In the East the problem of devotion to Mary begins with a question. It is found in the first hour of the Chasoslov (the Byzantine Book of Hours):

What shall we call you O woman full of grace?

A heaven, for you have given rise to the Sun of justice;

A paradise, for you have brought forth the Flower of Immortality;

A virgin, for you have remained undefiled;

A mother, a pure mother, holding in her holy arms

A Son who is the God of all!

Intercede with him for the salvation of our souls!

It is only in the resolution of the crisis over the title “Theotokos” (God bearing one) at the Council of Ephesus (431) that the Byzantine Church gave its definitive answer to this question, “What may one call Mary?” It is only then that Mary appears in our liturgy. Mary is venerated not in isolation because of her preeminent personal holiness and virtue alone, but because of her role in salvation history, in intimate and unbreakable connection to the work of the Father through his – and her – Son.

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So we must conclude that all Marian doctrines are Christological dogmas. Veneration of Mary is not about her as an individual, some sort of “goddess” alongside Christ. In regard to Mary one basic theme remains clear through it all: her essential place in Salvation History. As the late Fr Taft wrote: “We revere Mary not because she is our Italian mamma, nor a model of female modesty and chastity, nor because Jesus is divine and forbiddingly distant and we need a more benign surrogate to take his place, but because she brought salvation to the world by accepting to be God’s instrument in the incarnation of his Divine Son.

All of the preceding is a type of introduction to the veneration of the Icon of Mary of Perpetual Help of Christians. This icon is commonly found in both Eastern and Western Catholic Churches. The Redemptorist Congregation has done much to spread devotion to this icon and preserves the original in Rome. It conforms to the Hodigitria type of icon in which Jesus is seated on the lap of Mary who points to the child Jesus as the way to salvation. Most recently the Ukrainian Church has decreed that this feast be celebrated on its calendar every year.

In conclusion let me quote the second Vatican Council with these words on devotion to Mary:

[Lumen Gentium, 66] 1 Mary as the Mother of God, placed by grace next to her Son above all the angels and saints, has shared in the mysteries of Christ and is justly honoured by a special veneration in the Church. 2 From earliest times she has been honoured under the title of Mother of God, under whose protection the faithful take refuge in all their perils and needs. 10 For their part, the faithful must be mindful that true devotion does not consist in sheer, passing feeling, or mindless credulity, but that it issues from an authentic faith that leads us to acknowledge the exaltedness of the Mother of God and inspire us to a filial love for her as our Mother and to an imitation of her virtues.

Fr Brian Kelty