If any angel appeared to 12 year old me to say: “You’re going to have a child”, I wouldn’t only freak out, I’ll probably faint!
That’s why humanity should thank God for his meticulous plan of salvation that He prepared for us ever since the Fall and maybe even before the foundation of the world. He carefully chose Anna and Joachim, He carefully selected St. Mary and successfully allowed us to be united with himself again after our separation. St. Nicholas Cabasilas says:
“The incarnation was not only the work of the Father, by His power and by His spirit, but it was also the work of the will and faith of the virgin. Without the consent of the Immaculate, without the agreement of her faith, the plan was as unrealizable as it would have been without the intervention of the three divine persons themselves. It was only after having instructed her and persuaded her that God took her for His Mother and borrowed from her the flesh that she so greatly wished to lend Him. Just as He became incarnate voluntarily, so He wished that His Mother should bear Him freely and with her full consent”
Although she is higher than the Cherubim, Seraphim and all the saints, most of her life is a mystery and there is no way for us to try and understand how this 12 year old girl felt. I can’t imagine how it was “raising” Jesus as a child. How did she feel breastfeeding the Son of God? What did she see and witness as His mother? Did she care for Him or did He care for her? I can think of million questions! You know the spin-the-bottle game where someone always asks: “If you could spend a day with anyone, fictional or real, dead or alive, who would it be?” I would definitely love to spend a day with St. Mary just listening to her stories. I know that by just looking at her I would learn so much.
We get to know her a little though in the Bible. We see the power of her intercession during the wedding of Cana of Galilee. We see see how much God cared for her as Jesus, hardly breathing on the cross, makes sure that St. John takes her in. We can assume that she was around during the Lord’s ministry as people told him “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” (Matthew 12: 47). I actually always wondered how did she feel when he replied with “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?…Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12: 48-50). Did Jesus have to explain himself to her later or did she get her Son just by looking in His beautiful eyes?
The one instance where we get a clearer glimpse of St. Mary’s life is when Archangel Gabriel brings her news about her pregnancy. Although her response is a few lines long in our Bibles, we can see the depth of her understanding and the hight of her trust in God. Her most famous words were uttered first : “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word...”. Then her prayer followed:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.He has put down the mighty from their thrones,And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1:38, 46-55)
First of all, she responds with great joy, fully understanding her lowly status and how God made her spirit rejoice. She explains that everyone is going to call her blessed which may be read as a prayer of arrogance but she clarifies in the next line. She will be blessed because of God’s great work for her, not because how worthy
she was to bear the Son of God. A 12 year old girl understood God’s sovereignty, exclaiming with joy that “He has shown strength with His arm” from generation to generation. This pre-teen understood the vanity of worldly thrones and riches and God’s mercy for the lowly and the hungry. This little yet very powerful prayer shows us how she understood the law and the doctrine in general. She knew of God’s mercy towards Israel and her father Abraham and his seed forever. We observe that she didn’t just dwell in the temple serving God but the temple dwelt in her. In her the one without beginning chose to begin.
Lastly, and most importantly, St. Mary is the Archetype of the feminine. Nowadays, the world treats men and women as equals abolishing all their differences and when Coptic (or Orthodox) girls go to church, we are only treated as women. It causes so much confusion! How can I be a godly women dwelling in the temple of the Lord and at the same time excel in the world of man? Reconciliation of my church-self and my world-self seems impossible as each of these is traveling to opposite poles. Easier said than done but Being a Godly woman can be summarized in a couple of sentences from Woman and the Salvation of the World written by Paul Evdokimov:
“The fact that a woman gave birth to God shows the power of every woman, when she is indeed a “new creation”, to bring forth God in devastated souls. Patristic thought returns to this constantly… For St. Gregory of Nyssa, the Christian life is the development of the child Jesus in the soul. For St. Maximus the Confessor, the mystic is one in whom the birth of the Lord is seen most clearly. “According to the flesh, there is one mother of Christ; but according to faith, Christ is the fruit of all of us,” St. Ambrose writes. Above all, woman posses this natural charism to bring forth Christ in the souls of human beings…. Salvation will come only from holiness; but, in the conditions of actual life, sanctity is more at home to woman. The Virgin “treasured up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51); every woman hold an innate intimacy, almost a complicity, with the tradition, with the continuity of life. In God, existence coincides with essence. In holiness, a woman is more apt to come close to this relationship of essence and existence through the power of humility, since “humility is the art of finding oneself exactly at one’s place”
So an advice from a coptic girl to all beautiful Orthodox ladies out there: tell God “Let your will be done” and bring Him forth into the world… or at least, fake it till you make it!
Pray for me,