Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy Birthday to our Namesake

This morning I wanted to post a Facebook status that I'd really like on a t-shirt.

"Your homegirl is my Mother." (I'd add a tag line to that but I can't decide between "don't diss her" or "Respect my Momma.")

I'm refering to a t-shirt my students sported a few years ago with a line drawing of Mary, the Mother of God. I recall one of my 8th graders at a Christian school asking if it was disrespectful or inappropriate to wear at school. She asked me because I was a newly minted Orthodox Christian and she knew we had a 'Mary somethin'-or-another' going on.

I was newly minted. I told her that I supposed there wasn't a problem with it, since it had a counterpart shirt with Christ outlined- "Jesus is my homeboy" was on that one.  That one was never sported. I think it says a lot about me, about my upbringing and about Protestant Christianity that I okayed the shirt. I recall the niggling doubt in the back of my mind, but years of anti-Mary indoctrination, as part of a larger anti-Catholic indoctrination, had left me completely  blank about the Mary issue.

Not blank. I need to correct that. She was a blank spot on the iconostasis. I saw her icon, and ignored it. I heard us chant "Most Holy Theotokos...." in services and I let my lips fall silent. People assumed that I'd taken the Theotokos to be my patron at my chrismation, but I didn't. In fact I was a bit defensive about having chosen another Mary, St. Mary of Egypt. All those years of "We don't pray to Mary" really worked! I couldn't talk to her.

In the face of the endless icons of the Theotokos which all looked the same to me at the time, I felt unnaturally silent. I'm a mouthy and opinionated person, more so back then. Pushy is how I'd describe my disposition. It was not coincidence that I didn't feel an affinity for the Theotokos and did for St. Mary of Egypt. The former grew up in the temple, was a lowly handmaiden who practiced obedience and piety so well that she embodied the right time-right place-right person. Finally the Messiah could be born. At last, there was someone whose entire life witnessed to being prepared for the life-long burden of a motherhood so unique that even I cannot imagine it.

  Contrast her with my brash patron saint, who before the Cross and the Theotokos seemed to affront her at the doors of the Church, slept and seduced her way to from Alexandria to Jerusalem. My patron reformed more speedily than me. She cried out, asking the Mother of God to pray for her. She related woman to woman-- would that be femme a femme, if in Latin? Just curious. The first memories I have of that story I had the impression that the Theotokos was part of the reason that St. Mary couldn't enter the church. She seemed to experience the Theotokos as a force of purity and chastity that made the Cross, which every pilgrim was going to venerate, true to her.  It brought to light the great sacrifice of Christ, which affected everyone around him immediately and for all ages hence.

I don't know if that's true now. What I know is that for the next few years, I was Theotokos-shy and loudmouthed about it. I know it was in part because I didn't want non-Orthodox friends and family, as well as new converts, and myself, to think I was just on the Jesus AND Mary Train, like those errant Catholics. It took a few more painful years of motherhood to reform me. It took a few more niggling suspicions that I shouldn't loudly pronounce that I just couldn't get to know the Mother of God and that's why I didn't ask her to pray for me or talk to her.  Strangely, it took praying the Akathist to her as Nurturer of Children. If you've never read and prayed that service, it involves asking her to pray huge portions of Scriptures that change our hearts. Praying it as a mother changed me. I pray it now for my children, Godchildren and the children God gave me to pray for in their parents or care-givers distress. I realized, I was talking mother to mother, to a woman who is a much better mother than me.  Maybe that's why for every sin against my children which I confess, my father confessors admonishes I just go talk to the Theotokos and ask her to pray for my kids, instead of say, yelling at my kids, or berating them.

So, now I get why all nations will henceforth call her blessed. I can say now, it took learning to be comfortable in her presence and talking to her to become accustomed to asking any saints to pray for me.  Most Holy Theotokos, pray unto God for us all. Spraznikom on her Nativity.

    And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord,  
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.   
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; 
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

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