Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Theotokos - Part 2

The Mother of God

Orthodox services refer to the Theotokos as 'our all-Holy, pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary'

'All-Holy' - Παναγία - This title is used as she is indeed the supreme example to us all, of cooperation between God and the free will of man. It is through her that Christ entered the world.

'Pure' - Mary fell asleep in the Lord, without having committed any sin, through God's Grace. However, at the same time it is important to remember that we cannot separate the Virgin Mary from the rest of mankind. She was brought into this world like any other human being ( unlike the Roman Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception ), and it is certainly for this reason that she is an example and a guide for us all. Out of her own freedom, she chose to accept and follow God's will, just as we are asked to do so. We revere and honour Mary as she was ( and is ) the closest person to our Lord, and she remained by His side until His death and glorious resurrection.

'Most blessed and glorious Lady' - Orthodox Christianity highlights that when we venerate, pray to, and give thanks to the Theotokos we are in fact doing so to the One to whom she gave birth. 'God became what we are, that we might become what He is.' ( Athanasius the Great ) This is exactly what we contemplate and give thanks for, when we venerate and remember the blessed Virgin Mary. She is for this reason above all the Saints ( 'All-Holy' ) We simply cannot believe in the incarnation and not honour and venerate her. The Mother of God points us to the mystery of the incarnation - Christ Himself.

'Ever-Virgin Mary' - As the very dwelling place of Christ, Mary became and remained 'All-Holy' and immaculate throughout her life. Her womb was the temple of life itself - Christ. The Ancient Christian teaching has always affirmed that the Theotokos remained a virgin, and it is only till recent years that a number of protestant churches oppose this scriptural view. The early Church and the fathers highlight this :

*Saint Ambrose of Milan - 'The Virgin did not seek consolation of bearing another child.'

*Hippolytus, one of the most important witnesses as to how the early Church worshipped - 'The Creator of all things incorporated with Himself a rational soul and a sensible body from the all-holy Mary, ever-virgin, by an undefiled conception, without conversion, and was made man in nature...the same was perfect God and the same was perfect man.'

*St Ephrem (4th century ) - 'Some dare to claim that Mary became fully Joseph's wife after the Saviour's birth. How could she who was the dwelling place of the Spirit, who was overshadowed by the divine power, ever become the wife of a mortal and bear children in pain..'

*Second council of Constantinople - 'If anyone shall not confess that the Word of God has two nativities, the one from all eternity of the Father, without time and without body; the other in these last days, coming down from Heaven and being made flesh of the holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God and always a virgin, and born of her: let him be anathema.'

The Holy Virgin was the vessel of the Lord of Glory, and bore in the flesh He whom heaven and earth cannot contain. Her blessed body and whole being was truly bound to God, and God alone. ( Ezekiel 44 comes to mind)

Prophecies in the Old Testament - Part 2

*'Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call him Immanuel.' ( Isaiah 7:14)
*'And the Ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed...'( 2 Samuel 6:11) Orthodox Christianity teaches that Mary is indeed a type of the new Ark.
* Psalm 45 depicts Christ as King, and Mary at His side as queen. 'At your right hand stands the queen in gold.'
* This idea of Mary being the queen of heaven is continued: 'And the King said to her, make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.' ( interceding to Christ our Lord )

2 comments:

  1. Thanks again for illuminating the Greek Orthodox position on Mary – it was quite interesting. However, I do have concerns about how the traditions as presented seem to conflict with Scripture, so if you would indulge my inquisitiveness and respond to these points, I would be very much obliged.

    1) The primary claim that concerns me is the notion that Mary was a virgin all her life. You present this as a truth going back to the earliest days of the Church, and only Protestants recently believe otherwise. However, Scripture seems to tell a different story. Matthew 13:56: "Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us?" This verse indicates Jesus had at least four biological brothers and at least three sisters (not the use of ‘all’ as opposed to ‘both’, which denotes two), for this was not proclaimed by Christ himself but those who doubted him – who had no concept of his family being the Church, those who in union with God (Luke 8:19-21). In John 7:2-5 we all see Jesus had brothers (differentiated from disciples or followers within the verse) and throughout the New Testament we see James, the head of the Jerusalem Church, as being proclaimed as the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:18-19) as opposed to other Apostles. Now one can only have a biological brother if one shares a biological parent. As Mary was the unique theotokos, Jesus could only have brothers and sisters if and only if she bore children. So as Scripture states he had brothers and sisters, it follows Mary was not a virgin all her life (which is no impeachment of her character whatsoever). Unless one dramatically allegorises these passages to an extent where they are no longer intelligible, it seems the doctrine of Constantinople 2 is in conflict with God’s revelation.

