Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Annunciation to St. Mary
Volume 5 No. 314 November 20, 2015
II. This Week's Featured Articles

A Woman Wrapped in Silence - A Meditation for the Feast of the Annunciation

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

In preparation for today's Feast of the Annunciation I picked up Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 3 (The Infancy Narratives) by Pope Emeritus Benedict. I was very moved by a very brief reflection that he made on Mary as the Angel Gabriel left her. His remarks consider her faith in a very touching manner. I must say that I have always been moved, and intrigued, by the faith of the Blessed Mother, for she is "a woman wrapped in silence," a phrase that forms the title of an excellent book by Fr. John Lynch. The Pope's words capture both her faith and her mystery.

Here is what the Pope says:

I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke's Annunciation narrative: "And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1:38). The great hour of Mary's encounter with God's messenger-in which her whole life is changed-comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing around her. She must continue along the path that leads to many dark moments-from Joseph's dismay at her pregnancy, to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mark 3:21; John 10:20) right up to the night of the cross.

How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God's angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: "Rejoice, full of grace!" And the consoling words: "Do not be afraid!" The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch
(Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, by Pope Benedict XVI Kindle edition (loc 488-501)).

I am moved by this picture of Mary there all alone, perhaps wondering how it would all unfold and whether what she just heard had really happened. The angel departs and there she is, all alone (and yet never alone).

As background, I would like to say that I have read some accounts of Mary's life that placed her in such rarefied air that I could no longer relate to her. I vaguely remember reading some accounts of visionaries saying that Mary did not even have to do housework because the angels swept the house, did the dishes, and so forth. Some other accounts spoke of how she had detailed foreknowledge of everything that would take place in her life and in that of Jesus. I even recall one purported visionary writing that Mary had extensive theological discussions with Jesus even while He was still an infant.

I do not remember who these alleged visionaries were or if any of them were even approved visionaries. Yet in the early 1980s a large number of books were published containing the observations of various visionaries.

Such utterances often left me cold and made me feel distant from our Blessed Mother. They also did not seem to comport with the Scriptures, which present mother Mary as a woman of great faith but a woman who, like all of us, has to walk by faith and not by perfect sight. She wonders at Gabriel's greeting, is troubled, and does not understand how it will all work out (cf Luke 1:29).

Yet she presses on and we next see her having made haste to the hill country, rejoicing in ecstatic praise with her cousin: My spirit rejoices in God my savior! She still does not know how it will all work out, but in spite of that she is content to know the One who holds the future; it is enough for now.

Years later, when she finds Jesus teaching in the Temple after days of agonized searching for the "missing" boy, she does not fully understand His explanation (Luke 2:48-50), but must, and does, ponder these things within her heart (Luke 2:51).

At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus seems almost to rebuke His mother. And though the text leaves many of the details out, there must have been something of the look that only a mother can give her son. By now, her understanding of her son had surely deepened; she had known Him and pondered and reflected in her heart over Him for more than 30 years. She simply looks at Him and He looks at her, a look that only the two would have known. But something passed between them, a look of understanding. Whatever it was remains wrapped in silence, none of our business, something that only she and her Son could know. But whatever it was, she turns and with confidence, knowing it will be well-handled, simply says to the stewards, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

Of the three years to follow, we know very little. We know that she is not far off. We see her in Mark 3:31 as she asks after Jesus, seemingly concerned that others are saying "He is beside himself!"

And now we find her gently and supportively present at the foot of the Cross. The sword that Simeon had prophesied (Lk 2:35) is thrust through her heart. More than thirty years earlier she could only marvel and wonder what Simeon's words meant when he said that her child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2:33). But in the intervening years her faith had surely deepened, and now, here she is at the foot of the Cross. It is her darkest hour, but surely all those years of pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart helps to sustain her.

Yes, Mother Mary is a woman wrapped in silence. We know so little, for she is reflective, quiet, saying little, silently standing by, silently supportive in Jesus' publicly ministry. And now, again silently, she is at the foot of the Cross.

Yes this is the Mary, the mother that I know. A woman of faith but also human being like you and me. And, as the Pope Benedict suggested, she is a woman who had to make a journey of faith without knowing how everything would work out, not with the omniscience that some visionaries ascribe to her. She knew what the angel had said, but it seems clear that she did not know how it would all come to pass. She, like us, walked with faith and not with earthly sight.

