Coming from a Protestant background, I heard Mary (the mother of Christ) talked about at the most one or two times a year. She was usually mentioned around Christmas time and held up as a role model of saying "yes" to God or as yet another example of God's willingness to work through His children. Beyond the details Luke recounts in his Gospel I knew very little about her, which did not strike me as a problem considering the damage I saw in thinking too much of her (what I saw as Catholics "worshipping" Mary). But then, in the midst of discovering Orthodoxy, I was brought face to face with Mary (known in the Orthodox church as the "Theotokos," which means "God-bearer") and could no longer ignore her; after all, an icon of her is at the alter, hymns are sung to her during Divine Liturgy, and her feast days mark the beginning and end of the church calendar. I asked the Jensons for book recommendations and spent Sunday reading about Mary - what historical sources discuss of her and how the Christian church has thought of her throughout the centuries.
Some interesting excerpts from my reading:
From: The Lost Gospel of Mary: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts by Frederica Mathewes-Green
“Long years ago a Christian heard this prayer and wrote it on a piece of papyrus that was small enough to carry through the day – the earliest prayer yet found that is addressed to Mary…The date of AD 250 tells us only when it was inscribed on this particular papyrus. We don’t know how far back the prayer itself might go. This prayer begins with Mary’s compassion. It does not speak of taking refuge under her power or her merits, but instead cites a motivation inside of her: she loves us. A person motivated by love is a sure help in trouble, and will pour out what could not be won by bargaining or flattery. A child knows this about his mother, that her love is something strong, and is a good place to find shelter” (87).
“If death has truly been destroyed, then these departed friends in Christ are alive and invisibly present; they are just as genuinely present as the friends and family we can see. But now they are also in the throne room of God, and continually at prayer. The early Christians had such complete confidence that death had been overthrown, that they asked the holy departed to pray for them” (93).
From: The Orthodox Veneration of Mary: The Birthgiver of God by St. John Maximovitch
“If God the Father chose [Mary], God the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, and God the Son dwelt in Her, submitted to Her in the days of His youth, was concerned for Her when hanging on the Cross – then should not everyone who confesses the Holy Trinity venerate Her?” (21).
“In the womb of Mary, God and man were joined. She was the One Who served as it were as the ladder for the Son of God, Who descended from heaven” (26).