Forever, the Most Holy and Monumental Human Being in the History of Humanity on this Earth is a WOMAN

wedding at cana

Yes, indeed. It is forever the truth.

It is Great Lent for us Orthodox Christians, so we work to draw nearer to Christ and try and limit our worldly activities.

Yesterday, I joined a group of my Orthodox Christian sisters in visiting a precious abbess at a monastery nestled in a portion of the Rocky Mountains west of Colorado Springs. We spent the day with her, learning about this most important woman of all time . . .

Our Mother.

Not our earthly mothers, but our spiritual Mother full of all-encompassing love and empathy and unbelievable holiness, obedience, and power.

She’s the Mother of all humanity.

Let me explain.

The abbess talked about our Mother’s life and how often she spoke in the New Testament Scriptures. The historical and Scriptural points she revealed to us were precious gems, and I gained much understanding and found a path forward to connect with our Mother in a real, tangible and crucial way.

First, I’m going to start with what she said about the scene in the Garden with Adam and Eve.

How many times have we heard this story? Hundreds, right?

But still, as the abbess said, you can read the same verses in the Bible and you’ll get something different out of it, and other times, you’re hit with an epiphany.

A eureka moment where the mind and heart unite in understanding and have discovered what is under the surface of what you’ve read and see the true depth of the meaning of the passages.

So, back to Adam and Eve. I’ll be paraphrasing and not quoting from the Scriptures.

God told Adam he could eat any food in the Garden, except from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

God told Adam this, not Eve.

Eve learns of God’s commandment from Adam, not directly from God.

She allows the serpent to entice her into conversing with him, and he tempts her in saying how eating the fruit of that Tree will make her equal to God in knowledge, and continues to tempt her with elaborating on how good the fruit looks and would taste.

The abbess said, women are attracted to beauty, and Eve noticed that the Tree was beautiful and the fruit was, as well.

Now here’s the kicker of this scene that I had never noticed before, and neither had my sisters with me.

Eve took a bite of the apple, and, the abbess said, “She then gave it to her husband Adam, who was with her.”

How many times have we been told Eve was first and mostly at fault in causing the fall of her and Adam because she was tempted and took the first bite?

I know I’ve heard this and thought this, although, I always thought it was more equal, in both disobeyed and sinned against God.

But in actuality, with those few words, we see that Adam was with her, WATCHING her talk to the serpent, WATCHING her be deceived, and WATCHING her take a bite of the apple.

This shocked me. It made the situation even more horrible than I’d ever thought.

Adam allowed Eve to do this. Why hadn’t he warned her about what God had said? Why hadn’t he stopped her from taking the apple? From listening to the serpent?

Ah, this is quite a terrible sin.

The abbess mentioned a thought that perhaps Adam was thinking, he’d see what would happen to Eve after she ate the apple, if anything came about, then he’d maybe try the apple.

I told my best friend this information. She said, “So Adam sacrificed Eve TWICE.”

What she means by this is that he did so by not protecting her and warning her before she ate the apple, and then he went on to blame God for giving Eve to him.

Wow. That’s pretty damning! And horrible.

And truly, since then, the understanding between male and female has been distorted.

The Fall shows us this throughout our world’s history of broken humanity.

Now, let’s move on to our Mother: The Theotokos, The Mother of God, the Holy Virgin Mary, the Panagia. The New Eve.

Theotokos & baby Jesus

She is the most important and holy human being to ever have lived–no one is more holy, higher, and purer than she is.

In Orthodoxy, we have balance in our theology, dogma, and doctrines, where our teachings do not swing too far to the extremes in either direction. Hence, we understand who God is and who His Mother is through this clarity.

The abbess elucidated that there are four instances in the Scriptures where she talks.

However, first, I must share the background of the Holy Virgin’s parents, Joachim and Anna.

People ask, how does the Church know they are Mary’s parents?

Simple.

