Posted 09 October 2009 - 12:20 PM
An Orthodox friend (a convert from evangelical protestantism) who had read a book making similar claims came to me two and a half years ago. He said that the author claimed that referring to the Mother of God as "Queen of Heaven" stems from pagan practice which was adopted by Christianity, and that this was, of necessity, a bad thig. Reading this thread rang some bells, so I have fished through my e-mails and managed to find my response to him. Here it is:
[quote]Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; for thereby, they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee.[/quote]
That’s the tropar from the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. The reason I’ve quoted it is to answer your point about the reference to Our Lady as Queen of Heaven.
Orthodoxy sees the new dispensation - the New Covenant in Christ – as being the fulfilment of all things. As Christ Himself said, ‘This is my Blood of the New and everlasting Covenant’. The old ways are not cast aside but rather are fulfilled – brought to their fruition in Christ. This is one of the major points on which many strains of Protestantism have departed from the Truth of Orthodoxy. It isn’t an obvious difference because it isn’t immediately apparent when you walk into their churches, not like the absence of holy images or incense – but it is a very real difference.
Many of them see Christ as coming to replace the old ways, which are now past and gone. They would perhaps contradict you if you were to phrase it like that but the fact is that the way they conceptualise and the way their beliefs are formulated show that this is what they, deep down, hold to be true.
Thomas Aquinas was a Catholic who got many things wrong, but one thing he got right was in his hymn on the Eucharist – the summit of the Church’s life - Tantum Ergo Sacramentum:
[quote]Therefore we, before Him bending,
This great Sacrament revere;
Types and shadows have their ending
For the newer rite is here.
Faith, our outward sense befriending,
Makes the inward vision clear.[/quote]
By contrast to many Protestants, Orthodox see God’s interaction with His people as showing itself through these “types and shadows”.
The Protestant view of Eden is simply this: God created man perfect, as he was meant to be for all time. Yet, man fell from this state in what we call The Fall. Leaving aside the question of whether or not this is heresy, on the most basic level it is illogical nonsense. If man was perfect, how could he sin?
It is this type of Protestant who rejects the Orthodox concept of theosis. The Orthodox view of Eden, by contrast, is that man was created in God’s image. We draw a distinction between the image of God in man and the likeness of God in man. The image is how we were created – with the potential to grow into the fullness of life with God. The likeness is the realisation of that fullness of life in God, sharing in his glory, his splendour, in the fullness of what man was created to be. Those who have reached the likeness of God we call Saints. It’s right there in the Genesis creation story where nowhere does it say that we were created in God’s likeness:
[quote]Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, according to our likeness…’[/quote] - Genesis 1:26a
Other translations say “after our likeness”. None of them says “in our likeness”. When it comes to the actual act of creation in the following verse, we have:
[quote]So God created mankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.[/quote] - Genesis 1:27
You’ll see that there’s no mention of the likeness of God in the actual creation of man.
The Orthodox Church sees the attainment of the likeness of God as a journey, in which God creates us, not in full union with Him, but rather allowing us to grow into a fullness of life with Him through a loving, nurturing relationship. He wants us to “be like God, knowing good and evil”. When, in the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, the serpent promises this to mankind, in the form of Adam and Eve, he was right! Say that to any Protestant and they’ll instantly condemn you as a heretic, but it’s true. The story of the Fall doesn’t show that the serpent was a liar so that we can blame the sin of mankind on him – oh no, we don’t get off that easily! The serpent promised us what we wanted and what was God’s intention for us, but while God’s plan was to gradually reveal more and more of his Truth and Himself to us as we had become more and more mature in a relationship with Him, the serpent said ‘You can have it now, and be as God, knowing good and evil – now’ - it was this that was the serpent's lie. Man’s sin was placing his own will over and above the will of God, and that is the at the heart of the story – man’s innocence was lost, as “they realised that they were naked”.
Back to this journey of mankind into God’s likeness:
The Fathers of the Church have traditionally seen the religions that went before Christ came as revelations of specks of the Truth of Christ – what Thomas Aquinas referred to as “types and shadows” in the hymn quoted above. They were obviously not revealed in their fullness, because man was not yet ready for that but they were still elements of the Truth which were to be fulfilled when the fullness of Truth came: Christ Himself.
Therefore, when we look at the Old Testament, we see God’s interaction with His chosen people, the Jews. With them, He developed a covenantal relationship in a way that He didn’t with other peoples, and so we have a record of His saving works throughout Jewish history, in which we see “types and shadows” of the fullness that was to come with Christ.
