• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Blessed Art Thou Among Women

Do you love the Mother of God?

That may sound like a silly question, or even scandalizing to some. But I’ll ask it again?

Do you love the Mother of God?

Whether you’ve come from an Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant background, we’ve all grown up in a world where there are a lot of mixed feelings about the Blessed Virgin. The Church has always held up Mary in a special way, and this same love for her has been a cause for suspicion and criticisms. Some see this attitude about Mary as a kind of idolatry. Others are indifferent to it and many are simply confused by it.

Today is the fourth week after Easter. For these forty days we’ve been celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Pascha Candle still flickers in the front of the Church, and its flame reminds us of the flame of the resurrection, the light of the world, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But now, just as we’re dwelling on our resurrected Lord, we’re brought to a short stretch of time where the Church pays a little extra attention to Mary, Christ’s Mother.

It’s our custom in the Orthodox Church to dedicate May to Mary, and among many ways to do this one of the most favorite traditions is the May Crowning. At the end of Mass, I’ll invite the children to come up to the front and take flowers. Then, all together, we’ll process with the statue of Mary to the side chapel, crown her with a wreath, cover her in our flowers, and all the while singing songs and prayers.

If you’re not used this it can seem a little strange. Why focus on Mary when we could just focus on Christ? Why bother honoring a mortal when we could just honor the immortal? Why all these rituals, the processions, the flowers and songs?

The honor we pay to Mary is important precisely because it has everything to do with Jesus Christ. Our love for Mary and our love for Jesus is one and the same. What was it that rose from the dead with Christ and ascended with Him to the Father? His humanity. And this is why we venerate Mary with our flowers and our songs.

When Jesus Christ came into this world, He didn’t come in a test tube. He came in a family. In fact, He came in the very womb of a virgin girl.

Have you ever noticed that in most public settings you can get away with talking about God, but the minute you bring up Jesus Christ people are more likely to become uneasy? We’re comfortable thinking about a vague, spiritual entity, somewhere out there and probably unconcerned with what I do down here. But the idea of God in the flesh is more shocking. The Christian message is that you can’t have God without Jesus Christ. And meanwhile you can’t have Jesus Christ without everything that comes with Jesus Christ. When the Word of God entered into this world He plunged Himself, embodied Himself fully, into humanity.

This is why we should love the Blessed Virgin Mary.

When we forget about Mary, we forget what it means that the Word became flesh.

The man, Jesus Christ, was God incarnate. And so what does this tell us about his mother?

Mary carried God in her womb for nine months. Before getting married and becoming a dad, I could never have understood that. Now, I can’t help but think of my own wife, and the incredible process of bearing a child each and every day through pregnancy. The umbilical cord of my own boy and girl linked them in every way to their mother. Their tiny hands and feet pressed against her ribs and their small bodies nestled against her heart. There’s nothing in the world so intimate. It shouldn’t be hard to believe that a dying man on the battlefield calls out for “Mom.” Jesus Christ was no different.

Mary gave God her blood, her flesh, her very DNA for eternity. No one else in history will share that honor.

Then He was born and Mary held God in her arms and nursed Him with the milk of her breasts. As a child, the incarnate God learned from Mary, He was obedient to Mary, and He loved Mary in the same unique way that every boy loves his mother. This is scandalizing to the world, but it’s the very essence of Christianity and our salvation.

If we think we shouldn’t honor Mary, then how do we understand the angels? When the archangel Gabriel saw Mary, what did he say, but, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28) Mary herself prophecies, “henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (1:48). So do you call her blessed? Can you see that any Christian who doesn’t honor Mary in this unique way is somehow missing out on something integral to Christianity.

At nearly every scene in the scriptures, Mary is at Christ’s side. Mary was behind Jesus’s first miracle in Cana of Galilee. It wasn’t His time, He told her, but nonetheless He turned the water into wine because His mother had asked Him to. On the very cross, as Jesus Christ suffered the weight of all sin and death, who was He thinking of, but His Mother Mary? “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26). The nails pierced through the hands of Christ and, scientists tell us, He was slowly drowning in the fluids of His lungs. Can you imagine the pain He must have been in? But this just reinforces how sensitive and loving a son He was to His mother. Even then, in utter agony, He was thinking about his mother and made sure she’d be taken care of.

What Christ loves, we must also love. If God loves Mary in this special way, does it make sense that we shouldn’t?

When our Lord rose from the tomb, who did He find waiting with spices and ointments to care for His body: Mary Magdalen, Mary mother of Salome, and Mary, the Mother of God.

Where Christ is, there is His mother.

Can you see what this means?

When Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven He brought His humanity with Him.

He didn’t rise alone, as some spirit cut off from everything that made Him human. He brought it all with Him, and this includes His mother, His family of apostles and disciples, and all the saints who have walked this earth since Him. Where is the Kingdom of God, after all? It isn’t up there or somewhere yonder, it’s right here, right now (Luke 17:21). When we’re present with God, in His Eucharist, as His body, we are already experiencing the eternal life to come, and we get little tastes of this even now. I once heard a pastor preach that in heaven we’ll all be sitting around a campfire singing praises to God and also telling stories about how God worked in His saints down on earth. Well, we are already sitting around that campfire, we are already living in the eternal kingdom, and so we honor the saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary precisely because we’re all together, living fully with Jesus Christ.

This is why we must love the Virgin Mary. She is part of Christ. She is the very blood and the very flesh of our Savior. She is His family. And our relationship with Him means our relationship with His body and His saints.

This is what Sunday worship is about. First and foremost, it’s a family gathering. And our procession with the statue of Mary and all the flowers we lay by her is no different then the traditions that you or I celebrate on Mother’s Day to honor our moms. The only difference is that Mary is a mother in a very unique and special way. This love from the Church flows out from us naturally, because we can’t help it. We begin by loving God and end by loving everything that’s part of Him.

That’s what this May Crowning is all about, and why we need to love the Blessed Virgin.

That’s what it means to be human.

On a final word, we learn from the Church’s love of Mary a lesson that boils down to every part of our daily life.

In the same way that Christ brought His humanity with Him up into heaven, so He brings our humanity into heaven. The closer we draw to Christ the more Christ sanctifies who we are.

And what a beautiful message about motherhood.

It’s only in the Church that you can discover the true value of a mother.

The Mother of God submitted her heart to God and accepted Him into her life. She raised her son tenderly and instructed Him in the ways of the world. She had the strength to trust and follow God even when the love of her life was hung on a cross. And it was for all this that Archangel Gabriel called her “Blessed among women,” and our Lord Himself placed a crown of stars around her head (Revelations 12:1). The Virgin Mary didn’t found a charitable organization. She wasn’t a successful businesswoman. She wasn’t rich or powerful or well esteemed in her society. These have their place, but there are more important things. The Virgin Mary is called blessed by heaven and earth because she is a woman and a mother in the truest sense.

It’s in her example that we discover true Christian feminism. We learn from the Blessed Virgin about the vocation shared by every woman and how utterly profound that vocation is.

Today, on Mother’s Day, and through this month of May, may God inspire in you all a deeper love for His Mother and a stronger appreciation for all women and all mothers.

Holy Mother of God, pray for us!

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309