Oral and written historical records. No different than each country’s historical records of well-known and important people in their country’s existence.

In Jewish tradition and their culture of the time of Joachim, Anna, baron women were stigmatized, as it was vital to be fruitful and multiple the seed of Abraham.

When a young woman came of age, she was to be married to a man in her own tribe, the abbess had explained.

In the beginning, there were twelve tribes of Israel, and those within their tribes married among themselves.

So, after years of praying, Anna, in her older years, finally became pregnant. She and her husband, Joachim, vowed that they would dedicate their daughter to God.

When Mary was three years old, her parents took her to the temple. The abbess added that Mary ran ahead of her parents, up the temple’s steps, eager to be with God.

From age three to her early teens, Mary spent every hour of every day in the temple. She was the only woman who had been allowed to step foot and reside in the Holy of Holies.

Mary had dedicated her life to be a virgin forever.

I must also add that in that era, in Jewish tradition, women grew up and got married. There weren’t celibate women at that time. They were expected to marry and have children.

When the angel, Gabriel, came to Mary with the news that she would bear the Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, he said the words, “You will,” not “You have conceived”.

This left the door open for Mary’s free will on whether to choose to accept this.

God can never go against our own free will. It was His gift to us.

Naturally, Mary was confused by this news because her life plan was to be celibate and had never and didn’t plan to be with any man. Hence her words of not knowing any man.

But after the angel explains this is through the Holy Spirit, she does not hesitate to answer.

This, alone, is quite remarkable.

Putting yourself in her shoes… You have your lifelong plans mapped out, and you are very content with them.

But then an angel from God tells you your path will be altered, your will must be released.

How often have we struggled between our will and God’s Will for us? It’s a pretty often occurrence in my life, even though I know God’s Will is better than my own.

BUT … I want to add my best friend’s brilliant thoughts to this important point in Christian history. God still didn’t go against her will. She still remained a virgin the rest of her life!

So, I was struck by how quickly she answered, accepting Angel Gabriel’s message. No, “I’ll have to think about it,” or “I’m not sure,” or “This news is so huge, I’ve got to wrap my head around it.”

No. She immediately answers “Yes”. She will do whatever is according to His Will, and she says so in a humble and loving manner. Not as if she’s been dragged into doing this.

The abbess also pointed out that Joseph wasn’t asked, he was told to take care of Mary.

Joseph was a man in his middle to late years, and he was part of Mary’s tribe – the tribe of David. And he, being a good and righteous man, accepted the angel’s message from God. Otherwise, Mary would have been stoned to death, carrying a baby without being betrothed or married, as was Jewish law then.

The second instance where she speaks is when she goes to see Elizabeth, who is a relative of hers, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. Elizabeth, much older than Mary, shows respect and honor for her and exclaims that Mary is the Mother of her Lord — our Lord — Jesus Christ.

Mary, in turn, magnifies God, not herself, as she always points to Christ, and this is shown in all icons of her with Christ.

The third instance of Mary’s speaking is when she’s frantic over Jesus missing from their caravan as they were traveling. She finally finds Him in the temple talking to the elders.

This, too, is quite remarkable, as elders weren’t in the habit of listening to children. In this instance, a twelve-year-old boy.

The wonderful piece of this story that has to do with the Theotokos, is that we see her true humanity in showing a mother’s fear in the disappearance of her child.

As a mother, I can relate to that, and it draws me nearer to our Mother.

Here is the mind-blowing moment where everything came together for me and where I could now work on a true relationship with the Panagia, which is VITAL to my connection to Christ and salvation.

The last incident where she speaks is of great importance.

At the wedding in Cana, she tells Christ that the people are out of wine. And I always chuckle how Christ God answers her. Kind of like, “Why are you going on about this now, Mother? It’s not time for Me to start my public ministry” (paraphrasing and how I hear it lol).

Mary turns to the servants, which is us, the abbess said, and says “Whatever He tells you to do, do it.”

