Our Lady of Belief
There is this Greek Orthodox guy I know, whom is very intelligent, a profound thinker and doubter, and a man whose faith was and is still now mysterious. In an on-line forum, to explain his faith, he wrote a beautiful testimony, so beautiful it received the “Post of the Month” award on that website. This is perhaps one of my favorite things, if not the favorite, that I like to read off a forum.
In it, he describes his last stand from falling into atheism. He describes the consistency of the world, how all things mesh together - the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics (which he later seemed to consider as some sort of central divine truth in and of itself) – and all of which point to a Logos: a Reason. To him, Christianity, by its very name, pays homage beyond anything to this Reason Incarnate, Christ. How this Logos does this, he does not know. However, his faith was wearing thin and he could not bring himself to pray to this Logos. He did find himself though at ease to pray to someone who does have this strong faith, someone who can give him peace, someone he can connect to: a Mother. By his own words, he says, “I guess that brings a whole new meaning to the prayer ‘Most Holy Theotokos, save us.’” Needless to say, his faith had a weak foundation, strangely equating the laws of mathematics and science to the Divine Logos, rather than seeing it as a creation of the Divine Logos. This led him to believe in how unnecessary prayers are in general, the communion of saints, an afterlife, how unnecessary the existence of a god would be, let alone how impersonal this god is. Given this foundation, he was led to atheism.
I have not met this guy personally; but through his words on the Internet, I felt so close to him. He was so inspiring to me, (and he still is in some ways) - so beautiful in the depths of his thoughts, but he lacked one thing: faith. He questioned things, but he had no consistent prayer/sacramental life, a weakened-to-no faith. He did not even allow himself to plug into prayer: the outlet by which faith is recharged. He lost faith, lost the concept of the Logos, and perhaps lost his one last stand - the Mother of Wisdom and Reason - the one who could probably help him put the plug back in to his faith.
In the Coptic Church, during the month of Kiahk up to Christmas on the 7th of January, the Advent Sunday Gospels draw on the first chapter from the Gospel of Luke. It is here that we can explore how we see Mary in the church. We know her, from the Third Hour prayers of the Agpeya (the Coptic prayer book), as the 'gate of Heaven'. Already, considered as a door, I find this a testimony of her as a door to the belief in the Logos whom keeps the consistency of the universe. She bore God in her womb and proved his existence by her own flesh, both in her righteousness and in her bearing of his physicality. The Logos is the answer to all our disbelief, the Light whom illuminates our senses and brightens up our thoughts (cf. First Hour Prayers, Agpeya). The Theotokos is the Mother of this Light, whom was chosen by the Father to learn about this impenetrable mystery (Gregory Thaumaturgus, Homily Concerning the Holy Mother of God). Why her? St. Gregory Thaumaturgus writes concerning the attributes of the Father: “Nor any heavenly bridegroom he, but the very Lord himself, the Father of purity and the guardian of virginity, and the Lord of holiness, the creator of inviolability, and the giver of freedom, overseer of salvation, and ordainer of true wisdom and bestower thereof.”
Likewise, Mary is the mother of purity, whom guarded her own virginity, having been filled with holiness, who prophesied of her own inviolability in all nations (cf Lk. 1:48). She, by her own free will, was pure and became overseer for the human race, our own advocate to Christ. She also brought forth the flesh of Christ for our salvation. Mary , herself, was very wise herself and taught us all how to be as wise as she. The Father found perfect for his choice, given all these attributes, in her being the mother to the Reason Incarnate. She would be the perfect mother, as he is the perfect Father.
Hidden within these attributes is the explanation for the reason she can be a patron to those who are troubled in, or lack, belief; she has something in common with others whom do lack belief. She questioned. She guarded her virginity, her purity and honor. She could not allow herself to merely believe in and obey the words of a great fiery spirit minister of good news. She was wise enough to question. Not even an angel of God was going to get in her way to suggest the irrationality of a virgin birth. She did not say, “I know a man, Joseph. I will fully obey your commands oh wise Angel of God and Joseph will be his father.” Rather, she said, “I don’t know a man. Neither do I want to even know a man. And you expect me to bear a child?” (cf. Lk. 1:34) This is even after the angel had told her that this is the Son of the Highest, whom she will be bearing! Here, the Archangel told the Theotokos that she would be the Tree of Life, whose fruit will bring life to the world: “For in the desert of Mary the fair-fruited tree hath shot up” (Thaumaturgus, Homily Concerning the Holy Mother of God).
