As an Orthodox Christian, I have a deep devotion to the Mother of God. The Theotokos takes a prominent place in our Churches and also in our spiritual life. However, she is not more important than her Son. In Orthodox Iconography, the Theotokos is never depicted by herself. She is always depicted with her Son, and she is always pointing towards Him as he is the way, the only way, for our salvation. Because of her sincere answer to the Angel Gabriel she not only became our Mother but our model of how to live this Christian life.
In the opening verses of the Gospel of St. Luke we are introduced to a young girl whose life was about to change. Visited by the Angel Gabriel Mary was asked to give birth to an extraordinarily unique child. Still a child herself, by modern standards, Mary said yes and became the Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God.
There is much we can learn from the Holy Theotokos if we just reflect on her life. She asks a sincere question when the Angel comes to visit her, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” The Angel answers her with the words, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you…” To that Mary responds, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” This unassuming young woman said yes, and that yes would change the world.
Mary’s response, from a position of faith, is the highest obedience to God. The Incarnation of Jesus was made possible by the free response of all of humanity in the person of Mary. The first woman, Eve, disobeyed God and now Mary obeys His will in her life. As Eve closed herself off from the love of God, Mary opens herself by her faithful response and we need to do the same.
The third Ecumenical Council held in Ephesus in 431 affirmed the title of Theotokos. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, advocated the term Christotokos, or Birth-giver of Christ as he believed that Mary only gave birth to the humanity of Christ and not His divinity. St. Cyril of Alexandria opposed this view because to him, and others, it was unacceptable to separate the two natures of Christ. The council affirmed the title of Theotokos and the theory of Nestorius was proclaimed a heresy.
The simple answer of Mary to the Angel is the natural answer that we need to make to God each and every day. We need to say, as she did, “let it be done to me according to your word.” We need to walk in the light of God, and we can only do that if we are submitting to and being obedient to His will for us.
Her yes was a leap of faith for she had no idea what was to come next or even her family would believe her. She answered yes, with a sincere faith and trust that she knew that God would take care of her.
It is the same with us. We need to answer yes to God with a simple faith, the faith of a child, that trusts God enough, and we put our whole life in His service and walk in His will. This is not easy to do, and we have the Theotokos as a model. With an enormous amount of faith and trust, she said yes.
The Theotokos brought the Son of God into the world in a real concrete way we in turn need to bring Christ to the world by the way we live. I have mentioned before that being Orthodox is not easy, and it is not just another denomination or a belief. Orthodoxy needs to be our life and it needs to form and transform that life just as the yes of the Theotokos formed and transformed her life.
At the Crucifixion Jesus gave care of his mother to the Apostle that he loved, St. John. Scripture tells us that St. John took her into his home and cared for her for the rest of her life. Tradition tells us she was with the Apostles and others on the Day of Pentecost and was an inspiration to them in their ministry. The Church commemorates her death on August 15th a one of the major feast days of the Church, and all of the Apostles were present, with the exception of St. Thomas at her repose.
The Theotokos is an example to us of a sincere and genuine belief, a faith that gave her the ability to say yes when asked to do an extraordinary thing. She can be our guide on our spiritual journey if we seek her guidance. Take time to mediate on her life and on her yes.
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.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.