elevation of Marian devotion occurred in France during the 1840s and
On September 19, 1846, the Virgin Mary apparently appeared to two shepherd children on the mount of La Salette in southeastern France. In her messages, Mary criticized the sinful behavior of the people and predicted further calamities - a major crop failure had already hit the area in 1846 - unless people repented of their wicked ways. A shrine was built. And crowds of pilgrims came. This created even more excitement and religious fervor.
A dozen years later in the small village of Lourdes in southwestern France, Mary announced to Bernadette: "I am the Immaculate Conception." A grotto was constructed there and its reputation for miraculous cures soon made Lourdes a premier center for pilgrims. The Virgin's appearances and messages confirmed to many that the age of Mary had indeed arrived. Today about 5.5 million visit the shrine annually.
Similar appearances have increased around the world. Apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been claimed in dozens, if not hundreds, of different locations, from Lipa City in the Philippines to Bayside, New York, to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia. Always there are "miracles" and "warnings" to the world of coming judgment, with the promise that through the rosary and "Our Lady's" intervention peace can come.
The most famous and well documented miracle of all occurred at Fatima, Portugal, in October 1917. According to Roman Catholic claims, between May and October of 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared six times to three children - Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco - in the Portuguese village of Fatima. The initial appearances attracted little or no attention, but by the time of the last one up to 50,000 people were present. Many people claimed to see the sun dance in the sky, but at no time did anyone but the three children see the person who was appearing.
Consider the events at Fatima and the doctrines they present ... what is the meaning behind them? When one examines the events at Fatima in detail, it turns out that they presented or reaffirmed a number of distinctly Roman Catholic doctrines.
Devotion to the
Immaculate Heart of Mary
The primary purpose of the apparition was to encourage devotion to the so-called Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the second appearance, the apparition said, "Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and love. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart." This devotional practice is related to the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the twelfth century a revolution occurred in the devotional practices of the Roman Catholic Church; this revolution was inspired by the preaching of Bernard of Clairveaux and spread widely by Francis of Assisi.
As attention was shifted from our redemption by the Resurrection of the Lord to a focus on the Passion of the Lord, an erotic element was introduced in worship and private devotion. The Lord came to be viewed as a companion, friend, or even husband/lover, as is reflected in the marriage imagery which was introduced into Western monasticism (in taking their vows, nuns went through a sort of wedding ceremony, complete with bridal gowns, wedding rings, etc. with the Lord as the groom). This new devotion stressed the worshipper's individual union with the Mystic Lover, concentrating on the pain of the Lord's suffering and trying to arouse emotional feelings by focusing on His earthly life.
Among the manifestations of this new approach to worship are the Feast of the Holy Name, special devotions to the Five Wounds of Christ, the Stations of the Cross, the meditations assigned to the decades of the Rosary, the Christmas "crib" and devotion to the "Baby Jesus" in general, and the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This latter cult focuses on one part of our Lord's physical body and effectively separates the worship of the human nature of Christ from His Divine Nature; for this reason it has never found any acceptance in the Orthodox Church, who teaches her children to worship the Lord in His Divine-human unity, not in each of the natures separately.
In the sixth appearance the apparition calls itself the "Lady of the Rosary." One of the methods recommended repeatedly by the apparition for obtaining world peace is the daily use of the Rosary.
The Rosary is a distinctively Roman Catholic devotion, one which is foreign to Orthodox piety. The Rosary consists of fifteen "mysteries," or subjects for meditation, e.g. the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven, etc.; while reciting the Hail Mary ten times for each mystery, one is supposed to try to visualize the event commemorated in that mystery.
As is true of many Western Christian methods of meditation, this approach actively encourages the use of the imagination, which is a dangerous source of errors and deception: when we start imagining the events in our Lord's life, we inevitably clothe them in our terms and present them in a way which will be congenial to ourselves; in that way we make ourselves the measure of the events in His life and easily drop those aspects with which we are not comfortable.
The use of the imagination while reciting the words of the Hail Mary means that one is not attending to the words of the prayer. Rather than aiding concentration on the words addressed to God and the saints in prayer, this method actually encourages distraction and wandering thoughts by concealing them in the guise of "meditations" on the events of sacred history, as imagined by the person praying. Thus, the Roman Catholic Rosary is quite different in use and intent from the Orthodox prayer-rope from which it developed, whose purpose is to help the person praying to focus more intently on the words of his prayer and to keep his thoughts from wandering. The Rosary is obviously an unacceptable devotional practice, and Christians must be wary of an apparition which teaches and encourages it.
In its appearances, the apparition taught doctrines related to the afterlife which are not acceptable to Orthodox Christianity. Several times it referred to Purgatory, the intermediate state of limited suffering between Heaven and Hell, and said that one person about whom the children asked would be in Purgatory until the end of the world.
Value of Human
The message of these apparitions is all too familiar. That message is salvation by works. We are told we must make reparations, practice self denial, poverty, pray the Rosary, and do penance.
The apparition also taught that one's suffering in this life could obtain salvation for others. In the first appearance, it asked the children if they would "bear all the suffering [God] wills for you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners." And in the fourth appearance, the apparition told the children, "Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners. For many souls go to Hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them."
The Catholic Church points to the apoycraphal passage in 2 Maccabees 12:46 as justification for prayers for the dead. "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." This passage, Catholics claim, clearly refers to a way station on the journey to heaven where some souls are detained until "they are loosed from their sins." It is "holy and wholesome" to pray for these souls, because doing so can speed their entry into heaven, but also because the souls whom we have helped will help us when they get to heaven, and are even able to help us with their prayers while they are in purgatory.
In this way our Lord's offering for us is denigrated by the idea that our suffering somehow supplies for others that which is missing in His offering of Himself. This is a blasphemous delusion, showing Satanic pride in thinking that we can save others by our prayers and suffering, thereby putting ourselves in the place of Christ. St. Peter of Damascus expresses the Orthodox understanding when he says, "We do not dare to entreat on behalf of all, but only for our own sins." At best, we can entreat God's grace for them to respond with repentance.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus has already made all the reparations necessary; that we are reborn when we place our trust in Him and Him alone, and that...
"I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." [John 14:16]
The Bible warns us repeatedly that we will see strange sights in
the heavens, false prophets, counterfeit miracles, and that "even the very
elect might be deceived." Jesus Christ is the only Savior. The Lord Jesus died
for the sins of man, as the only acceptable sacrifice. According to Marian
apparitions, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the bridge between God and man. This is
"another gospel" of which we are warned in the Scriptures.
From its very beginning, the Christian Church has been opposed by the spirit of Antichrist, which has tried to distort our understanding of God and His Son so that we would turn from true worship and fall into Satanic delusion. His ways have been varied, but all have had the goal of distracting men from God. The doctrines presented at Fatima have been rejected by the Orthodox Church as perversions of the Faith leading to idolatry and a carnal attitude toward the Christian life and toward salvation.
There is little doubt that these are "miracles," but they are performed by the prince of darkness. The adoration of statues, objects, pictures, or the like is forbidden in the Scripture and originates with the great imitator, Satan. Any plea, prayer, or praise addressed to any human being in order to derive supernatural power is occultism.
The more one believes in these things, the more power he receives from the Devil. In the end-time, the Bible says the delusion will be so strong that the masses of people will unconditionally accept the demonic activity as from God. Thus, the Apostle Paul writes...
"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness." [2nd Thessalonians 2:9-12]
The Bible warns us to use extreme caution where signs, miracles and the supernatural is concerned, with these words,
"And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as
an angel of light." [2 Corinthians 11:14]
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. [II Timothy 4:3-4]