“Because of her, the Cherub had removed his lance that he might no longer guard the Tree of Life which offered itself to those who ate it. She gave us a sweet fruit, full of life, that we might eat of it and live forever with God”
(pps.9-40, Jacob of Serug,On the Mother of God)
Jacob of Serug offers us amazing insight into the understanding of the Theotokos as the new Eve. Being a new Eve does not merely give her the title of being the Mother whom brings new Life, but also explores the whole story and personality of the Theotokos compared to Eve. The story in Eve presented to us a serpent that came along immediately offering his message of deception. “The serpent did not salute Eve when speaking to her” (ibid,p. 31), whereas peace and blessings proceeded from the Archangel Gabriel (cf Lk. 1:28).
“Instead of the serpent, Gabriel arose to speak … Instead of the treacherous one who brought death by the tale he set forth, the truthful one arose to announce life by the tidings which he brought” (On the Mother of God, pps. 29-30)
It is clear: the old Eve met a spirit that can bite, poison, paralyze, suffocate, and devour. The Theotokos met a spirit whom feeds us, heals us, sets us free, and enlightens us with the good news; this is an Archangel who “stands in the presence of God” (Lk. 1:19). The serpent brought about lies, while the Archangel brought the message of the Truth incarnate. Eve represents those enticed by the lie of the venomous serpent. “See how Eve’s ear inclines and hearkens to the voice of the deceiver when he hisses deceit to her” (On the Mother of God, p. 30). She had not even asked the deceiver a simple question: “How?” But Mary would not accept the mere good tidings of bearing the Son of God. “To this one who [sic] would bear the Son of God it was told, but she inquired, sought, investigated, learned and then kept silent” (ibid., p. 33). And not only was she a doubter, but a wise doubter, as Gregory writes:
Not as the first virgin did she, being alone in the garden, with loose and effeminate thought accept the advice of the serpent and destroy the thought of her heart; through whom came all the toil and sorrow of the saint. But such was the Holy Virgin that by her the former's transgressions also were rectified. Nor, like Sarah, when she had good tidings that she would bear a son, did she rashly laugh; nor like Rebekah, who, with the temper of a deserter, accepted the ornaments, and willingly gave water to drink unto the camels of her betrothed. And unlike all other women, she did not accept the grace of greeting indiscreetly (or without testing it), but only through thought bright and clear (or through glittering thought).
These things in herself the Holy Virgin asked in doubt. But the angel with such words as these solved her doubts: "The Holy Spirit shall come unto thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. Wherefore thou shalt conceive and shalt bear a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus, unto the end that He save the race of men from the death of sin."
The Virgin spake in turn unto the angel: My mind swims in thy words as in a sea. How shall this be unto me? for I desire not to know an earthly man, because I have devoted myself to the heavenly Bridegroom. I desire to remain a virgin. I wish not to betray the honour of my virginity.
(Thaumaturgus, Homily Concerning the Holy Mother of God)
She questioned the validity of a virgin birth, as opposed to blindly accepting being the bearer and mother of the Son of God. She was not in the mood of desiring to be great, but showed great humility in her questioning. Neither was she condescending in her questioning; she, in simple humility, sought the truth: How? Then, Gabriel smiled, marveled, and understood why she was chosen, why she is indeed 'blessed among women.' So, he gave her the answer that she deserved and from that moment on, peace filled the room. “The great strife which occurred amidst the trees came up for discussion, and it all came to an end; there was peace” (Serug, On the Mother of God, p. 29).
