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Blessed Theotokos 'save us'


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#1 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 06:45 PM

One of the things we hear said often in the services of the Church are appeals to the blessed Theotokos to “Save us”. I was taught that this means save us by your prayers. And indeed in other services the expression “save us by/through your prayers” is heard. Still for all that while it is common to ask the Saints to pray for us, we make it a point to ask the Theotokos to save us, regardless of what we understand of those words by extension. We say, “Save us.”

In my readings of the lives of Saints a number of them make it a point to place special emphasis upon the veneration and love of the blessed Theotokos as something above and almost apart from the rest of our veneration of the saints…as it at some point in one’s pursuit of prayer and holiness her presence/role/help takes on a special significance. They speak of knowing the love of the Mother of God and things like that, things which are far beyond my experiencal knowledge, and barely within the realm of my intellectual cognizance. St. Silouan especially makes a point of her “personal” place in our lives and spiritual development. I know they are not saying she is our Savior, or that she is God, but the saints seem unanimous that there is something particular and special regarding the Mother of God and our salvation. And I must assume we mean by salvation, theosis.

This being the case, appeals for her to “save us” are not just a liturgical short hand for “save us by your prayers”. While they may include this sense, they seem to indicate something more than this.

Can anyone else shed some light on what the Church means by asking the Theotokos to “save us” and what if any special relationship/awareness/(some other 4 dollar word that means whatever it is I’m trying to get at) Orthodox Christians should understand/experience/pursue/hope for with regard to the blessed Theotokos and our salvation. How does she save us? What is her theological role in the theosis of the Church…and as members of the Church of ourselves, and how is this experienced by us?

Some of this I know has been discussed in other threads, but much in the way answering similar questions as I asked rested in paens to the blessed Theotokos and their analysis, and there was a lot to learn from them, but I am hoping for something a little more usable along with the. It is great to know she is very holy and stands uniquely close to God but how does that translate into life in the Church, what does her life in the Church look like at a personal level.

If anyone can figure just what I'm trying to get at to and say, please tell me and be so kind as to answer both the general questions I asked plus whatever I should have asked in my ignorance.

She has a very special place in the liturgy of the Church and in sacred history but how is this encountered and lived. It can't just be a dandified theological conciet but has to be rooted in some actual experience of the saints...so what is it as it comes to us. How does Mary, the blessed Theotokos save us?

#2 Andrew

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 12:10 AM

She saved us by giving birth to her son. She has a special relationship that no other human in history has every had, that of being the mother of the Incarnate Word of God.

#3 Olga

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 06:39 AM

from the Akathist to the Mother of God, 1st ode:

"I shall open my mouth, and it shall be filled with the Spirit; and I shall pour out a word to the Queen and Mother; and I shall be seen cheerfully celebrating; and rejoicing, I shall sing of her wonders."



In many cultures, particularly ancient ones, the king was ruler and judge. If the king's mother was alive, she was accorded a special place of honour in the royal court, and was entitled to sit next to him, not as ruler in her own right, but as the king's mother. She was an advocate for the people. Anyone who wished an audience with the king, or to petition the king would do so through the Queen Mother. The king would give particular consideration to his mother's requests and pleas on behalf of the people. The king could be approached directly, but this was too fearful or intimidating for many common folk, who felt more at ease in approaching the Queen Mother. The king would pass judgement as was his right as ruler and judge, but he would not disregard the advice of his mother, as he trusted and respected her, and would often temper his judgement if his mother's advice or requests were sound and reasonable. There are many scriptural references to this.

Consider the wedding at Cana. Jesus at first declined to do anything about the dwindling supply of wine, but, after due consideration, did what his mother requested. A wonderful illustration of the humanity and divinity of the Lord - He can turn water into wine, all right, but He also listens to His mother! :))

