He told her to look on the disciple John as her own son, and said to John, “Behold your mother,” we can see her as, not just our friend but our mother as well.
When you come into an Orthodox Church, you’re definitely going to see images of the Virgin Mary, and that is kind of disturbing to some Protestants. They’re afraid that she’s being worshiped. They are afraid that we treat her as an idol. Or even put her into competition with the Lord, pray to her instead of him. That has never been a problem in the Eastern Church. Thank God for that. We see her as a child of God, a servant of God, a willing handmaid who did what God called her to do. So she’s an inspiration and example to us, and she’s a comforting presence to us. She’s someone that we can talk to, someone we can go to and ask her to pray for us. It’s not in competition with our prayers to the Lord. You can picture it is if, when you’re worshiping, when you’re praying, you’re surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses, there are all these saints and you can speak directly to the Lord, or you can turn to someone else in the circle and say, “Hey, this same thing happen to you when you’re alive on the Earth. Put in a good word for me. Ask the Lord the same thing that I’m asking. Make a request of him.” Likewise we can turn to the Virgin Mary. We can address her and we can ask her to pray for us. And that should not in any way threaten our relationship with the Lord. Quite the contrary; it would enhance that relationship. And because our Lord said to her, “Behold your son.” He told her to look on the disciple John as her own son, and said to John, “Behold your mother,” we can see her as, not just our friend but our mother as well. So we have a lot of affection for her. You know how a little child loves her mother. She just can’t stop pouring on all the adjectives about the most wonderful, the most perfect and beautiful, in the whole world. So when you come to Orthodox worship you’re going to hear some of that about the Virgin Mary, but like that little child we pile up the adjectives, and we make it sound as exuberant and beautiful and superlative as it can be. It’s sort of like if there was a testimonial banquet for a man who was retiring from his business, and everybody who stands up to give a toast says a more extraordinary thing after another, they all are overstating how wonderful this guy is. That’s how we feel toward the Virgin Mary. And that’s why our prayers to her sometimes sound over-the-top, just sound like we’re going overboard. Remember that it’s coming out of a heart that is overflowing with love for her; it’s the language of love.