In Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East, Carrie Frederick Frost places Orthodox Christian sources on motherhood—icons, hymns, and prayers—into conversation with each other. In so doing, she brings an anchored vision of motherhood to the twenty-first century, especially the embodied experience of motherhood.
Along the way, Frost addresses practices of the Church that have neglected mothers’ bodies, offering insight for others who also choose to live within truth-bearing but flawed traditions.
Whether female or male, whether mothers or not, whether mothers adoptive or biological—we each make our appearance in the cosmos through a maternal body; our mother’s body gives us our own body. In these bodies we live our lives and find our way into the next. From the unexpected and fresh vantage point of the maternal body, Frost offers new ways of understanding our incarnate experience as humans and better cultivating a relationship with our Creator.
What others have to say about Maternal Body–
In this book, Carrie Frederick Frost has undertaken an act of quiet, powerful courage. Digging into the treasures of Orthodoxy’s veneration of the Virgin Mary – its hymns, icons, and festal calendar – she seeks resources for theological reflection on the embodied experience of maternity.
Frost follows Mary’s presence during the liturgical year through the sequence of conception, pregnancy, childbirth, post partum, and nursing. Drawing on her own experience as a mother of five, she explores the physical realities of motherhood – the maternal body – as a profoundly fruitful source for understanding incarnation, divine-human relationship, and creation as divinely blessed. In the process, she also engages the problematic ways by which Orthodox theologians have sometimes treated or even neglected the female body in its maternal state. As she shows, such disregard can result in an impoverished or distorted theological understanding of the human person. Frost challenges us to consider the heights and depths of human-divine encounter through its most basic starting point, the beginning of human life itself. As she reminds us, that mystery happens in a mother’s body.
Susan Ashbrook Harvey is Willard Prescott and Annie McClelland Smith Professor of Religion and History at Brown University.
Maternal Body may well be the most significant book thus far written in America by an Orthodox woman. There is music, poetry, and visual beauty in it, true to the character of Orthodox faith and worship. Carrie Frederick Frost draws into her theology of motherhood liturgical hymnody, iconographic imagery, and the deep spirituality of the Orthodox Church; all of this deployed in a compellingly personal exploration of a subject sadly neglected by most feminist theology.
Vigen Guroian is an Orthodox Christian theologian and professor who taught at the University of Virginia and Loyola College of Baltimore, and is the author of many theological works, including The Orthodox Reality: Culture, Theology, and Ethics in the Modern World.
The church is often challenged from without, but it is only changed from within. Such change is never simply evolution or adaptation. Genuine transformation is always revolutionary, extensive and inclusive. The entire church must embrace such change in its institutions and expressions, its hierarchy and ministry, as well as its teaching and preaching. In highlighting the unique incarnational reality of the maternal body and motherhood, Carrie Frederick Frost provides a vital component for such organic and essential change by respectfully and insightfully raising her own experience as mother and theologian for conversation and communion with the church. She speaks of change as embodiment, of growth as birth and rebirth. In so doing, what she proposes is not only particularly feminine and particularly Orthodox; above all, it is radically human and Christian. This book can touch lives and transform the life of the church.
Archdeacon Dr. John Chryssavgis is a theologian who serves as advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issue, and is the author of In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Love, Sexuality, and the Sacrament of Marriage.
It is a rare and wondrous thing to discover a work of theology that breaks new ground while remaining faithful to the ancient deposit of the Christian faith. Carrie Frederick Frost has done just that. Here are no platitudes or generalizations, but the very specific reality of women conceiving, gestating, giving birth to, and breastfeeding new human life as a window into the deepest mysteries of the triune God, iconography, the incarnation, contemplative prayer, and Mary. In bringing this maternal perspective to bear, Frost offers a gentle but incisive critique of aspects of Christian tradition and practice that fall short of the validation of the body created in God’s image. At the end she exhorts mothers in the church to speak to and of the faith from their own experience: may many hear her call! And may Frost continue to lead the way.
Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is Visiting Professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France and author of Woman, Women, and the Priesthood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.
In Maternal Body, wife, mother, and Orthodox theologian Carrie Frederick Frost places motherhood at the center of the mystery of the Incarnation where it belongs. From both a deeply personal and theological viewpoint, she delves into the profound nature of conception, childbearing, childbirthing, postpartum, nursing, and weaning. To exemplify each of these stages, she introduces a rich array of icons, focusing especially on Mary’s maternity of Christ as the paradigm for all mothering and nurturing. Throughout, Frost brings renewed dignity to the physicality of a mother’s body, which she views as incarnational and thus holy. This work is at once a provocative critique and a sensitive reevaluation of the maternal body as it has been depicted in Christian theology, iconography, and liturgical prayer throughout the ages. With passionate conviction, Frost points the way towards a more central role for theologically trained women, female iconographers, and all mothers in the 21stcentury church. A welcome achievement!
Veronica Mary Rolf is a medieval scholar and the award winning author of An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwichand Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich.
As the author states, “This is not a coffee table book”! Indeed, it is an unprecedented Orthodox Christian theological reflection on embodied motherhood that is faithful to the tradition, yet honest in negotiating the flaws and omissions of the Church. No one can affirm the Incarnation and ignore the body. Carrie Frederick Frost fleshes out the Incarnational significance of the unique experience of the maternal body. She gives voice in the place of silence and enriches our understanding of a theotic theological anthropology.
Aristotle Papanikolaou is Professor of Theology and Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, Fordham University and Co-founding Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.
Listen to me talk about Maternal Body–
On the wonderful DOOR radio program (Detroit’s Own Orthodox Radio), Program 207, in honor of Mother’s Day on May 12, 2019. My interview starts at about 40 minutes into the program.