. Most Protestants are just so used to being anti-Catholic–it’s so much an ingrained part of their theology and worship–that they cannot really understand what the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches even are. To be Protestant is to be anti-Catholic. Well, what does a Protestant do when he is confronted with the practices of the ancient Church…he has to conflate these ancient practices with medieval Catholicism in order for Protestantism to have any way to even process them. So if John’s beliefs (which originated in 19th century America) differ from the ancient Church…..it must be because you guys are medieval Catholics. You can tell him many times that you are not Catholic, but he cannot understand because his whole theological system is designed with Catholicism as its enemy. If no Catholicism is present, then Protestantism makes no sense…to be a Protestant, you have to be protesting something after all.

  40. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Good point, and thanks. But the fact remains – we are not Catholic. But I just realized that I keep saying “we,” so maybe it isn’t clear that Father Stephen isn’t Catholic, either – this entire blog is about the Orthodox Church, its practices and theology. I spent half my life as a devout, practicing Catholic, so I think I know the difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

  41. Pio Quindecimo Avatar

    It is very obvious–to just about every one–that this is an Orthodox blog.

    John has posted here many times before over the years. I think he intellectually “knows” that this is an Orthodox site, but my point is that Protestantism was designed from the beginning as an anti-Catholic (specifically Catholicism’s 14th through 16th century western European manifestation) movement. I believe that John knows very well that Fr. Stephen and most of the commenters here are Orthodox, but he has to think of you all as being Catholic in order to contribute because that’s what Protestantism–even John’s 19th century American version of it–is. Protestantism exists as a negation of Catholicism. So he has to think of you all here as Catholics in order to be critical…even after he is corrected several times. I don’t think it really computes for him and therefore he still refers to you all as Catholics and to your veneration of the Theotokos as a Catholic practice.

  42. PJ Avatar

    “Paul should have been talking about this all the time, but, he is stone silent. Paul should have been talking about this all the time, but, he is stone silent. Since he predates the ‘fathers’, veneration of Mary must have started after the close of the NT. Unless you are willing to claim inspiration for the Patristics, that should end it. Now, having said that, I think you arrive at truth differently than I do. I believe the reasons you do this may be separated from the process of doing it. The reasons probably do have a lot to do with lens/culture. You believe the church has the authority to set doctrine, so whatever she says, whatever it is, is truth in your understanding. I believe it is the individual, perhaps to some extent the elders of a local autonomous congregation. I don’t think The Bible is that hard to understand, as far as living a Christian life is concerned. Hard to obey, but not hard to understand. Can you demonstrate from the NT only that the church has authority to set doctrine? ”


    Think critically for a moment. We have a dozen or so Pauline epistles, some of which were probably written by his students. Their contexts are only vaguely understood. The letters which came before and after them are, for the most part, lost. This is not to mention other disciples, other apostles, who penned not a word, but rather spread the faith by word of mouth.

    Yet you insist on basing your entire theology upon this minute corpus of situation-specific correspondence? Why? Because your tradition tells you so, a tradition that is newborn compared to Catholicism or Orthodoxy?

    Now Paul never knew Christ “by the flesh.” It is little wonder he only mentions the Lord’s mother once, and then only vaguely and in passing. Tradition tells us that it was Luke and John who knew Mary most intimately. Naturally, they wrote the most about her, relating that she is “blessed among women” and the “highly favored one.” These are powerful words!

    And let us go beyond Biblical descriptions for a moment. Let us simply reason: Mary carried in her womb the incarnate Word of God. Any objective meditation on that fact will yield love, praise, thanksgiving, and veneration of the God-bearer.

    “Since he predates the ‘fathers’, veneration of Mary must have started after the close of the NT. Unless you are willing to claim inspiration for the Patristics, that should end it.”

    In a real sense, yes, the fathers were inspired. The entire Church was and is inspired — that is, full of the Holy Spirit. That is what happens in chrismation/confirmation, as well as in ordination. The Church is the Body of Christ: the Head, the Lord, wields power through His limbs, especially the bishops in council. Now, the writings of the fathers are not used liturgically; they serve a different purpose. But they are still “inspired.”

    It is worth noting that certain texts held by the early Church to be on par with the apostolic writings are now rejected, such as the Epistle of Barnabus, the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, and the Diatessaron of Tatian. Some of these were used as later as the fourth century.

