Our Most Holy Lady, our intercessor and aid

15 August 2014

Our Most Holy Lady has been established in the minds of the Orthodox faithful as an intercessor who unites the earth with heaven, the perceptible world with the beauty of the things of the spirit. This truth is reflected in Byzantine churches, with the icon of the Mother of God ‘Broader than the heavens’ [‘For he made your womb a throne and caused it to become broader than the heavens’, Prayer at Compline] depicted in the cupola of the sanctuary. Our Lady is the ladder by which God descended to earth so that we humans could be released from the consequences of corruption and death, could gaze upon the loveliness of beauty as it was before the Fall and could progress towards deification. This is why Jacob’s ladder is an image of the Mother of God who united the divided and brings them together forever with her prayers and intercessions to her Son and God.

MD, Sinai s13 IN

Our lady Theotokos, icon from the Monastery of Sinai, 13th Century

But in what sense is Our Lady considered to be an intercessor, since it’s well-known that there’s only one intermediary between God and people: Jesus Christ? Through His sacrifice, Christ became the ransom which delivered all people from the shackles of the Fall, bridging the gap between the Father and His fallen children. Christ is the intermediary between God and people, and His intercession becomes possible through Our Lady who, as Mother of the God/Man, offered all of us the opportunity to commune with God.

Saint John the Damascan writes that the basic condition for the closer understanding and reuniting of God and human beings is ending the hostility between earth and heaven and the return of the ‘apostates’ to the Father. Once the hostility has been resolved, the path is open for our adoption by God. Adoption activates our participation in the divine glory with the illumination and renewal of the creature who was broken. As intercessor, Our Lady leads us to Christ and prays for our salvation: in the iconography and hymnography of the Church, which is reflected in the services, the canons, the Akathistos Hymn, the hymns to the Mother of God and the end of the litanies. In each of these, the Mother of God pleads on behalf of the faithful and in doing so expresses herself as the Mother of us all. This is particularly clear in the feasts of the Mother of God, which are special occasions for Christians to have recourse to her shelter and protection.

Our Lady is very close to God. From this privilege is derived her boldness towards Him on our behalf. When the faithful address prayers and supplications to her, or to the saints, this doesn’t mean that they forget Christ the Saviour. It’s Christ Who, in the end, saves us. In the Liturgy, we sing, ‘Through the prayers of the Mother of God, Saviour, save us’. The Mother of God doesn’t save, but we aren’t saved without her. It’s through her that we become closely acquainted with Christ the Saviour. In the Paraclitic Canon, the faithful address Our Lady in these terms: ‘Preserve your servants from dangers, Mother of God for, after God, we all flee to you as our invincible bulwark and protection’. This Canon reflects the religious veneration we feel for Our Most Holy Lady, whom we all call upon, after God the Father, for support and fortification. This hymnological reference is another facet of Orthodox worship in which the intercessional role of the Mother is God is made explicit in the invocations for salvation on the part of the world which is threatened by the dominion of evil.

Vasileios of Seleucia defines the meaning of intermediary when he says: ‘Hail you who are full of grace, mediating between God and people so that the wall of hostility separating them can be pulled down and the heavens may be united to the earth’. This transcendence from the sphere of mortality to that of the heavens and the promise of salvation and resurrection can come about through the Mother of God, who was the first of all people to receive the joyful message of the Resurrection of the Lord. This view is widespread in the liturgical tradition, the hymnography and iconography of the Orthodox Church. Despite the absence of any Biblical foundation for this position, the great Fathers of the Church, in their interpretational notes on passages of the synoptic Gospels let it be known that, after His Resurrection, Christ appeared first to Our Lady. She herself never doubted the divinity of her son, recalling all the marvellous and divine things which occurred at Christ’s conception, at His birth and during His presence on earth.

Salvation and the hope of resurrection comes from God Himself. Making it our own, however, becomes possible through the prayers of the Mother of God, who offers the perfect example of a holy life and brings the faithful to virtue and repentance The profound conviction of people concerning the enduring presence of Our Lady in the midst of the storm-tossed human race became firmly established in the minds of the faithful in the very first Christian centuries. The Mother of God became ‘a gracious comfort to those in sorrow and a ready help to those who ask’. She herself stands by us, feels sad for us and desires the salvation of the whole world. She embraces all and is ready with her boldness and proximity to God to resolve any situation in life which causes sin.

We have the privilege of enjoying a powerful protectress and defender, Our Most Holy Lady, who, through her intervention, weakens the influence of evil. She ‘prays and entreats on our behalf, repelling the inflammations of the passions and the attacks of the Evil One. She also wishes and is able to assist in defeating a variety of evils before we even recognize their presence. This is when the intercessor intervenes with her maternal boldness, making fervent supplication to our heavenly Father, as if for herself, and citing the kinship of her nature with that of the human race.

(To be continued)