Category: Mary the Mother of God

Joyous Feast!

by Andrea Elizabeth

Today is the end of the Dormiton of the Holy Theotokos fast. At the beginning of this short, two week period we celebrate the finding and elevation of the precious and life giving cross of our Lord. In the middle we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord on Mt. Tabor, and today we commemorate the falling asleep and translation of the Mother of God into heaven. This is a momentous fast. I hope the blessings of it fall abundantly upon us all.

by Andrea Elizabeth

Your Nativity, O Theotokos, Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!

The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, Has shone from You, O Theotokos!

By annulling the curse, He bestowed a blessing.

By destroying death, He has granted us eternal Life. – Troparion, Tone 4

icon from Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral

Dormition of the Theotokos hymns

by Andrea Elizabeth

The two ladies singing these hymns are parishioners of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Dallas. Their harmony is very beautiful.

(the husband of the alto posted the video on his Facebook page)

Troparion, Tone 1:
In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity; /
in thy dormition thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos. /
Thou wast translated unto life, / since thou art the Mother of Life; //
and by thine intercessions dost thou deliver our souls from death.

Kontakion, Tone 2:
The grave and death could not hold the Theotokos, /
who is sleepless in her intercessions and an unfailing hope in her mediations. /
For as the Mother of Life she was translated unto life //
by Him Who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb.

O ye Apostles from afar, being now gathered together
here in the garden of Gethsemane, give burial to my body;
and Thou, my Son and my God, receive Thou my spirit.


by Andrea Elizabeth

bl-seraphim35loFinishing part three (only in the mid 200’s of pages) of the hefty book, Father Seraphim, His Life and Works, inspires me to mark the occasion here. This book, along with the Church of the Nativity Prayer Book and the Holy Trinity Monastery Psalter I purchased at Holy Cross Monastery sat in my lap the whole way home from Pennsylvania while George drove. I did not want to set them on the floor of the car or pack them in the back. I read from each a little bit, but mainly I wanted them close to me. Saint John of San Francisco also feels close through the stories of him in this book as well as through the icons of him both at Holy Cross and more recently, at St. Maximus the Confessor Orthodox Church in Denton, Tx. We attended vigil there last Tuesday night in honor of the Church’s patron Saint, and I didn’t realize I was standing by St. John’s icon on the wall until I’d been there a little while. It was a very welcome surprise.

There are many stories of the intercessions of St. John of San Francisco. stjohnwonderworkerSome have seen him standing at the Cathedral in San Francisco, Joy of All Who Sorrow, which houses his relics, during Liturgy. There was a couple at the Cathedral when we visited two summers ago who had attended the Orthodox school there, and told us how they would avoid walking the most direct way to the school because he would greet all the students on the sidewalk and ask them which Saint was commemorated that day. It was embarrassing not to know. I believe this man of most constant prayer while he was in his earthly body, is a fervent intercessor for the Church in America. I am so glad that St. Maximus Orthodox Church, OCA, venerates him when the OCA does not have him on all their official Saint commemorations. It’s considered too ROCOR I guess, as that was his jurisdiction.

Holy Saint John, pray for us.

Blessed Seraphim, pray for us.

stmary_of_egyptOn another note, I recently purchased the Church of the Nativity’s Canon of St. Andrew CD’s which is a recording of their services the first week of Lent. I have finished the first three CD’s and was very struck by the chanting of the life of St. Mary of Egypt. I believe it includes the whole of St. Sophronius of Jerusalem’s account.

Holy Mother Mary of Egypt pray to God for us.

Most Holy Theotokos, pray to God for us.


A More Serious Part 2 to our Winter Vacation

by Andrea Elizabeth

Due to George’s sister’s baby’s baptism being moved up a Sunday earlier, George flew up to Erie on Saturday, Dec. 27th, two days before our six kids and I began our drive up. We already had lodging reservations for our return trip that we did not want to cancel, and felt that extending our trip by driving out on Christmas Day in order to make the baptism would be too stressful on our bank account, Kronk the Bearded Dragon and our friends keeping him, on Pippin the Corgi and the dog boarders, and on ourselves for being gone from home for 15 days instead of 12. Our new plans meant that I would be the sole parent on the way up, but with our eldest being 20 and our second eldest being 18 and a tag-team driver in the eldest’s car, I felt we could manage ok.

