Mary: The Blessing of All Generations

In my childhood, it was not unusual to hear someone ask, “Who are your people?” It was a semi-polite, Southernism designed to elicit essential information about a person’s social background. The assumption was that you, at best, could only be an example of your “people.” It ignored the common individualism of the wider culture, preferring the more family or clan-centered existence of an older time. It was possible to be “good people” who had fallen on hard times, just as it was possible to be “bad people” who were flourishing. Good people were always to be preferred.

I am aware of the darker elements of this Southern instinct so foreign to today’s mainstream culture. I am also aware that within it, there is an inescapable part of reality: human beings never enter this world without baggage. The baggage is an inheritance, both cultural and biological that shapes the ground we walk on and the challenges we will inevitably confront. Fr. Alexander Schmemann is reported to have said that the spiritual life consists in “how we deal with what we’ve been dealt.” In some families, it seems that no matter how many times the deck is shuffled, the same hand (or close to it) appears.

The Scriptures are rife with this element of our reality. It is a story of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, tribal destiny and inherited blessings. Two of the gospels give a chapter to rehearse the genealogy of Christ. Modern thought wants to imagine each human being entering the world as a blank slate whose life will be formed and shaped by their desires and choices. This is our imaginative version of freedom and we work to maximize its reality.

Nevertheless, human experience continues to be doggedly familial. Those who do family therapy carefully ask questions about the generations that have gone before. The battles of our lives are not about theory, but the cold hard truth of what has been given to us.

The Scriptures relate the stories of families, including their tragedies and horrific crimes. No Southern novelist ever did more than echo the iconic behaviors of Biblical failure.

This familial treatment is intentional and tracks the truth of our existence. There is never a pain as deep as that inflicted by someone who is supposed to love you.  Such injuries echo through the years and the generations. The face that stares back at us in the mirror is easily a fractal of someone whose actions power our own insanity. We can hate a parent, only to be haunted by their constant presence in us.

This, of course, is only the negative, darker side of things. Blessings echo in us as well. In the delusion of modern individuality we blithely assume that we act alone in all we do. Life is so much more complicated!

What I am certain of, in the midst of all this, is that our struggle against sin and the besetting issues of our lives is never just about ourselves. If we inherit a burden within our life, so our salvation, our struggles with that burden, involve not only ourselves but those who have gone before as well as those who come after. We struggle as the “Whole Adam” (in the phrase of St. Silouan).

There is an Athonite saying: “A monk heals his family for seven generations.” When I first heard this, my thought was, “In which direction?” The answer, I think, is every direction. We are always healing the family tree as we embrace the path of salvation, monk or layman. Our lives are just that connected.

When the Virgin Mary sings her hymn of praise to God, she says, “All generations will call me blessed.” This expresses far more than the sentiment that she will be famous (how shallow). It has echoes of God’s word to Abraham, “In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). It is in the Offspring of Mary that the word to Abraham is fulfilled. In the Scriptures, God is pleased to be named the “God of Abraham.” That His name is tied to that of a human being brings no offense. Indeed, paradise itself is called the “bosom of Abraham.” It is right and proper that Christians should see the same treatment in the Virgin, the one in whom all these things are fulfilled.

“All generations” is a term that includes everyone – not just those who would come after her. For the salvation of the human race, in all places and at all times, is found only in Jesus, the Offspring of Mary. She is “Theotokos,” the “Birthgiver of God.” Mary is exalted in the bosom of Abraham.

When I look in the mirror these days, I see the unmistakable reflection of my father. No doubt, his reflection is seen elsewhere in my life, both for good and ill. I’m aware that some of my struggles are with “my daddy’s demons.” Of course, my vision is limited to just a few generations. I see my own struggles reflected in the lives of my children (for which I often want to apologize). I do not see the link that runs throughout all generations – throughout all the offspring of Adam – it is too large to grasp. What I do see, however, is the singular moment, the linchpin of all generations that is the Mother of God. In her person we see all generations gathered together. Her “be it unto me according to your word” resounds in the heart of every believer, uniting them to her heart whose flesh unites us to God.

Across the world, the myriad generations of Christians have sung ever since:

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

To which we add:

More honorable than cherubim,
And more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim,
Without corruption you gave birth to God the Word,
True Theotokos, we magnify you!

