“For the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true forms of these realities” (Heb. 10:1).
A fair amount of the Old Testament is concerned with the fact that Israel of old failed to observe the Law and reverence the holy things that the Lord had revealed to them (the prophets called them back to the standard of the holy things). Space does not suffice to elaborate on all these passages here. Yet, the Law and all the holy things (rites and vessels) are but types and shadows. If the types and shadows demand respect and reverence how much more the realities which they foretold! Those realities – archetypes – are made manifest in the New Testament.
In a vast majority of professed Christian circles, one reality is oft times ignored or even degraded: Mary the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It must be clear that the trend to de-reverence her is recent. From ancient times Christians have always held her in the utmost honor. Why?
She is an archetype, a reality, which the Old Testament clearly foretold in type. Clearly, some types have a variety of meanings and even a hierarchy of meanings. The focus here, in brief, is only on some of those that pertain to the Mother of God.
Christians have always seen her as the true Ark of the covenant (cf. Ex. 25:10-22). The Ark was the Old Testament meeting place between God and his people. Upon her, in her womb, God descended and met with humanity; took it to himself hypostatically: in one Person He is both fully God and fully man. The book of Hebrews records three items connected with the Ark (Heb. 9:3-4): the tablets of the Law, the jar of Manna, and the rod of Arron that budded.
The tablets of the Law were written by the finger of God (cf. Ex. 31:18) and Christ is the Word of God incarnate. The Jar of Manna (Ex. 13:6): Christ is the true bread from Heaven, if we eat of Him we shall never die (cf. Jn 6). The Rod of Arron (Num. 17:1-13), the staff of the Priesthood: it budded without roots – this refers to the virginal birth. The Virgin Mary budded (conceived) and Christ came forth without the seed of a man.
If reverence was demanded of the Hebrews towards the Ark of the covenant, Uzzah was struck down for casual irreverence (cf. 2 Sam. 6:5ff), how much more should the Christian race reverence the true Ark of the New Testament? How fearful is it to treat her with casual apathy or even worse, dishonor?
She is seen prefigured in the Tabernacle and Temple, she is the ultimate “Holy of Holies.” As the hymns of the Christian Church pray, “Venerating His hallowed Tabernacle, the living Ark, that contained the Word who cannot be contained” (Vespers, LIC vs. Entrance into the Temple).
She is the Burning bush (Ex. 3:1ff). She bore God and was not consumed. Recall how God told Moses, “No man can see Me and live” (Ex. 33:20). This means no man can bear the fullness, the essence, of God. Christians participate in God by grace. Only Mary contained God in His fulness, she contained God and lived. Moses and numerous other prophets scarcely endured their encounter with God, all of which were according to His condescension. Concerning the Virgin Mary, St. Gregory Palamas says with awe, “The power of the Most High came to dwell in her in His very person.” The Most-Pure Mary had an encounter with “the unveiled power of the Most High” with nothing intervening. For what came to pass in her was not simply an “overshadowing, but a pure union” between the nature of God and the nature of mankind in the Person of Christ Jesus. The same image is seen in the Fiery Furnace (cf. Dan. 3:19ff). The hymnographer St. Cosmas of Maiuma writes, “The furnace moist with dew was the image and figure of a wonder past nature. For it burned not the Children whom it had received, even as the fire of the Godhead consumed not the Virgin’s womb into which it had descended” (Matins, Nativity of Christ). How can we not but stand in awe and reverence before such an incredible wonder? If the inanimate types of old required deep reverence, how much more the animate archetype?
The Virgin Mary is the most singular person ever born of natural human wedlock. She fulfilled a role in the economy of God that will never, never, be repeated again. The Scriptures testify, “Know unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18) and “He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). From the foundation of the world, foretold and prophesied in many signs, shadows, and types, the Virgin Mary was chosen for her most exalted purity and devotion to God. No one else was found to be worthy of the honor of bearing God in the flesh, only her, chosen from before all time. What a woman! That which even the Heavens cannot contain, she contained in her Most-Pure and virginal womb.
She is the East Gate through whom only the Lord, only Him, no one else, will pass through. Not only that but only the Prince (i.e. Christ Jesus) may dwell there. This is a clear prophetic reference to Mary’s ever-virginity (cf. Eze. 43:27-44:4). It also indicates the great respect and honor in which God holds her. She is His Holy Ark, dedicated for all eternity to Him alone. She heard the word of God and fulfilled it; moreover, she contained the Word of God incarnate.
All true and God-fearing Christians have always honored the True Ark of the Eternal Covenant, sealed with the blood of the God-Man Jesus Christ. It is an anomaly not to honor her, indeed it is a sad un-Christian innovation.
On this the Nativity of this most unparalleled women it seems right to remind ourselves as Christians of her true worth in the sight of God and all those who faithfully call upon His Name.