The secular new year begins with the Church, celebrating, Mary as the Mother of God. How appropriate it is during this Christmass season to recognise Mary's role in the process of salvation.
For me the keeping of this solemnity casts my mind back to that century after Constantine legalised Christianity in the fourth century. It was a time of fervent debate about the person and nature of Christ. The Council of Nicaea, summoned by Constantine, stated that Jesus Christ, the Son of God had been born of the Virgin Mary. To-day we know this is the Orthodox teaching on Christ, but after the dismissal of this Council, many Christians, notably Arians and Nestorians, disagreed with this statement. The former taught that "there was a time when Christ did not exist", whilst the latter denied the divinity of Christ. Consequently a council was held in Ephesus in 431 to clarify precisely the nature of Jesus Christ. To make it clear that He is both God and man, Mary was given the title of theotokos, which means God bearer. Mary bore the Son of God in her womb.
It should always be remembered that the title was first given to defend the truth about her son Jesus Christ, and not to honour Mary as such. That is why in Orthodoxy icongraphy, Mary is always presented with her son, indeed her hand points to Him - He is centre stage always.
Nevertheless we must never forget Mary's fiat "Be it unto me according thy will," which set in motion the salvic process for mankind. It is indeed right and proper that we honour her as Theotokos or as the Latin Church refers to her as Mother of God.
MOTHER OF GOD
O Virgin Mother of God
plead with Him who is born of you
since we, by reason of our sins,
have no trust in ourselves.
The prayer of a mother can do much
to secure the goodwill of the Master.
He indeed, is merciful
and can deliver us,
He, incarnate, who accepted
to suffer for us.
- Anonymous hymn of 5-6th C.
O Virgin, your glory transcends all created things.
What, in effect, compares to your nobility,
O Mother of God the word?
To what in all creation will I compare you?
Angels of God and archangels are sublime,
but how much you transcend them, O Mary!
Angels and archangels in trembling serve Him
who lives within your womb,
and venture not to speak;
you, on the contrary, speak freely with Him!
We say that cherubs are sublime,
but you are more sublime than they:
cherubs support the throne of God,
you, on the contrary, support God within your arms,
Seraphs are close to God,
but you are closer than they:
Seraphs hide their faces with their wings
unable to look at the perfect glory,
you, on the contrary, not only contmeplate His face,
January takes its name from an old Roman deity, Janus, who was regarded as the doorkeeper of heaven and guardian of things that open and shut. The doors of his temple were always closed in time of peace, and of course open in times of war. As we begin another secular year, let us pray that these doors remain closed.
The peace that Christ came to bring has never ruled in this world, and so in that sense the world is no worse than it has been, but as communities that once were predominately Christian diminsh, the world is becoming more secularised in values, which means that we often do not see others as our brothers and sisters in this world in which we share a common Father, Saviour and Spirit. As a result instead of treating others in a compassionate, understanding and loving way, we have become indifferent, even despising one another. So hate accumulates that usually leads to various forms of violence. All of this we are witnessing far too often in this 21st century.
We also need to learn that two wrongs do not make a right. The only way to stop violence in its many manifestations is to absorb it into our being, or in the words of Christ we "turn the other cheek" or "go the extra mile." Then only will we be able to advance peace in our world, between different nationalities, and within families. If we all did this then resources would not be directed towards security but to helping the poor as Christ has taught us. Futhermore families and neighbourhoods would be happier too. Desmond Tutu uttered words of wisdom when he said:
When you look at someone with the eyes of love, you see a reality different from that of someone who looks at the same person without love, with hatred or even injustice.
Put another way if we greet the Christ in each person before we spoke to him or her what a loving world we would have.
So on this day for world peace let us pray:
O God who has taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth; send down thy Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever lives is counted dead before Thee; Grant this for thy only Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen
from the B.C.P.
God of all grace, call to the nations of the earth to cease from strife, that all may join to fight not one another but thier common foes of want and ignorance, disease and sin. Lead back mankind out of the way of death into the way of life; and from destruction to the building up of a new world of rightoeusness and peace, of liberty and joy. End the dark nights of lies and cruelty; bring in the dawn of mercy and truth for Christ's sake, Amen.