We are her people. Glory to God!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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145 responses to “Mary: The Blessing of All Generations”

  1. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dropped a word: Make sure

  2. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks for asking Dee. My words quote would do well with some clarification. I will try, but I tend to jump around a lot…
    Yes, I was reflecting on Father’s words that women and children are easy targets. And yes, the crossing of another’s boundaries is a very good way to describe the mechanism that leads to abuse. What I describe as division though, is the disintegration of gender roles. Pardon that I speak in absolute terms, but that is the only way I can make my point. This has all been said before. Women in our culture are objectified. Look at the horror of this Epstein case, for example. One may say that this is an extreme case. It is not. This kind of thing is not new. It is not even behind closed doors anymore. The tragedy is that it leads to the death of a soul…death literally and death spiritually for all involved. The tragedy is that many women accept this kind of treatment. It is no different than the subjugation of the poor. Pretty soon you see yourself as unworthy. And you try to cover up that shame and begin to imitate that same behavior. Out of desperation, lack of love, out of some kind of necessity, you accept the abuse.
    This is the division I refer to….we live in a world divided…fractured and isolated…and we would like to think that all is well. And the disintegration of gender roles is over the top.
    You ask if I refer primarily to the secular world. Yes, I do. But I would not be too quick to say the the Church is impervious to these things. But I will say that the Church is the only place to find true healing of the human condition. Oh yes…in Christ our God.

  3. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oops…Dee, I just saw your additional comment.
    OK, good point on the priesthood and that no man or woman gets to come to the alter, etc. My earlier comment was in reference to patriarchy as part of the structure of the Church…and not only the Church but written into creation in its hierarchial order. It is this order that has been impaired and I see that impairment reflected in between the genders. There is abuse in the authority given to men. And it has turned itself upside down where that very authority is rejected, and gender roles confused.
    As for our crosses we have to bear, I think we are doing that.
    Does that help?
    And please know, I value your questions!

  4. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    One more thing Dee. As for my own personal cross, I know I am supposed to humbly accept it, but I fail in many ways in doing so. I make no excuses. If it sounds that way, forgive me please.

  5. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thanks Paula, I appreciate your comments and for clearing my understanding of your words. And I agree with your thoughts at 6:01pm regarding the disintegration in our society.

  6. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I found this to be very edifying, regarding the Theotokos and the Priesthood.

    http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2015/8/17/theotokos-mother-and-symbol-of-the-church

  7. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Very edifying, Anonymous…
    “… the holy icons called the Platytera, “She who is broader than the Heavens” in which she bears Christ enthroned in her womb, which is represented by a circle or oval containing the Infant Christ. Standing with her arms open, ever receiving all who are present, she is a precise figure and symbol of the Church with Christ is her midst.”

    Thanks so much.

  8. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    I haven’t followed the thread very well, but want to thank you, Dee, for your comments about your childhood. It is my experience and belief that especially the Theotokos encourages me to face everything about my life. That applies in delicate and hard ways to the things we cover up as children so we survive. I am one of those who senses things without knowing why or being able to prove anything. It is my firm faith that theosis, and in particular our participation in Christ who reconciles all things, drives us toward this reconciliation (in Him) of *everything* in us. Thank you for sharing your pognant and beautiful history and culture. Perhaps my comment comes, after sundown, on just the right day. Love from me and to the rest of the commenters

  9. Kristin Avatar
    Kristin

    I am a little confused by what is meant by ‘gender roles.’ The biggest difference I see between men and women is that women get to carry babies and give birth and men don’t have trust privilege. I’ve heard many things about how ‘women are this’ and ‘men are that,’ and these distinctions seem to frequent conversations where one or the other is either denigrated or limited in what they are/can or are supposed to do. This leads quite quickly to judging one’s neighbor when they make choices that don’t fit the gender role assigned to them by one group or another.

    Please forgive me if I am misunderstanding anyone here. I find conversations about gender roles threatening and none of you here are truly like that to me, so I am a bit baffled.