Mary is the perfect disciple, the woman of faith, the one who presses on, not knowing all, but pondering and reflecting everything in her heart.

The Key to Understanding Mary - The Second Eve

by James Akin

A Sensitive Subject

This evening I want to talk to you about a very sensitive subject: Our Blessed Mother, Mary. In his book, 'Mere Christianity,' C.S. Lewis said that no subject in our faith needs to be approached more delicately than this, and one of the reasons he cited was that Catholics have a natural affection for Mary, and when Mary is attacked Lewis says that Catholics respond with that "chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honor of his mother or his beloved is at stake."

Lewis says that Catholics feel this way about Mary "very naturally," but there is one person who feels that way about Mary even more naturally than we do: her literal Son according to the flesh -- Jesus Christ.

Honor Thy Father and Mother

As the obedient, infinitely holy Son of God, the Lord Jesus was a very firm believer in the commandment to honor one's father and mother. Now, what most people don't know about that commandment is that in Hebrew it literally reads, "Glorify your father and mother." This means that, since Christ took God's commandments very seriously, he would glorify his mother Mary, and for us to talk about his mother in a cavalier, irreverent manner is to impugn the glory which Christ himself has given her. As a result, if we were to talk about Mary in an impious manner then we would be offending not only Mary but also Christ by denying his mother the glory that he himself gave her.

The Unifying Theme

But then I discovered a central, unifying concept in Catholic teaching which supplies the basis for virtually everything the Church teaches us concerning Mary. This central, unifying doctrine is something that the Church teaches very vigorously, but for some reason it does not often filter down into the Protestant-Catholic debate, and so it was some time before I discovered it and realized its significance.

This doctrine concerns Mary's special role in God's plan of the ages. We know that from time to time God picks certain people to play a special role in his plan: Abraham had a special role, Moses had a special role, David had a special role, and Christ had by far the most special role of all. But except in the case of Christ, each of these people received their special role as an act of God's grace. Apart from God's grace, there was nothing special about Abraham or Moses or David. They were special people and had a special role only because of the grace God gave them. And the same is true of Mary. Everything that was special about her and her place in God's plan came from God's grace. After all, isn't this what we are saying when we pray the words of the Angel Gabriel in Luke's gospel, "Hail Mary, full of grace." Everything about Mary, everything that makes her and her place in God's plan different from ours, is only because of God's grace to her. Mary is entirely a product of God's tender, loving grace.

And that is something with which Protestants can agree, even though they do not recognize just how gracious God was toward Mary. Even Protestants recognize that Mary had a special place in God's plan. If for nothing else, Mary's special place was assured by the fact that she, of all the women in world history, was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. So Protestants are very willing to say that Mary had a unique role in God's plan of the ages. Unfortunately, they do not see all that this role entailed and all of the implications of Mary being Christ's mother.

The Protoevangelium (Gen. 3:15)

To see that there is more involved than just the fact that Christ came out of Mary's womb, let us look at the very first prophecy about Christ in the Bible: Genesis 3:15. In that passage, God is cursing the serpent for having caused mankind to fall into sin, and he says,

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall strike at His heel."

Ever since the first century, Christians have recognized this as a prophecy of the coming of Christ, who would crush the head of the devil, even as he himself was stricken by the devil on the cross.

But there is more than just a prophecy of the coming of Christ in this passage and more than a prophecy of the cross and of Satan's defeat. There is also a prophecy of the Virgin Birth, as even Protestants recognize. The reason is that in this passage, Christ is described as the "Seed" of the woman. This is very unusual in Biblical language because normally it is only men whose offspring are described as their seed. In the ancient, biblical languages men have seed; women do not. The reason for this is that the ancients often held a particular view of human reproduction which made it more natural to talk about men having seed. In the question and answer period, we can discuss this view of reproduction if you want, for now simply note that it was very unusual in the biblical languages for a women to be described as having seed.

Since it was very unusual to talk about women having seed in the Bible, this means that there is something very unusual about the birth of Christ -- the Seed of the woman. It means that he was born only of a woman, without the intervention of a man, whose Seed he would otherwise be. As a result, Christians have always regarded Genesis 3:15 as containing a prophecy of the Virgin Birth. And Protestants are included in that. They fully recognize that Genesis 3:15 prophesies not only the coming of Christ, but the way in which he could come: through the womb of a virgin.

