The heretical portrayal titled "holy family"

(Excerpts from the book)

From the original (Greek) book by Monk Seraphim:
THE HERETICAL PORTRAYAL OF THE 'HOLY FAMILY' – Why it is foreign and discommended
Source: https://www.impantokratoros.gr/6634DB70.el.aspx


By special permission of the author, we are happy to  present here - the entire 7th chapter, excerpts from the Introduction, the 2nd and the 8th chapter, so that our brethren can familiarize themselves with the overall concern over the unwitnessed and unprecedented portrayal of the so-called "holy family" – which undermines in an overbearing manner the dogma of the ever-virginal status of the Theotokos and, consequently, the dogma of Christ our God ’s perfect Divinity.


1. Introduction


The virginity of our Most Holy Mother was a necessary prerequisite for the Incarnation of God, and clear proof of Christ’s Divinity for all heretics, as we shall unfold further along; according to St. Gregory Palamas: "Only one thing is impossible for God: to become joined to something unclean prior to its purification; hence the absolute need for a completely undefiled and pure Virgin for the gestation and birth of the Lover and Giver of purity” . This is the reason war has been waged for a long time regarding Her honour and Her reputation, by all the enemies of the Church: Jews, Gnostics, but also by today’s descendants of Gnosticism, Masons and New Agers-Theosophists.


 In recent years the so-called icon of the “holy family” has undergone an especially widespread dissemination – mainly on account of our general theological and dogmatic lethargy. The icon in question whose origins are located in the West** portrays a female figure, a male figure (often of a young man), and a young child between them, usually in a “group embrace”.  In even worse versions, the man and the woman are portrayed in a more “intimate” embrace, with the child aside, on its mother’s lap.

                                                                 ÁðïôÝëåóìá åéêüíáò ãéá åéêïíá áãéá ïéêïãåíåéá

And this blasphemous representation – with all the associated messages implied by it – supposedly represents the Theotokos, Joseph (Her Betrothed), and the Child Jesus!  The publishers “Kerdoos Hermes” have secured sales and distribution of this theologically misleading piece of art in the pilgrims' shops of the Holy Land, and in the more traditional land of Greece - even at Ouranoupolis (a pilgrim site on the Holy Mountain), but also in Karyes, the administrative capital of the Holy Mountain.

But ecclesiastic art is necessarily dogmatic, with a pastoral orientation, and it does not leave unclear boundaries for sentimentalities, imagination and lyricism, conjectural innovations or architectural acrobatics.  Just like every single thing in the Church, this too has an eternal, Christ-centered, Godman-centered perspective, thus making it art for the sake of Salvation and not "ars gratiae artis" ("art for the sake of art").  It is for this reason, that – according to the teaching of the Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Synod – ecclesiastic iconography must be governed by dogmatic precision.

It is our desire to deposit herein our documented concern over the dissemination of this portrayal of the “holy family”, but also over its clearly New-Age innuendoes.  Its sudden distribution even among the Orthodox cannot be regarded as irrelevant to the progress of the heresy of Ecumenism, or to the New Age currents that are striving to infiltrate our Church and are steadily causing the gradual necrosis or mutation of the Orthodox theological "antibodies."


2. The western origin and acceptance of  the representation of the “holy family”

2.1. The depiction is not recognized in Christian antiquity

In his book, "The Theotokos in the iconography of the East and of the West", Professor Emeritus Konstantinos Kalokyris, who is extremely well-versed in the history of Christian Art, places the origin of this representation of the "holy family" and its dissemination mainly in the West: "The self-inclusive representation of the "Holy Family" is not very familiar in the East, like it is in the West.  A family is discerned as the immediate and the extended one. The immediate Holy Family is, understandably, the Theotokos, Christ and Joseph, or, again, the Theotokos, Christ and Saint Anna.  The extended Holy Family is illustrated by the addition of Elizabeth and the Baptist. The depiction of Christ, the Theotokos and Joseph has become familiar from the paleo-Christian monuments (sarcophagi etc.)".