  10. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Kirstin
    There are many ways to approach that issue, scientific, (physical, hormonal, psychological etc) need to be as clearly separated from political (sociological, philosophical included) as possible for an impartial conversation on the more secular plane. From the point of view of the Church things are quite different and within a context of profundity that the non-sacramental worldview cannot even begin to grasp.
    The more recent politicisation of everything (a secular neo-marxist kind of worldview) of the new ‘religion’ of rights, compared to the traditional classical Christian notion of the Kingdom, in their utmost extreme versions is a noteworthy comparison… : The most extreme and perfect manifestation of a Kingdom is that the ‘last’ – say, the servant who cleans the king’s shoes – is as indispensable (indispensable because the King cannot go out barefoot or with dirty shoes) as the King himself (who is actually the servant of all in the perfect manifestation of this). In such an extreme perfection everyone would have a unique value. Any distinction or role (including male female) is overshadowed by unique meaning.
    In the most extreme manifestation of democratic equality, on the other hand, you have a ‘system’ where everyone is but an impersonal and utterly replaceable cog in a machine. In the most extreme manifestation of such a system of equal-ness any distinction or role (including male female) is overshadowed by personal meaninglessness.
    I could have some mistakes here but I’m just thinking out loud…

  11. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Kristin,
    I appreciate your thoughts about gender roles and the typical denigration that is implied if not openly expressed. And I will not speak about denigration now. But please believe me there is enough in my history to elaborate on this topic.

    I believe I understand Dino’s thoughts but I will place emphasis on the word modernity and the impact of modernity on how we think about ourselves and how we relate to one another. The disintegration that Paula references has been an ongoing process of modernity for some time. I believe one part of this process is the transient nature of our communities in the US, which is partly fueled by an economy structured for the purposes of utilizing people to satisfy the needs of various industries’ workforces.

    Honestly, I relate to people who are not my neighbors. Christopher referenced the “the Benedict Option”, which is an attempt to ‘create a faith-based community of like minded people’ purposefully. And yet this too is fueled by the effects of current affairs. Some people have to travel a significant distance to attend church services.

    Also conversations about ‘gender roles’ often allude to perspectives about the current ‘sexual revolution’, which includes one’s perception of one’s own sex identity and the relatively new concept of a ‘continuum’ in sexual identity. This has become a ‘hot button’, so to speak, in the conversation among Orthodox people.

    All of this gets funneled into conversations about the priesthood, especially since the pastoral vocation in Protestant Churches can be taken by men or women. This too is a ‘hot button’ in conversations among Orthodox people.

    I probably haven’t contributed much in this conversation. Perhaps the words ‘gender roles’ have been applied to so many different and competing perspectives that they have begun to lose their meaning.

  12. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Kristin,
    I threw a wrench in this conversation by bringing up gender roles. I apologize that it has caused some difficulty. It is a difficult subject. Please know it is not my intent to threaten, denigrate or judge anyone.

    Dino…would you re-word part of your comment? You are saying something about uniqueness that overshadows distinctions (roles), as understood in the Kingdom…

    Dee, that the words ‘gender roles’ have begun to loose their (true) meaning is threatening in itself. Pretty soon there will be no distinction whatsoever. To me, that’s scary. But then again, Dino is saying something different about this….

  13. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    I had a sociology professor in college (this would have been around 1990 or so) who would emphasize the many differences between men and women from a scientific point of view. She obviously thought even then that these natural physical, psychological, and sociological traits were being obscured by a modern moral trend (which is now a full blown passion). This passion is now so strong I recoil from the language, such as “gender” even when I use it, preferring “sex(ed)” – but this itself can have a reactionary character.

    Dino’s point (which is anthropological as much as it is Eschatological) has this technical aspect but is important IMO. Modern Cartesian Selves have to *create* their own meaning since in this worldview the Self is its own source and ground of everything. Yet in practice this does not work because it is not *real* – we are in fact created by an Another, and so everything we are (including our sexual createdness) has its source, ground, and meaning from outside the self. The Modern Cartesian Self intuits it’s own meaninglessness, yet it keeps on doing what it does – falsely creating – in the form of “systems” of relatedness to other Cartesian Selves. These are the modern moral/political projects (for example, marxist socialism or liberal democracy and its “rights”), which have this double character of utopic idealism on the one hand, and a strongly felt (if rarely openly acknowledged) nihilistic desperation on the other. This external double character is an image/reflection of the internal worldview of the peoples/nation who carry them out.