But this means that the woman described in Genesis 3:15 is more than just Eve. Eve was not a virgin. All of the children Eve had were fathered by her husband, Adam, according to the normal course of nature. As a result, the woman in Genesis 3:15 is more than just Eve because Eve did not have any virgin births. Therefore, we know that Mary, the only woman in history to have a virgin birth, is specially in view in the Genesis 3:15.

So even though Eve is the principal woman under discussion in Genesis 3, when we come to the prophecy in verse 15 of that chapter, the woman is also seen to be Mary. Mary is therefore pictured as a "Second Eve," the successor to the woman of Genesis, who will be the fulfillment of the prophecy of the virgin birth.

This idea of Mary as the Second Eve is something that the writers of the New Testament picked up on. There are traces of the idea in John's gospel and in the book of Revelation, and perhaps in St. Luke's gospel as well. But if the idea of Mary as the Second Eve was picked up on by the writers of the New Testament, it was proclaimed long and loud by the early Church fathers. Right from the second century onwards, we read regularly about Mary as the Second Eve, who fulfilled the Genesis 3:15 prophecy. Let me quote you a few passages from the writings of the second century Church fathers...

The Church Fathers on Mary as Second Eve

Justin Martyr

Around the A.D. 155, St. Justin Martyr wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew that the Holy Scriptures teach us concerning Christ,

"'that He became Man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent, might be also the very course by which it would be put down. For Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent, and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the powers of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her would be called the Son of God. And she replied: 'Be it done unto me according to thy word.'"

St. Justin Martyr therefore parallels the Virgin Mary with the Virgin Eve. Just as the word of the serpent bore fruit through the Virgin Eve, so the word of God came into the world through the Virgin Mary. Eve believed the word of an evil angel and death was brought into the world, while Mary believed the word of a good angel and Life Himself was brought into the world.


Now let's look at another passage: around the A.D. 190, St. Ireneus, in his masterwork, Against Heresies, writes,

"Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying: "Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word." Eve, however, was disobedient; and when yet a virgin, she did not obey.... having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.... Thus, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith."

So again we see the second century fathers contrasting Mary and Eve, saying that the evil done through Eve was undone through Mary.


Now let us look at another text, this one from the beginning of the third century. Around the A.D. 210, the Catholic Tertullian wrote in his treatise, On The Flesh of Christ, that

" was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise, though a Virgin, the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus, what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex, was by the same sex re-established in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight."

As a result, we see three of the most important fathers of the second and third century bearing witness to the implication of the Genesis 3:15 prophecy, that after the woman of Genesis 3 there will come a second woman, a second Eve, who will give birth to Christ while still a virgin. Thus Mary helps rectify what Eve brought about. Eve brought sin and death into the world by her relationship with the first Adam, from whom we inherit Original Sin, while Mary brought helped bring holiness and life into the world by her relationship to the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that in both cases it is the Adams who do the actual work. It was the first Adam who was responsible for us inheriting Original Sin. St. Paul indicates that it is our unity with the First Adam which produces sin and death in us, while it is our unity with the Second Adam that produces righteousness and life in us. The Adams are the key players, the ones who do all the work, but their work happens to be brought about through the agency of the two Eves, the first one who believed an evil angel and the second one who believed a good angel.

This distinction is reflected in the saying of the Church fathers: "Death through Eve, life through Mary." Even though Eve and Mary were not the ultimate causes of death and life, it was through their actions that death and new life entered the world.

The key to understanding Mary

Now this teaching of Mary as the Second Eve was what helped me finally see the inner unity of all the Catholic teachings concerning Mary.


Let us now use the prayer which has been used by pious Christians down through the centuries to honor their heavenly mother:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

[Editor's Note: This article was excerpted from 'The Key To Understanding Mary' by James Akin]

Copyright (c) 1996 by James Akin. All Rights Reserved.

Hymns Of The Annunciation Feast
Apolytikion (Fourth Tone)

Today marks the crowning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery before all ages. For the Son of God becomes the son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaims the grace. Wherefore, we also cry out with him, "Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you."

Kontakion (Plagal of the Fourth Tone)

To you, Theotokos, invincible Defender, having been delivered from peril, I, your city, dedicate the victory festival as a thank offering. In your irresistible might, keep me safe from all trials, that I may call out to you: "Hail, unwedded bride!"


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