In the Western Rite, Thursday just gone was the Feast of Corpus Christi when we praise God for the Holy Eucharist and the Mysteries of His Body and Blood. There is an ancient hymn written for the feast which speaks of some of these “types”, these specks of the Truth that were to be fulfilled in Christ:
[quote]Lo! The new King’s Table gracing,
this new Passover of blessing
hath fulfilled the elder rite.
Now the new the old effaceth,
Truth revealed the shadow chaseth,
day is breaking on the night.
Truth the ancient types fulfilling:
Isaac bound, a victim willing,
Paschal Lamb, its life-blood spilling,
Manna sent in agest past.[/quote]
The manna feeding God’s pilgrims in the wilderness is seen as a type of the Body of Christ. Similarly, Isaac being Sacrificed by a willing and obedient Abraham is seen as a type of Christ’s Sacrifice of Himself on the Cross. The Passover Lamb that was to save the Israelites from the Egyptian death is a type of Christ, the Lamb of God, by the shedding of Whose Blood we, too, are saved from death.
This is just one example, and the Old Testament is riddled with things that we Christians see as being inferior glimpses into the Truth, revealed by god to His people when that was all they could handle.
Most Protestants would have no problem with this, as it is thoroughly Scriptural. In fact, St Matthew, who was a convert from Judaism, makes a point in his Gospel of showing how Christ fulfils the ancient Jewish prophecies. If you look at St Matthew’s Gospel, you will see that, time and time again, he quotes from the prophecies to show how they relate to Christ. He would have been brought upgoing to synagogue and would have known his scripture, and he was writing for a Jewish audience.
Where the Protestants would leave us Orthodox is in our understanding of St John’s Gospel. You see, these types and shadows did not appear in Judaism alone! Yes, it may well be the case that the Jews were God’s chosen people, and their Messiah would be the fulfilment of all things, but “all things” means so much more than just Jewish Scriptures. As Isaiah says:
[quote]The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.[/quote] - Isaiah 52:10
St John is the person whose Gospel we should be looking at now because he was writing for a Greek (pagan) audience. The people he was writing for had no or little concept of Judaism. They didn’t know the Jewish history of a relationship with God. They did not grow up hearing the prophecies. They didn’t know of a Messiah who would be descended from kings and priests. If you look at St John’s Gospel, he takes this into account. He doesn’t waste time quoting prophecies that his audience would never have heard. He doesn’t waste any ink detailing Christ’s lineage back to the patriarchs of Judaism. He doesn’t even have an account of the Nativity of Christ. He leaves all that to St Matthew and his Jewish audience. No. St John wrote for the Greeks who had their own ideas and had their own revelations from God in the forms of specks of the Truth.
One thing common to the Greek philosophers and even some of the mystery religions that grew up in the Greek empire was the concept that there is a basic, foundational principle – the unspoken idea/word - according to which everything operates – the moon, the stars, the planets on their courses, human birth, life, death – everything. It all had one foundational principle beyond the understanding of man. They may not all have had the concept of God (although many of them did, and based mystery religions on this concept) but the basic groundwork was there. They called this concept logos.
St John shows no shame in drawing on their history and their culture to show them how Christ has come to them as much as He has the Jews. English translations of the Bible render logos as Word, which loses much of the original sense, but to somebody in pre-Christian Greece, whose world-view was that everything was founded on the unchanging and dependable logos, the first chapter of St John must have been mind-blowing. I’ll quote it here without the word logos translated:
[quote]In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Logos became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.[/quote]
I recently bought Bishop Hilarion’s The Mystery of Faith, which is essentially an Orthodox catechism written for non-Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Christians alike. (It relies on the reader already knowing about Christianity so wouldn’t be appropriate for someone new to it all). Near the beginning is a chapter entitled The Search for Faith, in which he explores different ways in which various cultures have had the Truth revealed to them. He cites St Justin Marty (2nd century) referring to the Greek philosophers as the “Christians before Christ”. Quoting from that chapter:
[quote]An early Greek Father, Clement of Alexandria, claimed that philosophy paved the way for Christ in the Greek-speaking world in the same way that the Old Testament prepared the Jewish world for the coming of the Messiah. Some of the Church Fathers came to Christianity through the study of philosophy and many of them thought very highly of it, in particular Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory the Theologian. In the narthexes of ancient Christian churches alongside the martyrs and saints, there would be portraits of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as forerunners and heralds of the Truth.[/quote]
For example, here’s a quote from Plato’s Timateus:
[quote]All that has come into existence needs a reason for its coming into existence. Of course, the Creator and Father of this universe is hard to seek, and if we find him, we should not tell everyone about him. The cosmos is beautiful, and its Demiurge is good. The cosmos is the finest thing that has come into being, and the Demiurge is the finest of all causes. In being good, he cares for all visible things, which abide not in peace but in disharmonious and disordered movement; he has brought them from disorder into order.[/quote]
In pre-Christian mystery religion, for example, there was a religious cult called Mithraism. The similarities to Christianity are really quite astounding. The god-like figure of this religions was called Mithras. As the story goes, he was born of a rock, or in some sources, of a virgin - in either case it was without the need for sexual relations between biological parents. There is reason to believe that thw date of his birth was celebrated on what would today be the 25th of December (according to some sources). And more astoundingly, the story goes that he commanded that his followers, after his death, to eat his body and drink his blood. Sound familiar?