    Here in America, this unreal anthropology is the highest law of the land:

    “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” {Justice Kennedy for the majority}

  14. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’ll add a little more:

    The Patriarchal structure within Orthodoxy is seen through the lens of this culture of this secular society. I’m grateful for a very early introduction into a traditional matriarchal (and matrilocal) culture/family. But “Matriarchal” also has the immediate association with the ‘New Age’, again through the lens of this secular society. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the angst that this society has created between men and women is additional influence in the conversations about the structure of men as clergy within Orthodoxy.

    In small increments I attempt to deal with how to express the faith without trying to ‘create argument’ and perpetuate this angst. For example, when my husband accused me of joining a ‘patriarchal organization’ as it seemed to him the very antithesis of all I had done and been, I asked him why he said this. He pointed to how very small the icon I had of the Theotokos was relative to the icon of Christ. So I obtained a very substantially bigger icon of the Theotokos and at least for a time that somewhat quelled his concerns. Over simplistic perhaps but for a time it helped.

  15. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Yes Dino is speaking more about the classical Christian understanding of who we are ‘in the Kingdom’ whereas I was attempting to describe it’s opposite, modernity and the ways it defines and operates. These definitions are those with which we are familiar, and from which, the angst comes.

    It is good to describe the distinctions of how we are to be within the Kingdom, even better to live it.

  16. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    As a kind of p.s. to my last comment:

    Classical Christians (rather Protestant, RC, or Orthodox) for the most part have had a largely unconscious relationship to the fundamentals of modernity and its worldview, anthropology, “systems” of morality, meaning, and politics. This has led to various forms of “living side by side”, sometimes in almost open conflict but most of the time in a rather easy peace. What we call the “sexual revolution” is but a logical outcome of modernity, yet because it is a partnership of its radical anthropology of the meaningless of sex combined with the power of modern “rights” morality, it is challenging traditional Christians and moving the needle (so to speak) from “easy peace” towards open conflict. In my opinion, the core of the Benedict Option is not simply the conscious grasping of these realities and a kind of crude gathering of “like minded” individuals (such that all it really is is a collection of folks griping at coffee hour about last week’s cultural or political development), but rather a deeper and essentially *ascetical* disposition on the part of individuals, family’s (especially families), and yes local traditional Christian communities.

  17. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Paula
    I think that any ‘system’ where the unique individual worth of each, is ignored for the supposed betterment of the whole (democratic, socialist or whatever) will start giving off the odour of hell while trying to establish its own utopia. A Kingdom, rightly understood, is something far less impersonal and faceless by its very nature.

  18. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Helpful description Thank you Dino!

    Christopher please forgive me I had no intention to sound dismissive concerning the Benedict Option. I appreciate your PS comment and the one before that.

    I’ll keep my mouth shut now.

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes, thanks Dino. That helps.

    Dee….please don’t shut your mouth for too long! We need your clarity!

    So, I am wondering….is all the discussion about gender roles besides the point…is it an unhelpful diversion away from things we should be attending to?
    Also…what about hierarchial order, including patriarchy? Is there not a male/female role in this? Who holds authority? Who is held responsible? I know each of us are held accountable for the choices we make. Even though I ask these questions under the influence of modernity, please answer them directly. If I am asking the wrong questions, or they are too simplistic, please explain, simply 🙂

  20. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Dee,

    No worries. I was taking the opportunity to speak to a common perception, not you directly. I should have clarified this.

    Paula,

    As the saying goes there are no right answers to the wrong questions. Where you begin is as important as where you are going and how you get there (which itself is a very anti-modern statement). So, there are no “direct” and “simple” answers to your questions because your questions start with modern categories of gender, roles (itself a term borrowed from the theatre which is congenial with a Cartesian notion of self-creation), authority-as-power (as opposed to Christian understanding as authority as truth, charism, servitude, love). Hope that makes sense…

  21. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes, that helps Christopher.
    “authority-as-power (as opposed to Christian understanding as authority as truth, charism, servitude, love)” …. yes, this sets my face in the right direction. (I had a feeling I was “under the influence”…!)
    Thanks so much.

  22. Kristin Avatar
    Kristin

    Paula-

    I in no way felt threatened or offended by you! If I had, I most likely would have left the conversation. It’s the terms we started using that make me wary, and in conversation with others, not here, leave me feeling threatened. I apologize wholeheartedly for communicating poorly.