    It is the case that most early Christians were only acquainted with portions of what we now call “the Bible.” They were not overly concerned with the exact shape of the canon, because their faith was not found in a book but in the Church. Their theology was influenced by the apostolic texts (as well as the Shepherd, etc.), but perhaps more so by the Psalms and Prophets. These first Christians were no doubt also greatly informed by various oral traditions, the liturgy (including hymns, creeds, baptismal formulas), letters and documents that are now lost, a smattering of virtuous pagan philosophy, and the “movement of the Spirit.”

    This fantastical notion that the early Church was a neat collection of independent “Bible churches” is so ahistorical as to defy logi. It is the creation myth of radical Protestantism, rejected even by the magisterial reformers (Lutherans and Anglicans; many Calvinists, too).

    No, from the earliest days, Christianity was ecumenically-minded, and worship was focused around the eucharist, which depended upon the bishop.

    “You believe the church has the authority to set doctrine, so whatever she says, whatever it is, is truth in your understanding.
    I believe it is the individual, perhaps to some extent the elders of a local autonomous congregation.”

    You may believe what you want, but that opinion has no basis in history. It is largely an early modern Anglo-American innovation, little known even to the Continental Reformers.

    The earliest documents of the Church demonstrate unity, hierarchy, and catholicity. This is obvious even during the apostolic age and those years immediately following it. See Ignatius of Antioch, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, 1 Clement, and the Didache, as well as the Egyptian Church Order.

    “Can you demonstrate from the NT only that the church has authority to set doctrine?”

    The Council of Jerusalem.

    “Also, I am really interested in your understanding of the digression that had already begun and the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians? It has to be a real, historical group. Who is it?”

    It is widely understood to represent Nero, who in turn represents the Antichrist.

    ““For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work.” He speaks here of Nero, as if he were the type of Antichrist. For he too wished to be thought a god.” –John Chrysostom

  43. PJ Avatar

    Anyway, isn’t the understanding of the Church allowed to mature with time? It took centuries of prayer and meditation to articulate the Trinity. The same goes for Christ. Centuries of meditation and conversation were required to clarify the mysterious words of revelation, that we might arrive at the truths we now hold to so dearly. Again, the Bible says next to nothing about angels, yet the Church has come to know the celestial hierarchy with some confidence.

    The same thing goes for Mary, you see: The longer we worship Christ, the more we come to appreciate the humble virgin who was His mother.

  44. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    In terms of Paul’s silence on the subject of venerating the Mother of God, I have always understood that if a thing was already common practice, there was no perceived need to comment on it. In other words, in Paul’s time, veneration of the Mother of God was already so commonplace that he took it for granted. And really – don’t you hold *your* friend’s mom in high esteem?

  45. Brian Avatar

    “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42).

    Other than the Old Testament, there were no Scriptures at this time. Paul was still Saul of Tarsus at this time. Exactly what, then, was the apostles’ doctrine immediately after Pentecost? How could there be a “New Testament Church” without a New Testament to guide them – unless, of course the New Testament isn’t a portion of the Bible, but rather the “New Testament in my Blood which is poured out for you. Drink it, all of you…”?

    “…but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

    None other than Paul himself wrote this – not of the Scriptures, but of the Church.

    “’Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas,[and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them:

    “The apostles, the elders, and the brethren (The Church – no?), To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:


    “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” —to whom we gave no such commandment— it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

    It is notable that no Scripture is appealed to here. Also notable are the words, “to whom we gave no such commandment.” Every Scripture known at the time militated against this conclusion, yet they made it (and it stands in all Christian groups to this day) based only upon the manifest work of God among the Gentiles and (in our modern terms) a highly subjective vision of Peter.

  46. NW Juliana Avatar
    NW Juliana

    I think of Matthew 2:11: “And when [the magi] were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him.” Does not the Scripture not paint the Theotokos into the picture here? The magi fall down before both her and the Christ child (just as we do when we venerate the icon of the Theotokos). It’s Christ we are worshiping, but Mary is not cast aside, either. She’s in the picture (icon) and we honor her as well.

