Before 1989 I knew nothing about the spiritual attitude of Orthodoxy toward the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. To me, like all Protestants, the name “Mary” was only related to the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord; as a result, no special honour or love was ever rendered to her person. I guess it was difficult for me to understand why we must venerate the Virgin Mother. In 1991 I had the opportunity to study at the Theological Faculty of the Aristotle University of Thessalonica. It was then that I started to observe the acts of veneration of the Orthodox Greeks toward the person of the Theotokos. However, I still failed to figure out the reason why they behaved this way and what information could be found in the Bible that justified such an attitude.
As you know, Protestants only accept evidence from the Bible -the Sola Scriptura; therefore, they deny the Holy Tradition of the Church. Later, I began to wonder how the so-called Christians can fulfil the gospel word according to Luke (1, 48) without knowing the Most Holy Lady. How do they say that they only believe in the Bible when they do not know how to praise and bless the Mother of the Lord, which all human generations must do?
How do they believe that Christ is the only saviour of the world, and that with His blood and body He purchased man out of the bondage of sin and freed mankind from eternal death? Why don’t they ever think of the mother through whom the fleshless Word of God became one of us in flesh and blood? And how could I love Christ’s saving work for each and every one of us without blessing the mother who gave birth to Him, nursed Him, attended Him and raised Him like an ordinary child?
How could I possibly not want to know the Mother of God, who sacrificed herself entirely for my own salvation as well as the salvation of the whole human race?
If I did not honour the Mother of Life, I would infringe one of the ten commandments of God, the one saying “honour your parents”, for Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14, 6).
With all these questions as well as many others, I reached a point where I wanted to study the person of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of Christ and of my true life.
In 1995 I decided to write a thesis at the Aristotle University of Thessalonica, on “the Theotokos according to the teaching of St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain”. My goal was very simple: it was not limited to academic requirements, but it would help me as a person to establish a more solid foundation in Theotokology. Indeed, the Holy Spirit revealed to me the truth, which until then had remained out of my life. The Theotokos stands as the paragon of humility, obedience and holiness.
I started to love the Canon of Supplication to her; I even translated it into Indonesian so that the people here could not only enjoy those beautiful hymns but also understand and appreciate directly the role of the Virgin in their spiritual struggle.
As a result, even after so many years since the Orthodox Mission started in Indonesia, especially in North Sumatra, we are still struggling to communicate to those around us the Orthodox attitude toward the mother of God. It is a great blessing for us to hear young children say, “more honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim … the very Theotokos, thee do we magnify…” as well as other hymns to the Theotokos.
Moreover, in 2005 a Theological School began operating in Medan, the capital city of Sumatra. Up to now, almost 1,000 students have graduated from it. The interest on the part of the students is so intense that very often we have discussions on the person of the Virgin Mary both inside and outside the classroom. Even the heterodox have started reflecting on the importance of the Mother of God, though most of them still have difficulty understanding the issue, due to false theological presuppositions.
I myself have experienced the grace of the Virgin Mary, thanks to which I was saved from certain death due to an unknown illness, which still has not been clarified. That happened on 27 October 1990, after the birth of my daughter Soteria, when it was discovered that I had been exposed to medicinal poisoning after the surgery, and the obstetrician told my family that I was going to die. He also said that only a miracle might save me. On hearing the news, the newly formed Orthodox community along with the priest conducted in tears the service of supplication to the Theotokos, using the corridor of the Roman Catholic hospital chapel. And the miracle did happen. Early on the morning of the next day, which was a Sunday, little by little I came back to life, without managing to figure out what had happened to my self, though. Later I realized that some sort of “invisible war” had taken place, but whatever that might have been, it brought me into the arms of the Virgin Mother.
There were also other incidents that revealed the grace of the Theotokos. I believe that only under her protection can I feel secure. Last year, we were paid a visit by a young 15- year- old who was in great suffering because of demons. There was a small wooden icon of Our Lady on a high shelf near the door as you enter the house. We had had it there for years and probably had not noticed that the icon was still in place. While we were praying, the young boy began to shout and point to the icon screaming: “What is this?! Why is this shining so bright that I cannot stand it?!” The demon was scared before the icon of the Mother of Christians! Thanks to this incident our daughter Evangelia overcame her fear of the dark and of the devil’s influence. Great is our Most Holy Mother’s grace!
This personal experience that we lived reveals a new spiritual power, which only Orthodox Christians have. I praise God for granting me His blessing to become Orthodox too. The Virgin Mary is like our own mother. Through the struggle of our Mission, the Theotokos is the person after Christ and the Holy Trinity that we call upon for all our actions. We never force anyone to confess the faith that grows within them, but instead, we teach and instruct them how to understand the Bible properly and also stress the fact that many passages in the New Testament speak about the role of Mother Mary in the work of the world’s salvation. It is truly right to bless her person, thus fulfilling the word of the Gospel:
“for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”
Presbytera Elizabeth Koamesakh–Manalu, Indonesia