Icon, Part 11a: The Theotokos

 

During this long break of the Paschal season, which ends with the Ascension, I thought I would turn to another iconographic theme post, similar to my essay on why we have icons in the first place, and specifically of Christ, and discuss what may be the most popular icon type (in terms of numbers of icons): The Theotokos, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Next to Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, no other person is so highly venerated within Orthodox or Catholic churches. Due to the length of this subject, this essay will be in two parts. In the first part, I discuss why she is so highly esteemed, from both historical / traditional reasons, and from experiential reasons. In the second part I will present a sampling of the major forms her icons take, and by what names they are called.

At the outset it bears noting that, outside of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Mary is rather a controversial figure. Within the Protestant churches, aside from the more liturgical Lutherans and Anglican / Episcopalians, Mary is rarely mentioned aside from Christmas, and traditional understandings of Mary (that she had herself no further children, that she was far younger than Joseph, and that she was taken up bodily like Enoch) are disputed. This is somewhat surprising as both Martin Luther and John Calvin esteemed her greatly, and for all else over which they broke with Rome, on these they remained in agreement. For inquirers into either Orthodoxy or Catholicism, the veneration of Mary remains stumbling block – not just for the imagery all over the churches, but for the liturgical prayers and entire feast days dedicated to Mary. For anyone coming from a church where In Christ Alone is a popular praise song, encountering Mary face to face is jarring, and may feel heretical or bordering on pagan. This need not be the case.

As a note of explanation, throughout what follows in this essay, and in part 2, the reader will encounter the term “Theotokos” in reference to Mary. Mary is the Theotokos, a Greek term which literally translates as “the birth giver (or bearer) of God”. But so embedded in the Orthodox consciousness is the term, that it is rarely translated, so even in a fully English-language service, one will always see Mary called “The Theotokos”.

The Veneration of Mary – The History

The Orthodox Church dedicates 4 great feasts to Mary herself (I’ve discussed three so far in this series: Her Nativity, Her Presentation, The Annunciation; her Dormition will be discussed in due course). Mary is present and a major figure at three others (The Nativity of Christ, The Presentation of Christ, Ascension), and was also at Pentecost. And the liturgical year begins with Mary’s nativity, and ends with her Dormition. During the course of the Divine Liturgy, Mary is specifically honored in hymns several times and in most of the prayer litanies, while in the Orthros (Matins) service that precedes the Liturgy she is honored in a longer hymn sung while the church is censed. Even during the various Hours services (usually only sung in full by monastics), the Magnificat (a short prayer honoring Mary) is chanted at several points. Why is Mary so prominent?

If we see Mary as simply She Who Bore Christ as a virgin, we are already partly missing why Mary matters, and so we need to go back to the Annunciation and recognize Mary’s agency, her assent to bearing the Incarnation despite how that would appear, and how that would reflect on her or her betrothed, Joseph. But even taking those into account does not explain the full import of Mary. Mary, we should remember, was present with Jesus throughout much, if not all of His earthly ministry, and had been active from the start.  

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother *said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”⁠1 John 2: 1-5 (NASB)

The Wedding at Cana not only shows that Mary was present with Jesus at a time when he had already gathered disciples, but that she advised him. Fr. Stephen de Young has written at length about how Mary’s role paralleled the role, and indeed the office of the Mother of the King as instituted centuries before by Solomon (see 1 Kings, 2:19), to be the chief advisor to the king. Jesus had come to usher in a new kingdom, and in such Mary served as his chief advisor.

For a faithful believer in the God of Israel in the first century AD, religious expectation was focused in the coming of the Messiah, and the beginning of the Messianic age. It would, therefore, have been natural when such a person heard the apostolic proclamation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ who has come, to ask the name of his mother. It would have been a natural expectation, based in the scriptures and traditions of the Jewish people, to expect that his mother would have this role, at his right hand, as closest advisor and queen. The New Testament authors take great pains to correct popular misunderstandings related to the Messiah, particularly the idea that he would be a political leader in this world, and would come to establish an Israel in this world free from Roman domination. At no point, however, do these authors seek to correct this expectation as it pertains to Christ’s mother. 

Mary traveled with Jesus too, and was present at the Crucifixion.  