  47. NW Juliana Avatar
    NW Juliana

    {Forgive my double negative, please. Should have read, “Does the Scripture not paint the Theotokos into the picture here?”}

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Just found this: http://silouanthompson.net/2012/08/the-oldest-hymn-to-the-theotokos/

    Archelogists have found the earliest known manuscript of a prayer to the Virgin Mary date circa A.D. 250. It is unlikely that it is the very first example ever. Usually when artifacts such as these are found, it means that they are 1. Common, and 2. pre-dated by others that existed before the common examples.

    Obviously veneration/honor of the Theotokos goes back a long way. As the Bible itself says: “All generations shall call me blessed”.

    So, it seems to me, the Sola Scriptura folk ought to at the very least call Mary blessed, or Blessed Mary. Don’t you think?

  49. fatherstephen Avatar

    Excellent example. The “beneath Thy compassion” is the oldest Marian hymn we have archaeological evidence for. This artifact dates to around 250 a.d., which argues for a much earlier composition. Liturgies were not items of innovation (then or now in Orthodoxy). There is also an inscription in the Catacombs addressed to Mary, “Ora pro nobis.”

  50. PJ Avatar

    I’m not even sure why the most sensitive of Protestant souls would be offended by the “Hail Mary.”

    “Hail Mary, full of grace,
    The Lord is with you.

    Blessed are you among women,
    And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

    Holy Mary, mother of God,
    Pray for us sinners,
    Now and at the hour of our deaths, amen.”

    The first two verses are taken almost verbatim from the first chapter of Luke. To call Mary “holy” is no problem: Protestants do not deny that men can achieve holiness. Indeed, that is what all Christians aim for. “Mother of God” is equivalent to the words of Elizabeth, “the mother of my Lord.” For the Lord is God and God is the Lord — unless Protestants now reject Nicene and Chalcedonian Christology, the very foundation of historic Christianity.

    Finally, the last line indicates that we are not praying TO Mary in the sense that we pray to God. Rather, we are asking her in the Spirit to pray FOR us.

    I just don’t get it.

  51. fatherstephen Avatar

    Of course there is nothing particularly theologically offensive in this for Protestants. What is offensive is you Catholics (anti-Christ, etc.). But I’m not interested in not offending Protestants – I’m interested (as I know you are, too) in saving them from error. There are plenty of Orthodox prayers to the Theotokos that would offend the day-lights out of them. Some push me up to the edge myself. But that’s Orthodoxy – nothing but the fullness!

  52. Eleftheria Avatar

    I am an Orthodox Christian. Although I was born, raised and lived in the US until I was 43, I now live in the Republic of Cyprus. This blog has become one of my “daily vitamins” – and for this, I thank you, Fr. Stephen.
    I have been reading with interest the comments on this piece. Living, as I do, here in Cyprus, in close proximity to the church where Lazarus, the friend of Christ, was buried for the second (and final) time, I find it mind-boggling that so many have such a complete disregard for history. The reason we know where Lazarus was buried the second time is because he was the first bishop of Kition (present-day Larnaca) in Cyprus. Obviously, the burial place of someone as important to The Church then (the same-2,000-year-old-Church in which I am baptized and of which this blog writes) as Lazarus was would be duly noted. Lazarus had left Bethany and moved to Cyprus because his own life was in danger, as the same people who had murdered Stephen (Acts) were also after him, being that he was, at that time (since many did not accept the Resurrection of Christ), the greatest miracle that Christ had performed. We also know that when the Apostles Paul and Barnabas went to Cyprus (Acts), they met with Lazarus and made him Bishop of Kition.
    How could anyone – even for a moment – not think that The Church would not have recorded who its bishops were or who made them bishops? Therefore, how could anyone doubt that the Orthodox Church is the same church (which so many others in their comments above noted) to which and of which the Apostle Paul writes?
    Certainly, this same church – that so honored and honors its Apostles and Christ’s friend, Lazarus, also honored and honors Christ’s mother, Mary. Does anyone, for a minute, believe that these people who were a part of Christ’s earthly life simply dropped off the face of the earth simply because their names are not referred to throughout the written New Testament? It would be a most normal thing to want to speak with the mother of Christ…how else did Luke get the conversations between her and Elizabeth recorded – or doesn’t anyone think Mary had any contact with the Apostles before and after Christ’s resurrection? After all, the Apostle Paul did write: Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle (2 Thess). Brethren = people of the Church who are to stand firmly, hanging on with all they’ve got, holding, keeping to the traditions – like bishops and priests and the Eucharist and Baptisms, to name a few – which we’ve (the Apostles) taught you: EITHER by our epistles OR by our word – spoken, obviously.
    And on a final note: Father Stephen should be addressed by his title: Father – not because it is a title earned as if it were a doctorate, but because it, once again, all comes down to history. Specifically: First, because it is the same title of honor given to the Apostles and all the bishops – like Lazarus –appointed by them; and: Second, because the bishops (who, again, were appointed by the Apostles) then appointed priests – like Fr. Stephen – without whom there would be no Orthodox Church, since the priesthood itself comes out of the Divine Liturgy…iow, one does not exist without the other. Even Jesus in His time on earth was addressed as Rabbi – Teacher. In countries that have been Orthodox for 2,000 years, this is a title by which priests are still called here – Teacher – in honor of Christ, Whom they serve.
    Given the history, the Scripture, the traditions…who would dare put down Mary, the mother of Christ?
    Forgive me.

