The man called his wife’s name Zoe (Life), because she was the mother of all the living. (Genesis 3:20)
As we in America honor our mothers today, we remember that it is through women that we come into the world. Women have a unique role to play in the life of the world and are involved in God’s life-giving nature in a way that men cannot be. Even the life-giving incarnation of God, required a woman for our salvation. Males had no direct role in the incarnation itself, except to be in need of it for salvation. So motherhood itself is a necessary part of the salvation of every human being. Males cannot be saved without a woman, which is why all Christians should also honor, Mary, the Theotokos. As St Elizabeth shows in her own praise of Mary as “she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?“ (Luke 1:42-43) Elizabeth was overwhelmed that the Mother of the Lord should visit her.
However unique and great the role of motherhood is in the continuation of the human race and in the salvation of all humans, motherhood is not the only role women play in the life of the church. The ability to give birth is a unique role for women, but not the only role for women in the Church. Obviously the entire history of women monastics shows us that child birth is not essential for the salvation of women. There are many women who are saints in our Church, who were never mothers, nor even tried to be.
Women, including mothers, have the same path to salvation as men: through holiness. There are women Disciples of the Lord such as the Myrrhbearing Women. There are women who are proclaimed Equal to the Apostles (such Photini the Samaritan Woman and Helen the mother of Constanine). There are women who are titled Evangelizers (such as Nina of Georgia but also God chose women to serve as the first Evangelists – the Myrrhbearing Women carried the message to the male Apostles). In the Church calendar of saints there are women martyrs, confessors, ascetics, women prophets, deacons, teachers, rulers and monastics.
So while motherhood is a unique role for women in God’s creation and in the Church, it is not the only role for women. And few women are glorified as saints just for being mothers. The women saints of the Church are generally recognized for all the other roles they played in the life of the Church.
Mothers like all women can know the Lord. They can be saints and disciples because they can be imitators of Christ. Mothers give us life, but they can also be examples of how to love and live for eternal life. Giving birth is a natural thing, which may be why it is not always the way to holiness. We are a pro-life Church, and we honor our mothers because they show the sanctity of life in their pregnancies, in giving birth and in their rearing of children. Mothers reveal a unique relationship between themselves and the infants to whom they are giving life as well as to the life-givingness itself. Mothers are the human element in the birthing process. Mothers can be examples not only to their children, but to all women and men of how to follow Christ (Titus 2:3-4), to be His disciple, to experience His presence every day in the most mundane circumstances, in the most natural way. Jesus in fact says everyone who does the will of God becomes His mother (Mark 3:33-34). The holiness of motherhood lies in doing God’s will. And the children of believing mothers are considered to be holy (1 Corinthians 7:14) based on the mother’s faith.
In giving birth to us, in giving life to us, our mothers make it possible for us to experience God, to be in God’s presence. For this alone, we should thank and honor our mothers.