But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He *said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.⁠2

Even near the moment of his death, Jesus thought of his mother, and entrusted her care to the disciple John, and it is said in tradition that John saw after Mary’s care until her own death some years later. Mary was present with the Apostles after the Ascension (see Acts, chapter 1), and so would have been with them at Pentecost too, and so on. While after Acts Mary is no longer mentioned, the various traditions of the Church and the early post-apostolic fathers assume her continuing presence until her death* some years later. As de Young concludes:

Repeatedly, throughout the scriptures of the New Testament, these expectations are reinforced through the importance of the Theotokos not only in the ministry of Christ, but in the early community of the church as described in the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. As just one example, there is a clear parallel between the interaction between Bathsheba and Solomon in 1 Kings 2, and that between the Theotokos and Christ at the wedding at Cana (John 2), though the Theotokos shows herself a wiser and more holy woman than her ancient ancestor.

It is this understanding which has led, since the beginning of the Christian faith, to the special role given to the Theotokos among the saints in glory. It is she who stands at the right hand of Christ the king, and among the intercessors with whom Christ shares his rule and reign, she has a special status of honor. She stands as the fulfillment not only of queen motherhood, but of motherhood itself (Gen 3:15), and even, we may see, of womanhood.

The Theotokos Today

Perhaps the chief divide, besides the veneration of Mary, between the Orthodox and Catholics on the one hand, and Protestants on the other hand, is over the matter of the veneration of the saints. This divide is not inconsequential, and is over the question of whether those who have died in Christ, who have (as is so often said in the Epistles) “fallen asleep in the Lord”, are truly and fully separated from us, or whether they in fact are still with us. I will save that discussion for another essay in this series where I will aim to discuss the iconography of the saints on their own terms, but it is important to discussing the veneration of the Theotokos to make the point now: both the Orthodox and the Catholics believe that the saints are, in fact, very much alive, and are still doing the Lord’s work. The Theotokos above all continues to intercede and to aid those in need.

And it seems everyone either has a story, or knows 2-3 people who do (among both Orthodox and Catholic believers). There was the deacon who saw a seemingly new stained glass icon of the Theotokos during a special service, only to see that the window was plain afterwards. There was the girl who had been suffering from an untreatable skin condition that left her in great pain, who was healed and spoke of a beautiful and kind lady who visited her. There are the miracles at Lourdes. In a book I reviewed recently (Everyday Miracles), Father Oleksa tells of a women he knows who was visited in a dream and received healing from great personal trauma. There are more besides.

The Theotokos is the most beloved saint in the Orthodox church for good reason. The design of the typical Orthodox church has remained more or less fixed for well more than a millenia now, and on the iconostasis – a wall or screen that separates the nave from the sanctuary – you will see flanking the royal doors in the center of that screen an icon of Christ on your right, and of Mary on your left. In this manner, Mary is forever present at the right hand of Jesus her son, just as the mothers of the kings of Judah were always seated at their sons’ right hands. In that role, she continues to serve. Mary was and is, in essence, the very first Christian. Her intercessions are continually sought. She is was who contained the Uncontainable within her womb.

It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos
Who are ever blessed and all blameless,
And the Mother of our God.
More Honorable than the Cherubim,
And more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim
Truly Theotokos, we magnify Thee.

Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of they womb
For thou hast borne the savior of our souls.


*Regarding the death of Mary, I’ll say more when it comes time to discuss The Dormition. The Catholic church teaches that she did not die, but was taken bodily up to Heaven just before the moment of her death, and the Orthodox position is that she was taken bodily up to Heaven just after her physical death.

anImage_2.tiff

1 The Lockman Foundation. Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Kindle Locations 33752-33756). The Lockman Foundation. Kindle Edition.

2 The Lockman Foundation. Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Kindle Locations 34568-34571). The Lockman Foundation. Kindle Edition.

https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/09/21/queen-and-mother/

Maximovitch, John (Rose, Seraphim, Translator), The Orthodox Veneration of Mary, The Birthgiver of God, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1978

Matthews-Green, Frederica, The Open Door, Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, 2004

 

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There are 19 comments.

  1. Gary McVey Contributor

    These Orthodox posts of SkipSul’s have become enough reason, all by themselves, to belong to Ricochet. He seems to believe that even the most indifferent, spiritually blind, and insensitive of us have what it takes to understand our place in God’s plan. It’s just about the greatest gift of trust and hope I can think of. 