    I think Dino, Dee, and Christopher brought up modernity and the Cartesian Self. And a different view of authority that is not rooted in power and domination, but rather rooted in truth, charism, servitude, and love. These change the discussion for me significantly. I forget how modern I am, and thus feel far away from the Truth of who we are and how we are made as taught by the Church, in which I am still an infant.

    Dee-I love how your husband questioned you about your icon. He’s looking out for you! I don’t think coming into the Church need be a betrayal of all that came before, and I wonder if that’s what he was afraid was happening.

    The hierarchy of the Church has taken getting used to, as well as the male priesthood. Our priest is so kind and generous, and has explained it to me multiple times so I can at least have some comfort while I struggle to understand.

  23. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I have, at times, come close to creating a t-shirt, with the statement “Gender is Irrelevant” on it, simply to annoy what I’m sure would be a large number of people around me (yeah, I’m that guy). I have not done so because Orthodoxy is not about annoying or attacking people (something I must remind myself of far too often; Lord have mercy). However, it does not escape me that, if we eliminated the word “gender” from our vocabulary/culture/etc., much of our troubles would actually go away. Control the language….

    Christopher, your post concerning the Cartesian Self is frighteningly accurate and an excellent explanation. Many thanks.

  24. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    I think when we speak about “gender roles” we cannot forget that Mary the Mother of God defies every stereotype of a male-dominated hierarchy as she is the greatest of the saints and greatest human, if you will, in the eyes of the Church. Following that, saints of every kind have been extraordinary specifically in terms of defying boundaries and stereotypes. Women saints have frequently led the way in personal authority and innovation, but *every* saint is extraordinary and stretches the boundaries of what is “acceptable” and holy. Besides, each one of us is meant to be shaped in grace. Look at the development of the disciples in the Gospels and afterward. We can’t put limits on what God does in us. “With God, all things are possible” after all. I would also like to add that this breaking of boundaries and stereotypes goes even to the physical, with our “dog-faced” saints (who has a namesake on this thread 🙂 ) holy and beautiful as such.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think I prefer to steer clear of the language of “gender roles.” For one, it presumes that men are all one thing and women are all another. In fact, that is simply not the case. I would prefer to say that every human being’s existence is expressed in a “gendered form.” This is closer to the language of St. Maximus who described male and female as “energies” of the soul. (in the same manner that we speak of “Divine energies”).

    I have deep difficulty with the historical analysis that has been done by those involved in women’s studies, etc. It is a highly biased reading of events that purposefully skews things and ignores others. Culture has very rarely been “patriarchal” in the manner described by feminists (women have had far more power than is often accounted for in history books).

    The Orthodox Church is “hierarchical” in its very essence – so is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not a democracy nor predicated on democratic assumptions. Nevertheless, described the visible hierarchy of Bishops, Priests, Deacons is like describing a house solely on the decorative style of its window treatments. Women have often had lots of power within the Church (of every sort). Indeed, the fact that the Orthodox priesthood is, most normative, made up of married men, immediate extends an enfranchisement to women within the power structures of the Church. I recall a situation in the past decade in which a jurisdiction was in crisis. The defining word and action was taken through a letter from a well-regarded Matushka (priest wife). I do not think that any priest could have had such authority.

    How a role is expressed is probably more important than the role itself. Christ spent time telling His apostles how to exercise authority – but He did not think that they should have no authority.

    No male had anything like the authority of the Mother of God. Her “yes” was equal to God’s “yes” in the Incarnation of the Word. She also initiated Christ’s ministry “before it was time” as recorded in John 2. Historians tend to do their analysis in a very shallow manner, just like they do military events. They compare generals when they never fire a shot.

    Human existence is quite complex. It is, however, always expressed in a gendered manner and the genders are not interchangeable. The witness of Scripture is that one is not complete without the other. There is a mystery so much deeper than the shallow musings of our late-industrial culture.

  26. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thanks, Father. That makes a lot of sense to me. In terms of what we overlook, you remind me of the “explosive” (if you will) nature of the holy, of grace. We just can’t contain it in one dimension or another, nor can we anticipate that kind of surprising nature and growth. The wind blows where it wishes. And you me, today of all days, that we call her our Champion General.