#4 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 03:36 PM

Dear Olga,

Thank you for your reply. The teaching you referenced I've seen before and I accept it so far as I have understood its implications. But that level of thing is not what I'm trying to find out. Why do we say "Save us" to her more than "pray for us"...why that emphasis. And how does she do it vis a vis the nature of the Church. When the saints are talking about knowing the love of the Blessed Theotokos or similar things concerning her...what is it experiencialy that they are referencing. It is one thing to lay out illustrations of her place in Orthodox theology and ecclessiology, but what I am trying to figure out/understand is less at the theory end of the universe and more at the experiencial end of the universe. There is something special in the communion of the Body of Christ concerning the blessed Theotokos...so what is it, what is it like in encounter, when in the development of our spiritual lives is it to be expected to be more manifest/more open? It is possible I'm asking the wrong questions, and just don't know what to ask...but when I read indications of a particular intimacy of heart between the saints and the Theotokos I want to get a sense of what is happening. There is something significantly different about how they relate to and I must assume experience her communion within the Body of Christ from that of other saints. This is of course related to her being the Mother of God, of her special closeness to Him in His earthly life, and in her present Heavenly life. We hymn her and prasie her and bless her name in relation to these things....but what is going on from her side? How does who she is effect the whole body of Christ, both corporately and personally? Like I said I may be asking the wrong questions, or not framing them correctly or something, but I am just trying to get a clearer understanding of what we mean and what we hope to experience in Christ and in the communion of His Body by asking her to "Save us".

#5 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 03:53 PM

We certainly ask the Theotokos to pray for us because of her special status, as "one who has a motherly boldness". I would only say that if you were drowning, would you ask the people nearby to simply pray for you or would you say "SAVE ME!" You are not asking them for the ultimate Salvation of Christ, but they can, indeed, SAVE you from immediate danger.

So too, with the Theotokos. HOW does this happen? I honestly have no idea, but she has indeed acted to save entire cities from danger (we recently celebrated the Protection of the Theotokos), she can somehow, mysteriously, protect us from danger too.

#6 Jennifer

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 06:05 AM

Hi, Seraphim,

I know a prayer of intercession to the Theotokos that might touch on the questions you are asking, especially when you say,

How does who she is effect the whole body of Christ, both corporately and personally?


I don't really know who wrote the prayer or where it is from, but it is the following:

In that thou didst bear the Giver of Life, O Virgin, thou didst redeem Adam from sin, and didst give to Eve joy in place of sadness; and He who was incarnate of thee, both God and man, hath restored to life those who had fallen therefrom.

In my opinion, because Mary willingly followed God's desire for her to be the Birthgiver of God, she helped to bring about salvation for all mankind. Without her participation, Christ would not have been both God and man, which is a key requirement of our salvation. She was the ladder by which God came to us.

She also is the only person to have been able to experience the Christian life in an ineffably tangible way. Whereas we believe that our bodies are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and that our bodies receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist, she actually did carry Christ in the flesh in her womb. She followed God's will for her, allowing Christ to include her when He said, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey", and making her an example of Christian obedience. Also, whereas we believe that our bodies will be resurrected and dwell with Christ on the Last Day, the Theotokos, according to the hymns from the feast of Dormition, already does dwell with Christ. Remember the Troparion for the Dormition:
"In giving birth you preserved your virginity. In falling asleep, you did not forsake the world, O Birthgiver of God. You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, and by your prayers you save our souls from death."
She is really a great example for us because her life shows us both how to live and the assurance of God's promise of salvation.

I recommend that you read a book called The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God, by St. John Maximovitch. I don't know that it will touch on exactly what you are asking, but I think you would find it interesting. It is also rather short, concisely written, and easy to read.

Jennifer

#7 Trudy

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 04:26 PM

It can't just be a dandified theological conciet but has to be rooted in some actual experience of the saints...so what is it as it comes to us. How does Mary, the blessed Theotokos save us?


Dear Robert Seraphim,

Ooooooo, I love this question! Here's how it was answered for me when I asked it. Once I re-read the scriptural passages, I asked myself for days, "How the heck did I miss that?!"

If you recall the Old Testament story of the 3 youths in the firey furnace, they were accompanied by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is considered a theophany of Christ (the pre-incarnate Christ). Thus we have Christ in the furnance with the youths. Our Holy Theotokos' womb is compared to the furnance itself. She contained the all consuming fire of the Holiness of God.

If you recall in the book of Joshua Chapters 3 through 8, the priests carried the ark of the covenant on their shoulders and went ahead of the people into the Jordan. Joshua prayed and God parted the waters with the ark of the covenant being in the waters via being on the priest's shoulders. God, through the holiness of the ark, saved the people from the treacherous crossing. Thus the ark saved them.

