The Compelling Beauty of Love

About a week ago I found myself thinking about the Theotokos for a long time. For those of you who are not familiar with this title, this is how the Eastern Orthodox refer to the Virgin Mary. The name “Theotokos” means God-bearer, as She bore God in Her holy womb. Coming to love Her has been a challenge from the start, as my former Anabaptist religion has nothing but contempt for those who would honor Her for Her “Yes” to God’s offer, a yes which brought salvation to the world. I was steeped like a teabag in contempt for the actions of Roman Catholicism, with a special contempt for the Papists who worshiped their “idols of Mary.”  I can still remember one of the members of the Riverdale Baptist Church Evangelistic Team speaking with me before a service and sharing with me a vile little contemptuous poem that heaped dishonor on Her.

One of the first things I did upon joining the Catholic Church was to repent of all the horrible things I had said about Mary. Someone made me realize that despite my feelings, this is Jesus’ Mother, and no real man takes lightly someone insulting his mother. My realization that this particular Man is the all-powerful God, come to earth in flesh, made my blood run cold. Insult someone’s earthly mother – bad enough. Insult the Mother of God?! Aye Yi!! I didn’t want to face Christ on the Last Day and try in any way, shape, or form to come up with an excuse for that while His holy eyes bear down on me.

I made a good confession.

Now I have icons of Her in my prayer corner and parts of both my morning and evening prayers are filled with requests for Her guidance, protection, and prayers before the throne of Her Son. I hold her icon to my heart when I chant the prayers that honor Her, and kiss Her icon when after the final blessing. I chuckle as I type this, thinking back over 20 years ago and how I would have been gobsmacked if you would have told me I would be working on deepening my devotion to Her. It was not anywhere on my Protestant radar – but here I am.

I was thinking about the descriptions of the Blessed Virgin Mary given by the various people who have had encounters with Her. The one commonality that sticks  in my mind in each of these narratives is how She is described as being the most beautiful woman they have ever seen. I found this interesting. She is, after all, not divine, but human just as we are. The reality, and I mean no disrespect to Her by saying this, is that She is just another woman like all others. I imagine that when She lived and walked in the streets of Jerusalem no one took particular notice because She did not stand out. She may be quite attractive in an earthly sense, as many Middle Eastern woman are, but the number of beautiful – some quite stunning – Middle Eastern women is legion. What then is the difference?

What occurred to me is that it must be love. More specifically, the love of God, which now in Her glorified state, She is most fully possessive of. I believe She carries, in a special way, the love of God in  a manner that draws the heart, fills the eyes, entices the soul. To see Her is to see what God intended for mankind from the very beginning. She is what Eve could have become. At the same time, She is what we will all become, in a lesser degree than Her perfections, for all time. The whole call of the Gospel is to step out of our selfishness and put on God’s love. From Her infancy, She loved God and dedicated Her life to Him, receiving His fullness in due time in the divine pregnancy which brought us salvation. She radiates the love of God as a perfect vessel of that love. This is what makes Her the most beautiful woman who has, and who ever will live.

Love is attractive. Love is beautiful and it creates beauty wherever it is manifest. All the rich beauty of the world that we see, from the tiniest of flowers and colorful birds to the vast expanse of a multi-hued sunset leaving us in awe, is an expression of the love of God. How beautifully this is expressed in the Orthodox Prayer THE ATHAKIST OF THANKSGIVING

SECOND KONTAKION

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest: the fragrant breezes, the mountains stretching high to the sky,the boundless waters reflecting like a mirror the sun’s gold Beauty 3rays and the swiftly moving clouds. All nature whispers mysteriously of You, all is filled with Your tenderness; even the birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love. Blessed is the earth with her fleeting loveliness, which awakens our yearning for happiness that will never end, in the homeland where amid beauty imperishable, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

 

SECOND IKOS

You have brought me into life as if into an enchanted garden. I see the sky, a vessel of deepest blue, and the birds that sing it its azure heights. I listen to the soothing rustle of the trees and the sweet-sounding music of the waters.  I taste fruit of fine flavor and fragrant, sweet honey. How wonderful it is in Your world; how joyous it is to be Your guest.

Glory to You for the feast of life.

Glory to You for the fragrant lilies of the valley and the roses.

Glory to You for the delightful variety of berries and fruits.

Glory to you for the glistening silver of morning  dew.

Glory to You for the joyous smile of dawn’s awakening.

Glory to You for the new life each day brings.

Glory to You, O God, forever and ever.

There are a total of thirteen troparia with their corresponding ikos. I particularly like this set, although they are all quite beautiful in the song they sing of God’s creative love and the beauty of that love in all aspects of our lives, even in our sickness when He comes to be with us. It is love that made and continues to make this world beautiful. It is love that best comforts us when we are lonely, depressed, or sick. There is nothing more wonderful than knowing that even going through dark valleys, someone cares and is with us. The majesty of God is not His power.  It is His love. The majesty of God’s creation is the expression of His love.

In his book, THE WEIGHT OF GLORY,  C.S. Lewis said, “it is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person  you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…”

That is what love has done for the Theotokos. That is what it will do to all of us one day in some degree.  She is the most beautiful woman in the cosmos because of love.  We here on earth are striving to become imitate Her because She is the perfect reflection of God.

Love makes everything it touches beautiful.

 

 

 

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