11 - The All-Holy Mother of all
1. The Virgin Mary in the Old Testament
As we have already
mentioned, the entire period of the Old Testament is a period of
expectation, for the «offspring of the woman» (Genesis 3:15).
The Prophet Isaiah
receives an instruction from God to speak to Achaz, the king of the Judeans
and warn him to take precautions, but without being afraid of any attack on
Jerusalem by Kings Phakee and Raasson:
my fierce anger comes, I will heal again"...», i.e., when the
justified wrath of My anger is realized, I again shall protect you, said the
Lord (Isaiah 7:4)
instruction, the Prophet tells Achaz to
«Ask for yourself a sign of the Lord your God, in depth or in height»
(Isaiah 7:10-11) - that is, miraculous proof - either in the depths of the
earth or even in the heights of heaven - in order to be reassured of the
veracity of the prophetic word.
said, "I will not ask, nor will I put the Lord to the test." Then he said:
“Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to provoke a fight
with mortals? How then do you provoke a fight with the Lord? Therefore the
Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin shall be with child and
bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel..."» (Isaiah 7:12-14). The name Emmanuel meant "God is with us".
The meaning of this «sign»
has, of course, a double reference. God was announcing in this manner the
salvation of Jerusalem and the punishment of her enemies, but, at the same
time, it was testifying about the person of the Theotokos - the Mother of
the Lord and Savior of the new people of God - the new Jerusalem.
was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the
saying: “Behold,the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they
shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”»
"God is with us" were the words that the Angel of the Lord said to the
righteous Joseph, who was having doubts on account of the Virgin Mary's
therefore, that God spoke of to the first-created people (Genesis 3:15) and
to King Achaz, was the Virgin Mary (cmp. also Isaiah 9:1-2, Matthew 4:14-16,
The prophetic word
of the Old Testament speaks of the Theotokos Mary in many other places also.
We quote here one more excerpt, from the Prophet Ezekiel, which prophesied
the ever-virginal state of the Theotokos:
«And he turned
me by the way of the outer gate of the holies that looks to the east, and it
was shut. And the Lord said to me: "This gate shall be shut; it shall not be
opened, and no one shall go through it, because the Lord, the God of Israel,
shall enter through it, and it shall be shut. Therefore, the leader—he shall
sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by the way of the
ailam of the gate, and he shall go out by this way"» (Ezekiel 44:1-3).
This again pertains
to the ever-virginal Theotokos; She is the Gate, which, even before the
birth of the Lord but also after the birth, remained sealed and no-one
passed through it. That is why the hymn of our Church mentions:
thou, the only Gate, whom only the Logos passed through; thou, who, by your
birth labours crushed the locks and Gates of Hades. Rejoice - thou,
the divine entrance of those wanting to be saved, the all-praised One».
In accordance with
the Prophetic word, the Virgin Mary remained a Virgin - before, during and
after the Birth (see also Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25). That is why She is
portrayed in iconography with three stars - on Her forehead and Her
shoulders: to symbolize precisely Her ever-virginal state.
2. Why we honour the Virgin Mary
The Holy Bible
informs us that the Angel who appeared to the Virgin Mary on the day of the
Annunciation addressed Her as "full of Grace", telling Her
that the Lord is with Her; that She is "blessed among women"
and that She has "found favour with God". (Luke 1:28-30).
She is also informed that the Holy Spirit will descend upon Her and that She
will be overshadowed by the power of the Lord on high; that She will bear a
Son, Who shall be great and shall be called "Son of God" and that «He
will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be
no end”» (Luke 1:33).
The same Evangelist
mentions that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, «...the
babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then
she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and
blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the
mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of
your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for
joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those
things which were told her from the Lord.”
And Mary said: “My
soul magnifies the Lord, And
my spirit has rejoiced in
God my Savior. For He has
regarded the lowly state of
His maidservant; For behold,
henceforth all generations
will call me blessed» (Luke 1:41-48).
These words of the
Holy Bible bestow immense honour to the Virgin Mary. God Himself
characterizes Her as "full of Grace"; Elizabeth - guided by the Holy Spirit
- addresses Her as "blessed among women" and "the Mother of my Lord";
John the Baptist - while still in the womb of his mother Elizabeth - leaps
for joy at the visit of the Theotokos; the Virgin Mary Herself glorifies the
Lord and prophesies that She will be glorified and be called "blessed" by
all the generations of mankind.
"So, if Christ is
the Saviour, why do you bestow such honour to the Virgin Mary?" we are
asked by heretic persons.
This is not
difficult for one to understand. The renewal of the bonds with God, the
renovation of mankind's nature by the divine nature of Christ, and the
partaking of human nature in divine life, were realized with the incarnation
of Christ - inside the womb of the Virgin Mary. Whatever honour we
people might bestow on the Virgin Mary will never reach the honour bestowed
on Her by God Himself: to acquire flesh within Her womb, and render
Her the "Theotokos" (=who gave birth to God).
Faith in the
God-human status of Christ obliges us to also honour the instrument of His
incarnation, that is, the Theotokos. If we do not do this, how can we possibly
believe in a God-human Jesus?
But the Holy Bible
itself - as we have seen - also testifies about this honour. The
Virgin Mary perceives this honour as something self-understood, and ascribes
it to the Godman Jesus Who was born of Her (Luke 1:48): «...He
has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all
generations will call me blessed…».
We therefore honour
the Virgin Mary because She was first honoured by Christ Himself, and
because this is a command of the Holy Bible. Naturally, we believe
that the Virgin Mary is not the source per se of salvation; Christ is our Redeemer.
