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A Christian Role Model
by Daniel Manzuk

There is a tendency to take the piety and faith of the Theotokos for granted. We acknowledge that she gave birth to Christ and bears all the attributes which are applied to her in our prayers (Most Pure, Most Blessed, More honorable than the Cherubim) and leave it at that. This is a severe mistake.

Some of us feel it is boring to hear the same Gospel reading on every feast of the Theotokos, namely Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28. (exception: the Annunciation) This is the reading in which Lazarus' sister Mary is listening to Christ while Martha complains that she must do the serving all by herself. However, Christ tells her that Mary has made the more important choice; that is, to hear the Word of God. The reading ends with a woman in the crowd praising Christ's mother because she gave birth to Him. It is repeated at each Marian Feast because it contains the central reason why Mary is Most Blessed and our role model as Christians. This article will attempt to explain how she is our role model by explaining the significance of the last two verses in the given passage:

" a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that .you suckled!' But He said, 'Blessed rather are those! Who hear the word of God and keep it.' "

Mary is blessed, but not because she gave birth to God; rather she gave birth to God because she was blessed. Mary was chosen to give birth to God because she followed the word of God…His commandments in all things. Being the Mother of God was her reward for a life of sanctity.

The prayers of the Liturgy of St. Basil remind us that the Father sent Christ "when the fullness of time had come". In other words, when there was someone worthy to bear His son to arrive. Both the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church teach that Mary lived a life without sin but they differ about her conception. In the Liturgy of St. Basil there is a prayer which says that, "she was born under the law... ". We believe that the conjugal act which produced her was done in love as pure as humanly possible, and prayer. Her parents were God-fearing and righteous people, who raised their daughter to be righteous in God's eyes. She is fully one of us, who freely chose to do God's will. The Roman Catholic teaching of the Immaculate Conception tends to separate her from our human nature.

Her obedience to God's word is also taken for granted. We forget that Mary was taking her life in her hands, when she said yes to Gabriel's announcement that God wanted her to be the mother of His Son. Mary was a righteous Jewish girl (12-14 yrs. old), who was betrothed to an older man, a common occurrence for centuries. She would have been betrothed to him at an even younger age, and when she became an adolescent she would have been formally married to him. The first part of our wedding ceremony, the "Betrothal Rite" is rooted in this practice. The questions "have you promised yourself to any other man/bride" found in the Slavic practice of the "Crowning Rite" (the matrimonial service itself) is to determine if any other wedding plans have been made (the betrothal itself is as binding as the marriage).

The following verses detail the penalties for adultery:

If anv man takes a wife and goes into her and then spurns her and charges her with shameful conduct and brings an evil name upon her saying, I took this woman and when I came near her I did not find in her the tokens of virginity..., " then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house and the men of the city shall stone her to death with stones... (Deut. 22:13-1,4; 21)

Mary was familiar with these laws and knew the price she might pay for being with child before being married. Yet she answered "let it be to me according to your word". Mary was fortunate that Joseph, who was a righteous (law-abiding) man, opted instead not to divorce her quietly as an adulteress, and to return her to her parents to be hidden away. Had Mary tried to justify her pregnancy by saying that she was carrying the Son of God, she would have undoubtedly faced the penalty stated by the Chief Priests at Christ's trial:

We have a law and by that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God (Jn. 19: 7)

She would have been guilty not only of adultery, but also of blasphemy for claiming to carry God's Son. When Mary said, "let it be to me according to your word' (Lk. 1:38), she was signing her own death warrant. But her trust in God was so great that she took the ultimate leap of faith and agreed to risk her life on the word of what some would call an apparition. Mary was chosen for this role because of her faith and righteousness. She was blessed because she conceived Christ. She had heard the word of God all her life and kept it. Because of this she was chosen to be THE ONE to hear the word of God (in many icons of the Annunciation the Holy Spirit is pointing at her ear, not her womb), and not only KEEP it but GIVE BIRTH to IT.

Mary is one of us, naturally conceived and born, without the "benefit" her Son had of being both fully God and fully Man. Yet despite all the risks and all the temptations and pitfalls of this world, she lived according to God's law and was thus deemed worthy to bear God's Son. Her final reward was that, after she died (and she truly did die), her Son had her body taken up to Heaven to be reunited with Him. This young girl knew she was risking her life, yet she never faltered from doing God's will. She is the proof that a mortal can become Christ-like and sanctified through obedience to God's commandments. As Christians, she is truly our role model.

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