“Laughing Madonna”, Jan Peters, Pinterest.
Click on words highlighted in red for further information.
Our Lady’s title of “Mother of God” was the result of the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus, now in Turkey, in 431 AD. It took a long time, as you can see from that date, for the Christian Church to reach that definitive understanding. This was by virtue of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel came from heaven to request her submission to God’s will and become a mother through God’s Holy Spirit. She obeyed God’s will, and hence was the Mother of God. In Greek, Θεοτόκος, Theotokos, the rough translation of which is Mother of God. On icons of Mary, you might see Μήτηρ (τοῦ) Θεοῦ, Mother of God:
Icon of the Mother of God of Konev, Hurry to Love.
There are several references to Mary and Jesus on this icon, and you will find them in most icons of the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child. Μρ is the abbreviation for Μήτηρ, Mētēr, Mother; Θῦ for Θεοῦ, Theou, of God. Furthermore, you will also find abbreviations for Jesus on Greek icons: Ις for Ιησούς, Iēsous, Jesus, and Χς for Χριστός, Christos, Christ. On Jesus’ halo there are more Greek letters, ὁ ὤν, ho ōn, “the one who is”. This comes from the third chapter of the Book of Exodus, when God revealed the Divine Name to Moses, “I am who am” ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν, ego eimi ho ōn.
So this feast day focusses on Mary, on motherhood and on the woman who defeated the devil, as foretold in the Book of Genesis, by obeying instead of defying God, even when such acquiescence could have brought social disaster. We all have a mother, and those of us fortunate enough to have had an excellent mother (hopefully all of us) know the importance of that happy fact. The critical importance of our early years, when all we do is absorb knowledge, experience the acts, words and influence of those around us, lay almost permanent foundations on which we will build our lives. And all this is before schooling or really any strong outside influence unless we have been born into enormous challenge and demoralizing poverty. Jesus, however, must have been born into an intimately human, supportive society, no doubt with grandparents (two of whom were, traditionally though not found in Scripture, Anna and Joachim) and aunts and uncles. I was fortunate to have had, as it were, three mothers, my mother and two close aunts. I credit them very much with the person I have become. Hence most of us can probably claim to have grown up in a very similar way to Jesus’ upbringing. Our moral foundations, knowing right from wrong, the way we approach others, the care we take in how we speak to others, the care we take in assessing the effect we have on others, hopefully all good, are all laid down in those first years. And, above all, the knowledge we have of the Greater Power outside us, knowing that each of us is not the be all and end all of everything and that we are all the result of God’s blessing. That we all enjoy God’s blessing, today’s first reading, and ultimately, that we are the adopted children of God (and not, as today’s reading states, only “sons” of God but rather sons and daughters of God (how long do we have to wait for readings which allow us to enjoy fully God’s intentions?).
Scripture is very short on Jesus’ upbringing, saying simply that grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people, (Luke 2:52), this after the adventure in the Temple where he sat with the elders and doctors discussing we know not what (Luke 2:42-51). But when he encountered his cousin John and was baptized in the River Jordan, and his identity and vocation were revealed to him, traditionally at the age of 30, he immediately accepted God’s will for him, and lived it out to the bitter end. That tells us clearly what upbringing he must have had. God was the all-important center of his life. That came from those around him, and principally, as for most of us, his mother.
The Virgin with the Laughing Child, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.
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