  27. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    *remind me

  28. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    In an earlier post I described how my wife’s “no” had kept me from many missteps. However, I’ve had my own “no’s” as well. I distinctly recall telling her, “No, I cannot remain evangelical. I do not know where God will lead, but I do know that.” Now, 24 years later we are standing today in the Dormition chapel for the liturgy on this great Feast Day. We are crowded together like canned sardines. But instead of a fishy odor the fragrance is of myrrh as we are in the presence of the myrrh-streaming icon of Hawaii. The nuns are quietly singing as people approach to venerate our Holy Mother’s icon and receive a piece of myrrh saturated cotton. I have just passed the bier of the Theotokos. Icons are on every wall of the chapel. Sun beams streak through the upper chapel windows. I see reverent, radiant faces all around me. Small boys crowd past to get to the front. Oh, it’s glorious! Thank God in Christ for His all-holy Mother He has gifted to the Church.
    Surely more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim.

  29. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father Stephen thank you so much for distinguishing between hierarchal and patriarchal. Frankly I was skirting around my own perception of the OT construct of the Israelite culture and it’s likely presence in Jesus’ life time. Despite the likelihood that it would be contested, I have always sensed a matriarchal system in place. Feminists would refute this. Many others likely as well. I don’t bring this up as a general rule because of what would be read into it.

    I’m grateful for your emphasis on the married condition of most priests and the almost invisible (to the constructs in this culture) hand of women’s influence.

    There is so much beauty in what you have written.

    Thank you.

  30. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you for such beautiful imagery Dean.

  31. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Very helpful points you make Father, thank you.

    Earlier on I mentioned that upon entering the Church I really needed to get to know our Mother. I realize that much more so now.

    Thanks to all for this conversation. It was a great help.

  32. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    I very much thank you, Paula for not understanding, as you say, my post. For, in the following conversations this wonderful passage from Father Stephen illuminated what I was trying to say:

    “…I would prefer to say that every human being’s existence is expressed in a “gendered form.” This is closer to the language of St. Maximus who described male and female as “energies” of the soul. (in the same manner that we speak of “Divine energies”)…”

    Energies of the soul – that’s truly beautiful! It so reminds me of the Russian diminutive that is an expression of love: “dushka”, from a husband to his wife or lover to his beloved – it means “little soul”. And it is so evocative of the lovely Dormition icon – where Christ is holding the little soul of His Mother. How beautiful, and neither matriarchal nor patriarchal but totally warm and tender, as in the story of Adam and Eve, where Eve is fashioned from Adam, and the Greek word there is related to our word ‘economy’ meaning ‘homebuilding’.
    I love the Greeks, even if we are a folly to them – ‘energies’ is exquisitely put!

  33. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Juliania…what a beautiful description of the Dormition Icon…”neither matriarchal nor patriarchal but totally warm and tender”…yes, I see it!

    Thank you for your always-sweet words and lovely analogies.

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you also Father for bringing into the conversation St Maximus’ writing that pertains to the subject, specifically a gendered form in the energy of the soul and the complementary aspect between male and female ‘energies’.

    This is a helpful expression. And during this conversation I too was thinking of St Maximus’ writing that might pertain. But my thoughts were drawn to his idea that each of us are living to become, in obedience, the person/logos we are to become. Perhaps that wasn’t necessarily mentioned together in his writing on the energy of the soul but I believe it paints so to speak a larger picture of how this all comes together.

  35. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Additional thought: an elaboration on the perception of the embedded hierarchy in creation. (Adding a twist to the idea of King and the servant Dino mentions). We think of bacteria as ‘low’ life. And yet without them our bodies would indeed be in a sorry state. For with them our bodies have a biome that can fight the ‘bad’ invasive bugs that harm our health. High and low are given certain value in this culture. We might need to consider another way of viewing hierarchal structures.

  36. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…interesting that you should say that you were considering St Maximus’ writings during this conversation. When you asked me earlier in the conversation about using the word “division”, it was St Maximus’ words about the 5 divisions that mankind must overcome and in the end reach theosis which I had in mind. But I could not possibly put it into words! So I went down the path of hierarchy, patriarchy and how this has been impaired. However, my thoughts being “infected” by modernity. I saw this clearly in Christoper’s words that “[my] questions start with modern categories of gender, roles (itself a term borrowed from the theatre which is congenial with a Cartesian notion of self-creation), authority-as-power (as opposed to Christian understanding as authority as truth, charism, servitude, love)…”.
    I am thankful that Father directed us away from using the term “gender roles” to “gendered form” and “energies”. There is so much to reconsider here. So much to learn, and re-learn in such a way as to enlighten our very soul, as “each of us are living to become, in obedience, the person/logos we are to become”.
    These discussions we have are of such importance!

