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Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ

In May 2005 the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) issued an historic agreed Statement on Our Lady, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ.Here is a portion of their Statement:

Aware of the distinctive place of Mary in the history of salvation, Christians have given her a special place in their liturgical and private prayer, praising God for what he has done in and through her. In singing the Magnificat, they praise God with her; in the Eucharist they pray with her as they do with all God's people, integrating their prayers in the great communion of saints. They recognize Mary's place in "the prayer of all the saints" that is being uttered before the throne of God in the heavenly liturgy (Revelation 8:3-4). All these ways of including Mary in praise and prayer belong to our common heritage, as does our acknowledgement of her unique status as Theotokos, which gives her a distinctive place within the communion of saints.

And, of course, that praise and devotion is sublimely reflected in Eastern iconography.Dormition

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Fr. Imbelli --What a beautiful image! I'm having a bit of trouble interpreting it. Is Jesus holding His mother's spirit in His arms? If so, what a lovely reversal. Why are only two of the people around the bier saints? (Only two have halos.) Is that to show how Mary is the mother of us all and close to all? What is the significance of one-angel-to-one-apostle/ (I'm assuming those are apostles in Heaven.) A theological problem (always problems!) : if Mary wasn't subject to Original Sin, how come she died?

Fr. Bob, Ann and all,How appropriate that this icon appears today! August 15 is the Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin (the "falling asleep") in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the most important of the Marian feasts. (It is, of course, the Feast of the Assumption for us.) This icon and others like it tell us the story, in answer to Ann's questions...and more:"So intimately is the Mother of God bound up with the life of her son that, while she shared with him the experience of death and burial, sooon afterward she was raised by him and brought to heaven to shar in the divine glory. The icon joins the two separate but connected events, her death and resurrection. 'Your grave and death,' the Orthodox Church sings on the feast day, August 15, 'could not keep the Mother of Life.'"The image resembles the icon of Christ's Ascension. Here too Mary, mother of the Church, is in the lower center, no longer standing with upraised hands but lying in death, her eyes closed and hands crossed. Above her, within a mandorla representing heaven and wearing golden robes, Christ is holding his mother, wrapped in a burial sheet and represented as if she were a newborn child; roles reversed, she who once held the infant son in his swaddling cloth is now held by him. On either side of Mary's couch are the devoted Apostles plus several bishops -- among them St. James, known as the brother of the Lord, the first bishop of Jerusalem, the city where the Church began.(excerpt from PRAYING WITH ICONS, by Jim Forest ORBIS BOOKS, 1997)

Sorry about the typos...just a reminder that we are not perfect!

Michael,thank you (typos to the contrary notwithstanding :-)You or someone else may be able to comment further on this:I believe that the "infant" Mary held by Christ represents Mary's soul.What struck me about the icon I chose was that it has a third plane in which it seems Mary is seated body and soul in heaven.Do you read it that way?Most icons of the feast that I've seen don't seem to have this third plane.

Fr. Bob,Yes, I do. Thanks very much for putting this icon up! I've learned a lot about the Dormition today! I never really gave the "Assumption" much thought before this...Mary was assumed, body and soul into heaven...okay...but what were the circumstances of this "miracle"?The "back story" of the icon is that, just before the Mother of God died, the Apostles were brought to Jerusalem (all except Thomas, who was left behind in India) on a cloud. In the icon, they are all standing around her deathbed. Amid great mourning, she was carried on a pall through the streets of Jerusalem (to the consternation of the governing and religious authorities) to her tomb and laid to rest. Three days after her entombment, Thomas finally arrives from India and is led to her tomb, where the Apostles roll back the stone to show the ever-doubting man her body -- and to their shock and surprise, it is gone! She has risen, just as her Son did! I believe the iconographer "wrote" this into the icon by showing her, body and soul, in heaven. If you go to the website of the Orthodox Church in America -- www.oca.org -- there is a wonderful description of the story of the Dormition as it has been handed down through Tradition and embellished through the centuries.By the way, Bob, you might be wondering where this interest in the Orthodox Church comes from (knowing my passion for things related to peace and justice). For the past six years, I have been, first, on a part-time basis, and since January of this year, the full-time coordinator of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. It has been a wonderful journey of learning not only about our fellow Christians, but also non-Christian traditions -- especially here in metro Detroit, with the largest Muslim community in the United States. Who can know the mind of God??

Which icon is that? I didn't find anything on this particular icon but found a commentary on a very similar one called the Ritzos icon. http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/meditations/kimball.htmlHere's a snip:"It is not hard to see a resemblance of this icon to the Nativity icon with mountains in the distance. Here, the structure of the lofty mountains (representing contact between God and humanity) are replaced by a large mandorla shape--a small one outlining a glow of divinity around Christ [...] and a large mandorla filled with singing angels. From ancient eras, including pre-Christian times, the almond-shaped mandorla has been an artistic symbol used to designate a space surrounding a holy sacred persons. So, here the larger mandorla encompasses the realm of heaven and the small mandorla the aura of Christ. To the left and right in the upper portion of the icon we see the New Zion, decorated with the sprigs of new life remembering the Garden of Life. Floating across these houses, perhaps the rounded Romanesque arch on the left representing the ancient Temple which has now become the House of the Living Christ in the World, we see two clouds carrying the apostles. At the peak of the larger mandorla we see six wings around an angel face. At the very center of the top of the icon, we find a time-lapse glimpse at the Virgin Mary being carried into the open gates of Heaven itself."

Michael,posssible response to your final question: "Wonderful are the works of the Lord!"Claire,thank you for a very helpful link.

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.