It ended up being the most segregated trip we have ever taken. Our van died this past year and we have been going to various places in two cars since then. On this trip, audible books and other paraphernalia made car swapping inconvenient so the boys stayed in theirs and I and my two daughters stayed in ours. Such also were the hotel arrangements of course. We made good time to Jackson, Tenn, crossing the Mississippi River just after dusk. In the flood plains preceding the river in the waning light we saw very interesting patterns of migrating birds in various rippling waves across the sky. Besides the pine trees of East Texas and Western Arkansas, they were the ascetic highlight of the day. Memphis’ city lights reflecting in the moody Mississippi can be tacked on to the next day in Orthodox fashion. The next morning we began our ascent into Tennessee’s Appalachian foothills. We approached Cincinnati after dark that night. I believe that is the most beautiful city at night that I have ever seen. After clearing the hill hiding its proximity, the road signs warn of a steep descent. This descent is into the Ohio River that boarders the city on its southern side. So again you have light framed buildings reflected in a mighty river, but the hills are more dramatic and the bridge leads directly into a tunnel through the hill on the other side. Both cars called each other to express our state of awe.

We drove on through Columbus to get an early start to visit Maxim at the Greek Archdiocese’s Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery between Columbus and Cleveland. We awoke to a newly snow-covered landscape that stayed with us all through the week. We had arranged to be at the monastery for lunch as it was not far out of the way on New Years Eve before we reached our destination at George’s parents’ house in Erie. Father Joseph greeted us very warmly, then we met the scholarly and affable Maxim who was visiting through the holidays. We spoke of Father Seraphim Rose, whose spiritual child, Father Ambrose, had been connected with that monastery. I told him I had brought my book on Father Seraphim’s life by Hieromonk Damascene, and that I had felt there was some sort of connection of his with that place. During the meal he sat with the monks, and the kids and I had a table to ourselves while a monk read a Scripture and a Patristic teaching on Christ’s consubstantiality with the Father, if memory serves. They are on the “New Calendar” by order of the Archdiocese, so we had delicious chicken spaghetti and a green salad with beets and grapefruit. I enjoyed the peacefulness of that meal very much. After visiting a bit longer and being shown the Church, we headed north and east to complete our trip and be reunited with George.

We had a lovely time with George’s parents, brother, two sisters, their spouses, and the passel of cousins, as I have briefly described below. The next Sunday we visited the “Old Believer’s” Church of the Nativity in Erie. I had been somewhat prepared by reading Father John Whiteford’s posts on this same Church when he visited for a conference this past year. I did not have a white head covering so I wore the Russian made black one I bought on the Alaskan Cruise ship last year, and the girls wore other colorful ones that George had bought for me. We stood on the left side of the Church with the other ladies. Though it seemed very reverential, I regretted not being able to see any of the faces of those who stood in front of me. I also noted that there were female readers, that the female choir members outnumbered the men, and there was a woman, maybe the choir director with the men choir members on “their side”. But I can see how having such segregation would engender bonding among the women, and perhaps less attention seeking from men. I was however glad to be reunited with George at the end and to have someone to share the responsibility of our two youngests, who are girls.

Before the service, a kind gentleman allowed me to use his prayer book to help me along. We were there in time for The Hours which were read pretty quickly, so I was glad to read along to catch more of the words. Other than that the service was pretty much the same as our OCA service but with slightly different translations of some words. The chanting was not the four part harmony with Russian music as we have in our parish, but Znamenny Chant, which is “a Russian refinement of the Byzantine neumatic musical notation”. It sounded pretty foreign and a little “moany” to my untrained ears, but at one point midway through the service, a soloist sang in a very gentle, light way that caused the whole Church to listen with increased stillness and silence. It was a special moment.