    Man, that’s a lot of faith. 

    • #1
    • June 1, 2019, at 9:24 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Doug Watt Member

    The Salve Regina, a prayer I said at the kitchen sink when washing the dinner dishes when I was my dad’s caregiver due to his Alzheimer’s.

    Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

    • #2
    • June 2, 2019, at 8:46 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    Please do not confuse the Protestant disdain for Marian devotion for disdain for Mary. It’s similar to the view of a retired war hero. They are inspirational figures, heroes, role models, and people who have earned their reward in Heaven as faithful servants. They are just no longer in active service.

    There are plenty of Christians who studied the sciences and made important advances across the ages, and their example gives me inspiration. Heroism in the service of God is also very inspiring. I’m sure there are plenty of Protestants who draw inspiration from Mary’s holy example.

    Also, I personally never got why I would need to have Mary pray in my name rather that just praying to Jesus Christ Himself. 

    • #3
    • June 3, 2019, at 1:10 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    Please do not confuse the Protestant disdain for Marian devotion for disdain for Mary.

    Nowhere did I use the term “disdain”, either for devotion or for Mary herself. But I did notice that in decades of church attendance, outside of Christmas I never heard a peep about Mary except the occasional mention at Easter.

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    Also, I personally never got why I would need to have Mary pray in my name rather that just praying to Jesus Christ Himself. 

    To that I ask: Do you ever ask your friends or family to pray for you? Why should you want their prayers when you, as you say, can just pray to Jesus yourself?

    What is prayer then anyway?

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    They are inspirational figures, heroes, role models, and people who have earned their reward in Heaven as faithful servants. They are just no longer in active service.

    That’s a longer discussion unto itself. Best I can say here is “stay tuned”.

    • #4
    • June 3, 2019, at 7:43 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    SkipSul: The Wedding at Cana not only shows that Mary was present with Jesus at a time when he had already gathered disciples, but that she advised him. Fr. Stephen de Young has written at length about how Mary’s role paralleled the role, and indeed the office of the Mother of the King as instituted centuries before by Solomon (see 1 Kings, 2:19), to be the chief advisor to the king. Jesus had come to usher in a new kingdom, and in such Mary served as his chief advisor.

    I think this is where I start to dig in my heels. And, apologies for a comment this long and involved.

    Start with the office of mother of the king. Based on the evidence given I’m not convinced it actually existed. Going back through the link you’ve got two examples, one, where Solomon sets it up, and two, where Athaliah uses her power to murder anyone who might be a threat to said power. Aside from that the evidence points out to the queen being important, worthy of honor, but not necessarily an official function, a position with a legal definition and role of counselor.

    Okay, but assuming that it was for the sake of argument. Is such a role necessary for the Messiah? The evidence here is that all the kings in the line of David (excluding David) had their mother as councilor. Okay, does that necessitate that the Messiah also do so? The Messiah did not find it necessary to take a wife and bear children, which his progenitors obviously did. To put it simply, when we say that the Christ was born of a Virgin I can point to the verse in Isaiah where God promised it as such. I have a harder time pointing to anything so regarding Mary*.

    All that makes it difficult for me to swallow this:

    SkipSul: [Quoting Fr. Young] It would have been a natural expectation, based in the scriptures and traditions of the Jewish people, to expect that his mother would have this role, at his right hand, as closest advisor and queen. The New Testament authors take great pains to correct popular misunderstandings related to the Messiah, particularly the idea that he would be a political leader in this world, and would come to establish an Israel in this world free from Roman domination. At no point, however, do these authors seek to correct this expectation as it pertains to Christ’s mother. 

    The lack of correction could also imply that nobody was asking about it. If no one had the expectation of Mary as counselor and no one saw Mary as counselor then why exactly would the gospel authors spill ink disabusing people of a notion that wasn’t held at the time?

    Okay, but the wedding at Cana. And Jesus’ instructions to John at the Crucifixion. And… what exactly is there in between that? As far as I can tell the only point in the ministry which Mary actually offers Jesus counsel is at that self-same wedding.

    SkipSul: Mary, we should remember, was present with Jesus throughout much, if not all of His earthly ministry, and had been active from the start.  

    Active once, at the start of His ministry, doesn’t imply presence and activity throughout.

