Coming from a Protestant background, home and part of the country, it is not surprising that I struggled in my first Orthodox years with the veneration of Mary, the Mother of God. I actually came around quickly to terms such as the Theotokos, and the concept of her ever-virginity came fairly easy for me to embrace. Lamentations has always been one of my most favorite services – it strikes me to the core to join the Theotokos in heart-rending songs about her Son and our Lord on the cross.
For me, the parts that were the toughest in the veneration of Mary were phrases about her saving us, for example, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us.” I mean, it is Christ alone who saves us, right? So, for several years, I would sing along with Akathists and other services, but sadly, I would skip those verses about salvation.
One day, at a meal with other Orthodox parishioners, I happened to sit across the table from a guy (who has since become a priest) who directly challenged me on this struggle. He said, “If you were drowning and you saw someone on the shore, wouldn’t you ask, even beg, the person to save you?” I stared and blinked, not being able to say ‘no’ to that, but not quite ready to say ‘yes’ either. He went on to say that in asking the Mother of God to save us, we never undermine Christ’s saving power through His death and resurrection. By asking the Theotokos for salvation, we admit our failings in this fallen world and the fact that she triumphed over worldly struggles. We also recognize the power of her pleasing prayers on our behalf. She evens intercedes for more wine at weddings!
Most Holy Theotokos, save us. Most Holy Theotokos, intercede for us sinners.