  53. PJ Avatar


    That is true. Some Marian hymns/prayers are a tad too … effusive … for my taste. But I think they serve to remind us of the radical nature of the incarnation, whereby human nature is divinized and men are made co-workers and co-heirs with God. Co-heirs! Can you imagine?

  54. PJ Avatar

    America’s relationship with history is peculiar, since it was founded by Protestants, radical Protestants at that, whose self-understanding was based upon extensive revisionism.

  55. fatherstephen Avatar

    Very well made points – and thanks for the kind words! May God bless!

    A hallmark of American culture (which is a very dominant force in the world), is the ahistorical consciousness of America. This, too, is a product of America’s own history. It was one of the first “invented” countries. We speak about “discovering” a land that was already inhabited. We “settled” a land that was already settled, etc. It would be ever so much more accurate to just say that the land of America was conquered by Europeans. Perhaps Americans would feel less guilty if we called things by their proper names.

    But we have no consciousness of our own history. Most Americans have little or no knowledge of their great-grandparents, and sometimes very little of their grandparents. With the structure of modern economies, multi-generational families are largely disappearing. We not only don’t know where we came from, but we have been enculturated not to care. By the same token, we do not see why anyone else should care about their history. To a degree, the same forces are at work to “Europeanize” the peoples of Europe. The continent there is a fiction of the map. It has no common history other than a lot of wars. History often becomes the enemy of the present. It creates loyalties and sensibilities that stand in the way of many of the projects of modernity.

    Orthodoxy, by its very existence, refuses to accept this historical blindness. It asks us to remember. It does not ask us to hate or despise – but to remember. This task of remembering is an essential part of the Christian life. The Scriptures would not exist were there no remembering. They are a testament to that task as well as many others.

    The Protestant use of Scripture is often an exercise in amnesia. It forgets things that could easily be remembered, because such things deny the very project of Protestantism. It refuses the Church’s conscious remembering of the Mother of God (which she has always done) asking us, “Where is that commandment,” as though the Scriptures had been given to them and not the Orthodox.

    The convenience of an ahistorical Christianity is that it can easily adapt itself (again and again) to whatever demands its culture makes. It is the Christian chimera, constantly becoming something new. Since it rejects Tradition and ignores history, there is never anything more than a gauze of cultural agreement to prevent its yielding to the world’s culture forces. Though many Protestants may eschew the marketing approach of the modern mega-Church and the televangelists, they are not able to say why. For all of Protestantism is complicit in their construction.

    Thank you again for your kind words. Remember me, if you will, at the tomb of the holy St. Lazarus! I have sat and prayed in his first tomb.

  56. Eleftheria Avatar

    Oh, Fr. Stephen! You have been in my prayers from the first few times I had visited your blog – and ever since. Certainly, I will remember you the next time I visit St. Lazarus.
    Thank you for explaining the ahistorical aspect of American Protestantism; it’s precisely what I didn’t get about it.
    So, “Teacher” , thank you for the lesson!
    In Christ, Eleftheria

  57. anon Avatar

    John’s argument about the close of the NT is meaningless, but also incorrect: the glorification of Mary is a Johannine theme (St Paul is not the entirety of the NT) and that tradition echoes between the Gospel of St John and Revelation – chapter 12 of the latter in particular. Here she is a type of the Church as well. And as Fr. Stephen mentions, the image of Mary is throughout the Old Testament – this is not strictly typological – take Psalm 45 as a text that proclaims her veneration, for example. This text is quoted by Mary in the Magnificat, so its hard to argue it is not about her.