And what happens next?

Christ asks for the servants to bring him the jugs of water, and as we know, he transforms the water into wine.

BUT… What has He truly just done?!

He’s listened to His Mother. 

The abbess said, He HAS to.

Why?

Because He followed the Jewish laws, traditions, and the Ten Commandments, one of which, as we know, is honoring your mother and father.

As the abbess explained, that didn’t just mean be respectful and nice. It meant (less so in our messed up age), when your parent tells you, the child/son/daughter, to do something, you do it.

HOWEVER, this is even HUGER than that.

The Theotokos, His Mother, changed when Christ would start His public ministry!

It started right then with the first miracle of the water transformed into wine!

So, it dawned on me how much power the Panagia has! A blessed and holy human being, whose blood and flesh created the human nature of Christ.

Although I knew she is the most important human to have ever lived, it really struck home on this retreat.

It explained to the fullest extent why she’s honored in every service we have in our Church.

It showed me that she’s the key, the gateway, the path to truly knowing God and connecting fully with Him.

No one is closer to God than His Mother.

She is our comfort, takes our cares to Her Son, our God, and helps those in need.

One last gem the abbess shared that I feel compelled to add here.

She said the Theotokos said nothing after the birth of Christ. We women in the group pondered that for a couple of minutes.

The abbess then said she brought this up at a retreat she was invited in which to speak. She asked to speak to one of the mothers in the room. A woman of seven was brought up by the other women.

She asked the woman what she said right after she had her first baby and looked at him/her. The woman started to cry and said she couldn’t say anything.

I then thought back to my experience when I had my firstborn. My son was born via c-section, and when the doctor pulled him out of my abdomen and held him up (all 8 lb. 13-1/4 oz. and 21 inches long!) and showed me. I said nothing because I was in shock. Surprised. In my mind, I did say a few seconds later, “That was in me?” lol

So, imagine what Mary, our Mother, felt? Her feelings must have been one hundred times more overwhelming! There she gave birth and held her Son, the Savior of the World!

Amazing.

So, although I’ve asked for the Panagia’s prayers to her Son and our Savior Jesus Christ, I will be reading my favorite prayer to her at least twice a week to start out.

If you try to do too much at the beginning, you usually fail, so I will try twice a week. One is at the Friday services for her and one, I’ll do the prayer in my room during the week.

I hope this blog post was not only informative, but most importantly, spiritually edifying.

 

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Miyazaki’s Masterpieces Center on the Human Condition

miyazaki movies collage

Have you ever seen any of Studio Ghibli’s animated movies? In particular, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movies through Studio Ghibli? I know that many of you probably have, but if you haven’t, this blogpost is for you (and for fans of these movies!).  They are drawn in the anime style and are fantastic.  My family has a stack of them sitting in our DVD bookcase.  What makes the movies so superb is their depth, their artwork, and their focus on the human condition.  Below, I go into detail about two specific movies of Miyazaki’s that portrays the characters, their relationships, and good and evil through the lens of the human condition.

In Disney movies, there is a strong distinction between the heroes and the villains, especially the earlier animated ones.  I would go so far as to say many of the villains in Disney movies are two-dimensional, fail to show remorse most of the time, and lack the full makeup of human beings–good and bad qualities.  But with such movies as Spirited Away, the human condition and the more rounded personalities of the characters are present and great to watch.  

Spirited Away

This movie is long, engrossing, and deep.  So deep that you forget you’re watching an animated feature (this is the case for all Miyazaki’s films).  Chihiro, a young, 10-year-old girl is riding with her parents in their car heading for their new house in a new city.  She possesses a bratty mentality who is not happy about moving, which is typical for children who like to stay where they grew up, for the most part (says the daughter of an Air Force officer who moved every two to four years. Haha).  Anyway, her parents and she end up going through a type of stone tunnel that opens up to green hills and a little village with a bunch of shops.  Her parents get caught up in the smell and devouring of delicious food, and their gluttony takes over, transforming them into huge pigs.  Chihiro is left alone, desperate to help her parents.  Later, she becomes an employee at a bathhouse run by a nasty witch who steals people’s names.  Still, aspects of good show through this witch, which makes her more “human” and interesting.  