The last story that helped me understand was an Old Testament one, (which for the life of me I cannot find the reference for!), when the ark of the covenant was in a cart. God instructed those who were surrounding the cart not to touch the ark lest they die. The ark started to slip out of the cart. One of the men reached out to prevent it from hitting the ground. He dropped over dead instantly. Just from touching the ark of the covenant which contained "God."

If the holiness of God, the Son of God who is our Savior Jesus Christ, was contained in the womb of our Holy Theotokos, and she was not consumed by It, but was saved by It. Glory to to God on high!

As the Holy Theotokos is compared to the ark, which through God, dried the river Jordan for the people to pass to safety and she was not consumed by the uncontainable Holiness of God, she was saved and saves us.

Pray for us Holy Theotokos. Save us!

Hope this helps and doesn't confuse you more!

Love in Christ, Athanasia

#8 Father David Moser

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 11:33 PM

In many cultures, particularly ancient ones, the king was ruler and judge. If the king's mother was alive, she was accorded a special place of honour in the royal court, and was entitled to sit next to him, not as ruler in her own right, but as the king's mother. She was an advocate for the people. Anyone who wished an audience with the king, or to petition the king would do so through the Queen Mother...


Thank you for this little paragraph Olga, it was quite nicely stated and I may well "steal" it to use elsewhere.

Fr David Moser

#9 Athanasios Walter

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Posted 23 October 2006 - 02:14 AM

I am new to this, and so I pray you forgive me for my ignorance.

I am curious where this is mentioned in the Divine Liturgy, for the Theotokos to save us, unless it is not from there. I do remember from the GOC that they do say, "by the prayers of the Theotokos, Saviour, save us". Is this the part that is being referred to in this thread?

#10 Olga

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Posted 23 October 2006 - 07:49 AM

Fr David

You're most welcome to "steal" my post if it will help others! Some OT references which may also help are 1 Kings 15:13, 2 Kings 10:13, Jeremiah 13:18, and particularly 1 Kings 2:13-21.

#11 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 23 October 2006 - 03:27 PM

Thank you all for your contributions. However it seems my question has not been understood. I've not been clear. I'm not looking for the standard theological descriptions of her role in the Church. Those I am aware of. What I am trying to get a sense of is the experiencal aspect of these roles as they are exercised within the Church.

To reiterate when we pray to the saints it is generally couched in terms of "pray for us", "intercede for us", but when we pray to the Theotokos the common expression is "save us". Granted this extended in other places to "by your prayers" or words to that effect, but the implication seems to be there is something unique in the intercessions of the Theotokos and in her relationship within the communion of the Body. Something more is going on than the "pray for us" we asked of the other saints, or it is that raised to some far greater degree...pressed to some greater depth. And this capacity is of course related to her unique position as Theotokos and Queen...but insofar as we may know from what is revealed to us in Scripture or from the lives of the Saints who knew her experiencially...how does this translate into the life of the Church and the piety of the Orthodox believer. What does it look like to be on the recieving end of the exercise of these roles? What was it the Saints were encountering when they spoke in such emphatic terms with regard to love for and prayer to the Theotokos in regard to theosis.

I'm trying to get a sense of both the nature of the internal dynamic and how these connect back to our standard theologial ways of speaking of the Theotokos. And in the process I don't want to get so caught up some overblown declamations that we passs from what has been revealed and what the Church knows experiencially to the excesses that we are taught has damaged the mariology of western christendom. So I am also looking for what distinguishs the profound love, reverence, and experience of the Theotokos known by the Saints from the "excesses" whatever they may be.

#12 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 12:05 PM

I have always understood that the Theotokos, owing to her special status, has the ability to act in our behalf. But she only has that power because of her Son. She has helped entire cities and people in the same manner that she helped the host at the wedding at Cana. Her intercession or requests to Our Lord carry a "motherly boldness" that no other saint has. She did not turn water into wine, but He did so at her request.

"Most Holy Theotokos, Save us!" by your prayers and requests to our Lord, because you have the boldness of a mother.

#13 Paul Cowan

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Posted 09 December 2006 - 06:59 PM

Robert:
I am coming into this thread a couple months behind and please forgive my boldness...

I hear from your wording of the question you are a very intellectual person. You seem to be seeking the experience the Saints had in regards to the Theotokos and not just why the Church venerates her as much as it does.

