Love of Mary Shared by East and West

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Angelus 18 August 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In a special way the light of Christ shines out in the saints and illumines the face of the Church (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 1). Their veneration is a bridge vitally linking the Churches of the East and West, fostering the exchange of spiritual gifts and the way to full unity.

One could say then that Western and Eastern Christians "compete" in their love for the Blessed Virgin recognizing in Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and of the Church, the synthesis and culmination of the marvels worked by God for man. A few days ago we celebrated her Assumption into heaven. In the East where this solemnity is also known as the "Dormition" of Mary it is considered the greatest Marian feast, for which the faithful prepare with eight days or more of fasting and prayer.

Indeed, one aspect of the Christian vision emerges from Mary's Assumption, which is justifiably emphasized in the Eastern tradition: if every human person is created in the image and likeness of God, Mary, full of grace, is the one who "resembles him the most". In her is fulfilled the plan of God, who desires to raise man to the level of his Trinitarian life. Mary was raised to the peak of the "vision of God". This is not only because like a true Mother, she gave her flesh to the Word of God, but above all because she cherishes him in her heart forever, as the Znamenie icon splendidly portrays. The famous akathistos hymn to the Mother of God presents Mary as "a compendium of the truths of Christ".

2. Together with Mary, the saints are the Church's great treasure in the East as in the West. They are the splendour of the Redemption brought about by Christ. Their death is remembered as their "birth in heaven", and the liturgy commemorates several of them each day. Many of the saints are common to both traditions, especially those of the biblical era and the first Christian centuries. Countless hymns of praise have been dedicated to them. Art has made them the subject of splendid depictions. The people consider them patrons and models of life.

If the Eastern and Western liturgies are compared, an obvious complementarity can be noted. Here too, it is necessary to become better acquainted and to have greater appreciation of one another. In this regard, I am pleased to recall the case of St Gregory the Great: the great Pope who had been apocrisiarius in Constantinople understood that his ministry as Successor of Peter was that of being "servant of the servants of God". He was appreciated by Eastern Christians and they remember him with the unusual epithet of "Gregory the Dialogist". While this evocative expression calls to mind a famous work by the great Pontiff, it also serves as the inspiration for a programme of holiness and ministry in which resolute service to the truth always walks in step with the ability to listen and the intense quest for communion among the brethren.

3. Let us entrust to Mary's intercession the ecumenical journey to which Christians are committed and which was given a decisive impetus by the Second Vatican Council. If we turn to the past beneath the gaze of our common Mother and in the light of the saints, it will be easier to build a future of holiness and, with it, a future of unity. Unfortunately, the history of East-West relations has been marked by serious shadows. But today more than ever, as the third millennium rapidly approaches it is necessary to look ahead. May Mary Most Holy, model of the Church and the living icon of her mystery, guide and sustain our steps.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
21 August 1996

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