A collage of images from pop culture made up my earliest understanding of St. Mary – pictures picked up in the childish ways we begin to learn anything. There was the illustrated Mary in my Golden Book. There was the pink-robed Mary in the tiny children’s nativity my mom ordered from Avon. The image that would come to dominate all the rest was that of Olivia Hussey, who portrayed Mary in the 1977 mini-series, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Growing up in a devout Evangelical household, these mental images matured only a little during my adolescence. I learned about the importance and implications of the Virgin Birth. About Mary herself, I learned nothing aside from what is written plainly in the New Testament. It was not until I took a few seminary classes and learned more about Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy that I began to question the common, low-church Protestant position on Mary, wavering as it did between ambivalence and suspicion. I was intrigued by the ancient beliefs I read about: Mary as the Theotokos, the Ever Virgin, the Queen of Heaven. These images (or perhaps, icons) were weighty, powerful, and living. Once I started attending an Anglican church, I found that some of my church fellows, too, venerated Mary in the old catholic way. I asked questions, read articles, listened to lectures – but as interested as I was, I struggled with the lack of biblical support for so many traditional Marian doctrines. Then a Roman Catholic friend gave me Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary last year, and I began to discover not only who Mary is in the great tradition, but who scripture itself says she is.
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