This painting, entitled “Mary Consoles Eve,” by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO, captures in a very striking way the relationship between these two women. As I prayed with it, three things came to mind: a brief story, the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyons and a poem by St. Hildegard of Bingen.
Back in the late 1980’s I heard an astonishing story preached by a priest in a Russian Orthodox parish. He said there was a woman living in the Soviet Union in the 1950’s who was pregnant with her second child. She was a Believer in an age of Soviet atheism. Late in the pregnancy her doctor warned her that her delivery could be life-threatening and recommended abortion, though he said even the abortion could be life-threatening. She refused the abortion, and during her labor and delivery suffered severe hemorrhaging and died. While delivering the baby, she held a Byzantine cross in her hand and clasped it so tightly that her hand bled. When she died, the blood-stained cross fell to the floor and her husband picked it up. After a pause, the priest said, “That was my mother, and I was that child.” Gasp. Then he took out a cross, and said: “This is her cross. And when I was ordained a priest my father gave this cross to me and said, ‘Your mother compressed all of her love and life-blood into that cross. So whenever you feel tired or lost, think of her.'”
The seduction of a fallen angel drew Eve, a virgin espoused to a man, while the glad tidings of the holy angel drew Mary, a Virgin already espoused, to begin the plan which would dissolve the bonds of that first snare. For as the former was lead astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had disobeyed his word, so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should bear God, and obeyed his word. If the former disobeyed God, the latter obeyed, so that the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. Thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience is balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.
Pierced by the light of God
drenched in the speech of God,
your body bloomed,
swelling with the breath of God.
For the Spirit purged you
of the poison Eve took.
She soiled all freshness when she caught
from the devil’s suggestion.
But in wonder within you
you hid an untainted
child of God’s mind
and God’s Son blossomed in your body.
The Holy One was his midwife:
his birth broke the laws
of flesh that Eve made. He was coupled
in the seedbed of holiness.