    Moreover, one sees immediate reference to Mary as Church, as ever-Virgin, and the one who undoes the curse of Eve and through whom Salvation comes to the world in the sub-Apostolic period. St. Ignatius, St. Irenaeus, the Protoevangelium of James, Shepherd of Hermas. The Sub Tuum Presidium fragment is almost certainly a holdover from 2nd century Liturgies. This is all of the line of folks who learned the faith – to whom it was traditioned – from the Apostles themselves.

    Oh, and of course the Fathers are inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is Christ’s promise to His Church – that they would be led into all Truth! My goodness, what an extraordinary claim that they were not, but some other restorationist in 19th century America was!

  58. fatherstephen Avatar

    Well said. The use of Psalm 45 is an excellent point. Like Christ’s quotation of Psalm 22 from the Cross, his use of the quote also references the whole Psalm (which is prophetic of the crucifixion). Psalm 45 is prophetic of the Theotokos – and clearly marks her out for veneration by the faithful. Indeed, the very verse she quotes (the first half) goes on to say, “Therefore shall the people praise thee forever and ever.” Such a prophetic promise is untrue, except as it is fulfilled in Mary. It is like Mal. 1:11 which prophesies that the Gentiles will offer incense to God in every place of the earth. It is a promise that is nullified by those who have abandoned the liturgical tradition of the Church. By following an extremely reductionist method of reading and using the Scriptures, Protestant usage has unwittingly succeeded in nullifying the Scriptures in their midst.

    Of note, the Restorationists would never say that Campbell was “inspired.” Many don’t claim him at all. It’s not Campbell, it’s his Scottish “Commonsense” use of reason that they follow. It would be more sensible, to me, never to have abandoned the Tradition of the fathers in the first place – but that decision had been made long before in many other places. They did what they could and what seemed best to them.

  59. PJ Avatar

    It’s also worth listening very closely to Jesus’ words from the cross in John’s Gospel: “Behold your mother.” Not: “Behold my mother.” Mary is the mother of the “beloved disciple,” who represents every Christian who is not ashamed of the Pierced One.

  60. anon Avatar

    Fair enough – I didn’t mean to misrepresent their views. On the other hand, Campbell represents only one version of Restorationism – Mormonism is a larger and more successful version and it certainly regards Joseph Smith as an inspired prophet. I can’t speak with any authority on Christadelphians or other Restorationist sects.

  61. fatherstephen Avatar

    I didn’t realize that Mormons were considered Restorationists though it makes sense. Same historical period. Same cultural anxiety produced them.

    Fr Stephen + Sent from my iPhone

  62. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, you’d be surprised by what offends certain Protestant sensibilities. There was a pastor of a Protestant church in either Wyoming or Montana who was looking for more and was gradually coming closer to the Orthodox in the process. A big part of his personal journey was getting beyond the Protestant prejudice about Mary.

    One Sunday morning after he gone a ways in his own journey, he stood before is congregation and read the portion of St. Luke that is The Magnificat. Then he said to his congregation, I’ve been told, “It says right here in the Bible that all generations will call Mary blessed. Let’s stand up and call her blessed.”

    Everybody stood and about half the congreation walked out. Those that stayed eventually became Orthodox under thier pastor’s leadership and the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

    Acknowledging Mary in any substantial way threatens the whole theolgoical system on which certain types of Protestantism is built. Even if folks don’t quite know that or why, they know it intuitively and don’t want to face that challenge. Thus their resistance I think.

