The Virgin Mary is a stumbling block to Protestants, or at least it was for this former Baptist. My upbringing taught me to regard the mother of Christ with indifference. I looked on those who apparently worshiped her with derision if not outright contempt.
Two instances in my past stand out as examples of how I thought about the Virgin Mary at the time.
When I was in my early twenties, I worked for a small shop with four coworkers – two males and two females. Myself and the two guys behaved as young guys do; crude, sarcastic, and full of bravado.
One of the ladies was a young Lebanese woman. At one point we learned she was Catholic, and the three of us taunted her about her love of the Virgin Mary. She offered as much defense as she could muster.
“Don’t you respect your own mother?” she said, aggravated by our teasing and trying to reason with us. It didn’t work at all.
I look back on this moment with shame. Not only was it juvenile and mean, but it was disrespectful of her beliefs, regardless of whether I agreed with them. I hope she has forgiven me.
* * *
A decade later I was teaching a class in the Pentecostal church I attended. We were going through a study of the Gospel of John, and had come to the story of Christ performing a miracle at a wedding in Cana.
I dug up my old notes from that class for this post. Here is what I wrote about Jesus’ interaction with Mary:
Notice that Jesus does not refer to her as ‘mother.’ Jesus does not give undue honor to Mary. We cannot give Mary a place of honor that Jesus Himself does not give her.
There’s so much wrong with this I don’t know where to begin.
It first has to be noted that Mary acts as an intercessor between Christ and the host of the wedding. If those who are dead in this physical world are alive in Christ (and I believe that they are), why would she not still be an intercessor between mankind and her Son?
When Mary asks Jesus to perform a public miracle He rebukes her. She responds with humility and obedience. Her words to the other wedding guests speak to all followers of Christ:
“Whatever He says to you, do it.”
Like any Baptist, I had a hard time overcoming my thinking about Mary. But Christians have revered her since the earliest days of the Church. And why shouldn’t we? Honoring her in no way detracts from the worship of God.
Orthodox Christians understand Mary to be the Theotokos – the God Bearer. In all of history, she was the single human given the task of merging the human and the divine by bringing the Christ into the world.
She could have refused. But she said yes.
Because she said yes, I can be in relationship with God. Because she did not sin, I have an example of a sinless life to strive for. Because she was an example of humility and obedience, I can obey the risen Christ.
If that’s not worthy of honor, then I don’t know what is.
This is a continuing series on my conversion to Orthodoxy. Part 1 can be found here.