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.