  63. dinoship Avatar

    John et all,
    you say: “Why put so much stock in Mary”… in connection to the Incarnation for our Salvation this is also a dogmatic matter…
    Salvation has to do with relationship, personal union, and since Man alone was given the privilege of a bodily, material union, it is imperative that the body (matter) also partakes of this union (i.e., the entire psychosomatic being) and through this, all of Creation. We are linked psychosomatically to all of Creation.
    Man was the one who would unite all of Creation. Why? Because Man alone has a psychosomatic union with God and it is through this union that all of Nature can be saved. The issue is neither a juridical one, nor a moral one. “Salvation” is not a salvation from the sins and the trespasses of Adam – of every Adam – but a salvation from this sickness called “death”; a salvation that is achieved through the union of the created with the Uncreated; a union that will include all of material creation.
    So, firstly, in order for the world to be saved, only Man could mediate. No other being could save the world. Not even God on His own. There was no way for God to say from afar: “Be saved!”
    It is neither because Man fell that he must be saved through Man. Even if Man didn’t fall, again the transcendence of death and mortality would only be achievable through Man. On this point, Saint Maximus is very clear, when he states that the incarnation would have taken place, even if Man hadn’t fallen. It was inconceivable for this world to overcome the (inherent to its nature) elements of death and deterioration – the inherent deterioration that was not attributed to the Fall of Man but to the fact that it is created – created out of nothing. Creation is simply not the Uncreated Source and Giver of Life, the Creator is that.
    Man’s mediation is a necessary prerequisite for the salvation of the Cosmos. Man is the key point, upon which universal salvation is consummated. But, even before his Fall, Man was incapable of transcending death on his own, on account of his being a creation; the transcendence of death could not be accomplished by a creature. All the more, following his Fall, having become prisoner to this false “life” (given that this biological life is “false”, considering it is permeated by death, deterioration, mortality), having become trapped in this cycle of life and death, it was impossible for Man to free himself; hence, an initiative had to be taken – an intervention by the Uncreated One, Who is not entangled in this whole process of “false life” and death.
    Christ became human. He did not become an Angel. He did not become anything else other than a human. Christ is also God, and He must be God in His hypostasis to liberate creation from death, being Himself disentangled from this vicious cycle of life and death from the start. There could be no other solution to creation’s predicament, than the incarnation of the Divine Logos.
    The incarnation of the Logos must be an incarnation into a human, who must not have the personal hypostasis of the created, but the hypostasis of the Uncreated. Moreover, this Saviour must not to be born in the manner that created men are born. Thus, the dogma on Christ’s conception in a non-biological manner – as described in the Gospel, i.e.: by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary – is an essential element in this faith, because if Christ had been born in the biological manner that we are born, then He would have likewise been confined by this “recycling” – this false “life. The conception therefore of Christ by a Virgin is an essential element in Dogmatics; we cannot disregard it. Having this in mind, the question that is now posed is why the Lord’s conception by a Virgin occurred in the manner that it did, i.e., by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. The reason is that not only was it imperative for the Uncreated to take the initiative (and Christ was uncreated in His hypostasis, in His Person), but also that it was necessary for this procedure to take place freely: freely on the part of the Logos, Who became incarnate, and freely on the part of created humanity (the Virgin). Because it would have been unthinkable, at the stage where God wished to mend the situation (given that God had given Adam the freedom to materialize the plan for salvation and he freely denied to materialize it), to withdraw Man’s freedom and to personally intervene in an illiberal manner Himself.
    We can see how the rule – the condition– of freedom was respected, by the manner in which the Incarnation was effected, and more so by the role that the Holy Virgin undertook. We need to stress the significance of the Virgin’s role; of the voluntary “Yes” with which She responded to God’s calling for the realization of this mystery of Christ. The Virgin’s “Yes” was Man’s expression of freedom: the freedom of Man’s acceptance, of his consenting to this initiative by God. This is of extreme importance, because the Virgin Mary could have responded with a “No”. This invitation on God’s part for Her to offer Herself for such a plan naturally conflicts with human rationality to such an extent, that one would have expected the normal, the reasonable response by the Virgin to have been a “No”, as it would not have been logical, without a transcendence of reason, without faith, for the Virgin to have assented to this calling by God.
    In this way, Adam in his free state survives, in the case of Christ. Christ has now become Man – an “Adam” – whose very biological composition is not a compulsory one; who labours if the need arises but is nevertheless a free being; a being that has sprung from a freely willed consent by Man.

  64. dinoship Avatar

    (Met. John Zizioulas – mostly…)

  65. John - Romania Avatar

    God’s grace and peace be with you, Fr. Stephen, and with all of us.

    Glory to God for all things!

  66. Very occasional ESPN Reader Avatar
    Very occasional ESPN Reader

    YOU exegete scripture with true grace Father – this post sings.

  67. Andrew (@cathfacingeast) Avatar
    Andrew (@cathfacingeast)

    I have heard it said (again, recently) that Holy Orthodoxy’s great strength is her weak ecclesiology. Wonder of wonders! I couldn’t agree more!

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