After the service, Father Simon very warmly welcomed us and explained how the Old Rite had separated from the Church in Russia when Peter the Great introduced western innovations into some of the practices, including the adopting of the New Calendar. (By the way, they were still in the Nativity Season so it was nice not to leave Christmas so soon since we had to leave home so close after it.) He went on to say that some of the Old Believers during the time of the separation were too fanatical about form, but if you want to know how Orthodoxy was practiced from the Baptism of Russia in 988 until the 17th Century, they had preserved it. He showed us how they hold up different fingers when making the Sign of the Cross and the different style of his prayer rope which Father John depicts in his blog linked above. When I asked him to please return the prayer book to the kind gentleman, he said I could keep it. I treasure The Prayers in their words.

We had to pack and get on the road, so we didn’t stay for coffee hour, but related that we hoped to on our next visit which we agreed would not be soon enough. A family of eight makes a nice addition to a small Orthodox parish. I wonder sadly though how long we will be a family of eight with three of our sons off to college and then God knows where.

After a prolonged meal with George’s dear family and sad goodbyes, we departed south in the rain which by the time we reached West Virginia, had completely melted the snow. Farewell winter! We stayed in a town just over the border and next morning made our way to Holy Cross Hermitage , a Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia monastery for Vespers in Wayne, W.V. We called on the way over and were told that the monks eat at 4:30 before Vespers. We arrived at 5pm in order to get settled before the service and were greeted by Father Sergius who handles guest relations. We asked him to please go ahead and eat his dinner, but he insisted on giving us a tour anyway. Both monasteries were nicely rustic, but Holy Cross has a more secluded feel due to its isolation, closer hills, and taller trees. We were there two days before their Calendar Christmas, so we enjoyed an augmented Vespers and Matins with Nativity Hymns. We have their Nativity CD which is sung in English in Byzantine chant as are their services. It was nicer in person. Microphones somehow decrease my enjoyment of Orthodox music. The emphasis changes from a space being filled with praise, to the soloist themselves. I much prefer the former.During this service the women were separated from the men and wore head coverings as well. There is a nun who lives on the premises and another frequently visiting lady, so the girls and I followed what they did and made up the end of the line behind them to the venerate the icons and get blessed by their three priests. It was a lovely candlelight service and I had never been in such a line that venerated every icon around the whole Church. The one of St. John of San Francisco stood out to me the most.

After the service, Father Sergius gave us each a homemade cross from the Holy Land, a piece of frankincense – he had earlier showed us how it is made into incense – and a picture of the Port Arthur icon depicting how the Theotokos had intervened in the Russian war with Japan. We received a blessing from the Abbot, Father Seraphim, and went on our way to the lovely Pipestem State Park with their woodsy mountain cottage, which accomodates eight people, and stayed the next two rainy nights and a day before returning home again by way of Jackson, Tennessee. Another chronological sidestep, my third in this post I believe: after leaving Pipestem Wednesday morning covered by a clearing but windy sky, through two mountain tunnels, John Denver sent me on my way with Country Roads and Sweet Surrender.

So that is how I came to appreciate head coverings, standing with women, and Byzantine Chant.

Bulgakov’s Sophia

by Andrea Elizabeth

Now I’m caught up, having finished the rest of day 10 and day 11 of The Bulgakov Conference, I read 12 previous to the rest (link in the previous post). Day 11 compares Augustine to Bulgakov and that put me in a defensive state, which the author could also be in. I’ll just, as dispassionately as possible, reiterate one of the criticisms in my last post, that there is a confusion in Augustine and perhaps in Bulgakov’s Sophiology between created and uncreated, and the humility required of the former to not only keep from prelest, but theoretical annihilation into Divine Simplicity.

In defense of Sophia, not having read Bulgakov’s works except the parts which are quoted by very engaged commentators who seem to agree with each other (I like discussions from multiple people because I think individual biases and passions get better sifted out, which is why I like the internet. Back to defense of Sophia), I think Bulgakov is valuable because he speaks of intimate relationship, kenotic love, and what was intended for our fallen, now buried in sin, nature. Sophia’s union of the divine and creaturely seems to me a poetic expression of the union in the person of Christ of His divine and human natures. The feminine personification of wisdom in Sophia also speaks to the union of divine and human accomplished through theosis, most evident in our greatest human Saint, Mary, the Theotokos. I get lost when it is described in more abstract and novel ways, but when I think of Christ and His Mother, I believe I gain an understanding of the beautiful, loving, intended relationship that is possible between God and man, which strict theological language can make too dry. Yet a foundation in the dogmatic proclamations of the Church, especially Chalcedon, and the explanations of Sts. Maximus and Gregory Palamas, is a necessary prerequisite so that one does not go off the deep end with this stuff.