As for the latter mention - about the depiction of the three Persons - Jesus, the Theotokos and Joseph the Betrothed on ancient Christian sarcophagi - Professor Kalokyris draws from the French "Lexicon of Christian Archaeology and  Worship", the relevant entry by H.Leclercq  to which he refers us. Ôhis report seemingly justifies the spread of this depiction, since it supposedly refers back to Christian antiquity. However, a more careful delving into this particular entry by H. Leclercq reveals more interesting information for our subject, and ultimately debunks the claim of antiquity regarding the depiction of this "holy family" icon.

In essence,  H. Leclercq in the said article reprehends the attempt that was made, chiefly by Italians, to locate within the Christian catacombs supposedly ancient “models” for the composition of the “holy family”;  Roman Catholic researchers such as Raphaël Garrucci, retracted their original views regarding the interpretation of the three figures in various presentations; and for this they were confronted by others - such as Abba Martigny - given that archaeologists had at times either admitted that the depicted figures were of deceased Christian families and not of the "holy family",  or at other times, that the sacred forms of Christ, the Theotokos and Joseph the Betrothed were part of larger compositions, such as the Ádoration of the Magi.

According to Leclercq,  "By continuing its Christian iconography, Catholic conjectural art has altered a specific number of adoration figures and symbols, which it substituted with other ones, considered to be more edifying  ....  Italian imagination promoted its catastrophies even further, by asserting that it had discovered in antiquity the models of those figures, to which it merely desired to bestow esteem; and that is how it happened that the “holy family” came out of the catacombs".

In view of the above, the depiction of the "holy family" having its origins in the proto-Christian years has been totally debunked.



7. Joseph the Betrothed

According to ecclesiastic history, Joseph the Betrothed and Guardian of the Theotokos was the son of Ely and who, prior to becoming a widower, had fathered four sons (referred to by the Gospels as "the brothers of the Lord") and two daughters [7 PG 120, 196Á]; “Joseph continued his life, widowed and modestly; for he was about seventy years old”.

The sacred hymnography designated for the Sunday following the Nativity of Christ, has - in memoriam of the Betrothed – a condensation of the Church's teachings about his person; it mentions his advanced age during Christ's Birth: 

“...the foretellings by the Prophets did Joseph the Betrothed clearly see in his old age...”

And also that he was only thought to be the father of Jesus, given that:

“...the only one among women, clean and undefiled, do I entrust to you, blessed Joseph, to preserve the Virgin intact, in order to welcome the Maker...”

Furthermore, that Joseph had held the Godman in his embrace and had served Him as an angel:

“...you stood ministering before God enfleshed as an infant, o wise Joseph, like an Angel...”

And that his contact with Christ had sanctified Joseph the Betrothed, in flesh and spirit.

According to sacred hymnography, Joseph the Betrothed also served as witness to the Theotokos' virginity, opposite the Priests who had placed Her in his care.  This is what the very familiar hymn also states:

“...Joseph was amazed, on observing that which was above the natural...”  and ends with the following:

“... and having borne witness, Your Betrothed and guardian shouted to the priests: a Virgin gives birth, and after birth again remains a virgin...”.

According to the authority of the Church, the purpose of the  Virgin's betrothal to the righteous Joseph was so that the virginity of the future Theotokos would be meticulously protected; because by knowing the Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Birth of the Messiah (Isa.7:14), the devil would be scheming directly against Her virginity, hence:

“... a situation such as that (betrothal), which did not injure the virginity of the Theotokos, had only one reason and purpose, according to the blessed Damascene: precisely the protection of the virginity of Maria: to fool the Devil...”

Christ was the "legal child" of that illusory marriage, in order to secure His place in human society and to protect the honor of His Mother.

