The Image of the Theotokos

“It is right here, in attempting to answer this question so fundamental to genuine faith, that the image of the Virgin Mother almost unconsciously and involuntarily begins to grow before our spiritual eyes. Oh, this doesn’t mean that her image somehow eclipses the image of Christ, or that she is presented to Christianity as an additional object of faith set apart from Christ. Not at all, for it is from Christ and from Him alone that we receive this image as a gift, as the unfolding of all that His teaching and calling means.

And so we ask ourselves, what is the strength of this image, what help does it give us?  My answer may surprise many people.   

What the Mother of God’s image gives us first of all is the image of a woman. Christ’s first gift to us, the first and most profound revelation of His teaching and call is given to us in the image of a woman. Why is this so important, so comforting and so redeeming? Precisely because our world has become so completely and hopelessly male, governed by pride and aggression, where all has been reduced to power and weapons of power, to production and weapons of production, to violence, to the refusal to willingly back down or make peace in anything or to keep one’s mouth shut and plunge into the silent depths of life.  The image of the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Mother, stands against all of this and indicts it by her presence alone: the image of infinite humility and purity, yet filled with beauty and strength; the image of love and the victory or love. The Virgin Mary, the All-Pure Mother demands nothing and receives everything. She pursues nothing, and possesses all.

In the image of the Virgin Mary we find what has almost completely been lost in our proud, aggressive, male world: compassion, tender-heartedness, care, trust, humility. We call her our Lady and the Queen of heaven and earth, and yet she calls herself ‘the handmaid of the Lord.’ She is not out to teach or prove anything, yet her presence alone, in its light and joy, takes away the anxiety of our imagined problems. It is as if we have been out on a long, weary, unsuccessful day of work and have finally come home, and once again all becomes clear and filled with that happiness beyond words which is the only true happiness. Christ said, ‘Do not be anxious…Seek first the Kingdom of God’ (Mt. 6:33). Beholding this woman – Virgin, Mother, Intercessor – we begin to sense, to know not with our mind but with our heart, what it means to seek the Kingdom, to find it, and to live by it.” (Alexander Schmemann, Celebration of Faith: Sermons, Vol. 3, pp 21-22)