Author’s note: as we approach Mother’s Day, I was thinking about this blog and wondering what we could post that would be helpful to the mothers (and, for that matter, to all women who care for children) in our Orthodox Christian Parenting community. Again and again, I thought of the Theotokos and her example to us. I am learning so much about the Theotokos and growing daily in my respect of and love for her. She is the best-ever-mother, a woman to emulate and aspire to, and a Christian like no other. (Addendum: most of the ways listed below are written in past tense, because they were things the Theotokos did while she was alive on earth. They could also be written in present tense, as she continues in her faithful love of Christ and His people.)
Ways in which we can aspire to be like the Theotokos:
The Theotokos willingly said yes to God, even knowing that what she was agreeing to would be culturally inacceptable and thereby very difficult for her. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) were words that implied that Mary’s life would be completely changed, scandalously outside “the norm.” And yet she said these words. And then she lived them. I am a Christian whose faith is far from perfect. These words which the Theotokos spoke to the archangel – and to God Himself – imply perfect faith, perfect trust in His Omniscience. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also willingly say yes to God, whatever He calls us to do. May we aspire to be like the Theotokos and willingly “let it be to me according to Your Word.”
The Theotokos was thoughtful. “…Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2: 19) The Mother of Our Lord didn’t just allow things to happen and then gloss them over, or ignore words that were said to her. Instead, she was attentive to her son, she absorbed events and messages, and then she carefully thought about them. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also pay attention to our children, the events that happen to us, and the words spoken to us. Then, may we ponder these things and allow God to speak through them to us, for our growth.
The Theotokos knew that her Son would suffer, and that thereby she would also suffer: “Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also)…’” (Luke 2:34-35) She was aware that there is suffering in the world and that it would touch her Son, and therefore, it would also touch her. She did not allow any fear she may have felt of that suffering to stifle her life or her Son’s life. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also be aware of this truth: that our children will suffer, and that we will suffer as well. And may we not allow our fears of that suffering to keep us from doing the work that God has set before us.
The Theotokos was steadfast in her faith. “[Mary and Joseph]… performed all things according to the law of the Lord… His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” (John 2:39, 41) Not just at the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth did Mary and Joseph follow God’s directions for faithful worship; but clearly they did so quite regularly! Making that annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem took effort and had to have been a challenge for the family, but they did it because it was the right thing to do. May we Orthodox Christian mothers make the steadfast efforts needed to strengthen our own faith and the faith of our children as well, no matter how difficult it may be. It is the right thing to do.
The Theotokos took her responsibility as a mother seriously. “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” (Luke 2:48) Imagine having God’s own Son in your care, and then losing track of Him?!? It must have been a frightening moment for Mary and Joseph when they realized He was not traveling in the caravan with them and they did not know where He was. They clearly cared deeply about Jesus, and they carefully retraced their steps until they found Him. Once they found Him, they asked the above question, which indicates the depth of their love for Him and concern when He went missing. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also care deeply for our children, looking after them and asking questions that show our children that they matter to us.
The Theotokos was in the background, supporting her Child, all of her life. Here’s what we know about Christ’s childhood, from the Gospel of Luke: “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit…” (Luke 2:40) There is no mention of the Theotokos or all of the work that she was doing to help him grow and/or to nurture that “strength in spirit.” And when our Lord was an adult, she remained in the background. “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with him.” (Matt. 12:46) Never front-and-center, the Theotokos nurtured, loved, served, cooked, sewed, cleaned up, and who knows what else, allowing Christ to grow. And even when He was grown, she did not demand or even expect the place of honor. She just stood outside and waited to have a chance to talk to Him. May we Orthodox Christian mothers serve and nurture our children, and be ready and humbly waiting for chances to speak with them all of their lives, as well!
The Theotokos prayed for those around her. “And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine!’” (John 2:3) She saw a need. She knew He could meet it, and so she simply stated the need to Him and asked Him to intervene. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also see the needs around us, simply bring them to Christ, and ask Him to meet those needs.
The Theotokos pointed people to her Son when they needed help. “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5) Knowing that Christ can do anything, Mary pointed the people who needed wine in His direction, with the expectation that they would do whatever He said. May we Orthodox Christian mothers (because we, too, know that Christ can do anything!) also point our own children – and all others around us – to Our Lord, with the same expectation! May we also lead the way, setting the example of doing whatever it is that He says to us!
The Theotokos intercedes for us. Her proximity to her Son allows the Theotokos to continue in constant prayer for the world. There have been many examples of people throughout the ages who have asked the Theotokos to pray for them, and God has heard and answered her prayers. There are also examples of times when people have witnessed her praying (ie the Fool-for-Christ Andrew at Blachernae, who saw her put her veil over the people and pray fervently for them). Clearly, she prays for all of us. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also pray for others; and may we also ask the Theotokos to pray for us and for our children!
I’ll never forget one special Sunday morning when I walked into the nave of our parish for Divine Liturgy. It was the first time I saw the Platytera icon which had just been installed in the apse of our church that week. The sight of the Theotokos and our Lord literally took my breath away. I gasped, thrilled at the beauty of the icon and in awe of the reality that it represents. What a joy to “behold the maidservant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38): not just on “The Sunday After the Installation of the Icon,” but every single day of our lives. The Theotokos, the Mother of God, is a joy to behold, a mother to aspire to be like, and a fervent intercessor for us all. Glory to God for her love for Him and for all of us!
Most Holy Theotokos, please intercede for our salvation!
Here are a few links related to this week’s blog:
Find out why the Orthodox church so reveres Mary as the Theotokos, and find a myriad of her other nicknames, here: http://orthodoxyinamerica.org/article.php?id=31
Read more about the Theotokos, how we can be blessed by her prayers, and more about how much we need her, here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MetrakosTheotokos.php
Read answers to questions you may have (or hear!) about the Theotokos, here: http://www.serfes.org/orthodox/questions.htm
Ask the Theotokos for help every day of the week! Find a prayer every day here: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2012/08/03/prayers-to-the-theotokos-for-every-day-of-the-week/
Pray the Akathist to the Mother of God found here: http://www.stsymeon.com/akathist.html
Read the story of the Fool-for-Christ Andrew at Blachernae, who saw the Theotokos put her veil over the people and witnessed her fervent prayers on their behalf, here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2008/10/01/102824-the-protection-of-our-most-holy-lady-the-mother-of-god-and-ever
Find information about the Platytera icon and its beautiful symbolism here: http://dormitionpgh.org/tidbits/platytera.asp