Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mother of the Star Without Setting

The Sons of Chaldea saw in the Virgin’s hands the One whose hands had fashioned men, and acknowledging him as the Master, although he had taken the form of a servant, they hastened to honor Him with their gifts, and cried out to the blessed one:

Hail, O Mother of the Star without setting;
Hail, O Radiance of the mystical day!
Hail, O you who quenched the flame of error;
Hail, O Light of those who search the Trinity!

Hail, O you who unthroned the enemy of men;
Hail, O you who showed forth Christ the Lord, the Lover of mankind!
Hail, O you who cleansed us from the stain of pagan worship;
Hail, O you who saved us from the mire of evil deeds!

Hail O you who made cease the cult of fire;
Hail, O you who dispelled the flames of passion!
Hail, O you who guide the faithful toward wisdom;
Hail, O you Delight of all the nations.

Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!
Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God

Reflection – We are continuing a little series on this Byzantine office of praise to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Christmas troparion, or hymn of proclamation, of the Eastern church, speaks of the nativity of Christ as being the event when “Those who had worshipped stars learned through a star to worship you, the Sun of righteousness.”

This is reflected here in this chant of the Akathist, with the emphasis being on Mary’s role in this. Mary as the vanquisher of heresies, the symbol of orthodox faith and worship, is the theme of this chant.

Now, when we read these words, we can hear them on two levels. There is the simple historical fact, symbolized by the coming of the Magi to worship, in which the pagan world was converted to Christianity. It is worth noting in passing that a great amount of this conversion happened in the first three centuries C.E., when there was no state coercion towards that end, and in fact Christians faced periodic persecution and martyrdom.

But there is this other level on which we need to hear this chant and meditate on the work of Christ and Mary’s part in that work. There is this whole business of idolatry that lurks still in the hearts of all of us, the ‘pagan worship and evil deeds’ that is a permanent feature of our fallen humanity… until it’s not.
In plain language, we prefer creatures to God. We prefer messing around with created goods, and using the powers of our humanity—strength of mind, strength of body, strength of character—to get what we need/want rather than doing what the Magi did and prostrating ourselves in worship before the Living God and allowing Him to give us what He knows we really need.

This tendency of human beings towards idolatry has to be taken very seriously. Let no one quickly assume that they do not have any of it lurking in their hearts. There is always something in us which finds God too mysterious, too remote, too demanding and at the same time too incalculable, and that finds it so much easier to just deal with the closer gods, the ones we can see and touch and taste and manipulate, the ones who deliver immediate results and who only ask of us the market price for their goods.

God became a man and established a Church with sensible sacraments, so that it would be easier for us to cast off the perpetual idols of our fallen humanity, whatever they’re calling themselves these days, and turn to Him who is the one true God. And it is Mary who stands as the figure perpetually holding Jesus Christ out for us as this eternal healing of our idolatry.

God has done so much to come close to us, to make Himself available to us, to be a God who we can see and hear and taste and know—truly, there is nothing more that the infinite and eternal and utterly transcendent God could have done to make Himself known to us. And Mary plays a key role in communicating to us this nearness and immediacy of God in Christ, showing forth the Lover of Mankind.

Hail O Bride and Maiden, ever-pure.