    And, to echo OmgeaPaladin up above, I don’t hold anything against Mary personally. She’s certainly worthy of a great deal of honor and veneration. I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge the title of Queen of Heaven. The trouble I get is that I’m very leery about adding epicycles to doctrine. To take an example:

    SkipSul: The Catholic church teaches that she did not die, but was taken bodily up to Heaven just before the moment of her death, and the Orthodox position is that she was taken bodily up to Heaven just after her physical death.

    Without distinguishing between Catholic or Orthodox positions here, I don’t know why I ought to assume she was taken bodily up to heaven at that point, on either side of that division. It strikes me (to put it crudely) like adding an extra fight scene to a movie not because it advances the plot or tells the story, but because you needed a bit more spectacle.

    *When looking at a Catholic book on the subject they reference Genesis 3:15.

    And I will put enmity
    Between you and the woman,
    And between your seed and her Seed;
    He shall bruise your head,
    And you shall bruise His heel.

    In the translation they had replace the male pronouns in the last two lines with female, to support a special role for Mary to combat the devil. I can’t say I know much about Hebrew, just enough to state that the pronouns are read into the text, and such swapping them out isn’t necessarily wrong. On the other hand I don’t like that translation simply because of the opportunity cost; by switching the verse out to refer to Mary you lose a very significant bit of prophecy as to the coming of and reason for the Messiah.

    Being a Catholic idea though it isn’t quite fair for me to expect the Orthodox to defend that.

    • #5
    • June 3, 2019, at 1:49 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):
    [truncated for brevity]
    Okay, but the wedding at Cana. And Jesus’ instructions to John at the Crucifixion. And… what exactly is there in between that? As far as I can tell the only point in the ministry which Mary actually offers Jesus counsel is at that self-same wedding.

    My counter to that would be twofold:

    1. Even John says in his gospel that he’s leaving a lot of stuff out because it would be too much to write down. The gospels are about Christ, who He is and what He is teaching and doing, they’re not about anyone else. We catch little glimpses into the lives and thoughts of the disciples (I’ve long had a soft spot for foot-in-mouth Peter, for instance), but their importance is only ever in relation to Jesus. And it’s not like we hear a lot about most of them either – their names are not rattled off every time Jesus goes anywhere, we just assume that they’re there because there’s no reason to not assume they are there unless their absence is specifically mentioned..

      So it is with Mary – she’s not the focus of the gospels, but given that she’s mentioned at the beginning, and at the end, and (depending on how you read it – the accounts are unclear) may also have been one of the Marys mentioned as going to the empty tomb, there’s no reason to assume she’s not there.

    2. Regarding the issue of the council, I’d make a poor explainer of it myself and would refer you to De Young’s other essays on the subject, and he discusses how we know that the queen-mothers are listed (links below). But I would add this – the gospels should not be understood as comprehensive accounts of everything that went on, and while we can certainly err in adding things (there are some apocryphal gospels that are, um, a bit iffy), we can also err in the other direction by assuming that if something is not anywhere in the gospels, or anywhere in OT prophecies, then it should be discounted entirely. Bear in mind that the formation of the currently accepted canon of NT books was a gradual process, and was itself informed by shared oral tradition, and that many of the things understood about Mary in the early church came through that oral tradition.

      Moreover, if Jesus really was the Son of God, and born of a virgin, Mary would have had to have been one extraordinary young woman. For me anyway, it beggars belief that if God chose her, that He would not have taken special care of her and continued to honor her and keep her close for the rest of her life on earth.

    De Young has immersed himself in years of study on both ancient Judaism, and on other competing beliefs in the region. These are some long reads, but he’s been on some podcasts too where he goes into these issues (and more).

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/08/29/gods-divine-council/

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/09/04/humans-in-the-divine-council/

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/09/12/the-saints-in-glory/

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/09/21/queen-and-mother/

    • #6
    • June 3, 2019, at 8:09 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    The trouble I get is that I’m very leery about adding epicycles to doctrine. To take an example:

    SkipSul: The Catholic church teaches that she did not die, but was taken bodily up to Heaven just before the moment of her death, and the Orthodox position is that she was taken bodily up to Heaven just after her physical death.

    Without distinguishing between Catholic or Orthodox positions here, I don’t know why I ought to assume she was taken bodily up to heaven at that point, on either side of that division. It strikes me (to put it crudely) like adding an extra fight scene to a movie not because it advances the plot or tells the story, but because you needed a bit more spectacle.

