I would like to hear any Protestant argue aganis this.
As a teenager, I once raised my voice in disrespect to my mother. My Father was in the house. My parents were (are, as they are still alive) old school when it came to corporal punishment. In my childhood, I knew that when I did wrong, I would get a spanking. An hour or two afterwards, all was forgiven. I never thought that they hated me or were going to kill me, no matter how much I angered them. That time, as I look back at it, I praise God that daddy only fussed at me. If he would have laid one finger on me, he would have killed me. That is the angriest I had ever seen my father until this very day.
So, I can’t help but to wonder how we anger God the Son when we Protestants vocalize similar disdain and disrespect toward the woman who brought Him into the world. “MARY DOES NOT SAVE YOU! ONLY JESUS SAVES YOU! YOU NEED TO READ YOUR BIBLE!” Of course, ultimate salvation comes from believing in Jesus Christ. He and He alone came down from heaven, was crucified, and rose from the grave. The Holy Trinity that we worship is the three persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Mary was a human being and cannot be included in the divine Godhead. Anyone who proclaims anything different is a heretic that needs to be corrected. Yet by her very character, role in our salvation, and the meaning of her presence; Mary should be honored and respected by all Christians.
First of all, that Mary was a virgin. She was pure and untouched through any lawful or unlawful sexual contact. We are taught by the Apostle Paul to think of things that are pure and praiseworthy. In our over sexed society where even our ministers are engaging in illicit activities, it only makes sense that we would uphold someone who has kept herself from human intercourse. In our society, women are frequently refered to in rather unflattering terms (need I give you examples?). Here is one woman who cannot be regarded with such vulgar labels. Which is more that God the Father confirmed her character by sending Gabriel to her with these words;
Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women! (Luke 1:28)
If God the Father favors and was with this pure woman, why then shouldn’t Mary be a part of our Christian living? And what has been the result of not making her and her virgin character a part of our Protestant pursuit of holy living? It is no wonder that Satan has had an easy time convincing us to disregard sexual purity. When the blessing and favor of celibacy is ignored, we readily succumb to fornication as a way of life. Without the iconic example of being clean, we frequently turn to the mild filth of sexually suggestive comedy and drama, horrific crimes of child molestation and rape, and everything in between the extremes. This is not to say that venerating an icon of the Theotokos will instantly cure lust (oh, how I wish it would). But, reflecting on the story of her purity and devotion to the One she gave birth to is a way to refocus our minds on the right way to look at our selves sexually.
As I preached at Trinity Baptist Church yesterday, Mary was a virgin not only with her body. She was virginal in her close associations as well. She was betrothed to Joseph of the house of David and spent three months with her cousin, Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias the priest. Perhaps she had one or two shady acquaintances. But, her loving ties were with people who knew how to walk with God. Furthermore, Mary had to have a pure relationship with God. When Isaiah was in God’s presence, he fell on his face and cried out “woe to me.” Eve tried to hide herself from God because of her sin. In the company of Gabriel (who had previously appeared only to a prophet and priest), Mary was troubled about the greeting and wondered what he meant. Isn’t this what we want of our kids, spouses, and ourselves? Don’t we want pure bodies, close friendships with God-fearing people, and a secure walk of faith? And if so, what is wrong with giving honor (not worship) to the woman who embodies these blessings and gave birth to our Savior?
As a Baptist pastor, I cannot and will not just walk in the church with an icon of the Theotokos and tell everyone to venerate and make prostrations. But, in my private prayer life, I see the beauty, theology, and value in giving her proper honor as taught in the Orthodox Church.
Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set his seal on him.
Pursuing the Right Food
There is not one of us here this morning who does not want a breakthrough or turn around in the difficulties we face in life. Anyone with a long-term illness would love to have God intervene in a mighty way and give a complete healing of mind and body. Those who struggle with finances seek the Lord’s blessings in employment or business to find a way to make ends meet. We all suffer losses, set backs, and a variety of hindrances that if the mighty hand of the most high would touch, we would be released from these problems and free to give God our best…
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God, be merciful to me a sinner!
