A Christian Role Model
by Daniel Manzuk
There is a tendency to take the piety and faith of the Theotokos for
granted. We acknowledge that she gave birth to Christ and bears all the attributes which
are applied to her in our prayers (Most Pure, Most Blessed, More honorable than the
Cherubim) and leave it at that. This is a severe mistake.
Some of us feel it is boring to hear the same Gospel reading on every
feast of the Theotokos, namely Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28. (exception: the Annunciation)
This is the reading in which Lazarus' sister Mary is listening to Christ while Martha
complains that she must do the serving all by herself. However, Christ tells her that
Mary has made the more important choice; that is, to hear the Word of God. The reading
ends with a woman in the crowd praising Christ's mother because she gave birth to Him.
It is repeated at each Marian Feast because it contains the central reason why Mary is
Most Blessed and our role model as Christians. This article will attempt to explain how
she is our role model by explaining the significance of the last two verses in the given
" a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is
the womb that bore you and the breasts that .you suckled!' But He said, 'Blessed rather
are those! Who hear the word of God and keep it.' "
Mary is blessed, but not because she gave birth to God; rather she
gave birth to God because she was blessed. Mary was chosen to give birth to God because
she followed the word of God…His commandments in all things. Being the Mother of God
was her reward for a life of sanctity.
The prayers of the Liturgy of St. Basil remind us that the Father sent
Christ "when the fullness of time had come". In other words, when there was someone
worthy to bear His son to arrive. Both the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church
teach that Mary lived a life without sin but they differ about her conception. In the
Liturgy of St. Basil there is a prayer which says that, "she was born under the law... ".
We believe that the conjugal act which produced her was done in love as pure as humanly
possible, and prayer. Her parents were God-fearing and righteous people, who raised
their daughter to be righteous in God's eyes. She is fully one of us, who freely chose
to do God's will. The Roman Catholic teaching of the Immaculate Conception tends to
separate her from our human nature.
Her obedience to God's word is also taken for granted. We forget
that Mary was taking her life in her hands, when she said yes to Gabriel's announcement
that God wanted her to be the mother of His Son. Mary was a righteous Jewish girl
(12-14 yrs. old), who was betrothed to an older man, a common occurrence for centuries.
She would have been betrothed to him at an even younger age, and when she became an
adolescent she would have been formally married to him. The first part of our wedding
ceremony, the "Betrothal Rite" is rooted in this practice. The questions "have you
promised yourself to any other man/bride" found in the Slavic practice of the "Crowning
Rite" (the matrimonial service itself) is to determine if any other wedding plans have
been made (the betrothal itself is as binding as the marriage).
The following verses detail the penalties for adultery:
If anv man takes a wife and goes into her and then spurns her and
charges her with shameful conduct and brings an evil name upon her saying, I took this
woman and when I came near her I did not find in her the tokens of virginity..., " then
they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house and the men of
the city shall stone her to death with stones... (Deut. 22:13-1,4; 21)
Mary was familiar with these laws and knew the price she might pay for
being with child before being married. Yet she answered "let it be to me according to
your word". Mary was fortunate that Joseph, who was a righteous (law-abiding) man, opted
instead not to divorce her quietly as an adulteress, and to return her to her parents to
be hidden away. Had Mary tried to justify her pregnancy by saying that she was carrying
the Son of God, she would have undoubtedly faced the penalty stated by the Chief Priests
at Christ's trial:
We have a law and by that law he ought to die because he has made
himself the Son of God (Jn. 19: 7)
She would have been guilty not only of adultery, but also of blasphemy
for claiming to carry God's Son. When Mary said, "let it be to me according to your word'
(Lk. 1:38), she was signing her own death warrant. But her trust in God was so great that
she took the ultimate leap of faith and agreed to risk her life on the word of what some
would call an apparition. Mary was chosen for this role because of her faith and
righteousness. She was blessed because she conceived Christ. She had heard the word
of God all her life and kept it. Because of this she was chosen to be THE ONE to hear
the word of God (in many icons of the Annunciation the Holy Spirit is pointing at her
ear, not her womb), and not only KEEP it but GIVE BIRTH to IT.
Mary is one of us, naturally conceived and born, without the "benefit"
her Son had of being both fully God and fully Man. Yet despite all the risks and all the
temptations and pitfalls of this world, she lived according to God's law and was thus
deemed worthy to bear God's Son. Her final reward was that, after she died (and she truly
did die), her Son had her body taken up to Heaven to be reunited with Him. This young
girl knew she was risking her life, yet she never faltered from doing God's will. She
is the proof that a mortal can become Christ-like and sanctified through obedience to
God's commandments. As Christians, she is truly our role model.