Sunday, April 3, 2011

In Which my Perspicacious Mind Penetrates the Perfectly Obvious (After Twenty Years of Trying)

More honorable than the cherubim,
And more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim,
True Mother of God, we magnify thee.

These verses used to vex me.  The Mother of God, more glorious even than a cherub or a seraph? 

During my catechumenate, I came to two conclusions, neither of which fit very well with the other.  The first conclusion was that after all, any human is a higher order of being than any angel, because angels are and always will remain servants of God and man, whereas humans are destined to become God's sons and daughters.  The second conclusion was that this Mary business was a bit overdone, but I would become Orthodox anyway, because after all, "we have this Treasure in earthen vessels," as the Apostle says.  So this vessel called Orthodoxy was a bit cracked; who cared?  It still contained the Treasure.

It wasn't until much later I realized there was no crack.  Or as they say in the computer world, it isn't a bug, it's a feature. 

But it wasn't until this past Friday night that it finally hit me WHY the Theotokos is so much more honored than the cherubim, so incomparably more glorious than the seraphim.  It was during the Salutations, a.k.a. the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God, when we sang verses like these:

O immaculate Maiden, rejoice as the one who carried
earth's Foundation painlessly in your womb
...who dyed in your own virgin blood 
the divine purple robe worn by the King of angelic hosts.

You welcomed into your womb the Logos;
You held in your arms the One Who holds all things.
With your milk you nourished Him who by a nod
gives nourishment , O purest Maiden, to the entire universe,
To Whom we sing:  O praise and supremely exalt the Lord,
O all you His works, unto all the ages.

Through you all of creation was re-created;
Through you the Creator was pro-created...

(Note:  "through", not "by".)

So in addition to the intimacy she had with God in her surpassing faith and love and innocence, she had the unique intimacy of carrying in her body for nine nonths the King of Creation.  What angel ever had that honor?  She lent or rather gave Him flesh from her own flesh; which of the bodiless angelic hosts could ever have that glory?  She fed Him with her own milk; no angel could aspire to this.  Nine months of the eternal God growing in and from her flesh, uniting Himself both spiritually and bodily to her in the most intimate way imaginable (if this even IS imaginable)!  No other creature that ever was had such a relationship with God.  Not even the angels.

More honorable than the cherubim, And more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim - DUH.


David Garner said...

The first time this idea occurred to me was when I was still a Lutheran, and it was during a discussion on the semper virgo. The argument (made by someone far more knowledgeable than I) was that once Christ had been in Mary's womb, it was sanctified by Christ's presence. The idea was that what the Holy God has touched cannot help but be transformed. It was argued that Joseph and Mary would not have dared to reduce this womb again to a secular use.

This was profound to me, and I began to wonder "if her womb was sanctified, why not all her flesh?" "Is this where the idea that Mary is blessed, holy, immaculate, etc. comes from?" It turned my thinking quite a bit, and I was already one who held to the semper virgo.

David Garner said...

This, by the way, is a reason Marian devotion was never an issue with us when we joined the Church. While we did have a problem with some language (obviously, "most Holy Theotokos, save us" created some challenges), the basic notion that Mary was to be honored and venerated above all the Saints and heavenly host was never a problem for us.

Steve Robinson said...

Yeah, that's a forehead slapper when you "get it", isn't it? :)

GretchenJoanna said...

Thank you, Anastasia. You have explained very well what I've been absorbing for some time, and I'll bookmark this post to add to my stash of good explanations. I had the same feelings about features vs. bugs, about various things, but I am slowly getting to know the features -- the graces and blessings!