Mary: love made manifest

Alumna Nancy Holloway is a retired chaplain and adjunct professor from Berea College. She has a Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary (Class of ’91), and has published articles in several journals. She also is involved in ministry to women at a local jail, and attends St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Lexington, KY.

The following excerpt is taken from her recently published book, The Maternity of Mary, the Mother of God, which she wrote to be used in small group study. On this Feast of Dormition, the falling asleep of the Mother of God, it seems apropos to reflect upon the Theotokos as a model of love.

Chapter 8: Postscript

Maternity of Mary_Image_As the first disciple, the first-deified human, as our Lord’s mother and nurturer, Mary is the first to show us how a human being is to manifest love

We are created in the image of a God who is love, which means that love is our truest nature: love is our most authentic activity; love is our origin; and love is our destiny. We are fully who and what we were meant to be when we are loved and love in return.[1]

This is Mary. To love God totally, she gave herself fully to his will, not holding back any of her “self” and so came into the true selfhood as the mother of God’s son.

Mary defines human love and sit is archetype. And we have seen this love in her obedience, giving birth, nurturing, relinquishing, suffering, and joy. She lived this love in every aspect of her life.

A visionary film about mother love entitled, “Shy People,” which came out in 1988, featured a sophisticated, shallow, New York journalist who insists to her boss that she be assigned to write about her family’s roots in rural Louisiana. She flies down to visit her cousin, to interview her and her family. With her spoiled daughter she arrives at the cousin’s home, to find her cousin and her three adult sons isolated in the backwaters of the Bayous. The brief stay brings a cultural clash between the two families, which results in a radical change in of attitudes on the part of the two mothers, as to what “mother love” really is. The New Yorker, formerly oblivious to her daughter’s drug use, announces to her daughter on the plane home that she will be going to a rehab center when they return. The other, who has refused to let her adult sons leave home, gives them their freedom. When asked by one of them, “Mom, don’t you still love us?” she answers “Certainly, I love you. I always have. I just keep having to learn how.”

So how do we live a life of love and emulate Mary in today’s culture, with its distorted view of love, when the word “love” itself is too often sentimentalized or sexualized? How do we know when to set boundaries, when to relax them; when to hold on and when to let go; when to be silent and when to speak the truth in love?

Discernment is seen by the Church Fathers as one of the greatest and more difficult of the virtues. Yet discernment is needed if we are to know in each circumstance of our life, how to love, how to express it, how to move from self to selflessness. And critical to discernment is a rich and deep life of prayer.

According to the Scriptures, Mary pondered; according to tradition she was raised in the Temple—both of these sources indicating her profoundly contemplative nature. She looked first to God, and with this single-minded devotion, could discern in each situation how to respond in love, fully trusting God in spite of the mystery and uncertainty at every juncture in her life. Trusting God in love, she was willing to be an unwed mother in a culture that stoned such women; trusting God in love, she was willing to go with Joseph when he led her and the young Babe on the dark journey down to Egypt; trusting God in love enabled her to relinquish, to surrender her Child to his divine vocation that was so in conflict with Gabriel’s early words to her; trusting God in love was to suffer, through her compassion, a common martyrdom with her Son, and the culmination of trusting God in love was to receive the mystery and joy of the Resurrection in all its fullness.

At each point, even though not understanding, she trusted God in the mystery and wonder of it all. And at every point, even though her love was tested in a different way, she continued to surrender and be obedient to the glorious task to which she had been called.

So—let us love like Mary. Let us echo her “Let it be to me according to thy Word.” And, how do we do this?

First and foremost, let us deepen our life of prayer so that we will know how our love must be expressed in each situation. Let us nurture in imitation of her nurturing love for her Son, by succoring those in our care, and extending that to neighbor and the world around us. Let us relinquish, when by discernment letting go is more loving than holding on. Let us be silent when speaking would sow discord. Let us be willing to suffer, without understanding why, being at peace in our suffering; offering to God to complete the suffering of his Son. Let us love even those who reject our love. And let us fully receive the joy and mystery of the Resurrection so beyond our comprehension, so that we can manifest its saving and renewing power to the world.

To emulate Mary’s love in today’s secular, hectic, distracting, consumer-driven, fast-paced, and increasingly violent culture is the primary challenge for the Christian. This is the narrow way of which our Lord speaks. Only by being supported by the Church’s prayers and worship, the rich legacy of the Church Fathers, and devotion to the Scriptures can we be faithful and discerning as we live out lives of love in such a treacherous world. And with Mary as the archetype of the golden threads of love and prayer—our model, guide, and intercessor—we can persevere in the call to be changed from glory into glory as we grow into the likeness of her Son.

You may order The Maternity of Mary, Mother of God through Amazon.

[1] Mark O’Keefe, OSB, Awakened by Love (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 2014), 39.

Author: Synaxis

Synaxis is a blog of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary.