Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27 NKJV)
The Church has long honored the Mother of God, and has taken this text as emblematic of Christ’s Mother being given to us as our Mother as well. Because she bore in her womb very God of very God, she is blessed and honored by faithful Christians. As Mother of the King of Kings, she is the antitype of the Old Testament Queen Mother, and is properly called the Queen of Heaven. Whereas Bathsheba bowed to her lord, King David, his son, the King Solomon bowed to Bathsheba, honoring her as queen mother. This type is fulfilled in Mary, the Mother of Christ. She is who and what she is by virtue of God’s grace on and in her. And in that grace, she becomes Mother to us all.
Those of us who have had loving earthly mothers, those of us who have felt the fierce advocacy of our mothers for us against all that and those which would harm us, those of us who’ve seen our mothers tears, have been given a glimpse into the sort of Mother Mary is for us. There is no mystery here how and why our Lady is called our only refuge, our champion leader, our fierce protectress. These are all qualities of our earthly mothers–can we not recall for whom we cried out in the night against our child terrors?–and therefore they are the qualities of our Lord’s Mother as well.
The icon of the Theotokos which adorns our parish’s iconstasis (which is not the icon depicted above) has become very dear and precious to me. I have lain flat on my face before it in tears. I have kissed it. I have poured out my prayers before it. I have prayed the supplicatory canon, the Rosary and my own prayers there in that spot. The gaze of our Lady which looks at me from that icon is so tender, so full of sorrow, it cannot be that she does not know my own trials and struggles. And yet, clinging to her is her Son, my Lord, and with the tilt of her head she draws me toward him, ever reminding me he is at the center of all things. She weeps with those of us who weep, and takes all our prayers and grief to her Lord and ours.
The Theotokos has always been a part of my coming to the Orthodox faith. Only a few months after I had made my resolve, while on retreat, I prayed the Akathist hymn for the first time. That prayer cemented my relationship with her, though the depth of that relationship would take some time to grow. I prayed the Rosary from time to time. I prayed the Akathist hymn now and again. And there have been several direct answers to prayer attributable to her intercessions, not the least of which is our daughter Sofie. What her intercessions are working of late is a mystery unfathomable to me now. But in these last several weeks, the depth of my relationship with our Lord’s Mother has grown considerably. She is present in very real ways to me, encouraging me in my prayers, strengthening me, assuring me of her protection of me and my daughters and us all.
I do not know if my experience is unique among us Protestant converts to Orthodoxy. Many of us, though not so much myself, come to the ancient Christian Faith with some considerable degree of “mariaphobia.” But there is no getting around the place of Mary in the worship, the faith and the life of the Church. I am so grateful I have come to understand and experience this so soon after my chrismation.
I’m sorry to speak in such directly personal terms, but I felt compelled to speak of the debt I owe to, and my growing love of, our Lord’s Mother. I would encourage my readers themselves to deepen their own relationships with the Blessed Virgin. In so doing we honor our Lord.