  37. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed Paula all of us who are Orthodox and live in this secular culture are trying to ‘unlearn’ the values and perspectives that diminish our humanity.

    Just a few minutes ago I read the words, “‘DNA testing’, to learn the ‘truth’ of our selves”. Whose truth? DNA shows DNA. But the meaning we put into it tends to be an evaluation that uses criteria of this secular culture. Does it really reveal our history? Whose history? Again such history is often reported through the lens of this secular culture. What we Orthodox mean by ‘becoming a person’, is out of the ballpark of what this culture offers to understand the ‘truth’ of ourselves.

    This society treats our bodies as so many parts, and these increasingly are ‘interchangeable’ with medical development. Hence sex is yet another interchangeable part. The reality of our living organism, which is our bodies and minds and the souls that enliven them, is inexplicably embedded and connected to others and to the rest of creation in a particular way that is unique to each of us. Rarely is this considered in this secular society.

  38. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I used the word inexplicably but intended inextricably. Both work but provide different slant.

  39. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes Dee. You provide a very good example of disintegration in the “interchangeable” body parts and even our identity as a person.
    “DNA is DNA”. I had to smile at that one. How true! You ask about our history. Well, our place in history as Christians are as “adopted sons and daughters of God”. An analogy, yes. But even if DNA testing could prove who is of the Father and who is not, it couldn’t be proven for “adoptees”! But we who hold to the Faith do not ask for proofs (though we have been give much revelation!).
    A funny story…many years ago as a Protestant, I wrote down my thoughts about being “born again” and being “in Christ”, and the Man Christ’s DNA. Now I can only give you the gist of what I wrote, because I did not save it. My thoughts were something like this:
    Christ was born of a woman, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Christ has DNA.
    When we are “born again” by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are born again “in Christ” and thus share in his DNA. (You can smile, Dee!).
    I wish I’d have kept that piece, because I had a long explanation of why I thought this was true! And now looking back I think I was trying to describe a true ontological change within us, way way before I ever heard the word “ontological”.
    Now as Orthodox Christians we know that Christ shares the Theotokos’ DNA…and She is the Mother of the Christian race!
    I don’t know Dee…we can’t prove “the truth” just by looking at DNA itself. But maybe…just maybe… their is “a mark” of our “adoption” in our body…somewhere 😉

  40. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed I believe what you’re saying is true Paula!

  41. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Well, a little bit more about DNA, mentioned in the post that Yvette commented on this morning. There, Maria commented:
    “latest discoveries (he had been to a scientific conference) about pregnant mothers is that not only does the child receive DNA etc from his mother, but that the mother receives something (i forget all that he mentioned) from the child and her biology/her body is permanently changed! What implications for Mary!”
    Father’s response:
    “And, yes, according to science, some of His DNA would have also been in her body from having borne Him in her womb. As He was crucified, a “sword pierced her soul, also” (Lk. 2:35). She uniquely shared in His suffering in a manner never ascribed to any other.”
    There is a “silver lining” in all this, regarding us who are “in Christ”, isn’t there!
    Thanks Father, and Dee, for helping me to make some sense of something I find difficult to put into words! Christ indeed makes all things new. To take this further, His “DNA” permeates, really, in all of creation. I think that is what you saw through the microscope, Dee. The resurrection inherent in the fabric of the universe. Making all things “alive”…even the rocks and the trees, and the luminaries in the heavens, exalt Him!
    Father, I see why you say that we can not know Christ apart from His Mother. I didn’t consider Her as such when I wrote that piece about DNA as a Protestant. It is really a good example of missing such fullness of the Faith. A very very big difference….
    Oh if they only knew! I pray someday we will all be under the same “roof” so to speak. But I believe that will only be in the age to come.

