An email inquiry led me to a response which the readers of my blog may find edifying. The book mentioned in my response below, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, by St John (Maximovitch) is easily available.
Read on… the inquirer’s question is in black font; my reply is in blue.
I accept prayer to the saints in Heaven in that we are asking the saints to pray to God for us; just as we would ask someone on earth to pray for us. Invoking the saints beyond seeking their intercession to the Throne of Glory on our behalf is, according to Orthodox literature I’ve come across, blasphemous.
This last sentence is a gross overstatement from our Orthodox point of view. Our communion with the departed is very familiar and deeply personal and varies from person to person and from local church to local church. I like to express it in the following way:
The saints are those who have been cured. We who struggle in the pursuit of purification from the passions (the disordered state of the soul from sin) invoke the saints due to their “boldness” (parresia, “freedom of speech”) before God in their intercessory prayers. However, due to the fact that all of the saints, including the Mother of God herself, are human beings all born under the exactly same conditions as we, our relationship with the Saints is one of reverence, but not worship. Worship belongs to God alone.
> But then I come across something such as the below which is taken from a Confessional Lutheran website entitled ‘Wittenberg Trail’. Please, I very much seek your insight into this:
> ” I’d encourage them [a person looking to the East]to look exactly at what the Orthodox DO in the invocation of the saints. They will tell you what they have been indoctrinated in: we’re only asking Mary to pray to God for us. But the Orthodox do more than this. I cite from the Antiochian Service Book, page 130:
‘O all-holy Lady Theotokos, light of my darkened soul, my hope, my shelter, my refuge, my consolation and my joy; I thank thee that thou hast permitted me, unworthy though I be, to partake of the immaculate body and precious blood of thy Son. O thou who didst bring forth the true Light, give the light of understanding to the eyes of my heart; O thou who didst bear the Fountain of Immortality, quicken me who am dead in sin. O compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy upon me and grant me humility and contrition of heart, and humbleness of mind, and deliverance from bondage to evil thoughts. And permit me, unto my last breath, to receive, without condemnation, the sanctification of these Holy Mysteries, unto the healing of both body and soul. Grant me tears of repentance and of confession, that I may hymn thee and glorify thee all the days of my life. For blessed and glorified art thou unto all the ages. Amen.’
We Orthodox see nothing sinister in this prayer. We do not, as implied above, assign to her a divine status. Everything in this prayer stems from her status as “full of grace” (Gospel of Luke, ch. 2) and the true Mother of the Eternal Logos according to His human nature. One way to view this effectively is to see Mary as the Mother in the household of the Church. As such, she has great effectiveness in guiding our path to holiness in the Lord. She can, by her prayers, not by any independent agency which one might ascribe to her, “quicken me who am dead in sin,” and so on. It is important to stress this, as it is frequently misunderstood by non-Orthodox who read prayers such as this out of context. I invite you to read the entire service of Prayers after Holy Communion, found in any Orthodox prayer-book.
The concluding doxology to her is also appropriate, as testified to by the fact that the living God, the Son, Himself was born of her (how could the all-pure and all-holy God be born from anyone of less standing?).
The problem is not the Orthodox view, quite traditional and apostolic, but rather the Latin excesses which infected the Protestants. I most strongly recommend a specific book, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, by Bishop (St) John (Maximovitch), of Shanghai and San Francisco. That slim volume will address all the usual issues with regard to the Theotokos (“Birth-giver of God,” a canonical term, authorized by the 3rd Oecumenical Synod held in Ephesus, A.D. 431).
This seems like a prayer directed exactly towards the Blessed Mother and not so much for her to pray to the Father on our behalf.?.
Sure it is. Now you see that we Orthodox have no problem addressing the saints themselves. The best way to see how this works out in practice is to attend Orthodox services and bear witness for yourself as to the efficacy of such a rich and multi-textured spiritual way of life.
Thank you again for your time.
With a sigh toward the Lord for my and your salvation, I remain
an unworthy presbyter, +Patrick