    2) The second point I wanted to raise was that it is not abundantly clear Mary was ‘all holy’ all her life. Scripture seems to indicate she doubted at points her son’s status as God with us (Immanuel). Mark 3:21, 31–35: “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” This was in relation to the preaching of Jesus, and clearly this passage states that Jesus family, including Mary, thought Christ was out of touch with reality. Whether it is for his own safety or his dignity, it seems Mary thought Jesus had to be stopped from causing any more damage. However, Jesus response to their call is to denounce them, declare they are not his mother and family because they do not do the will of God! (Mark 3:31-35). The designation of those listening to him as his Mother and Brothers indicates that those who saw him as the Christ, the redeemer, the saviour, are his family, contrasted with Mary and his family, leading members of the post-resurrection assembly of God, who doubted this. So there does seem to be biblical reasons to dispute this tradition to. Yet this is not to berate Mary – all humanity is under the yoke of sin (Romans 3:9), whether religious zealot to promiscuous infidel, and it is only in Jesus one may receive righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). This just means she is like the rest of us, not a human who does not need Jesus’ saving power.

    To conclude, it seems the doctrines Greek Orthodox theology holds on the person of Mary conflict with the historical reality as articulated by Scripture. Sorry for the length of these points, but I felt if I were to reply to your considered blog, I ought to back up any challenges I were to purport! God bless.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Nathan. I will try my best to answer your good questions, and clarify the Orthodox Christian, scriptural, position.

      Firstly, one of the main reasons for not dwelling on the passages that you have given examples of, is that they are very common arguments brought forward by many (mainly protestants) and are easily refuted.

      The Lord's Brothers:
      Scripture, as you say, indeed explicitly states that Christ had 'brothers'. There are nine such passages:
      Matthew 12:46-47 and 13:55-56; Mark 3:31-32 and 6:3; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12 and 7:3-5; Acts 1:14; and 1-Corinthians 9:5.
      However, the word 'αδελφός'(adelphos) can mean brother, fellow countryman, fellow believer, and kinsman - and to this very day is still used in the same way.

      'Is there anywhere a clear statement in the Scriptures establishing Jesus brothers as literally the children of Mary? In fact, there is not. Nowhere is Mary explicitly stated to be the mother of Jesus' brothers. The formula for speaking of the Lord's family is "His mother and His brothers." In Mark the possessive, anavtou"of Him," is inserted before both "His mother" and "His brothers," making a clear distinction. In Acts 1:14, the separation is more pronounced: "Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers." Some manuscripts use the conjunctive syn "along with, in company with," so that the text reads "Mary the mother of Jesus, along with His brothers." In any case, Mary is never identified as the mother of Jesus' brothers (nor they as her children), but only as the Mother of Jesus.' Source : Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

      Regarding your second point about Mary being 'All Holy' - I think you have misunderstood the Orthodox position. As I clearly stated, the Theotokos was born and brought into this world just like every other human being. It is important however, to remember that the Orthodox understanding of ‘original sin’ is very different to the western position. We believe that of course Christ is the only sinless one by nature, however as Christians it is possible to not sin, and to reject it - just as the very Mother of God did. So, yes, she was born just like every other human being - to put it simply into this sinful nature - however that means that we can both choose to live by this sinful nature, or freely reject it with God’s grace ( synergy ) This is why I emphatically stated that Mary was All-Holy through grace, and not by her own nature. Christ is the only sinless and Holy one. I hope that helps, and gives you a clearer understanding of the (very much scriptural), apostolic and patristic position regarding the God-bearer - the Holy Mother of our Lord and God Jesus Christ. I think it would certainly be a good idea and relevant to post a piece of writing on ancestral sin, after my series of posts on the Virgin Mary. Many thanks again Nathan.

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