AN ORTHODOX LOOK AT THE PLACE OF THE VIRGIN MARY IN ISLAM by Andrew James Matthews

Maryam and Isa. From an undated Old Persian manuscript.

In 630, the Prophet Muhammad and his followers conquered the sacred Arabian city of Mecca. Now in control of the city that had persecuted Islam, Muhammad ordered that the Ka’ba, a shrine believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael for the worship of God, be cleansed of all signs of pagan corruption. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad instructed his followers to remove all the idols and to wash away the images on the walls of the Ka’ba with one exception, an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child. The Prophet is said to have placed his hands upon the holy image and commanded that it remain untouched.  

While the above may come as a surprise to some Orthodox Christians, especially given the Islamophobic rhetoric spewed by some church leaders, the Virgin Mary has always held a special place in Islam. Muslims often refer to Mary as al-Batūl (Arabic for “the Virgin” or “the Chaste”). She is given this title not only for her physical purity, but for her willingness to submit her entire being, body and soul, to God’s will. A minority of Muslim scholars, including Ibn Ḥazm, have gone as far as to number Mary among the prophets of Islam. Moreover, Mary is also the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’ān, and the nineteenth Sura (chapter) is even named in her honour. In fact, many Qur’ānic verses about Mary are so similar in both spirit and content to the Eastern Christian understanding of her, that when the first Muslims attempted to escape persecution in Mecca by seeking refuge in Abyssinia, the Christian ruler of the country is said to have been so moved by some of what was written about Mary in the Qur’ān, that he granted sanctuary to the followers of the new religion.

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PAVEL FLORENSKIJ’S MYSTAGOGICAL MANUAL OF ANTINOMIC FRIENDSHIP by Glen Attard O.Carm.

First of all, a word of thanks to the editors of Orthodoxy in Dialogue for kindly inviting me to write this summary of my recently published volume, Closest to the Heart: A Mystagogy of Spiritual Friendship in Pavel A. Florenskij’s The Pillar and Ground of the Truth (Malta: Horizons, 2020), which explores the theme of friendship in Florenskij’s life and works, specifically between 1904 and 1914. My primary intention in this work was to carry out as complete a literary-spiritual exegesis as possible of Florenskij’s seminal text, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth (1914, hereafter Pillar).

Being the first major volume to focus solely on Florenskij’s ideas about and experience of friendship, first and foremost, I re-examine the Pillar from the point of view of Florenskij’s claim in “To the Reader,” “If I nevertheless do attribute some significance to my Letters, it is an exclusively preparatory one, for catechumens. These letters are intended to provide some sustenance for them until they are able to receive nourishment directly from their Mother’s hand.” I take this statement as an indication of Florenskij’s mystagogical intention to outline for “catechumens” a spiritual journey in the faith which finds its culmination in the experience of ecclesial friendship, as explained in the last two letters of the Pillar. In light of this claim, I start by presenting Florenskij as a mystagogue and argue in what way the Pillar is a mystagogical manual. Aware of the numerous controversial debates that have clouded the theme of friendship in Florenskij, I go back to his private letters to explore several of his friendships, starting with God, whom he “befriended” in July 1899 and ending with his wife Anna M. Giacintova, whom he married in August 1910. To understand how Florenskij lives through these experiences and, simultaneously, how these are reflected in the Pillar and other contemporaneous works, I also cross-reference Florenskij’s final version of his doctoral dissertation with earlier versions of the text (mainly the first version of the letters written in 1908), as well as other essays, private letters, poems, etc., that were written in the same timeframe, which help fill in certain gaps that are left open in the Pillar.

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THE LENTEN PRAYER OF ST. EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN

O LORD AND MASTER OF MY LIFE,

            give me not the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

(Prostration)

BUT GIVE, RATHER,

            the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

(Prostration)

YEA, O LORD AND KING,

grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother,

for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.

(Prostration)
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CALL FOR PAPERS: TORONTO SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY GRADUATE STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION TO HOST VIRTUAL CONFERENCE ON JUNE 11

Note that graduate students of theology from anywhere in the world are encouraged to submit a paper proposal for this virtual conference. The annual TGSA Conference provides an excellent opportunity for students to get their feet wet in presenting a conference paper. The deadline for submitting your proposal is Monday, April 5.

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