    I completely understand. I’ll be addressing this on the last in this series on the Dormition. But I will give something of a preview here:

    For all of the other apostles, we have accounts (or at least legends) of where they ended up, and how they died. People preserved their relics, and their tombs insofar as it was possible. We don’t have that with Mary – people preserved a sash claimed to be hers, but no one ever claimed even in antiquity to have found her tomb or body. Again, if Mary had borne the God-man Jesus, and Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven (and we have the examples of Enoch and Elijah), it’s not out of the question that Mary was likewise taken up bodily.

    • #7
    • June 3, 2019, at 8:15 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Regarding the issue of the council, I’d make a poor explainer of it myself and would refer you to De Young’s other essays on the subject,

    I suppose I ought to clarify; my problem isn’t with why the Omniscient would need advice (assuming he requests advice that merely piles onto former questions like ‘why do we pray, anyway?’). My problem is with the assumption that this was a known and understood sign of the Messiah. We have the noted absence of anyone questioning the whereabouts of his mother in the gospels. Either that means that everyone could see where his mother was, or that nobody thought asking after his mother was necessary. The presumption that we only see them not-asking because they knew where Mary was seems question-begging.

    • #8
    • June 3, 2019, at 9:02 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Regarding the issue of the council, I’d make a poor explainer of it myself and would refer you to De Young’s other essays on the subject,

    I suppose I ought to clarify; my problem isn’t with why the Omniscient would need advice (assuming he requests advice that merely piles onto former questions like ‘why do we pray, anyway?’). My problem is with the assumption that this was a known and understood sign of the Messiah. We have the noted absence of anyone questioning the whereabouts of his mother in the gospels. Either that means that everyone could see where his mother was, or that nobody thought asking after his mother was necessary. The presumption that we only see them not-asking because they knew where Mary was seems question-begging.

    Understood, but again I’d have to rip off and requote De Young almost entirely here as he goes into the genealogies of the Judaean kings to explain it as something unique to ancient Judah. And if you want to ask him directly, his contact info should be in his blog (I know there’s a comments section too).

    • #9
    • June 3, 2019, at 9:10 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Understood, but again I’d have to rip off and requote De Young almost entirely here as he goes into the genealogies of the Judaean kings to explain it as something unique to ancient Judah. And if you want to ask him directly, his contact info should be in his blog (I know there’s a comments section too).

    Yeah, I’ve read the fourth link you quoted up there (which was the one you quoted in the body of your post and seems to be the one relevant to that question), and I remain unpersuaded. Which is fine; it takes a great deal of time and though to persuade me of anything, at least when I’ve tried it.

    One side-note, I’ve heard a protestant preacher explain the way the histories always call out the mother of the Kings of Judah as “the mother always has to do with how the son turns out.” Frankly, the idea that she had an actual court position as councilor seems more reasonable than that.

    • #10
    • June 3, 2019, at 9:14 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Moreover, if Jesus really was the Son of God, and born of a virgin, Mary would have had to have been one extraordinary young woman. For me anyway, it beggars belief that if God chose her, that He would not have taken special care of her and continued to honor her and keep her close for the rest of her life on earth.

    Actually, and no disrespect meant, mind you, I think it tends the other way. Witness 1 Corinthians 1:

    26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.

    To be consistent with the sorts of people that God has raised up throughout the Biblical history, I’d expect it less likely that Mary was an extraordinary young woman. At least at the start; I have no doubt that she’s a marvel to behold now. And similarly I tend to assume that, if God was taking special care of her, then she’d experience more pain and suffering in this life than the alternative. “Those He loves He chastens” after all.

    That’s also based on an idea of mine, and I don’t know it’s one that I can back up (see previous statements re my difficulty in convincing myself of anything) that eternity is the bit that actually matters, that life on this Earth is meant to ferment us, that we undergo suffering, privation, all that stuff in order to forge ourselves (our souls, our characters, however) into the people we will be in eternity. That growth only happens through trials in a temporal here-and-now, and that entrance eternity ends that growth into a final form. Since eternity dwarfs anything else the present suffering pales in comparison to the value it provides to the eternal soul, thus the whole rejoicing in suffering that comes up in the New Testament. If all that’s the case (and again, at this point I rank it no higher than a notion of mine) then one would expect Mary to have suffered a great deal throughout her days, expecting her to outshine the saints in glory through eternity.