I, as a convert, want to understand IT all too. My Priest has told me on more than one occasion, "all mysteries will be revealed." I am not a Saint and with my current life, never will be. Lord have Mercy on me the sinner! I do though try to emmulate the Saints Lives and try to understand what they lived through. None of us, I feel, can ever experience what you are asking.

God chooses the simple and the least to confound the wise. Wisdom to God is foolishness to men. I do not believe in "just accept it" answers as the laity ar charged with keeping the Faith pure as are the clergy, however, having a basic understanding and having trust in God and his Saints and His Mother to intercede for me and to save me from myself is worth more to me than trying to understand experientially how it all works.

Again, forgive my boldness, but in the end it really does not matter how She works, but that She does have the ear of Christ and is working to save me from myself. I like others may have not gotten the jist of what you were asking, but I think simplicity of mind and heart is what He asked of us when he said to enter the kingdom of Heaven you must have the Faith of a little child.

Respectfully,
Paul

#14 John Charmley

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 03:36 PM

Dear Robert,

I wonder whether you are coming at this with some experience of the Roman Catholic teachings on Mary? It seems from your questions as though you might be, and it would be understandable if some of our Orthodox brothers and sisters did what they have done so ably, which is to state Orthodox practice.

One of the fundamental Catholic dogmas is that 'our salvation is in the hands of Mary' , L. Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (1955) p.120. This is not, of course, what the Reformed Western Churches believe. My understanding (which will surely be corrected) is that:

The Orthodox Church has always believed that the Mother of God is the highest person above all humanity and the angels owing to her role as Mother of the Word Incarnate. She believes that the Mother of God was perfectly holy and most holy and sinless. The Church celebrates Our Lady's Nativity, which would be impossible otherwise since only the feasts of Saints may be celebrated.

In Her Prayers, the Orthodox Church praises the Mother of God as "All-Immaculate" and "Most Immaculate" and Most Holy etc. The Orthodox Church believes and celebrates the Dormition and Assumption into Heaven of the Body and Soul of the Mother of God, but has never defined these, since Her Liturgy has always defined them. Indeed "Orthodox" means, at one and the same time, "Right Faith" and "Right Worship." Our worship expresses our faith.


Olga's post is most interesting, but my more Protestant friends, who do not care for the analogy and see in it one of the ways in which the Church was 'infected' with pagan ideas (a whole different theme, of course), would cite Jeremiah 7:18;

18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger.

and Jeremiah 44:12-17, 25

44:17 But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble.
44:18 But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine ...
44:25 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying: `You and your wives have spoken with your mouths and fulfilled with your hands, saying, We will surely keep our vows that we have made, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her. You will surely keep your vows and perform your vows!'


I suspect the answer to your question is that Orthodoxy may be speaking figuratively when it says 'Theotokos save us', which sounds the same, but means something quite different from what the Roman Catholics mean when they say the same thing.

As I say, I write with some trepidation, relying upon what I am being taught, but fully aware that as an Anglican, I cannot (yet) come at this from the inside; so I ask pardon for, and correction of, any errors I make in my ignorance.


In Christ,

John

#15 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 05:05 PM

Dear Robert,

The saint who comes to my mind when thinking of a special relationship with the Mother of God is St Seraphim of Sarov. I would have to scour the books on St Seraphim to see if he explains his devotion to her, but I remember that the Mother of God called the saint 'one of our kind'. St Seraphim struggled to be free of even a bat's squeak suggestion of sin. I wonder if he venerated the Mother of God because, unlike any other saint, she was, from the moment of the Annunciation, pure and sinless as he strove to be? The experiential aspect you mention may be this: those who so yearn for purity as St Seraphim did look to the Mother of God above all others as the most pure, pure in a way no one will ever be. She is, after all, the only human being to whom the angels chant praise.

As always in the Orthodox Church, we find the truth and meaning of our faith in the texts of the services. If you read the troparia and kontakia of the Feasts of the Mother of God, I think you will find there something of what you seek. We find explanations in theology but in acts of worship and veneration using the texts of our services, we find experience. If we project what others have said about the saving power of the Mother of God on to the experiential plane of veneration, perhaps we sense intuitively her saving power.

In Christ,

Andreas.

#16 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 05:13 PM

True, all mysteries will be revealed. Perhaps I've been hoping the curtian might lift a little in some of the discourse here.

