"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Thursday 28 November 2013


Salvation through Mary 

 A friend of mine of a protestant tradition asked me recently about my feelings about Mary. I did not go into great detail but, for starters, I agreed that there is often a misconception that Catholics worship her. In doing this I pointed out, however, that in the English dictionary the word worship has different meanings. Not only can it mean reverence offered to a divine being but it can also mean an extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem. Based on the meanings that this word has, I pointed out that I worship God in a unique way, as the scriptures demand, but I also worship in a differentl way my wife and other people like Mary who we Catholics believe to be very much involved in salvation. What I did not have time to go into with my friend is why we give her a special kind of worship, which I will now do from a Byzantine Catholic perspective.

 To begin, Mary or, as we of the Byzantine tradition call her, the Theotokos [gr.birth giver of God] is like all of us,  a person who needs to be saved. The thing is that with salvation we all experience it in different ways. There are even times when people who after living a life of evil find Jesus Christ in the last five minutes of their life. They obviously did nothing to earn salvation but through their human freedom accept the gift in their final moments. In addition, there are also times when God, for sake of all humanity, gives people the chance to experience salvation in unique ways.

 Just looking through the Old Testament we find people like Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and the Jewish people who were given this opportunity. Just how they experienced salvation is a mystery but their experience of it was something that generated results. For example, we read that holy men like the prophet Elijah were taken up into heaven, which was something that is often hard to understand before the coming of Christ (2kings 2:11). It is important to point out that at no point did the special people of the Old Testament lose their human freedom. Nor did they find themselves outside of the realm of the fallen condition when offered the experience of salvation. In fact, we do read in many places where the gift that God presented to them was rejected. Never the less, even in the experience of rejection, God continued to work with humanity (Rom. 11:29). From the perspective of God's saving humanity you could say that it was essential that the chosen people responded to God when they did. The need for this response to some degree is best expressed in the prophecies concerning St. John the Baptist and Forerunner of the Lord. The scriptures specifically say that he would “prepare the way” for Christ (Malachi 3:1).Consequently, it is possible to think that the Lord’s coming into the world would not take place apart from the contributions of not only St. John but also all those that came before him. This is especially true of the Lord’s mother who could be said to be the recipient of all the contributions of those that came before her. In fact, an early Church father named St. John of Damascus referred to the Theotokos as the one who “contains all the history” of God working salvation in the world before Christ (On the Orthodox Faith, 3:12). 

 So far we can begin to see why the Theotokos is a special person for Catholics. In her we find that God had been bringing humanity along in order that human nature might be ready to receive all of what God is in the Incarnation. This is where my protestant friend might have trouble because in being able to receive all of what God is we hold that the Theotokos was pure of sin. This is based on the fact that she received a gift that allowed her to enter into such a state, which has its foundation in the holiness of those that came before her. This does not mean that she did not need to be saved but like those that came before her she was given a unique privilege that would lead to the salvation of all. In her case her gift allowed for her to achieve purity to the extent of what was humanly possible before Christ. This is another reason why we hold her is such high regard because through great struggles the Theotokos continued to say yes to God. Out of every human being born to this world it was only in the Theotokos that God became man. Never finding herself outside of the need to be saved we find that she participated in salvation in a special way. When it comes to the gift of her purity I think it’s important to realize that it cannot compare to the purity that we now experience in Christ. Her purity was essential but alone it was not enough to bring about the salvation of the human race. It is only through Christ that we see the power of sin ultimately defeated. Just like us the Theotokos had to say yes to not only the gift that made salvation possible but also to the gift that would allow her to become a partaker of the divine nature(2 Peter 1:4). In the end like us she needed to be saved even though she helped through her gift of herself for all to be saved.

 On the other hand, unlike us she was the first to participate in the fullness of the experience of salvation. Based on her life, and who she is now, she is for us Catholics the one truly worthy of all human veneration.

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