  42. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    To you all, what I loved about Orthodoxy was the special place accorded to the intellect by the Desert Fathers, and this thread is an illustration of that. We are not obliged to accept anything that our minds have problems with, and we indeed do need to satisfy that part of our whole being by addressing all sides of an issue. That is not to our condemnation, but rather to the richness of heritage which Orthodoxy contains. When I first came to these matters I remember it struck me how alive was the conversation ongoing in those early centuries as controversies came up, wrong paths were travelled, corrections made, theology refined.
    It wouldn’t be a need for everyone to pursue all the refinements, but it is all there and can be traced if one ‘has a mind to,’ down through the centuries. It’s part of loving the Lord our God with all of everything we are, the mind as well.
    My little church is and was old calendar, so this feast is still ahead of me. But there is an intellectual basis for that also, and sometime we can explore that, I hope!

  43. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    I am adding a thought I had here, now that the Feast has just passed for us Old Calendarists – one that might perhaps be of assistance to John in contemplating our love for the Theotokos – I was thinking last night that in the service for the Dormition or falling asleep of the Theotokos, the hymn that resounds for me is called the exapostalarion, and comes at the end of the evening service. It goes: “O ye apostles, assembled here from the ends of the earth, bury my body in Gethsemane: and Thou, O my Son and God, receive my soul.” In reading some of the comments here, being present to the icon of the Feast, it was to see the apostles assembled, and I realized that John the Gospel writer wrote as he did after having taken her into his own home. So, for some time she did, as Christ instructed from the Cross, become his mother. And surely, the essence of her presence with him pervaded what he wrote.

    I am sure you, John, are very fond of the Gospel according to Saint John. I know I am. So, even if you don’t realize it, you are also affected deeply by her presence in his life. As are we all.
    I’m addressing this to you, (and to Ivan!)because you both are blessed to have his name – you mightn’t see such a late post, but Father Stephen will, and he can tell you about it if you haven’t yet had your cup of coffee together. And that way I will be there too!

  44. Carolyn Murphy Avatar
    Carolyn Murphy

    I have a question about Mary and I don’t know where to put it! I think I understand about appreciating Mary’s place in relation to our salvation but I don’t understand about “praying to Mary – but not worshipping her.” The OCA site says that we ask her to intercede for us with God – not that we pray TO HER. But I have been told by my priest that we pray to Mary, and our bookstore has a prayerbook of prayers to Mary. I understand that Mary is to be revered, but she is not God, and how can she answer prayers? Yet there seem to be many anecdotal references to Mary answering prayers in Orthodox literature. I’m hung up on this question and would really appreciate being able to get past it.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Carolyn,
    I think it is unfortunate that you sometimes see the “we don’t pray to Mary but ask her to pray for us” explanation. It was a common “High Church Anglican” answer, but inappropriate for Orthodoxy. As you have noted – we plainly pray to saints. We also sing hymns to them and not just about them.

    What is necessary to understand is that none of this constitutes worship. The word “pray” simply means to “ask.” Shakespeare would write, “I pray thee, bring me a cup of water.” We pray to the saints in that we ask them to do things. We also sing hymns about them and to them, just as we might sing a song about or to any popular figure in our culture. “Davy Crockett” comes to my East Tennessee mind.

    But none of this constitutes “worship.” Protestants often confuse these actions with worship because, in some sense, many of them do not actually offer worship to God. The “honor” God with hymns of praise and ask Him to do things. But this, alas, is not worship itself.

    Worship, rightly understood, is the offering of a sacrifice. It is giving to God that which belongs to Him alone. The sacrifice that we offer as Christians is the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is that very sacrifice that we offer in the Divine Liturgy. God provided this sacrifice for us and we offer it to Him and Him alone. No sacrifice is ever offered to a saint. Ever. Instead, they join with us in offering that one sacrifice to God.

    This is one reason why attendance at the Divine Liturgy is so vitally important – and beyond comparison with any other service within the Church. It is at the very heart of the Church’s priesthood – including the “priesthood of all believers.”

    Asking the saints to do something for us is no different than asking each other to do something – except that they are better able to do certain things. The honor we give them falls far short of the honor God Himself has bestowed on them. We are only echoing what God is doing.

    Interestingly, the Scriptures speak of the “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” Some Protestants have mistaken taken this to mean that praise and thanksgiving are the primary sacrifice of worship and belong to God alone. Of course, these same people cheer and praise their football teams, undermining this argument. The fact is, the Scripture suggests (in the Psalms) that God would see our offering of praise and thanksgiving to be “like” the offering of the sacrifice (in that case of an animal) or of incense. It does not say that the two are equivalent.

    I hope this is of some use in understanding all of this.

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