In interpreting the relative passage of Matthew’s Gospel, Saint John Chrysostom concludes, that after experiencing that supernatural mystery of the Incarnation, it was impossible, not only for the Theotokos (as we shall see), but even for Saint Joseph the Betrothed, to become actual spouses (we might also add, that it is understood they would also not behave with any kind of intimacy):

“...of what had been said, that which was obviously self-evident and acceptable, then allows you to perceive it (for yourself); that is, She who had become a mother in such a manner and was made worthy of unfamiliar labour pains and childbirth, not even after those events would he, as an honorable man, have considered to know Her intimately.  For, if he did know Her intimately and had Her in the place of a wife, why would He (the Crucified One) encharge Her to the disciple – as a woman who is unprotected and having no-one?” 

The hubris against the virtue of the Most Holy Mother and Her Betrothed by the contemporary depiction of the “holy family” becomes even more perceptible when we analyze the subtlety of virtues.

The teaching of our Church, which guides us towards perfection, aspires to ridding us of every kind of impassioned perception of matters; thus, the preservation of virginity does not only imply the avoidance of unchaste carnal union, but proportionally of everything that leads to it – desirable sights, thoughts, embraces etc.;  the sacred Canons, as preventive or therapeutic measures against sin,  are clear here about the damage inflicted on chastity by poses of “intimacy”, embraces etc.

                             ÁðïôÝëåóìá åéêüíáò ãéá images holy family jesus

The gesture of embrace given to the figure of Joseph, as well as his very close proximity to the figure of Mary, is reprehensible from yet another viewpoint:  it is a display of boldness (“outspokenness”) that is totally foreign to spiritual people, who, according to the holy Abba Dorotheos, should not even look at their fellow man in the eyes, thus observing humility:   “...and not hasten to seek anything in each others’ faces;  for this too, as one of the elders had said, is a kind of outspokenness..”

Isn’t it therefore a sin, for those who keep images of the Theotokos, who is “more precious than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim”, portrayed in close proximity with - or even embraced by - a betrothed man She is not married to?  The unanimous teaching of the Holy Fathers, whose word is law, reassures about the absolute purity of all the senses of our Most Holy Mother, who had “as Her wealth, the powers of Her soul and all the senses of the body elevated above every pollution”.  How can this teaching be pushed aside for the sake of outlandish sentimentalities over a “housewifey” and not an ascetic Mary – the very Prioress of celibates and monastics?

This depiction essentially subverts the entire mission of the Betrothed, who was dedicated as a witness to the Holy Mother’s virginity and Her protector, given that She is solely the “unwed bride” of God.  The “holy family” image does not safeguard the virtue and the decency of the prudent Betrothed, Joseph, his respectful stance towards the manifested mystery of the Incarnation or his initial hesitation in the face of the ineffable Conception of the Godman... and usually not even of his old age.

 These erroneous messages, however, are “butter on the bread” for a broad range of contemporary heresies and para-religions.

8. The masonic and theosophical occultism versus the Ever-virginal Theotokos

8.1. The ancient Gnostics


Among the ancient heretics, the Messalians (or Euchites) also had similar teachings, being a heresy that had accepted the gnostic, Manichaean influences, and had transmitted them to posterior Gnostics such as the Paulicians and the Bogomils. According to information by Saint John of Damascus, the Messalians - among their other dogmas - also had the following one: that evil existed by nature; that Adam had consummated with Eve unimpassioned;  that Mary had not conceived the Logos without insemination; that humans must acquire two kinds of souls - one like that of all humans, and a heavenly one, etc..   Here also, the polemics against the virginity of the Theotokos are obvious, as is the delusion of a supposed primeval (and not post-Fall) introduction of marital relations, contrary to whatever the Church dogmatizes, on the basis of the primeval virginity of the first-fashioned Adam and Eve.

8.2. The contemporary occultists

The ancient Gnostic myths were transferred (with the process that does not pertain to the present essay) to the contemporary secret groups – the familiar “underground currents”.