Another thing about Sophia and other treatments of female personifications of wisdom and beauty by Dante and others, which I’ve barely studied, is that such a device, if it is not literal, builds a more normal human relationship than abstract concepts do. I read recently in Father John Romanides’ Patristic Theology that Hebrew tradition describes truths metaphorically with natural elements like rocks and rivers, and that the early Church described truths mostly through concepts using philosophical language. These both point to the difficulty of description that has to employ alternate means of communication. “Sophia” is a more direct thing that seems more accurate or containable than metaphor or allegory. But since there isn’t a forth person of the Trinity and she is more about the border (semi-permeable membrane?) between the created and uncreated, then I think it is safer to think of Mary, yet call her Sophia because the description is second-hand, to avoid presumption. The only way to say it is an accurate depiction of Mary would be to draw from Patristic witness, and since some of it would not apply, it can be criticized as speculation. About the charge of speculation in regards to Bulgakov, which I believe Romanides makes, btw, I do not discount that Sophia is based on supernatural encounter, as I believe he had a feminine visitation, that seems to my inexperience and lack of thorough memory and study, to be similar to Dante’s. I know that we are to be highly skeptical of stories of visitations, but when such love accompanies the description, it lends credibility, from my point of view. A lot of people’s “relationship” with Mary can be discounted as speculative. Indeed I think it is highly likely that impure imaginations and focus on the sensual aspects of loving femininity can distort and misdirect this relationship. This is why we need Orthodox icons, to show us the nature of Mary’s humanity, love, and relationship with Christ. The Church also guides us in our communication to her and the nature of her intentions toward us, loving intercession. Bulgakov invites us to take this further, and the Church cautions us against some of the inaccuracies, but at the same time, we are to grow in intimacy and love with God and His Saints. Perhaps it is safer to keep this relationship on the level of our human personhood, and the human personhood of Christ and the Saints, and not speculate about the interaction of the divine which is everywhere present and fills all things, beyond what the Church has revealed already. I know when I contemplate these things I can sort of get in an abstract mode of possibilities, and it seems I can neglect my own realities of fighting against my passions and loving my own family. Plus trying to get into mystical realities can get kind of weird. I trust more when the actual sunlight makes lovely patterns through the leaves or an interesting angle on the icons, to reveal that God is love, warmth, and light. I need actual physical manifestations, though they can be deceptive too. But I think personal love is such a deeply recognizable thing, that as long as it is in the context of the Church’s teachings, we can trust it. Feminine beauty though… I think it has been so misused in our generation especially, that we all, male and female, need to be retaught how to relate to it properly. And maybe reading Bulgakov, Dante and Donne would help.

Forefeast of the Nativity of the Mother of God

by Andrea Elizabeth

Troparion – Tone 4

Today from the stem of Jesse and from the loins of David,
the handmaid of God Mary is being born for us.
Therefore all creation is renewed and rejoices!
Heaven and earth rejoice together.
Praise her, you families of nations,
for Joachim rejoices and Anna celebrates crying out:
“The barren one gives birth to the Theotokos, the Nourisher of our life!”

Kontakion – Tone 3

Today the Virgin Theotokos Mary
the bridal chamber of the Heavenly Bridegroom
by the will of God is born of a barren woman,
being prepared as the chariot of God the Word.
She was fore-ordained for this, since she is the divine gate and the true Mother of Life.

(from oca.org)

Orthodox/Catholic Discussion

by Andrea Elizabeth

A few weeks ago I learned about a blog dedicated to “Orthodox-Catholic Reconciliation” called Eirenikon. There are two long but very educational discussions that have now been closed about the Immaculate Conception, in which the eastern view of grace, articulated by St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Basil, and St. Maximus, and the western view, influenced by St. Augustine, are compared. I ventured into the second one over the weekend. It reminded me how engaging these back and forths can be. Towards the end, it seemed that people “on both sides” had pretty positive responses to it despite our differences. I’m adding Eirenikon to “Reconciliation Conversations” to the right.