A teenaged boy, Haku, aids Chihiro using his special powers, as he’s also a white dragon.  And then there’s No Face.  This character doesn’t speak, and appears and disappears in and around the bathhouse where Chihiro works.  He followers Chihiro and tries to give her handfuls of gold, but she isn’t interested.  All those that do take the gold blocks are eaten by No Face.  He becomes gluttonous, and can’t stop eating.  He’s miserable, and he sees Chihiro as the person to save him from this.  Instead of kicking him to the curb for his destructive behavior, she eventually helps him, and his passion is squelched. Also, the witch softens towards the end of the story.  

Through helping others, learning to be independent and resourceful, Chihiro matures and loses the brattiness and ungratefulness that had been part of her at the beginning of the story.  There’s the element of redemption in this that I love–that people aren’t all bad or good, and that they repent and change.  All of these elements in this Japanese movie show Christian aspects but are globally understood because it’s part of humanity and its ability to transform through the love of others that shines the light of Christ, from my perspective.  If you haven’t seen this epic film, I highly recommend it.  Although it’s a “children’s movie,” (I wouldn’t say very young children), it’s for adults, too.

Howl’s Moving Castle

This movie is enchanting.  It, too, is long and engrossing.  Again, you forget this is animated. Main character, Sophie, is a young woman who works with her sisters in her since deceased father’s hat shop until she encounters Howl, the Wizard, and then The Witch of the Waste.  The latter casts a spell on Sophie, turning her into an old woman.  Sophie did not consider herself beautiful, and so, although she isn’t happy she’s been turned wrinkly, it’s the struggle with her aching body that causes her the most difficulty.  She finds herself inHowl’s magic, moving castle and works for him as a cleaning lady.  Throughout this is a war going on in the country where she and the others live.  

Howl suffers from vanity.  He is particular about his hair color, his clothes, and how he looks.  If something comes between him and his appearance, he crumbles, and this happens in one of the scenes.  Black forms of demons slither out and around him while he’s melting in the chair.  Why?  Because he’s allowed his vanity to overtake him, causing him the danger of being destroyed.  But Sophie is there to talk to him and help him.  

Ultimately, Sophie’s compassion toward Howl, the Witch, and other characters brings about remorse and repentance for those characters that were doing evil.  Sophie does not have a high regard for herself and believes herself to be unattractive.  But she grows through dealing with the curse of being old.  I don’t believe she cared that she was old because she didn’t think she was beautiful anyway, so she didn’t lose anything in appearance.  But she learns through helping others, and these people’s respect for her, that she is truly worth something and she learns to like herself.  In return, Howl tells her she’s beautiful and helps her get back home.  If you haven’t seen this one, please do.

Whenever watching these movies, everything around you melts away, and you’re sucked into the storyline, the characters, and the beautiful artistic scenes.

There are plenty of other spectacular Hiyazaki movies that are just as deep, and some a little lighter in content.  Below is a list of the DVDs we own that are all fantastic and enjoyable.

Princess Mononoke (my oldest son’s favorite, and very profound)

Kiki’s Delivery Service

My Neighbor Totoro

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (profound)

From Up On Poppy Hill (my favorite lighter film)

Castle in the Sky

Whisper of the Heart

The Secret World of Arrietty

Porco Rosso

Incidentally, if you’re in to real tear-jerkers, watch this Studio Ghibli movie called Grave of the Fireflies.  It’s a twenty-tissue film, and one I doubt I’ll be able to watch again, but it was incredible.

Take a look at this video that explains Miyazaki’s theme of the human condition in his works.

 

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