In his book THE GREAT MYSTICS, a very important work of contemporary theosophism (with a prologue in the Greek version by the well-known Mason “theologian”, Athens University Professor Nikos Louvaris), Edward Schure writes: 

“It appears that in the first Christian communities, Jesus was worshipped as the son of Mary and Joseph, since Matthew has given us Joseph’s family tree to prove that he is descended from David. No doubt at this point – as per several other Gnostic heresies – Jesus was regarded as the son of the Eternal, as with Samuel later on.  In its attempt to prove the supernatural origin of Jesus, tradition spun her mantle of blue and gold: the story of Joseph and Mary, the Annunciation, and everything related to Mary’s youth in the Temple.” 

The renowned American Mason Albert Pike (1809-1891), in his work “Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry” repeats – thus consenting to – the idea that Jesus was the son of Mary and of Joseph, and that Mary corresponds to Venus! 




6. According to the mutual agreement of the entire Church, the ever-virginal state of the Most Holy Mother - that is, the preservation of Her Virginity not only prior to the Birth of Christ, after His Conception, but also during labour and after His Birth – constitute proof of Christ’s divinity; because only Christ as God could have preserved His Mother’s virginity during labour, and also by the miracle of His Incarnation determine the rest of His Most Holy Mother’s supernatural life.

What is more, if Christ had not been born of a virgin, the renovation of human nature would not have been achieved. Consequently, any innuendo to the contrary that is cultivated by that depiction (that relations with Joseph the Betrothed were conjugal or family ones) means war against the Godhood of Christ and the hypostasis of the Church, which is His Body.

7. As such, this depiction of the “holy family” also violates the inviolable Orthodox condition of harmony between sacred Icons and the dogmatic teaching of the Orthodox Church, which has been “imprinted” in the iconographic tradition.  Most Icons of the Holy Mother depict Her and Her Son and God in Her arms; likewise Her Icon as the “Broader than Heaven” depicted on the apse of the Inner Sanctum of the Temple, which has a special, par excellence dogmatic importance.  

8. In the Holy Bible, especially stressed is the particular relationship of the Theotokos and the Christ who was born of Her by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Mother is mentioned in the Holy Bible as “the mother of Jesus”, and Jesus as “her son”.  The message of the “holy family” depiction is entirely different and offends the particular relationship of the Virgin and Theotokos with the One born of Her, because it has included the figure of Joseph Her Betrothed in place of a co-equal parent; consequently, the “holy family” portrait also conflicts with the Holy Bible.

9. The intimacy displayed by the depicted persons in the “holy family” portrait is – for Christians – totally unworthy of the virtue of Joseph the Betrothed, while it does no justice and it subverts his role as the quintessential custodian of the Theotokos and the guardian of Her virginity; of course it defames and offends far more the all-holiness of the Theotokos – the absolute transcendence of every carnal movement by the soul and the body of the Mother of God, who is “the only chaste, the only blessed one”; the “more precious than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim”, and the One who would never tolerate any embrace and any intimacy - by any man.

10. Even if the depiction in question were not problematic as regards its origins, it continues to be discommended, in our era also.  The reason is that it aids the especially prevalent, secret occult teaching of the New Age on the supposed significance of the “female side of God” and the love between deities, with especially perversive references by both ancient and recent heretics, Masons and Theosophists against the Theotokos Mary and Her Betrothed Joseph.

11. Left undisturbed in the nefarious circle of “supply and demand”, the dissemination of this problematic, heretical depiction titled “holy family” does not spirit away the associated message of the depiction; on the contrary, it renders even more imperative the need for the timely placement by the Church, and for the faithful to be duly warned.   Accepting it constitutes a direct affront on the Person of our Most Holy Mother - and our personal contribution to the blasphemies of the heretics.

** The “Holy Family" as Jesus, the Holy Mother and Joseph Her Betrothed – began to be worshipped officially in the 17th century by François de Laval – first Roman Catholic Bishop of Quebec (1623 –1708). It is celebrated by Roman Catholicism on the first Sunday after Christmas. If that day falls on New Year’s Day, it is celebrated on the 30th of December.



Translation-editing:  Helene, A.N.

Article published in English on:  8-1-2020.

Last update: 8-1-2020.