The Theotokos: An Example for All Women to Emulate
“A fervent prayer, and a wall most unshakable
A merciful spring
And shelter of all mankind;
Fervently we cry to you, Theotokos, our Lady, come to us
and from all dangers now deliver us….” — Small Paraklesis to the Theotokos
As a little girl, I was always fascinated by my mother’s ladies group. They had such impossibly stiff coiffed hair, nice dresses, high heels, and red lipstick. The ladies would chat softly around our dining room table while sipping hot tea out of my mother’s best china cups and taking modest bites of petite fours. I was always shooed away without getting to sample anything until after the party ended. That caused some little jealous feelings on my part. I envied the elegance I saw but wasn’t part of.
That’s how I sometimes feel as a grownup, like I got shooed away from the lady experience because my generation likes simpler, more modern things. True, I’m writing this while wearing jeans, and I like to be comfy just like the rest of us. But really, how did ladylike style-setters like Jackie Onassis and Audrey Hepburn morph into Miley Cyrus? How can we bring back a little loveliness instead of wandering through life like we’re stuck in a meme about People of Walmart? What does being a lady look like in 2017?
An Example of Traditional Femininity
The Theotokos is often referred to as “Our Lady”. But what does “Lady” mean in our day? Being a lady has nothing to do with money or social class. It’s about gracefulness. Jackie Onassis set a beautiful example of lady hood for a generation not just because of her position as first lady and fabulous fashion choices, but due to her character. She handled immense grief, both her own grief and that of her bereaved children, with tenderness and poise while the whole world watched. How do we handle disappointments? Do we show poised graciousness to others? The Theotokos is described as being “full of grace”. She modeled humility and grace for us. She submitted her will to God, even in great sorrow. She trusted Him to care for her even when it must have been hard to understand what was happening.
Audrey Hepburn gave us some timeless advice about beauty: “For beautiful eyes look for the good in others, for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness, and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
If we looked for good in others and helped bring that good out, spoke words of kindness and helped others feel cared for, and had poise not because we think we’re great but because we held in our heart the humble knowledge that we are walking with God; we would be shining beautiful icons of Christ to a world that is hurting for this kind of beauty. We could be a refuge to others who need God’s grace shown with our words and hands. That beauty never fades or goes out of style. Have you ever known a woman who made you feel better just by being there? Ladylike qualities make others feel better. Helping others feel more comfortable and comforted is one way we show Christ’s love to others.
The Theotokos is often called a refuge for us. Like a mother, she shelters us from the storms we face. There is something about Mama’s comfort that heals us and soothes us, and that is what we pray in the prayers of the Paraklesis services. Being a lady encompasses compassion and sacrificial love. As women, we are natural nurturers. We are a refuge for our children when they cry in the night, just as the Theotokos intercedes for us when we cry to her in the night of our despair.
As women, our natural gracefulness gives us special way of relating to God, to other people and to ourselves. We should seek to develop those timeless, ladylike qualities so beautifully exemplified by the Theotokos: grace, nurturing, and intercession. Those qualities are lovely. Being a lady in 2017 is about seeing the Theotokos as the perfect, most beautiful example of who we can be as women and striving to be a lady like her.
“Woman has her mode of being, her own form of existence, the gift of weaving her entire being though her special relationship to God, others and self.” — Paul Evdokimov in The Sacrament of Love
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