Lenten Listening pt 2 – Seeking Clarification on the Ordo Theologiae

by Andrea Elizabeth

Dh George pointed out a difference in the “ordo theologiae” in how I remembered and recounted it in this post. He said, “Reading the first few pages of God, History, & Dialectic, Dr. Farrel makes the assertion that western Christianity orders their theology in the sequence of “Essence, then Operations, then Persons”. He says this is exactly backwards, as the proper ordo Theologia is “Persons, then Operations, and finally Essence”.”

I said I’d review my sources, Father Hopko’s first section on his lecture on the Theotokos, and my first awareness of such an order on Energetic Procession by Photios Jones to a Mormon, “That’s the ordo theologiae: Persons — Operations — Essence. You need learn that. If not, you’ll never understand patristic christianity”.

I have copied the middle of Father Hopko’s lecture here while skipping some words:

“Why is she [Mary] the quintessential Saint? Why is she the quintessential human being? Why is she the one that we are all, men and women, duty bound to follow/imitate? Because she is the most perfect disciple of Christ, her son, she’s the quintessential Christian. She’s the leader of the Christians, so to speak in relation to Christ her Son. She’s the first among us, the greatest among us. …Because human beings can’t be compared, everyone is unique. And as one of the Desert Fathers said, When the Messiah comes in glory with all the angels and the saints, he’s not going to ask you, Why weren’t you the Theotokos, or … John the Baptist. He’s going to ask you, why weren’t you, you. Why weren’t you the person God created you to be.

She becomes a model for everyone because there are certain things in her life… that you can look at and contemplate and ask this question, If we say this about her, how does it relate to me. If this is true in her, what am I supposed to learn from this. What must I learn from this? … Jesus is the example for us all. But there is a sense that Jesus as Husband, as Bridegroom, as male is an example for male human beings. Mary is also in some way an image for women. An example of motherhood. She’s the image of virginity. It’s not just her humanity, womanhood, motherhood, virginity, and are exemplary in different ways for men and women.

Fundamentally we are human beings, and we are persons who have vocations. Men and women don’t have vocations, Persons have vocations. there is no role of men or role of women – that is horrible language and shouldn’t be spoken of. “Men can be ordained and women cannot”. That isn’t true – certain persons may be ordained, and one of the characteristics is that it be a virgin, or once married male. That’s only one of the characteristics, you can’t say all men may be ordained. The person has to live out their vocation and calling in their particular time and (circumstance) therefore an element in their life will be whether or not they are men and women – an incredibly confused issue… When it comes to communion with God, there is no difference between male and female. No difference in being human. Difference is personal before it is gender specific. “

So while I got the last two backwards, I think the correct way, Person – Activities – Essence still fits Father Tom’s explanation. We are first of all persons who freely choose our activities while our essence, whether male of female, but definitely human consists mainly of a huge range of possibilities existing in the image of God. Whether we attain likeness to Him, which Mary did in a feminine way, depends on our individual will, conformity to His ways, our predestined logoi (correct mode of existing – I think), and His freely promised grace made available by His energies and activities.

Lenten Listening

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the comments to my last post, Reader David commended Father Thomas Hopko’s series on the Theotokos available for free download on Ancient Faith Radio.

I downloaded the intro lecture and listened to it on the way to Church last night. He basically outlined the difference between Christ and Mary. How Christ was fully God and fully human, but Mary was “merely human”, as the rest of us are. So she is our example who relates closer to us. We can’t relate in essence to Christ because he did not have an earthly father as we do. In other posts on St. Maximus I’ve explored how Christ assumed our human nature, but He did not have a limited will as we do as His did not have the experience of sin. His “impassible” divine will deified His human will from the start. But I think it is taught that He did inherit a “passible”, fallen, will from humanity and that is why He could heal it.

Another thing Father Hopko mentioned was that it is incorrect to define male and female roles. He gave the example of the Priesthood. It isn’t a male role, it is for people who meet a number of qualifications, one of which is male. He stressed that we are defined first as individual persons, then humans with that nature and essence, then our activitivities. He is speaking to an audience of women so I look forward to how he develops this topic since gender and “roles” usually gets brought up when talking to women. It seems that in male or mixed audiences commonality is stressed or presumed.