Worship, Veneration, and the Axion Estin (It is Truly Meet)

The following is slightly modified from my book “Why Mary Matters”.

 

Icon of the Theotokos, "All of Creation Rejoices in Thee."

Icon of the Theotokos, “All of Creation Rejoices in Thee.”

The theotokian (or hymn to Mary) known as Axion Estin (or It is Truly Meet), is sung in the Orthodox liturgy, and is part of the daily prayers in most Orthodox prayer books. It reads as follows:

It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos,
Ever blessed and most pure and the Mother of our God!
More honorable than the cherubim,
and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim.
Without corruption you gave birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify you!

Protestants would likely be uncomfortable with this hymn; I know I was. Yet as Robert Arakaki demonstrates, the expressions of this hymn are entirely biblical.

 

Blessed — “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (Luke 1:42)

Theotokos (God-bearer) — “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43; see also Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:21-25, Luke 2:6-7, Revelation 12:5)

Ever-blessed — “From now on all generations will call me blessed….” (Luke 1:48)

All-holy — “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15-16)

Utterly pure — “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8).  “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (I John 3:3)

Mother of God — “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel– which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23, cf. Isaiah 7:14)

More honorable than — “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings the Cherubim  and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5)  “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ.” (Ephesians 2:6) (Arakaki, Why Evangelicals Need Mary 2012)

If we can accept that the various phrases of the Axion estin hymn are biblical, what then is the problem? Why would a Protestant find this hymn so troubling? Robert Arakaki provides us with an  answer.

Many Protestants are afraid that venerating Mary will eventually lead to worshiping her. Protestants’ confusion when Orthodoxy claims that it venerates Mary but does not worship her arises from differences in their understanding of worship. Where the sermon is central to Protestant worship, the center of Orthodox worship is the Eucharist. (Arakaki, Why Evangelicals Need Mary 2012)

The evangelical converts to Catholicism, Scott and Kimberly Hahn, describe their difficulties with these different definitions of worship.

I could not figure out why it was that it seemed to be that Catholics worshiped Mary, even though I knew worship of Mary was clearly condemned by the Church.  Then I got an insight: Protestants defined worship as songs, prayers and a sermon.  So when Catholics sang songs to Mary, petitioned Mary in prayer and preached about her, Protestants concluded she was being worshiped.  But Catholics defined worship as the sacrifice of the body and Blood of Jesus, and Catholics would never have offered a sacrifice of Mary nor to Mary on the altar. (Hahn and Hahn, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism. 1993, 145)

We can all agree that worship is due to God alone. Yet we honor the hero and the celebrity; why then would we not honor the heroes of the faith? Why not show the Blessed Virgin greater honor than that which we offer a singer, a soldier, or a sports hero?