A Woman clothed with the Sun

At the end of his life, in exile on the island of Patmos, the Apostle John had a vision. “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Rev. 12:1). Most commentators take this image from the book of Apocalypse to be referring to the Church, or the remnant Israel. Some, however, see here an image of Mary, especially as she is the daughter of Zion, and she typifies the Church. Some even see an image of her bodily assumption.

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun” (Rev. 12:1). In the bodily “translation” of the Virgin, the Church recognizes a “great sign.” A prophetic sign, that speaks to us of our destiny, of the meaning of death, of bodies, of human relations. This sign tells us: death is not the final end of the human being. We are not lastly, as the philosopher Heidegger thought, only “being unto death.” Finite time and death are not our ultimate horizon. The mother of Jesus was “translated unto life.”

This sign tells us: a “heaven” of pure spirits is not our last estate. Christians are not Platonists! The body is not the soul’s prison, a cocoon to be sloughed off for the “true self” to emerge like a butterfly. Plato was wrong: our true person, as God intended it, is not just soul, but also body. Salvation of the person means salvation of the body.

This sign tells us: through the resurrection of Jesus, each one of us will rise again in our body, restored, as we were also once conceived in our mother’s womb: as male or female. And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun (Rev. 12:1). Risen to glory, Mary is still Woman.

Certain ancient heretics, called Gnostics, believed that here was something to be overcome: in the kingdom of heaven, there would be no male and female, or perhaps women would become like men (Gospel of Thomas, logion 114). These Gnostics scorned marriage, and especially procreation. They sought liberation from the bonds of nature.

We still have our Gnostics today. Our Gnostics would like us to think of man and woman, mother and father, as interchangeable, shifting identities: not the Creator’s good and lasting design, but inventions of society, or plastic self-constructions.

But today the Church holds out to us a different vision. It is a sign to our age, “a sign of contradiction” (Lk. 2:34). “You were translated to life, O Mother of Life.” This sign says: risen to glory, Mary is still Mother. In the bodily glorification of Mary, we are given an image, a pre-installment, of the glory of the Kingdom which we hope to inherit. It is fully embodied glory, wherein the beauty of created difference is preserved. A glory in which natural bonds of love will not be dissolved. A glory in which each of us will remain mother or father, and son or daughter, to someone. And to everyone who, like the beloved disciple, has rested a head upon the Lord’s bosom, or stood by his Cross in prayer, Christ will say: “Son, behold thy Mother” (Jn. 19:27).

There is no human person more exalted than the Virgin Mary, the Panagia. And there is no greater title for her in our theological glossary than “Mother.” This should tell us something. This word, mother, extends far beyond physical childbearing. It names an all-encompassing human concern, a spiritual bond, a calling from God. This spiritual maternity, beyond blood offspring, is the gift and calling of every woman: married or unmarried; bearer of many, one or none. It is a gift, of which every one of us — all humanity — is the blessed beneficiary. This is the good gift of our Creator — not our fashioning. And as today’s feast reminds us, it does not end in death.

~The Orthodox Christian Network

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