Part of the problem is that I'm ask about something I know exists within the Orthodox faith and experience, but not something that lies within or at least not very deeply within the threshold of my own experience within the Orthodox faith.

If I understand what I am reading in the lives of various of the saints is that at some point in their lives they began to have some kind of experience of the Mother of God. And I don't mean a vision or a visitation, though they had these too on occassion. They all spoke of knowing the love of the blessed Theotokos as somehow instrumental to a profoundly deep love of Christ...to come to love Him as she did/does.

It seems to me this might be part of what it means to be members of each other. As our walk in Christ progresses, our spiritual life deepens, and we are more thoroughly purified of our wayward passions the connections in the Spriit between each member and between Christ and His Body become either more perceptible or more actively/consciously engagable....hence things like the knowing of hearts...clairvoyant elders and the rest begin to be known. This could reasonably be extended to the connection between all human beings and even humanity and the world. For example St. Seraphim of Sarov kept candles lit for all of his spiritual children and said that he knew something was troubling one of them if their candle fell over or something else went amiss with it...indicating that some kind of bond was sacramentally forged between those candles and the persons they stood for...at least for St. Seraphim.

So unless I'm very far off base it would seem this joint membership with each other in the Body provides the ground by which we may explain aspects of our relationship in the Church to each other as well as ourselves to Christ. And just as our walk with and knowledge of Christ may deepen in the Spirit so may our knowledge and experience of each other in the Spriit may grow as well, the former making possible the later. At the pinnacle of this knowing each other comes an especial knowing of the Theotokos...our experience of Christ...merging...participating...filtering through...joining....I don't know the best expression...with hers.

But as things stand I'm just guessing...just speculating based on the little I know or think I know. But whether or not I've gotten it right "intellectually", it seems certain there was something intimate and powerful in the relationship of the Saints to the Mother of God, something they knew and experienced in terms of her person/involvement, something that radically deepened their walk with and love of Christ.

So I guess what I want to know first is am I really seeing this when I read the Lives of the Saints and their understanding/experience of the Theotokos.

And if I'm not totally confused or deluded in my observations I would like to learn a little more about just what it is that the Saints know when this aspect of iChristian life is opened for them....what is its landscape.

At the same time I am aware it is easy to go off the rails in our understanding of the role and experience of the Theotokos in the Church...so I'm also looking for the bumper guards that indicate the boundary between proper and presumptuous.

#17 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 07:01 PM

Dear Robert,

I think you have it in the essence of what you say. The idea of being members one of another brings into focus what you have been driving at, and I feel sure that there is much in the idea of the Mother of God being, as you say, at the pinnacle of this mutualism, and forming a sort of continuum from us to Christ. In Christ,

Andreas.

#18 Peter Farrington

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 07:08 PM

Hiya

Can someone point me to the Byzantine texts that use that use the phraseology,

Blessed Theotokos, save us!

I did a google but could only find this discussion. :-)

I'm looking through my own Coptic Orthodox sources to find comparable references. I think it would be useful to look at the use of the phrase in context to illuminate the meaning.

Peter

#19 Peter Farrington

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 07:29 PM

I've had a look through the:

Liturgy of St John Chrysostom

Liturgy of St James (Greek)

Liturgy of St James (Syrian Orthodox)

Soorp Badarak (Armenian Orthodox Liturgy)

Liturgy of St Basil (Coptic Orthodox)

I couldn't find the phrase Theotokos (or Mother of God), save us. She was always entreated in relation to salvation being of God, especially our Lord. Mostly it is always her prayers which are asked for, that Christ would forgive us our sins.

I'm starting to go through the Coptic and Syrian Daily Offices, but I would appreciate a pointer to where in the Byzantine tradition the phrase in question is used.

Peter

#20 Kris

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 08:20 PM

I'm starting to go through the Coptic and Syrian Daily Offices, but I would appreciate a pointer to where in the Byzantine tradition the phrase in question is used.
Peter


In the Byzantine tradition, it is sung by the choir whilst the deacon/priest is saying the last line of the Litany: "Commemorating out all-holy, pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, with all the Saints, let us entrust ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God."

If you haven't seen it in Liturgy books, it might be because only the decon's part is given, wheras the choir's part is omitted. But if you attend the Liturgy, you will always hear it sung.

In XC,
Kris




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