Humility is the most difficult characteristic for the Christian to maintain. It is too easy for us to look at our salvation (either through the sacraments of Orthodoxy or as a born again Baptist) as a “Get Out Of Hell Free” card. It is too easy to find abortion doctors, kidnapping rapist, troubled celebrities, and corrupt politicians that we compare ourselves favorably against. With this ease of judgement (a power that belongs to God alone), complete humility is impossible for those of us outside of monastic communities. Even monks and nuns must struggle for this goal as well.
While we may adhere to lowly words of our prayer discipline, our thoughts and words in general conversation are too much like the Pharisee. “Thank God I am not like James Gosnell, Ariel Castro, OJ Simpson, Tea Party members, Barack Obama and his supporters, … . I love my wife, my children, my country, my people, … . Does not God know our words and thoughts outside of our hours of prayer? Asking for mercy in a few appointed times without the heart, mind, and lips that seek it at all other is hypocritical. At least the Pharisee’s hypocrisy was obvious. We hide ours in Jesus Prayers and Gospel radio.
The Apostle Paul called himself the chief among sinners. Sure, he could boast that he was no longer a persecutor of the Church and that he was the great missionary of Christ to the Roman world. But, Paul understood that God alone is the judge of all mankind and that it is better to think lower of one’s self as the humble are exalted and those who exalt themselves are brought down low. A plethora of saints from the early fathers to Seraphim Rose taught the same thing, that one should think of himself no better than our enemies. If we honestly look at our sins as the things that separate us from communion with God, we all have reason to hang our heads down and beat our breast begging for mercy.
Let us be careful of our thoughts and words outside of prayer. We may be the baby-killing, teen-raping, dirty politicians with inflated egos that we are better than. God, be merciful to me a sinner!
CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD
DESTROYING DEATH BY DEATH
AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMB
The Great and Holy Pascha has come and gone. But, the journey with Christ does not end! The “Birthday of the Christian Church,” Pentecost is less than 50 days away. After the final, fast-free day of the week (Remembrance Saturday), it is back to the normal Wednesday and Friday fast commemorating the betrayal and crucifixion of our Lord and Savior. Thus, even without the great milestone of remembering the day the Holy Spirit came into the world to spread the Gospel to the world, I would still have a way of life (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) that I should still continue in. Plus, the next few Sundays contain hymns reminding us of everyone from St. Thomas, the Myrrh Bearing Women, Paralytic, Samaritan Woman, and the Blind Man. Our Lord’s Ascension is on Thursday, June 13th.
One thing about major milestones is that there are some significant milestones to be reached and revered before getting to that big one. A person with plenty of time on his hands going from Washington DC to Virginia Beach would do well to take in the history of Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Williamsburg. What tour guide doesn’t recommend a stop or two en route to one’s main destination? These are great learning opportunities and chances to check one’s bearings and supplies.
So as the spiritual journey now points to Pentecost, I am going to stop at these other points to check myself and the things that are around me. One thing I will definitely check up on is my eating habits. I ate way too much meat and cheese on Sunday and paid the painful price with a gout attack. It just so happens (God has a way of giving us help when we need it most) that podcaster and dietitian Rita Madden posted her last edition for a while entitled Eastern Orthodox Healthy Eating and Living Toolbox. Her very first, and most profound, point is that we have to like having a new wellness lifestyle. She supports this point with a quote from St. John Chrysostom, “Every work that does not have love as it’s beginning and root is nothing.” So, in order for healthy eating to work for me, I must enjoy it and seek communion with God as I do it.
Today, I started at dinner. I fixed a vegetarian chilli with garlic bread (okay, I love butter and cheese) and took about one minute between bites. My goal is to get better at eating slowly and not being quite as much of a carnivore, even on non-fast days. When I get a little better with those, I will work on reducing my portion size to “eat just enough to stave off hunger” (St. John Chrysostom). By Pentecost, I want to feast a lot better than I did on Pascha. I was far too much a glutton. I wish not to make that mistake again. If I take care to take one milestone at a time, I will get to where the Lord is leading me.