By Shawn Thomas
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
As we walk around the malls and watch TV inundated with Christmas advertising and paraphernalia, there are many people who have made it their personal mission to remind the world, especially America that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And that is absolutely correct. Christ is always the focus of our worship, feasts, and devotion. Yet when one looks at the hymns of the Nativity Liturgy of our Lord (Christmas), it seems that everything points to Mary. Why would one of the most important feasts of the Holy Church have hymns that speak of Christ’s mother? While it may seem that the Church is commemorating the Mother of God higher than God Himself, we have to understand that the Church uses these hymns to teach its people the reality of the incarnation of God the Word.
It is often said about the Orthodox Church that we do not have a Mariology. Rather, all things said about Mary point to her Son, God who became man for all mankind. As we see in all iconography of the Holy Church, Mary is always pointing her hand or head to Christ, as a reminder that the focus of the icon is not her, rather the boy she holds in her arms, the Son of God. Therefore, the mindset we must adamantly hold is that whenever the Church speaks of Mother Mary, the Church is actually using her to speak of the reality of God taking flesh for the sake of mankind.
It is through the womb of Mary that salvation is given to us through Christ. If God did not fully take on every characteristic of humanity, His work on the cross would not be sufficient for the world. In order for God to save mankind, the Son had to be both fully man and fully God. While most of us understand completely that Jesus Christ was truly God, we often forget how that he was truly human in every way. This is why the Church sings of Mary and her relationship with Jesus, because it is through Mary that God took on humanity fully, and therefore was able to save us from death.
In the songs sung by the Holy Church on the feast of the Nativity, as we process to the burning palm leaves, we sing this these stanzas from the hymn:
I knelt and gave birth to Him, Who is from before time,
Ha-halleluiah – and who saved the world”
The myst’ries, the parables And the types were fulfilled
And were completed – through the bless’d Virgin
The Virgin, the young maiden Without man has conceived
And given birth to – the Ancient of Days
The dove has raised the Eagle The ewe bore the Lamb
Who By His sacrifice – redeemed us from sin
The hymn mentions Mary several times, and speaks of her as being blessed and holy. However, if we take the time to consider carefully what we sing, we see that all these hymns speak of Mary’s giving of flesh to God Himself. The songs continually point us to Christ who saves the world from sin. Mary, ultimately, is exalted above all other saints because she gave Christ the humanity necessary for Him to save the world. Mary points us to the reality of the incarnation of God the Word.
Furthermore, Mary is commemorated in many of our Nativity hymns because she reminds us of the love it requires for us to be in perfect communion with God, a love that only a mother can give to her child. The Church speaks of Mary on this blessed day of her Son’s Nativity when we return from the procession in this Manitho,
As I passed by Bethlehem
I beheld a young maiden
She held a child and bore milk
Yet remained as a virgin
She is mother and virgin
And is indeed full of grace
Great wonder came upon me:
A voice told me to remain
And I listened to the sounds,
The lullabies of Mary
As she was singing praises
To her beloved Son
Here, the Theotokos is adored as not only the person who made it possible for God to become man, but as the caretaker and giver of love to God Himself. She demonstrates that with God, all things are possible, even for a virgin to give birth to a baby who is both eternal and in time, all powerful and helpless, dependent and the source of all creation. The Church portrays a picture of Mary who points to her Son as the Christ and Savior of the world, and loved him greater than any other person has, even at the cross. It is through Mary that we are able to understand who Jesus truly is and His sacrificial love for us, and for that, the Church venerates her.
What the Church believes about Mary is summarized in the Creed when we say, “And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, of the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and became man.” This is ultimately all the Church wants its people to understand about the Holy Theotokos, in all its prayers, proclamations, and hymns about Mary. It is through Mary that the Son was able to be fully human, and because Christ was fully human, He endured a passion that took on death freely so that death could be destroyed for all creation. Finally, Mary teaches us about Christian love. She, as a mother, carried Christ and loved Him greater than any other person has or will, and for that she is “blessed among all women” (Luke 1:42). The Church uses the obedience and love of the Holy Mother to demonstrate to us how much God loved us that He sent His only begotten Son. Mary points us to the real, historical incarnation of the Son of God, something that was necessary so that God could die. The role of the Holy Theotokos is indeed necessary for our understanding of His incarnation, “the reason for the season.”