Saturday, 4 May 2013

Agni Parthene - Seeking unity in and through Mary, the Mother of God

Agni Parthene Despina, (Αγνή Παρθένε Δέσποινα) a hymn to the Mother of God, written by St. Nectarios of Aegina (translation here) and sung by Divna Ljubojević:

On a day whose feast (in whichever calendar we celebrate it, or from whatever ecclesial perspective) causes us to reflect both on the heroic witness of those who suffered for their faith and obedience, and the sad divisions which still stand in the  way of the unity which is the will of Christ for his Church, this is an excerpt from the 2005 Agreed Statement, Mary. Grace and Hope in Christ
"....Among all the saints, Mary takes her place as Theotókos: alive in Christ, she abides with the one she bore, still ‘highly favoured’ in the communion of grace and hope, the exemplar of redeemed humanity, an icon of the Church. Consequently she is believed to exercise a distinctive ministry of assisting others through her active prayer. Many Christians reading the Cana account continue to hear Mary instruct them, “Do whatever he tells you”, and are confident that she draws the attention of her son to their needs: “they have no wine” (John 2:1-12). Many experience a sense of empathy and solidarity with Mary, especially at key points when the account of her life echoes theirs, for example the acceptance of vocation, the scandal of her pregnancy, the improvised surroundings of her labour, giving birth, and fleeing as a refugee. Portrayals of Mary standing at the foot of the cross, and the traditional portrayal of her receiving the crucified body of Jesus (the Pietà), evoke the particular suffering of a mother at the death of her child. Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike are drawn to the mother of Christ, as a figure of tenderness and compassion.
72 The motherly role of Mary, first affirmed in the Gospel accounts of her relationship to Jesus, has been developed in a variety of ways. Christian believers acknowledge Mary to be the mother of God incarnate. As they ponder our Saviour’s dying word to the beloved disciple, “behold your mother” (John 19:27) they may hear an invitation to hold Mary dear as ‘mother of the faithful’: she will care for them as she cared for her son in his hour of need. Hearing Eve called “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), they may come to see Mary as mother of the new humanity, active in her ministry of pointing all people to Christ, seeking the welfare of all the living. We are agreed that, while caution is needed in the use of such imagery, it is fitting to apply it to Mary, as a way of honouring her distinctive relationship to her son, and the efficacy in her of his redeeming work...."
Much of the earlier groundwork which made this agreed statement a possibility was done by the Catholic Anglican theologian, John Macquarrie:
"...In the glimpses of Mary that we have in the gospels, her standing beside her Son, and her prayers and intercessions with the apostles, are particularly striking ways in which Mary shared and supported the work of Christ - and even these are ways in which the Church as a whole can have a share in co-redemption.  But it is Mary who has come to symbolize that perfect harmony between the divine will and the human response, so that it is she who gives meaning to the expression, Corredemptrix.  But secondly there is the further context of the incarnation of the Word.  In this context, the language of co-redemption is also appropriate, but in a different way, for in this regard her contribution was unique and by its very nature could not be literally shared with anyone else.  We are thinking of her now not just as representative or pre-eminent member of the Church, but as Theotokos or Mother of God.  Mary’s willing acceptance of her indispensable role in that chain of events which constituted the incarnation and the redemption which it brought about, was necessary for the nurture of the Lord and for the creation of the Church itself.."
(John MacQuarrie, Mary For All Christians,1990)
But as so often,  perhaps it is in the essential agreement (despite some significant differences in theological language and ecclesial culture) between the great churches of East and West, of Rome and Orthodoxy, something which sheds light on all our purely western divisions, which will show us the way forward to a recovery of unity for the whole Church. The key to the healing of all our divisions is the longed-for reconciliation between East and West, that time when the Church will  begin to breathe once again 'with both lungs.' 
"...If I can unite in myself the thought and the devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians. If we want to bring together what is divided, we can not do so by imposing the one division upon the other or absorbing one division into the other . But id we do this the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ. ...  from Thomas Merton: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1965)

Holy Mother of God, pray for us your scattered children...

Some nostalgic patrimony: The Annunciation from a book I remember very fondly from my childhood: Enid Chadwick's My Book of the Church's Year, published by Mowbrays in the early 1960s
[Correction: that's the edition I have; the book was, in fact, first published in 1948]

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