Friday, February 23, 2007

most holy Theotokos, save us!

One area where I've got my head around Orthodoxy but am much slower to feel at home in it is veneration of and prayer to saints. I have no problem repeating the morning and evening prayers, or affirming what we sing and pray in services; but it's probably the most significant area--perhaps the only area--where I often feel like I'm just going through the motions. Tonight I had an unexpected opportunity to attend the Akathist service, which Holy Cross does pretty much every Friday during Lent. For those who don't know, it's pretty much one long hymn of praise to the Mother of God. Everything is grounded, of course, in her role as the bearer of Christ, but if you're not particularly comfortable with the idea of praying to human saints, it can feel disconcerting, or at best, like there's really not much connection.

Part-way through the service, though, a thought hit me. This is probably just a very tiny step, and hopefully in the right direction, but as we kept repeating after each stanza (there's probably a better word here, but I still haven't got a handle on all the musical terms), "Most holy Theotokos, save us!" I began to think of it in the context of the annunciation. Time tends to get a bit goofy in Orthodox worship anyway, so I don't think it's necessarily out of line to look at it this way. But I began to see it less as a request and more as an exhortation. In some sense, when we say that line, we're cheering her on, to say "yes" to God's plan for her. It is not by her own power that she can save us, but by her willingness to be used by God so that the Word can be made flesh. Without the incarnation, we're hopeless, and in that moment between the angelic proclamation and Mary's willing response, all creation shouts its encouragement.

Now, I know that there's more to it than that. I know that it's also dealing with present needs and asking for her prayers on our behalf. As I say, I can understand and accept that part in my head. But it's still not something I quite feel on a personal level. There's a growing process here, most of it still ahead of me. But I think tonight I acquired a piece, however small. And in some sense the rest of it really does flow out from there. I had glimpses. If she says yes, God becomes man; and who can really perceive all the facets of the salvation that comes to us from that event. Last Sunday, at Forgiveness Vespers, we were reminded how our sins affect others, however private they may seem. This unseen ripple effect touches every soul. But how much more does the work of Christ touch everyone in every way? If I pray for a sick loved one to be healed, or a city to be defended, or a danger to be averted, the salvation I seek in those situations comes through Christ. And like everything else, it all hinges on his becoming human on our behalf.

More to come, but for now I'll take what I can get.


Roland said...

But I began to see it less as a request and more as an exhortation. In some sense, when we say that line, we're cheering her on, to say "yes" to God's plan for her.

This had never occurred to me before, but I like it! I'll have to "try it on" the next time I attend an Akathist.

Anonymous said...

A search on "holy theotokos save us" brought your comment up. Nice
Sitting in Swtizerland today on work trip - internet keeps us connected with Church wherever we are.

Anne T

Trevor said...

Thanks. I think I've covered a lot of ground since I wrote this. Now I pray the Paraklesis just about every day (which includes the same phrase), and my new favorite hymn is the Troparion of the Akathist, particularly as sung by Fr. Apostolos Hill on Gates of Repentance.