Christ assumed human nature and He healed it, and He became for mankind the «new
Adam», or «new root». But this root sprouted inside the womb of the Virgin
Mary. That was the reason Saint John the Chrysostom called the feast-day of
the Annunciation of the Theotokos
«the feast of the root».
The Holy Mother,
therefore, became the cause for human nature to partake of the divine life -
the bridge that re-connected man and all of Creation with the Trinitarian
God - because all three Persons of the Holy Trinity participated in Christ's
Incarnation: the Son - Who was sent by God the Father - acquired flesh,
through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit inside the body of the Virgin Mary.
The Virgin Mary is
the «Bridge» that linked heaven to earth, and recalled all of Creation back
to the bosom of God's love. That is why the Birth of Christ by the Virgin
Mary is not celebrated by mankind only, but by all of Creation: the heavens
and the stars, angels and mankind, the earth and the cave, the Magi and the
shepherds... everyone rejoices with the event of the renewal of the
betrothal of the celestial Bridegroom to the Church. It suffices to
observe an icon of the Nativity to become aware that with Christ's Birth,
all of Creation is transformed.
As such, the honoring of the
Virgin Mary is always linked to the Person of Christ. In other words, She is
always honored as
«Mother of the
Lord» (Luke 1:43), Who was - for Her also - «God and Saviour» (Luke 1:47).
It is for this
reason that the Orthodox Church teaches that the Virgin Mary is not
exempt of the ancestral sin. She too had inherited the sinful
nature of Adam, except that She was exempt of personal sins, because She was
the «chosen vessel» and «full of Grace».
The Virgin Mary was
therefore a genuine child of this world - a world groaning within sin -
which is why She represents it in its entirety, and can restore its
communion with the Saviour of the world, Who took on flesh inside Her.
And that is why our Church offers Her the following, exquisite hymn:
«More precious than
the Cherubim, and more glorious incomparably than the Seraphim, Thou, who
incorruptibly gave birth to God the Logos - Thou, the truly Theotokos - we
3. Who became in the flesh through the Holy Spirit and Mary
The Virgin Mary
belonged to the people of God who awaited the Redeemer Lord.
However, the very
Son of the Virgin was Himself the Redeemer. He alone did not inherit
the sinful nature of Adam. The reason for this was because He was not a
descendant of Adam. He was born of the Virgin Mary, by the Holy
That is the reason
we believe that the Virgin Mary remained a Virgin during and after the birth
of Christ - in other words, She was ever-virginal. This is not a mere
detail; it is a basic teaching of the Church that secures salvation.
Christ is the «new
root»: He cannot possibly be a descendant of the «old root»
- namely Adam. For this reason, in order for Mary to be the Theotokos She
had to be a Virgin.
4. The person of the Theotokos
But, one might
perhaps think, if Mary was simply a «chosen vessel» and everything came from
God, then what is Her personal contribution to the salvation of the world?
Well, God respects
the freedom of even a sinful person - even the person of the Fall and of
deterioration. That is why God would never save the world without the
consent of the world itself. In view of this, the Virgin Mary became
God's collaborator in the opus of salvation of the entire world. Her
the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to Your word.”» (Luke 1:38),
were not just Her own consent; they were the consent of the entire world.
The mouth of the Theotokos became the mouth of all Creation and - at the
same time - the instrument of the world's salvation.
On the other hand,
the Virgin Mary is also an offering of the whole world to God.
Mankind, in the Person of the Theotokos, offers God its purest offering, and
God accepts it and renders Her the vessel - the place of His Birth - and the
Mother of the human race and the entire world. This is what the
following words of the Lord to His beloved disciple, John, signified: «Behold,
your Mother!» (John 19:27).
5. The delusion of heretics
Whoever denies the
Virgin Mary's personal participation in the opus of our salvation and
whoever does not bestow the appropriate honour to the Theotokos, is not
moving within the space of the new root of Christ and the new Creation, but
instead remains in the era of the Fall and of deterioration and is linked
only to the root of the old Adam, who is the root of sin. To a person
like that, it is as though Christ was never born.
In other words,
whoever does not acknowledge the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos is also
denying the Godman status of Christ and can not be benefited in any way by
reading the Holy Bible and by observing Christ's commandments. The
reason for this is that it is not the Holy Bible that saves us; it is Christ
Himself, Who was announced by the Bible. (cmp. John 5:39). The
"whole mystery of divine providence" is dependent on the characterization of
Mary as "Theotokos", according to saint John of Damascus, "because if
she who gave birth is the Theo-tokos, then the One born of her must be God
as well as a man".
recognizes the Virgin Mary as Theotokos and believes in the divine-human
status of Christ must bestow the appropriate honour to Mary and acknowledge
Her as his own mother, per the wish of the Lord (John 19:27).
The splendor of the
Virgin Mary, which was bestowed on Her by God Himself, is
described in the
divinely inspired book of Revelations by John:
a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon
under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with
child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign
appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and
ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the
stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the
woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was
born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.
And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into
the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed
her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days» (Revelations 12:1-6).
It is quite obvious,
that this «sign» refers to the new people of God, the Church;
to the persecutions, but also to the splendour and the final victory of the
Church against the forces of the devil (cmp. Micah 4:10, Isaiah 66:7-8).
But, at the same time, it includes the glory and the splendour of the
Theotokos, who is the beginning and the portrayal of the whole Church - of
course always in relation to the One Who is «the fruit of her womb» (Luke