Thursday, December 3, 2009
Why fear Mary?
Last night, I went to the mid week Advent service at Hope Lutheran Church with my parents. My reasons for going were many. After being there on Monday night to help my mom decorate the church (she needed my long legs and strong frame) for the season, I was reminded that a good portion of my life growing up in this area was shaped by being a member of this church. I was confirmed in this church. In fact, in the narthex, I saw the picture of my confirmation class back in 1990. A lot of my friends whom I still connect with I met through this church and I got to see and catch up with a few of them last night at the dinner given prior to the Advent Service. Unfortunately, most of my memories of the worship of this church were clouded with my complaints (not undeserved) that it was ahistorical, novel and more about outreach than worshipping the One God in purity and in truth.
The order of service used was from the Lutheran Service Book (LSB) which was recently published. It has 5 settings of the Divine Liturgy, a Matins, Vespers, Compline and several other services as well. The one used last night was Evening Prayer. Prior to the service starting, Pr. Harries (whom I don't know well since he came after I became Orthodox) explained the order of the service for the congregants. It never fails to amaze me how often Lutheran pastors have to explain the liturgies in place to the congregation; it just shows how impoverished liturgically much of modern Lutheranism has become. Fewer and fewer Lutheran churches prefer the traditional Liturgy and prefer an "whatever the pastor feels like doing" mentality...but, I digress. Anyway, the Evening Prayer service in the LSB is, in its framework, the Order of Great Vespers from the Eastern Rite Churches of which the Orthodox are included. The hymn "O Gladsome Light" is sung as well as Psalm 140 (though they begin with verse 2 and don't use incense), but the thing that floored me was the use of the Eastern Rite Great Ektenia (Litany). Word for word, it was exactly like the Litany that Orthodox use at Vespers, Orthros and Divine Liturgy. What floored me was the very end where the pastor says "Rejoicing in the fellowship of all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ, our Lord." We say "Christ our God." But in the Orthodox version of this ending, we say "Calling to mind our most pure, most blessed, Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary with all the saints, let us commend...etc."
The ending of this prayer is not a prayer to Mary or the saints. But why is Mary excised from this ending? I think that Romaphobia (at least in this respect) infiltrated the committee on worship and excised it. "We can't call Mary by name so we'll just cover her up by just mentioning all the saints. If we mention Mary people will think that we are worshipping her like those Catholics." Even if I'm not spot on with the words, I'm next to certain that such was the sentiment to justify their rewording of this petition.
Why are Lutherans so afraid to mention Mary's name? The reason we Orthodox call to mind Mary at the end of these litanies is because of Christology. Lutherans confess, rightly, that Christ is both God and man, has two natures, not commingled but united in His person. We Orthodox confess that as well. Our remembrance of Mary is to remember Christ's emptying of himself to become a servant, i.e. His incarnation. I'm sure people would object to this saying that we can remember Christ's incarnation without mentioning Mary. Really? How? If Mary is removed then there is no incarnation. Christ assumed everything we have (excepting sin) so that we may be entirely healed and that was done through Mary. Removing Mary from the incarnation is to deny one of the basic tenets of the faith. Even in the Nicene Creed which Lutherans and Orthodox alike confess (minus the filioque), we say that Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit AND the Virgin Mary. If we confess Mary in the Nicene Creed then what is the possible harm in remembering he incarnation of Christ, because of which our prayers are set before God the Father, through mentioning His mother at the end of the litany? I'm sure the response would be that mentioning her could possibly lead to worshipping Mary rather than God and that's what Catholics and Orthodox do. Of course, nothing can be further from the truth, since we commemorate and honor and commemorate her. Because Lutherans and other Protestants can't recognize the difference is their problem, not ours.
But still, why fear her? I've even noticed that in a lot of Lutheran circles, Mary is called not Mother of God (Thetokos in Greek as codified by the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD) but, instead, Mother of Jesus, which is to make a near Nestorian distinction. If Mary is not Mother of God, then the Logos did not become man. IF you don't want to pray to her, fine (it's your loss, in my opinion), but we're not praying to her in that petition; we are honoring her because it was through her that Christ became incarnate and thus saved us from sin and death.
The point I am trying to make: Mentioning Mary is not the first step to idolatry.