Learning about the love of God the Father
through the love of the Mother of God
The Apostolic Blessing
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, & the love of God the Father, & the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Prayer to the Theotokos
It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, ever-blessed & most pure, & the mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim & more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim; without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos, we magnify you.
Orthodox Icon: All creation rejoices in You*
I’ve always had a difficult time relating to God as Father, especially a loving father. My parents were divorced when I was quite young, by age 4 or 5. Except for a very short period when I was 13, I had no further contact with my father. My mother raised me alone, having never remarried nor even dated.
I had grown up in church so I knew & believed that God loved us. I also knew & believed in the Holy Trinity which consisted of its “component parts” of Father, Son & Holy Spirit. I had read the many passages demonstrating God’s love for us in the Holy Scriptures. However in my mind, God was “Father” only because He had a “Son”, Jesus Christ. “Father” was basically a mere generic title we utilized when attempting to explain the Holy Trinity, which really could not be explained anyway. Also, God was God & totally unlike us; therefore, He ultimately had no gender classification in the grand scheme of things. The titles we used today of Father & Son were the logical result of an ancient patriarchal culture in which the Holy Scriptures were written. If the society at the time had been matriarchal, we could just as easily be referring to the Mother, Daughter & Holy Spirit. I had even heard of people that “classified” the persons of the Holy Trinity as the Parent, the Child & the Great Spirit—totally gender neutral & totally devoid in personality & incapable of personal relationship.
Furthermore any “love” from the Father that might have been bestowed upon us was only due to our acceptance & love of Jesus Christ. The Father’s “love” was “earned”—there were “strings attached”. Therefore it was nothing like “real” love I felt for my family & a few very close friends. So once again yet another generic label of “love” alongside the generic title “Father,” was logically applied to God to explain what really could not be explained. I greatly loved Christ & because I greatly loved Christ God the Father “loved” me & would not destine me to hell when I died…after all, I was “saved”, was I not? Any further concern or thought regarding the generic “love” of a generic “Father” was unwarranted. The matter was thus settled in my mind…end of discussion. Such was my very sad “state” when I became a catechumen.
Orthodoxy begins as a starting point by defining “who” God is, not “what” God is. God the Father is the Source of all else that exists & has being, including the Son & the Holy Spirit. Until I became Orthodox I had no concept of the reality of the “familial” relationship between the persons of the Holy Trinity. God the Holy Trinity is personal because the Father, the Source, is personal & His personhood is realized by His eternal generation of the Son & His eternal procession of the Holy Spirit; three persons (ὑπόστασις)—one essence (οὐσία). The persons of the Holy Trinity exist both in & as a communion of love. They therefore interact with each other in “their eternal movement of love” (St. Maximus the Confessor). The Holy Trinity also interacts with us regards our salvation, or more properly our communion with God. Real persons & real love…not just useful & convenient titles or labels. It was at this point I discovered that the matter was far from settled; furthermore, this was extremely unsettling in its import. Real persons & real love means real relationship. This means that there is a real Father who really loves & a real relationship between Him & myself is integral to following Christ.
Our priest was talking about the love of God the Father, the Source of all. He noticed my growing discomfort with & final withdrawal from the conversation. Me not being talkative is a rarity & quickly generates attention. He got me off to the side afterwards & inquired. I told him, “I can relate to God as God; he is our Creator & I have felt His power & presence in nature. I can relate to God as Son because He is Christ our Savior. I can relate to God as Holy Spirit because I have felt His presence in prayer & worship. But I cannot relate to God as Father. I had a father who twice walked out of my life, not a father who loved me. My mother was both my mother & my father.” I was totally surprised by his total lack thereof….apparently, my situation is not unique. He simply stated, “Then that is where we will start!”
He then escorted me over to an icon of the Theotokos, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. He recommended that I develop a deeper relationship with the Theotokos through increased veneration of & intercessory petitions to her because “the entreaty of a mother has great power to win the favor of the Master” (from the Theotokion from the Sixth Hour Prayers.) He also recommended that I focus on the Holy Scriptures concerning her, read about the Church feasts commemorating her, pray the prayers & the Canons to her found in my prayer book, & search through the writings of the Church Fathers to understand her role on our behalf. We discussed for several minutes the implications to our communion with God of her life, obedience & humility before the Holy Trinity. Since the Fall of Mankind, God the Father had prepared the world for the Incarnation of His Son & had even selected her to be Theotokos, Greek meaning “God bearer”. She has a very integral & important role in the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Therefore proper understanding of the Theotokos is key to proper understanding of the Incarnation, the Holy Trinity & our salvation. Again Orthodoxy greatly differs from the heterodox traditions which primarily consist of two extremes. One end of the spectrum elevates the Virgin Mary inappropriately by declaring her to have been without sin by means of sanctifying grace; therefore her son Christ was not subject to sin at His conception in Mary by the Holy Spirit. In other words Christ was not human in the exact sense that we are human since we are subject to sin. The problem with this view is most eloquently stated by Saint Gregory Nazianzus, “What is not assumed is not saved”; & thus we are still dead in our sins. The other end of the spectrum takes the exact opposite view. The Virgin Mary is nothing special & not to be venerated in any way. Yes, she as a virgin conceived the Son of God by the Holy Spirit & she was the mother of Jesus Christ. But after His birth she assumed the common traditional life of a poor Jewish wife & mother of the time…nothing special. Thus Mary, “the mother of our God”, is cast aside & becomes just another somewhat interesting tidbit forever relegated to the dustbin of history.
* Orthodox Icon: All creation rejoices in You in the XVII century, Dmitrov museum.
The Hymn “All creation rejoices in You” is from the Octoechos composed by Saint John of Damascus (AD 676-787):
All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace–the assembly of angels & the human race.
O Sanctified Temple & Spiritual Paradise, the glory of virgins from whom God was incarnate & became a child–our God before the ages.
He made your body into a throne & your womb He made more spacious than the heavens.
All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace. Glory to you.