Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Three-Handed Mary Of Eastern Orthodoxy

          It is widely known that the Eastern Orthodox, just like Roman Catholics, cling to the odd and unusual practice of praying before and venerating icons that represent various saints within Christianity. Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is the one who receives most of this religious devotion (although the Orthodox reject the immaculate conception of Mary).

         Eastern Orthodoxy is full of mysticism, along with bizarre looking paintings. Consider the example of Saint Christopher who is sometimes depicted as having a dog head. Another shocking example of a consecrated image is that of the three-handed Mary, which had its origins with John Damascene who supposedly encountered an apparition of Mary. This Eastern Orthodox source elaborates:

          "Panagia Tricherousa is another Hodegetria-style icon known as the "Virgin with Three Hands." This icon is at the Serbian Monastery of Chiliandari, Mount Athos, Greece. This icon is commemorated by the Church on June 28 and July 12.

          A great fighter against the iconoclasts, St. John Damascene was accused of being an enemy of the state in which he lived, and as punishment, the Caliph ordered that one of his hands be chopped off. Afterwards, St. John took the severed hand, prayed in front of the icon of the Theotokos and fell asleep. The Theotokos wrought the miracle of re-attaching the dead hand of her servant and bringing it back to life. When he awoke, he found that his hand was completely healed.

          In honor of that healing, he made a silver votive offering in the shape of a hand and placed it on the icon in such a way that it appears that the Virgin Mary has a third hand."

          First of all, we were instructed in Scripture by Christ to pray to our Father which is in heaven (Matthew 6:6). Paul said to make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6-7). Not once are we told to petition saints in heaven.

          Secondly, it is a part of our sinful nature to turn things into idols. So bowing before religious iconography is especially unwise. That is why we as God's people are not to greatly emphasize or make the central aspect a particular image when worshiping (Leviticus 26:1). Bowing before or adoration for images is futile because they are inherently lifeless and powerless (Psalm 115; Isaiah 44:10-19). There is simply no good reason to have a picture of Mary with three hands.

          Thirdly, Mary (or any human being for that matter) has not been endowed with some special ability to work miracles at whim. To petition somebody other than God for a miracle amounts to rank idolatry. It is not as if the Jews in the Old Testament who persisted in praying to Baal would have had anything good happen to them as a result of their idolatrous actions. The Eastern Orthodox, although not quite to the degree as the Roman Catholic Church, have essentially turned Mary into a mythical goddess.

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