Friday, April 25, 2014

Mary, Tier and Untier of Knots

"Rejoice, Binder of the faithful to the Lord!"
--The Akathist of St. Romanos the Melodist

Since the election of Pope Francis, the originally German devotion to the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary as the "Untier of Knots" as become quite popular.  And it is popular for its truth, for she is the one "who gave birth to the Captives' release," the one who "ripped the Athenians' meshes," the one through whom "we have been liberated from terror."  She can truly free us from so many ills through the grace that fills her: thus in our ails we pray to her, and we have confidence in her help, whether it is with cancer (the Pantanassa) or addictions (the Inexhaustible Cup) or any other ill.  She can truly undo knots, whether those of the devil or merely our own fallen nature.  She is, through Christ, "the freedom from our chains," and thus, "in her hands there is no knot that cannot be undone."

Yet, though she has this liberating power, she also has a binding power.  While she looses us from the devil and the world, she binds us to her Son.  She is truly "the Binder of the faithful to the Lord."  And her binding is strong, for it is the binding of a betrothal.  As we call her in truth the Betrother (ἁρμόζουσα), so did the Holy Apostle Paul say to the Corinthians, "Therefore I have betrothed (ἡρμοσάμην) you to one man, a virgin pure to stand before Christ" (2 Cor 11:2).  Through her, the Spouse of the Spirit, are we betrothed to God; through her we become as a pure virgin before the Bridegroom, Christ.  Her knot is more than just a simple bond: it is the matrimonial chain.  This is the knot that ties us to the Lord in betrothal: the prayers of the Theotokos.

An Welsh poet, Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), saw this role of the Unwedded Bride in betrothing us to the Lord clearly, and expressed it in his poem, "The Knot."  May his words help us to see the truth of Mary's dual role as the tier and the untier of knots.

"Bright Queen of Heaven!  Gods Virgin Spouse
    The glad worlds blessed maid!
Whose beauty tyed life to thy house,
    And brought us saving ayd.

Thou art the true Loves-knot; by thee
    God is made our Allie,
And mans inferior Essence he
    With his did dignifie.

For Coalescent by that Band
    We are his body grown,
Nourished with favors from his hand
    Whom for our head we own.

And such a Knot, what arm dares loose.
    What life, what death can sever?
Which us in him, and him in us
    United keeps for ever."

Nota Bene: The quotes in the sentence beginning "And it is popular..." are from the Akathist of St. Romanos the Melodist, with the last quote from the Kontakion of the Annunciation, which often ends the prayer, as found in the Melkite Eparchy of Newton's Publican's Prayer Book, second edition (Boston, MA: Sophia Press, 2008).  The opening quote is from the same prayer, but it is a translation of the Greek found in Οι Χαιρεστισμοι της Θεοτοκου, published by Εκδόσεις Ιωάννου in Ηλιούπολη, Greece (ISBN 960-8020-11-5).  The quotes from the sentence beginning "She is, through Christ," are from the Prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots, as found at The Holy RosaryThe poem "The Knot" is from The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, compiled by D.H.S. Nicholson and A.H.E. Lee (published by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1969 reprint of the 1917 original), pp. 61-2.

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