    • #11
    • June 3, 2019, at 9:42 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Manny Member

    I have to admit, I prefer Renaissance art over icon art. 

    But I share the love for the Theotokos. Holy Mother, Queen of Heaven, pray that we be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

    • #12
    • July 11, 2019, at 7:54 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Manny Member

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    The Salve Regina, a prayer I said at the kitchen sink when washing the dinner dishes when I was my dad’s caregiver due to his Alzheimer’s.

    Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

    You forgot the last line, “Pray for us O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

    • #13
    • July 11, 2019, at 7:57 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Manny Member

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    Please do not confuse the Protestant disdain for Marian devotion for disdain for Mary. It’s similar to the view of a retired war hero. They are inspirational figures, heroes, role models, and people who have earned their reward in Heaven as faithful servants. They are just no longer in active service.

     

    Bill Buckley said how Protestants look at the Blessed Mother as having a lack of respect. For instance, it says in Luke, chapter 1:

    46 And Mary said:“My soul glorifies the Lord
    47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
    From now on all generations will call me blessed,

    “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” Blessed Mother, the Blessed Virgin, Blessed Mary, all titles used for the Blessed Queen of Heaven. When was the last time you heard a Protestant refer to Mary as “blessed”? I never have. The Bible tells you to. Perhaps it’s not disdain, but Buckley was right.

    • #14
    • July 11, 2019, at 8:08 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Manny (View Comment):
    I have to admit, I prefer Renaissance art over icon art. 

    There’s actually quite an interesting debate over the centuries with regards to the appropriate level of realism in iconography. If you are looking at these depictions solely as art, and thus as an aesthetic exercise, then yes the Renaissance works are often superb. The distinction that needs to be noted, however, is that in iconography the aesthetic effect is secondary to the spiritual. Icons are supposed to depict what is called “spiritual realism,”and the people and events in the panels are outside of time as we know it. In the case of the saints, the icons are supposed to be indications of their glorified selves. 

    And there is a danger in depicting life-realism – one can be distracted or even scandalized by overly realistic depictions. In Russia, as both Italian and Dutch / German Renaissance styles became popular in secular art, those styles began to heavily influence church iconography, especially once Peter I and his successors started forcing it into churches (much was lost during this time). Often live models were used for depicting saints or Mary, and these would be comely young women in rather, well, distracting poses. If one is already battling temptation in that regard, the last thing you need is to be looking at that while trying to pray. 

    So there definitely is a balance.

    • #15
    • July 12, 2019, at 7:04 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Manny Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    I have to admit, I prefer Renaissance art over icon art.

    There’s actually quite an interesting debate over the centuries with regards to the appropriate level of realism in iconography. If you are looking at these depictions solely as art, and thus as an aesthetic exercise, then yes the Renaissance works are often superb. The distinction that needs to be noted, however, is that in iconography the aesthetic effect is secondary to the spiritual. Icons are supposed to depict what is called “spiritual realism,”and the people and events in the panels are outside of time as we know it. In the case of the saints, the icons are supposed to be indications of their glorified selves.

    And there is a danger in depicting life-realism – one can be distracted or even scandalized by overly realistic depictions. In Russia, as both Italian and Dutch / German Renaissance styles became popular in secular art, those styles began to heavily influence church iconography, especially once Peter I and his successors started forcing it into churches (much was lost during this time). Often live models were used for depicting saints or Mary, and these would be comely young women in rather, well, distracting poses. If one is already battling temptation in that regard, the last thing you need is to be looking at that while trying to pray.

    So there definitely is a balance.

    I agree with everything you say Skip. The only question I have, and this is due to my ignorance I’m sure, why is iconic art deemed more spiritual? Is it just a tradition or is there a theological reason?

    • #16
    • July 12, 2019, at 10:01 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Manny (View Comment):

    I agree with everything you say Skip. The only question I have, and this is due to my ignorance I’m sure, why is iconic art deemed more spiritual? Is it just a tradition or is there a theological reason?

    There’s a lot that could be said on this question. In Orthodoxy, the icon is considered not merely a decoration, but a means of personal connection with the person or event depicted. I’m not sure I’d necessarily say it is more spiritual, so much as to say its intent or its purpose intentionally avoids life-realism so as to be more thoroughly spiritual, and to depict spiritual reality (which is reality outside of the confines of flesh and time), instead of snapshot of time.