There is now peace, peace after being content with the answer, satisfying her troubled curiosity. Peace that she is no longer in doubt and has no need to ask further questions. Peace that now her faith has been strengthened even more after all the times of prayer and, unexpectedly, she receives a blessing of peace. Peace that being blessed, she is still able to maintain her virginity. Peace that her own Savior became a son to her, not for boasting, but for the sake of salvation for herself and all mankind. Peace on earth and good will to all men (cf Lk. 2:14). She knows that she will be blessed by all nations and will be considered a queen. She now knows the mysteries of all the figures of herself in the books of Moses, the Tree of Life that carried the Fruit of Eternal Life, the Ark of the Covenant that carried the Shekinah glory, the Censor that carried the Divine Coal, and all the other countless images in the Old Testament. She knew how great a responsibility this was and how much honor she would receive. Her answer was one that baffles the minds of the haughty, arrogant, and jealous: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).
She is in peace, in silence. She may now rest from questioning, from her curiosity, and move on to digest the message and mission given to her. She understood that she was elevated to a divine purpose; she humbly accepted extreme servitude. By her free will, she was able to comprehend the mystery through much discussion and doubt; and by her freedom, she chose to accept the responsibility in complete selflessness and give up her freedom to God as a handmaiden in complete joy. “Servitude to God is here [and] the joyful gift of man to God, for he who enters into the freedom of the children of God cannot but offer that freedom back to God once more as a sacrifice of love, and become the slave of the supreme tender love of the Father” (Matthew the Poor, The Assumption of the Body of Virgin Mary, p. 11-12). She is a character of humility par excellence. For it was through her humility that she was able to be in complete unity with God: “It will always be through our humility alone that we shall mysteriously be fitted to partake of union with God” (ibid, p. 11).
All this teaches us that it is okay to doubt and question. We deserve an answer. But we should do so in complete respect and humility. This is wisdom; and in this wisdom, she deserves our attention.
So how are we to think of the Greek Orthodox guy whom lost faith, although knowing where or whom the Tree of Life was? The one whom decided to become his own god -- seeking solely knowledge in science and math? Like Eve, he fell when he questioned the Tree of Life. Ironically, this is what Mary did, too. He and others should realize that the Tree of Life is still accessible. She is not guarded with a sword as she was, since this sword has been removed already by her acceptance to be the Mother of God. In addition, Mary's response was not one of a naïve girl, but an intellectual and inquisitive girl. She is a patron to those who lack faith. She is a patron for the proof of God’s existence.
I finish with a prayer to the Virgin Mary, the prayer also being a reflection of what Efmevi meant for me over 2008, and what it continues to mean for me.
I ask you our Lady of Belief, to grant faith for this intelligent man and others like him,
for the Lord was with you and from you and thus can strengthen those who have not found it in their hearts to believe in God, who was held in your womb,
Teach me to be like your Son, who became man so that men might become God. Through your humility, you teach us to be humble, in unity with God, that we may prove by your humility that God does exist.
Raise up my ailing soul for prayer and vigil and teach me to be limpid in prayer so that we may receive God and show Him to others who do not think He is there, just as you were limpid in prayer before receiving Christ in your womb,
Grant them the peace of mind that you received after the irrefutable answers you were given, and, in turn, the belief in King of Peace you bore in your womb,
I ask you, oh Immaculate Theotokos, to remember also those who lost faith, losing faith, and struggling in faith because of things done by our Church hierarchs and people, whom take away God from their hearts. Pray to Christ for them that He may send the Holy Spirit to impregnate their hearts once more and strengthen their faith in the teachings of our Mother, the Orthodox Church,
Bless the ministry of Efmevi, oh Mother of 'Efmevi', to help rekindle belief in the Incarnate God for all who read and do not read these essays.
This speaks in the first place, for the correctness of the Orthodox concept of intercession because, in the last analysis, it cancels out the distinction between the intercessor, that is the Virgin, and us. We take from the Virgin the courage that derives from her purity, and that audacity that derives from her motherhood and her unique love for Christ. All these things are considered to have granted to her for our sake, and she, in her great confidence before God, is able to transfer them to us, just as a stronger member in the body grants its strength to a weaker one.
(Matthew the Poor, The Assumption of the Body of Virgin Mary, p. 17)
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