Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Thank you, Theotokos (Mother of God homily)

This feast honoring the Mother of God is the eighth day of Christmas--
the birth of the Savior is too great an occasion
to be contained in a single, 24-hour day;
so we have an "octave," an eight-day "day."

In our home, growing up, we had a tradition:
our birthday was also "mother's day"--
so we went and said "thank you" to mom.

That's what the Church does today.

The title, "Mother of God," translates the Greek,
Theotokos: "God bearer."
To this day, many of our Protestant friends
find fault with Orthodox and Catholics over this title.
The Church declared Mary

at the third ecumenical council in AD 431, in Ephesus.

But here's the thing: what made the bishops do that
was not a need to honor Mary, but to resolve a question about Jesus.
The issue was the two natures of Jesus:
He is both God and Man--but how? How does this work?

This is crucial because, if you keep his humanity, but lose his divinity,
he's no longer our Savior: we need God to save us.
But if you keep his divinity, but lose his humanity,
then he's no longer our savior; no longer God-with-us:
we're back to God, far away.

The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus
lose all meaning
if he is not both God and man.
Either it's God, play-acting at dying and rising;
or just another execution at the hands of the state.

A bishop Nestorius started this problem
when he argued that Mary is mother of only part of Jesus--
the human part.
But there's the problem: dividing Jesus into parts.

Think of it this way: suppose Jesus did as my family did,
and he came to his mom on his birthday, and said, "thank you"--
did only part of him say thank you?
Of course not!

Jesus did not have a dual personality.
It comes down to this: how committed is God to us?
His commitment is as total and irrevocable
as the unity of God and man in Jesus Christ.
Start pulling that unity apart, and where does that leave us?

So, the Church had to settle this--thus the ecumenical council.
St. Cyril of Alexandria was there, and here is his account:

"The whole population of the city, from earliest dawn until the evening,
stood around in expectation of the council's decision.
nd when they heard that the author of the blasphemies
had been stripped of his rank,
they all began with one voice to praise and glorify God."

When the bishops came out of the church,
the people led them in torch-light parades, swinging incense, and singing,
"Praised by the

We can imagine that, perhaps, Jesus as a boy,
came to say "thank you" to Mary on his birthday.
But he certainly says "thank you" through us, his Body.
That's what we do today.


Anonymous said...

What a glorious surprise to find the large image of the 12th century Virgin of Eleousa (Virgin of Tenderness), sometimes also known as the Virgin of Vladimir!

I am proud of you for choosing this image for today's feast, Father Fox, and for naming Mary with her truest title of Theotokos, Mother of God. Somehow many Roman riters have succombed to popular images of Mary which often look like Disney heroines or wannabe Barbie dolls with their long blonde hair, blue eyes, and pristine pastel garments. Mary could not have looked like this.

Since we don't know exactly what Mary and Jesus did look like (though we can speculate from Isaiah's description of the Savior, and from common knowledge of the appearance and clothing of Jewish people of that time) it would be well for us to remain with the writings of icons where symbolic images direct us to Scriptural truth. We can immerse ourselves in truth while gazing at a symbolic beauty through which shines brilliant heavenly light.

Relationship to icons is an important gift we can receive at any time from our Byzantine rite and Orthodox brethren.

I wonder how Roman rite Catholics, many of whom love easy devotion, may be brought to understand that popular devotions sometimes actually cheapen that which they stand for and represent so inaccurately? I know devotion to an illusion is better than no devotion at all, but how wonderful it would be if we could all express our love and devotion in the light of truth and reality.

Thanks for the showing of this great Russian icon of Mary and Jesus. It all but jumps out of the computer monitor! I'm so glad you like it well enough to share it with your online followers! I pray that on the first image you have shown on this first day of a new year will remain with at least some in your parish and even draw them in to further appreciation of iconography.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Happy Feast Day Fr!

Anonymous said...

Miles Jesu is bi-ritual...

Irene Concetta Xenos said...

Beautiful, Father, beautiful!

Rachel said...

Interesting comments, Annie. I'm a new Catholic who much prefers good icons to most modern-day soft feminine pastel images of Jesus and Mary. I think I've been appreciating the "symbolic beauty" of icons without knowing that name for it. :) But most of all I tend to love medieval European paintings, many of which combine some symbolism with developing realism. My favorite image of Mary, meanwhile, falls in none of the above categories-- it's Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was stunned when I learned that she gave us that image herself. That image too seems to be highly symbolic, something 16th-century Aztecs would have appreciated.

Anyway, Father, I like your family's custom of making a kid's birthday an occasion to thank the mom. If I ever have kids I'll remember that. :)