    If you contrast the Madonna image you posted above (which is undeniably beautiful) with the Virgin of Vladimir (up at the beginning), you can see that they’re both similar poses. But they also differ in some key ways. In the Madonna image, the Christ-child is a child. Take away the halo (which is faint) and you have just a baby gazing away. In the Vladimir icon, by contrast, Christ is identifiable as Christ by way not only of the halo, but by way of the (now rather worn) golden garments and by His not being exactly a normal child. Christ’s face, while child-like, has the more knowing and confident eyes of an adult. In the Madonna painting, the emphasis is on the physical humanity of both figures, in the Vladimir icon, the emphasis is on their personhood.

    Each work is telling a different story. In the Madonna image, we see the young mother with her baby, and the halos hint at what is to come – it’s a snapshot of a particular moment in time. In the Vladimir image yes we do have a mother with her child, but we are also told of what was, what is, and what will yet be – it is outside of time. Christ is not a normal child, he is robed in glory, while Mary looks out with sorrowful eyes, foreshadowing the coming crucifixion.

    This is not to necessarily elevate one form above the other though. Each form tells something different, they each have different roles to fill, and at their best each form lends itself to artists trying to express something of the mysteries of the divine (and each form can also be abused or taken to some very weird and disturbing places). When she has discussed the Annunciation, @midge has spoken beautifully of the importance of understanding the very humanity and femininity of the teenage Mary at that very moment – this is not easy to do in any form, be it words or music or imagery. But I think the image below (I forget the painter at the moment, but she’s modern) captures something of that.

     

    • #17
    • July 12, 2019, at 10:56 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Manny Member

    Thank you Skip. That does help. And that is a wonderful Annunciation. 

    • #18
    • July 12, 2019, at 11:14 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Brian Wolf Coolidge

    SkipSul: At the outset it bears noting that, outside of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Mary is rather a controversial figure. Within the Protestant churches, aside from the more liturgical Lutherans and Anglican / Episcopalians, Mary is rarely mentioned aside from Christmas, and traditional understandings of Mary (that she had herself no further children, that she was far younger than Joseph, and that she was taken up bodily like Enoch) are disputed. This is somewhat surprising as both Martin Luther and John Calvin esteemed her greatly, and for all else over which they broke with Rome, on these they remained in agreement.

    I have been very grateful for all these posts. I don’t like turning these wonderful posts into theological debates that have entire books written on them by all sides. I just needed to mention something there though to further illuminate things I hope.

    Mary is not a controversial figure in any Christian denomination I am aware of, all think she is a highly esteemed woman that bore our Lord and Savior because she was pretty awesome. Our experiences in churches vary and Pastors have different things that motivate them and drive them theologically but I have only been a Christian for 20 years and all those 20 years have been in Conservative Evangelical churches either Independent Bible Churches or Baptist churches. I have heard three entire sermons on Mary, probably heard more than a dozen where Mary was half of the sermon topic. All the mentions of Mary put her in a very positive light that cause us to want to be more like her and admire her service to all of us. She is often linked with John in this way John was the greatest of all the prophets before Jesus and Mary was the most faithful and wonderful of women and they were related.

    The controversy arises from her veneration and making her more than woman of high esteem. That she should be venerated at all is very controversial, that she had no other kids is highly controversial, all Protestant scholars I have read or heard address the issue speculate that Joseph was older and believe that is why he died, most likely, before Jesus began his ministry. I am not sure that is controversial. 

    Taking up bodily into heaven is controversial too because that was story suddenly discovered by Icondules during the Iconlast controversy in the Byzantine Empire, in Georgia her ascension is printed every year in the newspapers. Where she is buried but Thomas coming from a far off trip rushes to venerate her body the other disciples try to dissuade him, you know because they don’t venerate bodies, but Thomas insists and gets to see Mary rise into heaven where she forgives Thomas for doubting Jesus. Therefore all the Disciples after hearing the story from Thomas realizes icons and relics are good things. 

    Most Protestant don’t believe those things happened. 

    Anyway I really loved the post.

    • #19
    • July 12, 2019, at 5:05 PM PDT
    • Like