It is only one of many examples.
Atheists often use this as their reason for being extremely dismissive of Christianity. They say that the early Christians just took bits and pieces from religions that already existed and made up their own.
By way of contrast, many Protestants would probably go into anaphylactic shock to read what I’ve just typed. They see it as pagan, unscriptural, dangerous, and unnecessary. Because many of them don’t understand the concept of theosis and revelation, they do not see the proper place of these precursors to Christ. I have read in the past one protestant view that these mystery religions were Satan’s way of pre-empting Christ’s saving work and deceiving more souls into hell. We can only pray for them and try to show them the truth.
The Orthodox heart, however, should rejoice at hearing these things because for us, it shows that the all-loving God revealed part of the Truth of himself to all people, Jew and Gentile alike, and that the All-Powerful Christ is the beginning and end of all these things – the Alpha and the Omega. These were the tiny specks of the Truth – the types and shadows - before He came to reveal the Truth in its fullness in His New Covenant brought about by his Incarnation, life, death, Resurrection and glorious Ascension. Have a look again at the tropar at the top of this e-mail.
Yes, some of these mystery religions also had female virgin figures who were the mothers or spouses of the gods of the religions. Some of them conceived without sex. Some were depicted as goddesses while others were not. Many of them were turned to in order to intercede with their divine sons. Many Protestants argue that devotions to Our Lady are based on this and that we who do it are simply engaging in pagan practices. They cannot (or will not?) see that this is a precursor to the fullness of Truth in the New Covenant brought about by Christ. By their argument, Christians should also not have Communion, because this, too, appeared in Mithraism and so is just as pagan as devotion to the Mother of God. Christians should not celebrate Christmas because that is when the birth of Mithras was celebrated. Christians should not have sex because that was part of the ritual of some of these religions. Christians should not eat teacakes because raisin cakes were eaten in honour of some of these goddesses. The list could go on for ever. By now, you should be able to see that it is nonsense.
After that very long-winded e-mail, my point is that you mustn’t let these reactionary protestants cloud your judgement. They speak forcefully and let’s face it, they know their bibles better than many of us do, but they speak, sadly, out of a state of being separated from the context where the Bible finds its meaning, which is the Church, and when they try to read the Bible outside the loving and guiding fold of the Church they are bound to be led astray.
St Mark of Ephesus:
[quote]Never, O man, is that which concerns the Church put right through compromises: there is no mean between truth and falsehood. But just as what is outside the light will be necessarily in darkness, so also he who steps away a little from the truth is left subject to falsehood.[/quote]
Mary was raised into the heavenly state where she received the crowning glory of the New dispensation in Christ. Like the other Saints, she has reached the fullness of theosis, sharing in the divine life, glory and splendour of God. Unlike the other Saints, she was the first of all mankind to be given this honour when she was taken, body and soul, into heaven. Therefore, she is rightly called Queen of Heaven in the Orthodox understanding, and we should be able to do so gladly and wholeheartedly without any worry of paganism, while simultaneously praying for our protestant friends who struggle with these things.
I’m sorry for the long e-mail and hope that, having waded through it, you find it to be of some help. The reason that I have written at such length is because this idea of Christ as conquering and fulfilling all things is one of the things that I found most exciting when I came to Orthodoxy. What a wonderful Faith this is!