Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!
Yesterday was a bit of an introduction post to today. Often times Lutheran pastors like Will Weedon and others, have alleged that Orthodox prayers to the Theotokos are idolatrous. I shared a small part of my journey with you, and today I wanted to post a series from the priest who served as our spiritual father and guide as we made our way to the Church. His name is Father Gregory, and he is an Orthodox priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
Fr Gregory was a pastor and seminary professor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod for 22 years before coming to Orthodoxy. He serves as a priest at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was also interviewed in 2007 on Ancient Faith Radio's program "The Illumined Heart. You can hear him talk about his own journey here: From Wittenberg to Antioch. And you can read his posts over at his blog: Pillar and Ground of Truth.
Fr Gregory's insight's on the Theotokos and prayers to her are profitable for anybody, but particularly for those who are seeking a response to Pastor Will Weedon's arguments. The following are excerpts from each of his posts along with links to make it easy for you to read whichever of the full articles you might find helpful.
"Most holy Theotokos, save us!" (Part 1)
"First on the list, because it can be very jarring for Protestants, is the exclamation the priest makes at the end of each Vespers service: "Most holy Theotokos, save us!" (These words are also sung sotto voce by the people during the Litany's commemoration of Mary.) How are we to understand them? Let's break them down into subject, verb, and object. We call upon Mary as "Most holy Theotokos." Theotokos means, literally, "the one who gave birth to God." Mary gave birth to Jesus; Jesus is God; therefore, Mary gave birth to God. Our Lord's humanity--all of it--he gets from her. Each Christmastide the Church sings, "Today the Virgin cometh unto the cave, to give birth to the Word, who was born before all ages; begotten in a manner that defies description. Rejoice, therefore, O Universe, if thou shouldst hear, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds, (glorify) Him who by His will shall become a new born babe, and who is our God before all ages." We call her "most holy." Holiness is a feature belonging to the Triune God..."
"Most holy Theotokos, save us!" (Part 2)
"Here we encounter a problem. How is it that we can call on anyone other than God in prayer? Protestants tend to work with a definition of prayer something like this: (1) Prayer is talking to God. Given that definition, any prayer offered to someone other than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be idolatry. For it would be treating as God, someone who is not God. But the word "pray" was not always defined in the Protestant way. It simply means, "request." Those who read Shakespeare have surely encountered the phrase "I prithee," which is a colloquialism for "pray thee." Even now, plaintiffs "pray" the Court in lawsuits to grant them relief. For us, then, (2) Prayer is making a request of God, angels, saints, or other believers. There is this difference, of course--in the last analysis, God is the one who grants all requests. He alone is all-knowing and all-powerful. If God alone grants all requests, why do we ask others?..." Go here to continue reading this post.
"Most holy Theotokos, save us!" (Part 3) "Now we come to the most difficult part of the prayer: "Most holy Theotokos, save us." What can that mean?
It doesn't mean that we are asking Mary to save us, apart from her Son. The liturgical context alone demonstrates that, for the next words the priest speaks are "Glory to thee, O Christ, our God and our hope, glory to thee."
Nor does it mean that we are asking Mary to save us, apart from her Son. The liturgical context alone demonstrates that, for the next words the priest speaks are "Glory to thee, O Christ, our God and our hope, glory to thee."
Nor does it mean, as I have even heard some well-meaning Orthodox say, that Mary saves us from temporal distress and Christ saves us from eternal distress. Such a "division of labor" approach doesn't protect the uniqueness of the Holy Trinity; it actually obscures it --as if God were only personally concerned with our desetination, and delegated the path along that way to others.
> is from death, first and foremost..."
Prayer to the Theotokos, II: Post-communion prayer
I do not propose to re-establish the things I've already shown, to the best of my ability, such as why we ask the intercessions of the saints in general, or what the Church means by terms like salvation. Not everyone will be convinced; but being convinced is not simply an intellectual exercise. It requires a modicum of good will as well. Even the rich man in hell was unconvinced by Abraham's words, notwithstanding his own misery. After the Eucharist, among many other prayers we pray, we offer this request to the Theotokos: "O most holy Lady, Theotokos, light of my darkened soul, my hope, protection, refuge, consolation, my joy; I thank thee that thou hast vouchsafed me, who am unworthy, to be a partaker of the most pure Body and precious Blood of thy Son. O thou who gavest birth to the True Light, do thou enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart; thou who gavest birth to the Source of Immortality, revive me who am dead in sin; thou who art the lovingly-compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on me and grant me compunction and contrition in my heart, and humility in my thoughts, and the recall of my thoughts from captivity. And vouchsafe me until my last breath to receive without condemnation the sanctification of the most pure Mysteries for the healing of soul and body; and grant me tears of repentance and confession, that I may hymn and glorify thee all the days of my life, for blessed and most glorified art thou unto the ages. Amen." ----------------------------------------------- The first thing to notice is that this prayer does not stand on its own. It is one in a series of prayers; indeed, it stands last in that series. Perhaps this is a key to open the prayer as a whole...
Prayer to the Theotokos II: Post-communion prayer, part 2
"In the introductory address, the Theotokos is called:
> most holy Lady, Theotokos--we've addressed this in a previous post.
> light of my darkened soul--My soul is darkened, because I seek my own good and not the will of God. But she shows me a different way, a way that begins with "let it be to me according to thy will," and finds its focus in "whatever he tells you, do it." If Christ calls all Christians the light of the world, how can we object to his Mother being called the light of our darkened soul?
> my hope-- St. Paul calls the Thessalonians his hope, glory and joy:1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.Why then would it be wrong to call the Theotokos our hope or our joy?..."
Prayer to the Theotokos II: Post-communion prayer, part 3
"I thank thee that thou hast vouchsafed me, who am unworthy, to be a partaker of the most pure Body and precious Blood of thy Son." The Greek original says, "Eucharisto soi, hoti exiosas me ton anaxion koinonon genesthai"--"I thank you, that you have accounted me (the unworthy) worthy to become sharer..." There are two issues here: 1) Can the saints share in works that are God's works? The answer, as we have seen elsewhere, is "yes." To cite but two examples: The handkerchiefs and shadows of the apostles healed people, and Paul told Titus that he (Titus) would save people by paying attention to himself and to his teaching..."
Prayer to the Theotokos II: Post-communion prayer, part 4
"The prayer continues: "O thou who gavest birth to the True Light, do thou enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart; thou who gavest birth to the Source of Immortality, revive me who am dead in sin; thou who art the lovingly-compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on me and grant me compunction and contrition in my heart, and humility in my thoughts, and the recall of my thoughts from captivity." These petitions paint, in words, what is written in colors on icons: our beliefs concerning Mary are directly tied to our beliefs concerning her Son. She enlightens, because she gave birth to the Light; she revives, because she gave birth to enfleshed Life..."